Sandy HookIn memory of the innocents who lost their lives in last year’s Newtown, CT shooting, I am reposting my blog response. I wish so much that I could say we were on the path to recovery and change, but with yesterday’s shooting right here in Colorado at Arapahoe High School, I am afraid that is not possible. Our government – of ALL political stripes – continues to fail our children. We need, not only stronger gun control laws, but also more recognition of, compassion for, and the ability to provide intervention to those suffering from mental illness.

Although this post was written with an audience of children’s authors in mind, let us all think about how we can be Guardians of Childhood.

Guardians of Childhood  — first posted December 15, 2012

I, like countless other people across America and the world over, am heartbroken for the children and school officials who lost their lives in Newtown, CT yesterday. My own son is 6 years old and in first grade. The same age as the 20 children who died at the hands of a mentally disturbed young man who brought guns into their school. I’m faced with the chilling knowledge that the only thing that separates my children from those who perished yesterday is that the disturbed person with the guns chose a different school, a different town. It’s enough to make a mother go mad with rage and worry and anguish.

One of the most common phrases I’ve seen the wake of yesterday’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut is, “there are no words.” A very understandable sentiment, but one with which I must agree to disagree.

Do you know what one of the brave teachers in Newtown, CT did to comfort her class while gunshots rang across the school? She read them stories.

There are words and, now more than ever, we need to use them.

Last weekend, I took my kids to see the movie, Rise of Guardians, which was spectacular and a part of the Guardians of Childhood series as imagined by author/illustrator William Joyce. As I reflected on yesterday’s events, the movie (and the books) came to mind and I had an epiphany. Children’s writers everywhere, hear this: We are the guardians of childhood. I hope Mr. Joyce won’t take issue with me saying this, since he himself is a Guardian of the highest order.

We who write for children are the ones who, with our words and our stories, provide children with hope, happiness, and empathy. When children face fear and hardship with us, it is cushioned by the covers of our books. We show children the world as beautiful and forgiving and glorious, even as it is sometimes cruel and treacherous. Each time a child sees him or herself in the pages of one of our books, we’ve touched the universal human spirit that lives inside of that child, and in all of us.

As Guardians, we do not undermine children’s intelligence or their comprehension of the shortcomings of this world. Rather, we show them they are not alone, and that no matter how isolated they may feel, there are always others who understand. We give them reasons to believe in the wonder and beauty of the world, and that the force of love is always greater than the force of evil (which I still hold true).

As a Guardian of my own children and to all children, this is my pledge.

  1. Children have the right to remain innocent, and that innocence should not be stripped from them prematurely, but rather as a natural function of growing up and becoming adults.
  2. Stories have the power to entertain, teach, challenge, and inform children. Most of all, they should enable them to feel empathy toward and connection to others. In so doing, they will see that they are not alone in this world and that they have an important contribution to make.
  3. We will never ban or restrict children’s access to books in a feeble attempt to shield them from world views or events that we cannot protect them from in real life.
  4. Our stories will give children refuge when they feel isolated, a safe haven when they need escape, and hope when they might otherwise feel it is lost. Just as critically, our stories will make them laugh, smile and revel in happiness.
  5. While we recognize that terrible things can and do happen, we Guardians believe in the overall goodness of the world, and especially of children. The world is good. People are good. Children are good.
  6. The most important part of our job is to keep the spark of hope and love alive in children’s hearts. We stoke the fire with our stories, our words, and our belief in them. We will not let our words fail children in their time of greatest need.

I dedicate this post to the families of those lost in the CT tragedy. I vow to do my part to bring as much good into the world as I can, especially with the stories I write for those whose hearts are the purest among us.

Categories: Childhood, Children's Books, Family, Picture Books · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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9 Comments

  1. So beautifully said. Thank you, Julie.

  2. So true! It’s so sad that we cannot always protect our children from the evils of this world but we must continue to strive to create a world, fictional and real, where they can feel safe and happy!

  3. Beautiful, Julie. Those of us who write for children must do so with great respect and responsibility. It is more than a job. It is a calling.

  4. Julie, I wasn’t of the mindset to reply to the original date of this blog post, but I’ve GOT to now-

    Though I’m not a parent yet, I, like many, was so disheartened learning the tragedy in Newtown a year ago today, but it was especially poignant for two key things-

    1. I have a mental illness and it’s prevalent in my family
    Now I need to stress one thing straight out, I don’t condone what was done that day, and consider it a pat excuse, nor have I committed similar offenses, but I do feel people with mental illness in general are demonically marginalized.

    Like just BEING mentally ill makes us instant monsters, before we’ve even DONE ANYTHING to warrant the anger, the ignorant comments, and the shame and abuse (Physical or Verbal)

    Frankly, our culture in the U.S. right now (I can’t speak to other countries) is more paranoid and dismissive of the mentally ill, or lump us all in one mold, and that’s just as inhumane as people who commit these acts to ANYONE, but especially children of any age.

    Not all of us with mental illness are like the villains we read about, hear on the news, and/or see in movies, they’re the extreme cases, and they do exist, but many of us are normal people given challenges we ask for, born with or life strikes it out of us, and try DAILY to work through. Sometimes I fail, but while I pray I’ll never fail in a way that causes families, communities, or countries immeasurable pain, we need to stop condemning mental illness and put “illness” back into “Mental illness.”

