Harley’s Fifth Grade Posse
Yesterday I subbed in one of the local private schools. Thankfully I was only an assistant, which amounted to sitting at the front of the class and reading aloud while the real substitute teacher helped the students with their handwork projects. (The Thief Lord is a great book, by the way. I’ll try to run down the author.)

By the time we hit fifth grade, the students had figured out someone new was in the school. I sat down and cracked open the book, but before I could start to read, a hand went up.

“Are you the guy who writes Magic books?”

“No,” I answered. “I’ve only written a short story for the Forgotten Realms, and the book isn’t even out yet.”

“Can I have a copy?”

“Um, sure.”

More hands go up. Pretty soon I’m taking orders from half the class.

I didn’t think about it until later on, when I told H about the day.

Her first question: was my story appropriate for fifth-graders?

Heh. Good question. Thankfully, they’ll technically be headed into sixth grade before the antho gets out, but ...

Now, for the record, I was playing D&D as early as third grade (which means my brother must have been in first grade!). And with our trusty Monster Manual in hand, we spent entire winters battling Asmodeus and hordes of devils in the Ninth Pit of Hell. You and I know that it was good clean fun, but I shudder to think what Mom and Dad might have thought if they had overheard more of our games. (I still remember asking Mom how to spell “assassin.”)

Again, good clean fun. We read constantly, and after the Monster Manual, our most oft-used resource was the dictionary.

But most of the parents in the school probably didn’t have that experience. When they hear "D&D" they probably recall kids playing with swords in storm drains, microwaving cats, and all the rest of the mindless mid-80s D&D talkshow scare.

Now I’m NOT proposing we censor ANY book, no matter the content, and you and I both know that Dungeons and Dragons has about the same corruptive powers as Charlie Brown. But how do we convince parents of that? Perhaps, with the new young reader imprint, the question is moot.

But can I give copies of WoTC books to my fifth grade posse, hoping to inspire a generation of writers?

I’m hesitant to proclaim any conclusions, so I’ll leave this one open ended. I’m still working it out in my own head.

But I Digress...
*laugh* This reminds me of the time a friend bounced a check at the local gaming store.

Imagine his mother's chagrin when she got the bill from “Marshak’s House of Fantasy.”

... it might as well have been “Marshak’s Velvet Pleasure Dungeon” for all she knew. :):):)


At 11:11 AM, Blogger Marcy said...

Good topic, Grimmy, and one that becomes even more interesting when you *do* have children of your own. I let my son read my Goblin Tails story, but I certainly wouldn't let him read "The Thing at the Foot of the Bed." He's still at the age where he'll listen when I tell him it's too scary or too grown-up, but what about when he's thirteen?

I also wonder how the children of some authors are perceived by other parents...would some people not allow their kids to play with Stephen King's children because of what their father writes? Luckily, as F/SF authors, if parents have any inkling what we write, it's usually because they're fans of the genre, but there's always the chance that our kids will miss out on friendships because their parents write "that weird fantasy stuff."

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Kameron said...

MoP falls strongly into the PG-13 category, and, in my opinion, would not be appropriate for fifth or sixth graders due to a couple intense scenes of graphic violence and some sexual innuendo.

My wife was constantly questioning the value of what I wrote by asking me if I would let our son read it. It was a good way to keep me in-check. MoP is much darker than I would normally write. As I started D&D in the third grade, and reading fantasy, my ultimate goal is to write stories that would be suitable content-wise for that age group, if perhaps a little higher on the vocabulary/reading scale.

At 1:47 PM, Blogger Jeff LaSala said...

Hey now, Charlie Brown is one bad role model.... ;)

Excellent points, Harley. One I think about all the time. As for gaming...I'll throw endless demons at my players and let them journey through horrific locales, but I don't think I'd ever seriously consider using the Book of Vile Darkness.

Funny how it is.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger saurus said...

Does the hobbiton school have a library? perhaps you could drop off a copy with the librarian?

The more interesting question is, how did these kids know about the book in the first place?

My wireless mouse just said the battery was low. Bother.

