Editor’s note: We’re happy to share the following guest article from Michael Lotti, author of St. George and the Dragon. Lisa
Would you let your children completely manage their own social lives? Of course not. You guide their natural love for fellowship toward relationships that will edify them.
Children have the same need when it comes to stories. Children naturally love stories, and they naturally need stories. So it’s up to parents to give them stories that are good, true, and beautiful. Without parental involvement, children will consume the stories offered up by the popular culture and unconsciously adopt attitudes and worldviews that most Catholic parents won’t like.
The good news: there are many, many good, great, and excellent books for pre-readers and early readers. Yes, some ideologically nasty books are out there, but for every Heather Has Two Mommies, there are dozens – maybe hundreds – of books worth reading. Fiction, non-fiction, religious, non-religious, whimsical, serious, poetic, prosaic – we have a treasure trove, usually no further away than the local library. An added bonus is the wide range of high-quality art we see in children’s books today.
The bad news: as children move into the “middle grade” stage, the number of good stories drops off considerably, and the situation only gets worse with young adult and teen stories. For every Prince Caspian and The Bronze Bow, there are dozens – maybe hundreds – of spiritually vacuous stories about zombies, vampires, teen (even pre-teen!) romances, sports dramas, middle school social dramas, and fantasy worlds. Many are good reads and even morally acceptable, but very few capture anything akin to faith, hope or charity, either as an inner or social reality.
Why is this? In some sense, it’s basic economics. Middle grade, young adult, and teen readers are just as hungry for stories as 6-year-olds. This is especially true if their parents limit screen time and encourage reading. For the 14-year-old looking to fill hours before bedtime, any story will do. And since so few talented storytellers identify as Christian (and Catholic) these days, Christian categories are absent from the books they write.
But there’s something more. It’s hard to write a spiritually vibrant story for the older-than-10 crowd, especially those from churchgoing homes. These children know that navigating good and evil is difficult, that death and suffering are real and painful, and that some non-crazy people think that life is pointless. They probably also have first-hand experience with grace, forgiveness, and the idea that the “supernatural” is interwoven into ordinary experience (through the Eucharist, for example, or a miraculous healing). Good stories for middle grade, young adult, and teen readers have to capture all that. A simple saint story won’t do, nor will a story that has a “lesson” attached.
So what’s a Catholic Mom (or Dad) to do?
First, find the great Christian stories from the past and share them with your children, from their earliest days through their teen years. You’ll never be able to manage everything they read and see – just like you can’t micro-manage their social lives – but you can be actively involved in pointing out, making available, and sharing stories with a Christian worldview.
Second, pray. Pray that the Lord will increase the supply of high-quality Christian literature for middle-grade, young adult, and teen readers. And if you find a modern author that you and your children love reading, tell everyone about it. For when demand increases, supply is sure to follow.
Michael Lotti is a professional writer living in Minnesota. His new novel for Christian middle-grade and young adult readers, St. George and the Dragon, is available from Amazon and Sacred Heart Books. He hopes to release his second novel in 2015.
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