I started a new children series and stopped, not because I was offended, but because I have read the book already, generally several times. Here are some themes that could use a timeout (along with Captain Underpants):
Schools hate imagination and teachers are bad.
Back when CS Lewis dared take on stultifying schools in The Silver Chair the idea was fresh. No more slavish worship of school and teachers as found in the nearly unreadable Tom Brown at School. Yet somehow, the entire freedom from school worship, meant many people stopped being able to write about good teachers and schools.
There is The Magic Schoolbus, God bless Ms. Frizzle, though they read less like literature and more like edutainment hammered together in a marketing meeting. Harry Potter returned us to Tom Brown, this time with a better story, but sadly there have been many imitators of the magic in Potter, but not the pro-school message
In an anti-intellectual era, maybe making fun of schools and teachers has gone far enough.
The rogue turns out to be a good guy.
If he dumps you and then comes back for some jewelry, he is no good, even if he is Indiana Jones. We get it: sometimes people change or have buried good qualities, but most often the bad guy is bad and the good guy is good. The prodigal son is a good story, but it is not the only story Jesus told.
An inability to write a lovable rule-following interesting sweet guy.
Galahad was a hero, but hard to write well. He had no flaws. Lazy writers give Galahad flaws to make him relatable instead of working hard to make him inspiring and believable. Goodness isn’t dull . . . writers are. Arthur, Aragorn (looking at you Peter Jackson) are hard to write, but essential to moral formation.
We need stories about women and more women characters not written into roles men created.
Any sane human hopes that women get more roles, better gigs, and lines that do not all relate to men. The best way to do this is to write new stories with women in the center: Wonder Woman is a good example. Let’s not take old roles and repurpose them as if a woman’s voice is just a man’s voice in a different package.
How bad is the problem? I had to write fourteen school plays for my kids because our drama classes were dominated by super-talented girls and women and most plays had few good roles for them. This is not good.
Can somebody be religious as a part of their lives? Anybody?
If being invisible is bad, then religious characters are in real trouble Can’t anybody not working for Tom Selleck create characters that make religion part of their lives naturally? This is not a call for more movies about religion, but more movies where people do things many people do: pray before they eat, pray before going to bad, read religious books, fast, go to religious services.
Idea: let’s solve problems without resorting to shouting or force.
I am not a pacifist, but I have lived my entire life without getting into a physical fight since seventh grade. (Are you out there David T?) Here is an idea: more problem solving without resorting to shooting, yelling, or force.
Wise kids and dumb or bad parents
I get it: there are a lot of bad parents out there. Some kids are wise beyond their years. Those stories are real and should be told
Here is something else real: many of my students have great parents. When I ask them to write a “realistic” story about family, they do not write about their own family life. Instead, they tell the story of angry or sad families. Sometimes that is because they are not in the happy family that they seemed to be in, but usually it is because they think their own stories sound fake.
My Mom and Dad are wise. I was not when I was sixteen. Can somebody tell that story?
Write a few happy stories.
Conflict is easy to write, but go read Anne of Green Gables as a series. Most of the book (though not all!) is full of small, gentle problems. Little House was like this as well. Many people lead lives that are generally happy with few Big Problems. Tell their stories well.
Romantic relationships are not all of life.
Even Harry Potter became too much about the ‘shipping’. Who was in or going to be in a relationship with whom? Fortunately, the books never forgot friendship, mentoring, or other forms of human love. Let’s have a few more books that forget romance and focus on the rest!
Don’t worry . . . if you like the other kind of story, they will surely get written. We don’t need to censor stories, but get out of a few ruts.