What is it with zombies and should I get my students/children to stop writing about them?
Not long ago, after a meeting of ‘The Writer’s Club’, some parents and I were talking about what topics children choose to write about and it wasn’t long before zombies reared their ugly heads. “What is it with zombies?” One mum pleaded, “and how can I get my child to stop writing about them?” Another parent had been questioned by her child’s teacher about his writing and whether he was exposed to these ideas at home. She was mortified. So it got me thinking…
What is it with zombies and how can I get my students/children to stop writing about them?
And whilst I don’t have a foolproof method for eliminating zombies from children’s writing, I have gathered together some thoughts on the matter. Firstly let’s remember, that literature has always reflected pop culture, and whether we like it or not, zombies, ninjas and warriors of one kind or another, are part of this generation’s culture.
So lately when I see this theme appearing in stories, rather than involuntarily screwing up my face, I have started to ask the young writer questions like, “What is it about zombies that appeals to you?” And the answers are interesting. The writer will start telling me about good versus evil and how the good characters are fighting to save the world and the zombies are sucking out their brains and in the end, the zombies win! (Which isn’t surprising – it’s hard to fight the good fight without a brain.) And I have to say, that despite my reservations, I have read some pretty impressive zombie stories written by children. I can honestly say that stories in this genre still don’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy, but I do see these stories in a slightly new light. Instead of seeing a kid before me, who I assume (rightly or wrongly) probably plays too many computer games, I see a young writer who is playing with lots of big ideas like power, control, morality and death. And isn’t that what literature is supposed to do?
Another criticism I hear about this genre of writing, is the child’s complete lack of awareness regarding their audience. Not everyone likes reading about zombies. (Well, not everyone likes reading about fairies either but let’s face it, they are less confronting.) The best way to help a young writer learn about his or her audience is to provide an opportunity for the children to share and workshop their writing. They will soon learn, that just because the story is about zombies or fighting, that alone, doesn’t make it inherently interesting for everyone. Another problem I often encounter is that zombie stories are usually full of action and these scenes tend to play out quickly in a child’s head. Capturing this, in words, can be really difficult. It reads perfectly to the writer – they know what they want to say. Again, the best way of demonstrating this mismatch between what the writer imagines and what is written on the page, is to get kids to read their story to an audience. And then encourage them to edit and rewrite scenes to clarify their images and make their writing sing. (Not sure if ‘sing’ is quite the right adjective for zombie literature but you know what I mean.)