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>Taking the Children

>It’s been a while, but Richard clipped an article for me that speaks to us all. It’s NY Times movie critic A. O. Scott writing about taking his kids to movies for which they are putatively too young, and he builds his argument from books:

” . . . something in me rebels against the idea that the books children choose should always be safely within their developmental comfort zone. There is pleasure to be found in bewilderment, in the struggle to make sense of what is just above you head, and there is wisdom as well.”

Right on. This weekend, we saw three of the movies Scott discusses: Charlie Wilson’s War, Persepolis and Juno. The first was great (although I think it would have bored the young me witless); the second, a cartoon, seemed to run out of graphic ideas before it was over; and the third reminded me of why writers should avoid slang in YA novels: it sounds dated already. Juno seems to be the Little Movie That Could, though; what a nice clutch of Oscar noms, yes?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >I showed the kids Romancing the Stone this weekend. I felt old. Watching it, I realized that movies don’t age well. You might appreciate Casablanca, but you won’t thrill to it the way you would have if you’d seen it when it first came out. To my kids, Romancing the Stone is an “old movie.”

    Books seem to age better. So, I think there’s a good reason to leave the slang out of your fiction, but no point in keeping it out of Juno. It’s moment isn’t going to last long, no matter what.

  2. >Oh man, this is such a hot button for me. ‘Cause for me, what there was was NIGHTMARES. Lots and lots of nightmares. I think it’s utterly selfish to force kids to watch movies too old for them, though I suppose it can be done with thought and care, rather than just dragging them to whatever it was the adult wanted to see, which is what usually happens.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >Ty Burr, the film critic for the Boston Globe, wrote a film guide about classic and grown-up (not to be confused with “adult”) films that are good picks for kids.

    As for Juno, it seems to be the Little Movie That Could because it’s supported by the Big Marketing Dept. That Would.

    Someone who hopes not to see the words “stripper turned screenwriter” again for a long, long time (no, not Ty Burr)

  4. Monica Edinger says:

    >Taking your own 6th grader to Sweeney Todd (a movie I’ve been afraid to see knowing my own difficulties with violence) is one thing. Advising others to take theirs is another. Some parents know their kids well enough to forestall nightmares. Others don’t.

    In front of me waiting to get into the sneak preview of The Golden Compass was a man and his very little boy (around four or five, I’d say). The little boy was obsessed by a very scary poster across the way. The dad did a good job discussing it with him, but I wondered if it would linger with him as the newspaper ad for a Bette Davis horror flick did for me decades ago. It was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the broken doll heads scared the heck out of me. Still haven’t seen the movie.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    >Ok, I disagree with a few things here. Movies are often rooted in a specific time and place due to clothes, signs, products, language, and in many cases (including Juno) music. The dialog is just a part of it. The Kimya Dawson songs, some of the juice and soda Juno drinks, the baby stuff that Jennifer Garner buys– a lot of this is very time specific and noticeably so. What doesn’t work in YA novels is authors trying to make their books feel au courant and sticking things in that show their effort. One of my favorite YA authors, the great M.E. Kerr, has often used references to brands or TV shows that I found jarring, but the worst instance, one that I still gnash my teeth over, was a novelist who had someone explain to an 11-year-old character “The Beatles. That’s the group Paul McCartney was in before Wings.”


    Meanwhile, I don’t have any problem “letting them stretch” as Milton Meltzer calls letting kids “read up,” and there are hundreds of movies, books and tv shows in which the sexual stuff, for example, completely escaped me until I was old enough to be interested in it and understand it. Usually the worse that happens is that kids are bored. But here’s what I wonder about–could being taken to see a Shakespeare play when you were too young to like it (or dragged to see one because your parents thought it would be good for you) make you think that Shakespeare was so boring that you avoided him as much as possible for the rest of your life? In other words, can boring a kid to death turn him off something forever?

  6. Anonymous says:

    >You won’t thrill to Casablanca the way you did when it first came out? Oh how I disagree. The screenplay is perfection, and the sexiness of the leads is extraordinarily compelling. And who can forget the scene where they all stand up and sign La Marseillaise? Come on, if anything, the romanticism and pure patriotism of the movie only improve when being watched in this cynical, downtrodden age.

  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >I should have been clearer–I thought the slang in Juno already sounded dated, that the movie was trying too hard to make the kid sound like a kid.

  8. >I won’t take my kids to see I am Legend without screening it first, because I think the dog dies. Ravenous zombies lunging out of the dark? Not a problem. Dead dog? Totally not okay. I’m not too concerned about exposing my kids to sex in the movies. It’s usually other things, not mentioned in reviews, that might upset the hell out of them for idiosyncratic reasons. The problem with Scott’s advice is that no matter how good a parent you are, you don’t know until you are sitting in the movie what’s going to show up on the screen. Too late, you go — uh oh, this was a bad idea for Mary Sue. Unless of course, you go by yourself and THEN take the kids. It has to a pretty compelling movie for me to pay for it twice. Maybe netflicks.

