Monday was Patriots’ Day here in Massachusetts. Offices were closed, the kids were all out of school, and everyone was excited for the Boston Marathon, which has been running through 26.2 miles of Boston and suburban streets annually for over 100 years.
I grew up with the Boston Marathon. On my high school track team, I ran Heartbreak Hill every day after school until my running shoes fell apart. One year, I did volunteer work and passed out water and snacks at the finish line downtown. In past years, my wife and I brought our daughter to cheer our lungs out for every runner who passed. We wanted to share a powerful tradition and to be inspired by ordinary people from all walks of life who chose to do something amazing and then put in whatever difficult training was necessary to make it possible.
We almost went to the marathon again this year, but then it got late, and parking is always tough, and we didn’t have anything to bring for lunch, and we ended up at a movie instead. As the ending credits rolled and we turned our phones back on, my wife and I discovered dozens of urgent messages all asking for confirmation that we were still alive. That’s how we first learned that bombs had gone off at the finish line. There were fatalities and a rising number of wounded victims, all still unidentified at the time, any of whom could have been our family members or friends.
The rest of the week unfolded from there: horrible images on TV on Monday, a friend who complained of ringing ears, bloody memories, and a smoke-smelling jacket on Tuesday; spotting news helicopters over the Federal courthouse on Wednesday; watching the presidential motorcade from my office window on Thursday; dealing with a lack of public transportation during the manhunt on Friday.
It’s been a week of feeling the sense of shock gradually sinking in. Meanwhile, the perpetrators remained at large, the media spun wild conjectures, and increased security measures made us feel unsafe in a city that had never felt unsafe before. But most difficult of all, we had to decide what to tell our daughter that might help her survive in a world that’s mostly peaceful but with a sprinkling of school shootings, terrorist attacks, and random violence. We’re actually still wrestling with that.
The books we write can be an effective tool for helping kids explore difficult topics from a safe distance, which leads me to these questions I’d like to share with the writing community:
- What can responsible authors do to help readers deal with actual or potential violence in their lives?
- Can we make things better, or should we just try not to make things any worse?
- Or should this not even be a consideration at all when it comes to telling a good story?
If you have a blog or a page on your website, send me a link to your thoughts on this issue. I will compile, summarize, and add my own thoughts in a post on Friday, April 26th. Thanks for your help, and stay safe!
Greg R. Fishbone is the author of the “Galaxy Games” series of midgrade sports and science fiction from Tu Books at Lee & Low Books. Visit him at http://gfishbone.com.
Here it is. I was writing it as I found your post. Coincidences. There aren’t any.
Absolutely. As a child development specialist and educator, I have shared many books with children of different ages to help them and prepare them for our world. As writers, we need to do this with care, compassion, and integrity to developmental needs and not cross the line with information that can increase trauma or secondarily traumatize like the media often does. Knowing how much and how to present is an art and requires research on difficult topics. If you are using difficult subjects and are not an expert, seek out a consultation. We need more well written books where the information is not overboard is honest, presented with dignity, and helps grow children in a positive way.
Reading teaches empathy. Children who read learn how to feel for others by immersing themselves in the lives of protagonists. The very nature of what we do helps children learn to care for and understand others. It’s a noble gig.