The world is frightening. Books can make children brave

In a confusing and overwhelming world, fiction offers young people a way to master their fears, says author Victoria Schwab

Victoria Schwab

children literature halloween

Books are the best place to be afraid. 

Stories come in many shapes and sizes, but books have the unique power of not only being portable, but contained. 

They can be opened and closed, taken up, set down and taken up again.

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They begin when you want them to begin, and stop when you need them to stop.

When I am asked why I decided to write a scary series for younger readers instead of adults, the answer is simple: books are the place where we as readers discover the power we have over the story. 

Where we not only experience myriad emotions and sensations, but learn how to moderate our own consumption.  

Fighting demons

The world is a frightening place. Fear comes in many forms, but the monsters in a book are special. No matter how frightening they get, they cannot hurt you. In fact, fictional demons can be fought, and conquered. 

We are handing readers not only a way to understand fear, but a means of facing it. The kids in my stories are never not afraid. It is not about making the reader's feelings, whatever they may be, small or invalid. 

Instead, they can see a mirror to their fear, and a way to work through it. Because as we all know, bravery is not the absence of fear at all, but the triumph despite it.  

And on top of all that, there is the simple fact that, in so many ways, children are bolder than adults. They are daring, they are clever and they are brave. We would do well to take a note from their ability to face fear instead of turning from it. 

'A girl who felt lost'

When I write, I write for a version of myself, and the Cassidy Blake books are no different. Writing these, I was writing for 9-year-old me, a girl who felt a bit lost, and a bit overwhelmed, and a bit obsessed with death. 

I grew up with a sick parent, a bright girl, a combination of bold and terrified, unable to tear myself from thoughts of life and death, while feeling powerless. 

And while I couldn't stop dwelling on the nearness of loss, I also took comfort in the idea of life and death as porous, fluid. A layered space instead of a one-way street.

And so I gave that reality to Cass as well. I gave her a scary world, and a way to move through it. And a friend, so she wouldn't have to face those things alone. 

This is the armour we can give young readers in our work. We can give them company. We can show them versions of the dark where they still hold lights, still have power.

We can lead them through it, and teach them how to be brave, how to be bold, how to lead themselves. 

Victoria Schwab is the author of  Tunnel of Bones, published by Scholastic UK

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