  9. Kathryne B Alfred says:

    >The thing is, it’s not always easy to tell what’s going to freak a kid out. My entire family read and loved Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, but when we read it to my 5-year-old nephew he dropped the book and refused to go any further after the pigeon’s full-spread tantrum. We all knew how much Alex hated seeing people upset, but had underestimated how far that would carry.

    Meanwhile, my sister and I saw Amadeus (opens with Salieri’s suicide attempt) and Yentl (Mandy Patinkin’s naked butt!) as young kids, with no ill effects. My parents were more embarrrassed seeing A Fish Called Wanda with me than vice-versa. Ghostbusters scared the crap out of me, but only in the theater–I was fine after Mom bought me a Butterfinger.

    The movies that left me terrified, waking up from nightmares and scared to be alone, for weeks afterwards? Family-friendly E.T. and The Secret of NIMH. And even those, I got over eventually.

    Alex not only got over his fear of the Pigeon, but took to yelling “Let me drive the bus!!!” as code for when he felt we were ignoring his needs.

  10. Alia in Wonderland says:

    >I watched The Secret of NIMH movie in with my class in 5th or 6th grade and it freaked me out! We had just finished reading the book too!

    And speaking of being taken to see a Shakespeare play when you were too young to like it, the movie that really traumatized me was Hamlet. Forget being bored to death. I was really upset by the idea that everyone could be killed off just like that. In fact, I was pretty indignant about it. So much for introducing me to the concept of tragedy.

  11. Alex Flinn says:

    >The difference between movies and novels is that they are visual and, yes, cause kids nightmares. My mother dragged me to JAWS when I was 9 and . . . well, let’s just say that that was its own punishment since she couldn’t get me into the ocean or very far into the pool for years after.

    However, I know I didn’t see all the sex in GREASE, just as my kids missed Michelle Pfeiffer’s numerous double entendres in HAIRSPRAY, while I sat cringing. I think sex, unless it’s pretty explicit, tends to breeze over kids’ heads. My daughter watched the edited-for-broadcast version of TITANIC (basically, everything but Kate Winslet’s breasts) when she was 9 or 10.

    I recently debated and debated whether to take my 12-year-old to the SWEENEY TODD movie. The play rocked my world when I was 13 and made me the writer I am today. I still think it is the best exposition on the concept of “the villain is a hero in his own story” ever written, and I recently used it as an example in a workshop I gave. But the answer to whether Katie could go to the movie was clear as soon as I saw it (and no, don’t take your kid, Monica). The blood was incredible — over-the-top enough to be comic to an adult, but it wouldn’t be that way to a child, at least one who is the least bit sensitive. The meaning would be lost. Instead, I took Katie to the tour of the play (which she loved, and which proved me right because she found the entirely bloodless killings there to be freaky) and I got the DVD of the old Angela Lansbury version (which is better anyway, btw — Lansbury could sing) out of the library.

  12. >Forget taking my kid to “I am Legend”, if the dog dies in the movie, I can’t take my boyfriend! Seriously, the child would probably be fine with it, but the adult would probably walk out, and we’d have to find him in the parking lot later, disdraught.

    Oh, and my biggest viewing trauma as a child was, I believe, an episode of Star Trek. That was for kids, wasn’t it?

  13. Genevieve says:

    >I have that Ty Burr book about great classic films to watch with kids. It’s a terrific book — talks in detail about the kinds of questions or discussions each movie may raise, and has recommendations for very young ages (Singin’ in the Rain, for example, which my son adored as a 3 or 4-year-old) up through teens.

  14. >I thought that the dialogue in Juno was *supposed* to sound dated. All the slang had a built-in cynical sneer, which was part of what she had to overcome (or at least temporarily relax) in order to start making meaningful connections to people. I mean, c’mon, that girl didn’t know from the Thunder Cats and hamburger phones! Much less George Michael (the singer-songwriter, not the Arrested Development character — she knew plenty from him). And to further show my hand — one of my favorite parts of Persepolis was the heavily accented, strangely haunting rendition of the mucho-macho, all-American “Eye of the Tiger.”

  15. Jennifer Rose says:

    >Elissa, I wish I could give the Juno writers more credit, but I think they suffered what many would-be writers-for-teens suffer: nostalgia. They plucked things from their own 1980s/90s childhood/teenhood, thought of them as universally teen-y, and put them in the film. (e.g. Thunder Cats, hamburger phone, dowdy flannel shirts a la grunge.) They also inserted music that they wish they’d had in adolescence (Kimya Dawson/Moldy Peaches), but which is a few years old and probably not as hip with the kids as they’d like to think.

    Therefore, I can’t give them credit for making the dialogue “intentionally dated” to later show the character shedding her cynicism. Sorry. Not buyin’ it. I’m with Roger: it was trying too hard.

    A recent-ish book that suffered the infusion of time-stamping slang and cultural references: “Does My Head Look Big In This,” by Randa Abdel-Fattah. So many references to “Friends,” Hugh Grant (OLD MAN ALERT!), Angelina Jolie…it’s already dated (and way too long). But hopefully kids will like the story. I don’t think it’s destined to be a classic, anyway, but the topic is timely and treated with a uniquely light hand, so it doesn’t feel teach-y.

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