Dealing with death in kids books

Picture it: Somewhere near the Canada US border, 1981. A ten year old redheaded Canadian kid is being dragged crying from an American movie theatre, yelling, “But it CAN’T be over! Darth Vader WON!?!”

My mind, made fairy-tale-receptive from the first Star Wars, couldn’t wrap itself around the loss of Luke’s hand and poor Han trapped in carbonite. Han and Luke and Leia lost? These were my friends (and at that age, pretty much my only friends). I was devastated and not only not able to handle the grief, but pretty much unable to conceive at the time of a “trilogy”, which was the format of many favourite books, as a movie thing. I couldn’t see how it could be fixed. Like death.

The ride back to Canada (my dad had taken me down to the States to see The Empire Strikes Back before it opened up here) was long and silent and my dad got pulled over for weaving on the road (he was trying to make me laugh by dodging on-coming dragonflies in the headlights as if they were TIE fighters. One look at my face and the cop let him off.)

All this to tell you that grief is hard when you’re young and don’t have the tools to deal with it maturely (like I do now by pushing down into a vile little ball deep inside of me, presumably to be released at some inappropriate time in the future, such as a telephone company xmas ad).This geek parent doesn’t regret her decision to steer her kids to the geek worlds of comics and books, but she didn’t bargain on what to do with all the death that occurs in books and comics and anime.

Skip forward 30 years to me read Goblet of Fire to my ten year old. Spoiler: Cedric bites it. When he couldn’t believe it, I said, “Well, it was high stakes. Big risks. Sometimes people fighting evil die, which is evil, yes. But it’s for a cause that can be won overall. Now the others will fight harder against Voldemort to honour Cedric’s memory. Remember Charlotte dying? It was sad. But the won the battle for Wilbur, didn’t she?”

That seemed to work, until I realized I’d sort of groomed him for the military industrial complex. There’s no winning. So, what I’m saying is: there’s no damn manual for kids, and if you keep them in a bubble you’re just putting off the hard stuff for them to deal with later. So boss-up and deal with it as it happens.

This geek parent doesn’t regret her decision to steer her kids to the geek worlds of comics and books, but she didn’t bargain on what to do with all the death that occurs in books and comics and anime.

One thing I didn’t consider when we skipped off down the weeb branch path, however, was how frequently we were going to have to deal with beloved characters up and dying.

Character death doesn’t bother me all that much in western superhero comics. The running gag about the impermanence of a given demise is a running gag for a reason: they do almost always come back. And if they don’t, it’s probably because it was time for them to go. Non-super books are different, but lets focus on the superhero style books here, since that’s where a lot of kids enter the fray. 

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