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The darkness does not win.

I had a good childhood.

I think it's important to start with that, because I did. My parents divorced when I was young -- I barely remember them being married -- but I knew they both loved me and would do anything for me. My mom made sure I had structure in my life and that I got my homework done; my dad let me stay up late and watch scary movies. At Mom's house, I ate regular, healthy meals; at Dad's house, I ate a lot of sugar, fast food, and the occasional awesome seafood thing he cooked. With my mom, I played with Barbies and and rode my bike all around; with my dad, I played in thunderstorms and lived in a neighborhood where you could tell the time of day by how many gunshots you'd heard.

In spite of the different life I had with each parent, I knew they both wanted to protect me, even if they had different ideas of what kind of protection I needed. But as far as I could tell, neither tried to protect me from one of the things that shaped little Jodi most: books.

Once I learned to love to read (about third grade), I loved to read. My mom took me to the bookstore and library often, and I know she was paying close attention to what I picked out, but I don't remember her telling me no on anything, either. In middle school, I grew to rely on the school librarians for recommendations; I spent all my mornings before class upstairs in the library because it was quiet and the librarians would talk to me about the books I was reading. (I wish I remembered their names. I want them to know how important they were to me.)

Because of all these influences in my life, and all these people who encouraged my reading habit, I was able to learn about other people's lives from the safety of home/school/wherever.

From WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS (Wilson Rawls) and countless books by Bill Wallace, I learned about the pain of losing a pet long before I had to experience it myself.

From I AM REGINA (Sally M. Keehn), I learned about violence, kidnapping, scalping (!), and overcoming incredible grief.

From ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY (Mildred D. Taylor) and NUMBER THE STARS (Lois Lowry), I learned about racism and family.

From ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS (Scott O'Dell), I learned about survival and self-sufficiancy. I learned about grief and loneliness and the power of hope.

In seventh grade, my English teacher (Mrs. Talmadge -- yay, I remembered a name!) read WAIT TILL HELEN COMES (Mary Downing Hahn) to the class. It changed my life. Why? The. Ghost. Was. Real. (Previously, all the "ghost stories" I'd read had a logical scientific explanation. I was crushed by the absence of real ghosts, as you can imagine.) This book made me want to write. In fact, the very first story I ever wrote was a shameless copy of WTHC, which I showed to my mom and teacher. They were both proud of me, in spite of the whole shameless copy thing.

After that, my world split wide open with books like WINTER OF FIRE (Sherryl Jordan), A WRINKLE IN TIME (Madeleine L'Engle), THE GIVER (Lois Lowry), and THE BLUE SWORD and THE HERO AND THE CROWN (Robin McKinley).

I read all of these books in elementary/middle school, though some are aimed at an older audience. These books had post-apocalyptic scenarios, absolute evil, killing children, dragons, kidnapping, epic battles. There was kissing, awkwardly sexy situations, and one overwhelming and life-changing message that stayed the same no matter what book I was reading, and no matter how dark or scary the book's story:


None of these books traumatized me. None of them caused me to lose sleep -- (Mom, don't read this part) except for the normal reading under the covers with a flashlight, or lying awake replaying scenes from the book in my head -- and none of them desensitized me to the horrors of the real word. Rather, they helped prepare me for the real world, and showed me new ways of thinking. Reading about lives I would never -- could never -- experience helped shape me into a more sympathetic and loving person, because I'd experienced those lives through fiction.

These books have darkness. Books I read for school have darkness.

The darkness does not win.

As I said at the beginning, I had a good childhood. There were sad parts, scary parts, and parts of incredible joy. Lots of children grow up knowing only one kind of life, whether that's a good or bad or in between life. I had two lives in the real world. Books gave me hundreds.


( 42 words — Leave a word )
Jun. 28th, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post, Jodi!

