Adam Gidwitz captures, in ways that no child psychologist has managed, how children react to the dark side of fairy tales. I so appreciate his wisdom about how children instinctively protect themselves from books that are too frightening for them:
Over the course of my career as a teacher and writer for children, I have become aware of one of nature’s greatest gifts to both to children and their guardians. Children know what they need. Not that they are errorless—we still have to grab their hands before they rush into the street; we still must help them overcome their fear of the first day of school. But children, much more than adults, are unconsciously in tune with the developmental needs of their bodies and minds. Their play is more educational and emotionally salutary than anything a teacher or psychologist could prescribe. When a child is reading a book that he finds upsetting, he closes it and puts it aside (this is one structural advantage of books over movies, which move so swiftly and are so hard to turn off). And when the book contains new and needed wisdom, he will demand it again and again, until its lessons are mastered (much to the chagrin of the sleepy parent).
And he ends with an encounter that reminds me of how children express their feeling, less with words than with actions.
One afternoon, I was working in the hallway outside of my classroom. Suddenly, a girl I did not know appeared and approached me. She asked, “Did you write that book with the fairy tales?” I smiled and said that I had.
She could have said a lot of things. She could have said, “That book was funny!” or “It was scary!” or “Why do you write such messed up stories?”
Or maybe she couldn’t. For what she did was throw her arms around my neck and squeeze me fiercely. And then, quite literally, she ran away.
I don’t know why. Perhaps the Grimm tales had spoken to her on a level too deep for words.
Or maybe the forest beckoned.
Tonight I’ll start reading a book that has been on my nightstand for several months. Can’t wait for A Tale Dark and Grimm.