I ran across a news story that reminds me how books are power-ups for people playing life on hard mode. Bookriot shared some heartbreaking stories behind the controversial kids’ book ‘It’s Perfectly Normal,’ by Robie Harris. I have no personal opinion about the book – it’s probably not something I would give to a child – but you can’t help but cry when you hear about how the book has impacted young people.
“The most illustrative story she shared, though, was about a 10-year-girl in Delaware who picked up her book when at the library with her mother. Her mother let her check the book out, and when they came home, she showed her mom the chapter on sexual abuse and said, ‘This is me.’ She was being abused by her father, and it was the first time she’d spoken about it.
The father was convicted, and the judge said, ‘There were heroes in this case. One was the child, and the other was the book.’ Harris wrote in to add that the mother was also a hero in this story, for listening to her daughter, and that the librarian who ordered the book and kept it on open shelves also made this possible.”
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying: I’m not defending the book, I’m defending the book’s right to exist in a world where people are playing life on hard mode. We need to solve the problem at the right level – let’s live a world where no child is abused, neglected, or harmed. Is that asking for too much? If we can’t have that, if that’s too unrealistic for … reasons … then let’s give those little people playing life on hard mode some power-ups to get through the game.
For that little girl, the book was a power-up for her as she played life on hard mode. You want to argue that she shouldn’t have read the book? Cool. I’m arguing SHE SHOULD NEVER HAVE NEEDED THE BOOK. Yet she was. Her father failed her in every way possible. No one knew what she was going through. The book ‘It’s Perfectly Normal’ became her power-up as a ‘people playing life on hard mode.’
It’s not rocket science – If a book bothers you that much, stop arguing that the book exists, and start arguing for a world where that book doesn’t need to exist. If the idea of ‘power-up’ books bothers you, maybe make a world where people aren’t playing life on hard mode.
But they are. We live in a dysfunctional dystopian system that places more energy in looking healthy than in being healthy. More and more people are playing life on hard mode. Books have always been used as power-ups for people in that position. It’s disgusting, for example, that Winnie the Pooh is out there teaching kids to survive school shootings. But what if this book ends up saving lives? I’d much prefer to live in a world where school shootings don’t exist – but that seems to be asking for too much.
So an important takeaway for me is that I need to embrace a core value about my storytelling that I didn’t really understand before. My stories are power-ups for people playing life on hard mode. I mean, they always were, but the right words didn’t arrive until this week. I’m thinking and reflecting a lot on that.