I wish I'd known you were such a Mary Downing Hahn fan, she was at Hollins for the 2011 ChLA conference this past weekend.
Jun. 28th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
REALLY??? *clutches self*
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
Lovely, Jodi ♥
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:16 pm (UTC)
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:18 pm (UTC)
That book list is a lot like my own childhood book list XD I had Island of the Blue Dolphins practically on permanent loan from the library... I'd just keep checking it out again and again and again. (I'm sure that says something about my mindset... I'm also not sure why I didn't just have my own copy, but I didn't....)

Wait Till Helen Comes changed my life, too. Where the Red Fern Grows and The Bridge to Terebithia were also strong influences and books that got borrowed quite a lot.

Also, I didn't realize that Mary Downing Hahn wrote so many books. I think I was just stuck on Wait Till Helen Comes. Hm....
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is on my list of super special books, too, but I didn't read that until I was older. (I almost included it in this post, anyway, but I was sticking with pre-teenage Jodi books.)

I ended up buying my own copy of ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS because I reread it so much, too! And I read several of MDH's other ghost stories. I liked A TIME FOR ANDREW quite a lot.
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
It's possible that I read her other books but they just didn't make an impression on me like Wait Till Helen Comes did. A Time for Andrew sounds familiar, too.

Also, conversation has made something click in a story I was stuck on... *runs off to take notes* Thanks!
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC)
Haha, you're welcome. ;)
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
You story sounds very similar to mine (barring the divorced parents, mine are still very happily married). I would make up stories all the time, but I never once considered that I could actually write them down. I thought you basically had to be some sort of storytelling god, and it didn't help that my family is very rooted in oral storytelling. I only first realized I could actually write a book about 6 years ago, which is just a little sad. You're very lucky for getting started so early.
Jun. 28th, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
Oh totally know what you mean. My sister and I made up stories for our Barbies all the time. We had several stories that we'd play over and over, adjusting a little to keep it interesting. But it never occurred to me to write it down, either! Not until later.

I'm not sure where I thought stories came from before that, but I definitely didn't think I'd be one of those names on a book.
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
mmmmm thanks for reminding of good times in my childhood. I drank Where the Red Fern Grows, Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Blue Sword down like a drowning fish. Books were the way for me to feel the hard feelings and still be safe.
Jun. 28th, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
Yes! I love that about books, being able to experience things I'd never have a chance to otherwise. Or wouldn't want to!
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC)
Here via a Twitter link.

One thing that stuck with me when I was taking a college fiction writing course was when I was in conference with my professor. I expressed concern, because my major work was a short story about teen romance*, and I... well, I didn't know much about romance.

He pointed out that I knew more than I thought, because I read and watched TV and observed my friends and family. That my non-firsthand experiences could give me information, even if it was filtered through another's perception and that was how everyone learned about the world. Which was valuable to me, not only as a hobbyist writer, but also as a shy kid on the autistic spectrum.

* There were also aliens and culture clashes.
Jun. 28th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
That is a great story! Thank you so much for sharing it.
Jun. 28th, 2011 05:24 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post. :-)
Jun. 28th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
Jun. 28th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
Wonderful thoughts! yay for books! The Giver, Hatchet, Narnia, and then Redwall were my gateway books.
Jun. 28th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC)
Oh Narnia! I have vague memories of maybe reading those when I was a kid? I seem to remember a movie version better. (The BBC version perhaps.) I definitely read them when I was 19 and was just . . . wow.

I know I read HATCHET, too, but I don't remember when that was. But I'm pretty sure that's the book that taught me fish eat eyeballs and other soft parts of the human body first. O.o (If it wasn't that book, it was a similar one.)
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
This should be required reading for anyone about to become a parent. Go you, Jodi. And yay for your parents.
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
I had very good parents! And my mom is still a very active part of my life, which is wonderful. We still talk about books ALL THE TIME.
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:18 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry, jmeadows, but I'm trying to figure out the point of this post.

Are you saying that books helped you through a rough childhood? Congratulations. The darkness didn't win over you. But not everyone is so lucky. My father, when he was in my life, beat me for not playing baseball; reading books was an allowed alternative but not his preference.

