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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

April A-Z: Justice

Children have a well-developed sense of justice and fairness. This is an important thing for children's writers to remember: our stories must appeal to that sense, or they're doomed.

Lest you think I'm unaware of even the most basic tenets of writing, I am not proposing that children enjoy dull tales in which everyone is nice and kind and fair to everyone else all the time. Clearly, conflict is required. But stories must conclude with a sense of justice served, of Good overcoming Evil.

This does apply to teen readers as well, but their moral sense is a little more subtle than younger children's, and they are more likely to accept 'random' circumstances afflicting characters. Younger children tend to need more of a reason for things to happen (even if that's just 'Character X is bad so she hurt Character Y').

Amongst many many other benefits, children's and teens' fiction can allow readers to explore their own moral reasoning without risk. Many kids' books require characters to break rules (or even the law) in order to serve some greater good or higher purpose, allowing the reader to consider the dilemma for themselves. Child readers can see the benefits of being brave and standing up to authority time and time again, before most would ever be in a similar situation in their own life.

What are your favourite 'just desserts' in kids' books? Dahl was fabulous at dishing out justice to the wicked, but what more recent examples would you recommend?


  1. I write YA and my teens typically have a sense of justice a little OFF from the strictly rules-oriented version (possibly reflecting their creator *shifty*) but I think it's true that younger kids make moral judgments quickly and so you need to justify--and I prefer in cases of the older teens, that if their decision is actually HARMFUL, there are some consequences for somebody the reader identifies with.

  2. I don't know. I'll have to think about that.


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