So, I remember 2nd grade quite clearly, (does that piss off all the writers here - me starting a sentence with 'so'? my grammer sucks.. i think i spelled grammar wrong there too...) (go jenks east trojans!) and a vast majority of our time was spent gaming. shoot, for xmas i got star frontiers and you got jabbas palace - that pissed me off man! i needed jabbas palace to go with my rancor monster so i could send him out to terrorize ewok village! yub yub!

but it was a different time back then. we were raised on a steady diet of bunnicula, gus' garage, and the three investigators (question mark question mark question mark). we'd rather spend time outside building make believe castles in the barn and clearing off the kitchen table so as to declare miniture war on each other than sit in front of the tv and play grand theft auto super vice city 12 (or whatever it is kids do these days).

just last night i was telling the roomie's girly about how when i went out for the italian mafia wedding this past year (there was a freekin bullet casing on the lawn - a bullet casing people!!! wake up!!!!) - and i'm driving through the backwoods of new hampshire and it is /dark/ and /woody/. i tried to take a shortcut cuz my then-girlfriend coudldn't read maps if she was caught in a one way hallway and no roads have names out there so i end up on this dirt freekin' road in the middle of nowhere. what goes through my mind? not blair witch. not some new hampshire chainsaw massacre. not even some giant man eating bush-slugs. the stupid goat man does. i don't even know if that's what his name is, but back in like 3rd grade i got this book on monsters of america. it had details on the lake champaign monster, mothman, some big honkin' cat living in the DC treasury, and this freekin' goat man. Goat man comes running out on dark nights (check) in heavily wooded areas (check) and has a freekin axe that he takes to your car! eep! there was a hand drawn black and white picture of him jumping from the woods and attacking this car and everything. until i reached that driveway (don't even get me started on having to drive by the graveyard - undead goat man!) i was freekin' terrified.

remember when toy's 'r' us sold D&D stuff? they best you can hope for now is hairy potter legos.

where the heck am i going with this? i dunno, i thought it was a funny story. i guess the moral is, there are far more things in this world to be afraid of than D&D. we all know that 99% of everyone we know who did game, grew up a normal well adjusted individuals. i'm personally more scared of anything coming out of hollywood or bound for my computer screen than any effect from anything in the literary field. but a lot of folks aren't. a lot of parents these days, from what i've seen, don't have any sense of personal responsibility of what they brought into this earth and their raising. and that's what's truely scary in my book.

but hey, what the heck do i know? i spent all last week tied to 'The Punisher', using various items of my surroundings to eek out information from the Gnuccis. I'm coming for you Jigsaw, and my 500 round a minute lead -breathing M60 is coming with me!

At 2:36 PM, Blogger SnakeOil Sage said...

Heh. I mentioned I published a shortstory at work and they all wanted a copy of Goblin Tales, autographed and everything.

Much as I would be happy to sign my laughably bad signature, it didn't seem like any of them wanted to actually buy a copy.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger ~tiny~ said...

I've been half-ass considering donating my copy of GT to my old high school. I'm not sure if it's out of graditute to my old stomping grounds, or just old fashioned self-promotion. I hush the ethics of the question by telling myself that some old crow would toss it out of circulation the moment they suspected it was "occult" or whatever. Now that I think about it, the books I checked out in junior and senior high the most (that weren't for research purposes) were from that old Time-Life collection on Yeti and UFOs & such, and other similar topics. I bought most of the books to read anyway. LBHS didn't have a good Stephen King section. :-p

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Grimbones said...

"shoot, for xmas i got star frontiers and you got jabbas palace - that pissed me off man! i needed jabbas palace to go with my rancor monster so i could send him out to terrorize ewok village! yub yub!"

*LAUGH* I remember this. I was so bummed, because I was in my "must own everything made by TSR phase." :)

Some things you never grow out of, I guess. ;)

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Kameron said...

I remember mainly checking out Choose Your Own Adventure books and movie monster books from my elementary school library.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger saurus said...

Choose your own adventure books rocked. I actually had one once that had a typo, and both choices led to the same page. That was a short adventure.

At 12:20 AM, Blogger Silverfyre said...

I grew up on Choose Your Own Adventure books and still have quite the collection. I even have some of those spin off Dungeons and Dragons Choose Your Quest books. Them's great stuff!

By the way, great post Harley. ChooseDeath is quickly becoming the place for my daily dose of wisdom, Grimstyle.

At 1:07 AM, Anonymous technobi2000 said...

Time for an elem. school "executive" booksigning tour. Kids these days are loaded! In fact, they ought to be REQUIRED to read D&D stuff, so they learn about the magical power of geek... and, more importantly, learn not to mock the purer elements of our kind in junior high. Who knows what spells lurk behind that case of acne!

At 3:08 AM, Blogger SnakeOil Sage said...

I'll never forget the first book I ever got out of my library. It was 2nd Grade, and I found, buried amongst the piles of Harriet the Spy and Scholastic novelettes a beat up 1950's edition of "mythical monsters" from around the world (but mostly Europe). They even had these excellently freaky drawings in there, everything from big-foot to the cockatraice and zombies, even kappas.

In fact, I think that's why I like monster manuals so much.

* * * * *

>Who knows what spells lurk behind that case of acne!<

Yes I'm sure the kid in the plaid button-up shirt and glasses with a string connecting the ear-hooks gets all of the hot fresh poon with his 18th-level wizard of Vrammar.


