What is it with zombies and should I get my students/children to stop writing about them?

20 Dec

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?

Interesting question.

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.
I’ll admit up front, I don’t ‘get’ the zombie phenomenon and I probably never will (Put it down to the generation gap.) But I do respect the rights of children to express their ideas.

 

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.)
Okay, so you have a child who only wants to write in this genre? Take a breath. Relax a little. Instead of banning zombies in stories, try introducing him or her to a wide variety of literature, genres (and authors) that explore similar themes. Adventure stories, quests and science fiction often explore similar themes (like good versus evil) and provide plenty of action. A varied literary diet is good for young writers. After all, writers can not live on zombies alone. Or try introducing a writing activity that naturally changes the audience focus. Why not write a picture book, for a younger audience? A perfect opportunity then arises for the child to try writing in another style or genre. After all, picture books for young children do not usually feature zombies and this alone, is an interesting philosophical talking point with children.
But above all, no matter what your children are writing about, encourage them to write and share and edit and write again. Because whilst zombies may be clever enough to suck your brains out, a well written story has the power to open up your mind and spin you right out of this world!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  How do you deal with children writing about zombies? Does it worry you? Any thoughts?

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