Are you saying that the darkness never wins in children's fiction? That's a pretty unsurprising truth. Or are you saying that darkness in children's books is unlikely to traumatize children? I'm not aware of anyone claiming that it will, but if they are they should be laughed at. Children know terror worse than anything you can find in books. As an Iraqi blogger once said, monsters are for losers who don't need to fear abductions and explosions.

I guess...I'm envious. My childhood was just a shade worse than yours, but bad enough that the point that seems obvious to everyone else is lost to me. Sometimes the darkness does win. Books seldom have anything to do with it. I'm glad it all worked out for you.
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
The Wall Street Journal recently had an article on how darkness in young adult books was negatively influencing our children and how exposing them to such things at an early age would push them in that direction rather than caution them against it. I'm assuming that's what inspired this post by Jodi. Like you, my childhood was filled with an all too real darkness with real live monsters. Although I had little say in it as a child, I'd like to think that the darkness didn't win in my life. It's certainly shaped the adult I am today, but it didn't win.
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Dannigrrl5. I didn't know about that article. Oh, well, the WSJ are idiots.

As far as whether the darkness is winning, I ain't letting any scores be tallied until I stop breathing. We'll figure out who won then. :)
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC)
I'm very sorry you had a hard childhood. No one should have to go through that.
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:19 pm (UTC)
Beautiful post, Jodi.
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it, sunshine!
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your heart, and what those books meant to you.
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC)
Just wait. Fifteen years from now someone will write a post like this and HOURGLASS will be on their list. :)
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:35 pm (UTC)
Beautiful post, Jodi, and a wonderful tribute to reading.
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Eve. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)
Jun. 28th, 2011 10:04 pm (UTC)
I really really love this post, and I love you!
Jun. 30th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
*loff loff loff*
Jun. 29th, 2011 12:43 am (UTC)
That's how childhood reading is supposed to work, darnit!
Jun. 30th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
I agree!
Jun. 29th, 2011 01:27 am (UTC)
The darkness can not win because in your hands it becomes love.
Jun. 30th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
Jun. 29th, 2011 02:35 am (UTC)
I read a lot of stories with dark themes when I was growing up. When I think back on what I read, I wonder why my mom let me read half of what I read. But then I think, I was mature and smart and had a HUGE imagination. She knew I could handle it.
Jun. 30th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
Yeah, there are some surprisingly dark books for children, and there have been for centuries. Heck, half the books I was told to read in school were just . . . wow. LORD OF THE FLIES, anyone? (Also, is it a coincidence that was my favorite book for school? Hmm. *g*)
Jun. 29th, 2011 06:07 am (UTC)
I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins!

I had a pretty crappy childhood, but books gave me an amazing outlet. My past doesn't define me--it may inform a little of what I am today, but I refuse to be cowed by it. Books helped me get past all that and define a new identity for myself that wasn't solely determined by my upbringing or dysfunctional family. And now I get paid to write sometimes!

(PS: I sent a piece off yesterday and didn't have a panic attack about it. Maybe it's getting easier!)
Jun. 30th, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC)
YES!! That's what books are supposed to do.

(Also, YAY! Good work!)
Jun. 29th, 2011 09:47 am (UTC)
I haven't read the WSJ article, just a lot of reactions to it.

Maybe it's a matter of proportion. How much hope to how much darkness? Hope of what?

I'll rant on at my own LJ.
Jun. 30th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)
Looking forward to it. :)

The articles and interview were pretty condescending. They talked about a mom of a thirteen-year-old looking for a book for her daughter in the YA section and only finding things too mature. Well, yes, she would find a lot of stuff on the older end of the YA spectrum, too. They like reading also! There's a whole range of ages. If she can't find something in the YA section, there's still MG. Her daughter isn't too old for that.

I definitely recommend reading the articles and listening to the interview before posting your response, though. It's not just what she said, but how she said it.
( 42 words — Leave a word )
Author of INCARNATE (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins)

My novels are represented by Lauren MacLeod of the The Strothman Agency.


Jodi Meadows

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