*Runs off to add that to his d20 Project*

At 4:07 AM, Blogger saurus said...

Don't make me whip out Yazar the Yazarian and his Vrusk posse. They just smoked the Star Law troopers of Port Episilon - you're next!

At 7:34 AM, Blogger ec said...

I've talked at a lot of PTA meetings about the benefits of gaming. Some parents have already made up their minds that this stuff is Evil, but some are eager to hear about anything that might entice their kids away from an addiction-level absorbtion in computer games. When you throw in social skills, reading, writing skills, mental math, they start salivating into their decaf coffee. Alas, all it takes is one or two parent to torpedo your PR work.

My two kids and I ran a very successful strategy gaming club in the local middle elementary school (grades 4 and 5) for several years. We introduced dozens of kids to gaming, and the club was incorporated into the after-school program, where it received a budget (Woot!) and the enthusiastic endorsement of the enrichment specialist. Then the school superintendent outlawed D&D in all the town schools. And the new principal at the upper elementary outlawed collectible cards because they get stolen. (I asked if she was also outlawing lunch money, the traditional target of prepubescent low-lives...)

TSC, by all means donate a book to your high school library. It's good for promotion and it's good for the library. You might want to consider your local public library, as well. :)

At 8:08 AM, Blogger ec said...

Grim, this is an excellent question, one every FR writer need to consider. The demographics of the books has traditionally been ages 12-30, predominantly male. The readership is changing somewhat, and the line is attempting to reflect the trend in fantasy toward darker themes and sordid detail. Some of the recent FR books are still suitable for kids under the age of 13, but would I want MY 10-year-old fifth grade immersed in anything as graphic and salacious as the War of the Spider Queen series? Um,no. I don't want kids to read most of my stuff until they're at least 13. At booksignings I'll candidly advise parents of younger children to hold off for a few years before reading Counselors & Kings, and I'll steer them to something more age appropriate. Some issues are raised in this trilogy that might be difficult for younger kids to understand. I don't think many parents want to explain the sexual pros and cons of being a eunich. I remember all too well my ten-year-old son bringing me the Patricia Cornwall book his father recommended and asking what was going on at a crime scene. What ten-year-old needs to know about autoerotic asfixiation? To his father's credit, he was chagrinned about the situation--he'd forgotten about that scene. And that's the point: something that'll wash right over an adult's head will make a disproportionate impact on younger kids. By giving them books they're not ready for, we run the risk of creating an indelible negative impression on the young readers AND their parents.

If the kids are intelligent and mature for their years, there are books that handle difficult subjects in an intelligent fashion. Jane Yolan's brilliant and chilling book Briar Rose addresses brutality during WWII and the dark side of human nature in general, in a creative and unexpected reworking of a fairy tale. It's not a kids' book, but I'd give that book to a bright kid who's ready to start thinking about life's grimmer issues. Unfortunately, a lot of fantasy tries to bring the gap between YA adventure and "adult fantasy" by putting Ginger, Gilligan and Mary Ann in a hot tub--or worse, putting Mary Ann in a red catsuit and giving her a cattle prod.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Marcy said...

"Unfortunately, a lot of fantasy tries to bring the gap between YA adventure and "adult fantasy" by putting Ginger, Gilligan and Mary Ann in a hot tub--or worse, putting Mary Ann in a red catsuit and giving her a cattle prod."

That's a visual I could have lived without! ;)

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Tim (falcon_cross) said...

I agree. I think parents need to lighten up on the affects fantasy has on their children. Of all of the schools I have been through, I only ever found one teacher that actually *knew* what fantasy was. Most teachers in my area (Maine) don't know and don't care - they just don't want kids - any kids - to have anything to do with it. I once had an English teacher who failed me in class because all I ever read were fantasy books!

At 11:46 AM, Blogger ec said...

Mike, in that case, you might want to avoid Terry Goodkind's books. The first book had a character who was essential Mary Ann in a red leather catsuit, with a magical cattle prod as her main accessory. This character plays a big part in the 50-page S&M section that set the tone for the series.

But hey--a lot of readers love this stuff.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger Silverfyre said...

~Quickly orders Terry Goodkind's entire body of work~

What?! Don't leer at me that way!

At 2:25 PM, Blogger SnakeOil Sage said...

>Mike, in that case, you might want to avoid Terry Goodkind's books.<

Hey, I didn't say anything against that.

I like cattleprods.

At 2:01 AM, Blogger Silverfyre said...

I think she meant "Marcy".

At 9:46 AM, Blogger ec said...

Oops. Yep, I meant "Marcy." Sorry, Mike--carry on.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger SnakeOil Sage said...

I demand, as repayment, 1 flask of elven moonwine. *Laughs*

Jack D. just isn't doing anything for me anymore. :)


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