    It’s an illness like the flu, which can be deadly if mistreated, and while we can’t cure it like the flu, and there’s no all-purpose cure for it, not all mentally ill people need to be sent to an asylum. And we’re NOT stupid!

    People often wonder why I’m not always up on popular stuff. Part of why (Aside from personal preference) it’s because their views on gender, race, sexual orientation and/or mental illness is something I can’t support however tangentially.

    Just like Cancer doesn’t have to mean “Instant Death” the way, it once did.

    Not everyone gets AIDS or is HIV positive is because of pre-marital sex, they were born with it LONG before they even know how we are created in the mortal sense to begin with!

    Again, I’m not condoning or excusing people who use their issues as invulnerable shields to escape personal accountability for causing harm and pain to others, but I’m BEGGING more people to start putting mental illness into perspective, and see the nuance that is there, and remember that not every act of anger or intense sadness is a danger sign.

    I’m not a doctor or medically trained, but speaking from my personal experience having a form of Autism, and growing up with a mother who is schizophrenic, she can be impossibly childish and hard to live with, but so can I, the difference is I work very hard to not let my mental illness be an excuse to not call myself out for taking my anger or attitude too far.

    She isn’t able to do that. If my grandmother (My Mom’s Mother) hadn’t been my stand-in parent, I sometimes fear I’d be close to those on news, because I’ve struggled with reigning in my temper, and I almost let being bullied turn me into one. But I thankfully found a safe and valid outlet in writing, and reading books I WISH had existed when I was child, as I didn’t learn to love books the way many of my favorite authors did as kids.

    On that note, I come to the second reason the CT tragedy affected me-

    2. I got “Good News” the day Newtown got its “Bad News”
    As my writer friends and blog readers have long known, I sold my middle grade novel, Gabriel, this time last year, in fact, the date I got the email (For some authors it’s the phone call from an agent or editor at X publisher) we LONG for. Our book (Still in manuscript form) clicked with someone besides our writing group (Or relatives for some of you, not in my case, though…) and is going to be published!

    I got this news the very day this horrid event occurred. I didn’t learn of the shooting until the next day, but talk about mixed emotions. On top of that, my first contact with my editor this year since signing the contract came the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings, and

    I can’t thank my author friends and my editor Debby at G8Press for being understanding and gracious during this time, as I was getting overly impatient with myself trying getting my emerging career as an author started. Not that I wasn’t motivated before (I worked on Gabriel for 10 YEARS before it sold) but the things you need to do AFTER you know your work will be published is different, no less important than our pre-published work, but it is different.

    While I knew no one personally affected by this event, being a children’s author, you feel the pain for those families who lost a child, a sibling, a parent and so on during this far-reaching act of violence.

    Even though the kids who died would’ve been too young to even read my novel, it did affect me as an author in ways I still can’t describe without sounding esoteric.

    I say all this to say I’m taking the pledge. I will be one of those guardians of childhood. But I’d like to add one thing to Julie’s original pledge-

    “We, as writers and/or advocates for children and/or teens must not forget that we can’t forsake forgiveness to enact justice, or vengeance disguised as ‘Justice.’ In a world where increasingly more so-called ‘Adults’ put more value on accountability to the cruelest extremes, we guardians of childhood must do our best to show kids and teens, and our fellow adults in life that forgiveness isn’t ‘Getting away with Murder’ whether it be literal or in terms of moral principal. Forgiveness is as much a gift to YOU as it is to those it’s granted to.”

    Like Dr. Brené Brown (aka “The Gifts of Imperfection” lady) always says, “It’s a privilege to be entrusted with someone who is brave enough, and real enough, to share not just your story of shame, but the integrity to acknowledge it without judgment or ridicule.” not an exact quote, but those who’ve read her books or seen her Ted talk (Or discovered her via Oprah as I did!) will know of what I speak.

    My greatest wish (As it was a year ago on Christmas 2012) is that those who lost loved ones and their faith (Spiritually or otherwise) in the face of that tragedy that occurred a year ago today, will be spared a lifetime of pain. They shouldn’t have to die before they feel joy again, and I hope they find it again while they’re still on this side of mortality.

    • EDIT: I meant, “Not all of us with mental illness are like the villains we read about in comics and novels, hear on the news, and/or see in movies, they’re the extreme cases, and they sadly do exist, but many of us are normal people given challenges we NEVER asked for, and are born with it or life strikes it out of us, and try DAILY to work through. Sometimes I fail, but while I pray I’ll never fail in a way that causes families, communities, or countries immeasurable pain, we need to stop condemning mental illness and put “illness” back into “Mental illness.”

  5. It was an excellent post then, Julie, and it’s an excellent post now. We need more guardians of childhood protecting our children… And our children’s children. I do feel what we do IS a calling, and a huge responsibility not to be taken lightly. Thank you for re-posting and during this holiday time– God bless us, everyone! 🙂

  6. I have one word to say to this. “Amen.” I didn’t know about the shooting in Colorado. 🙁

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