The Hunger Games Revisited

May 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

This is going to be a brief update, because Gracie’s having surgery in a few days to remove a questionable cyst from her wrist, and with all the tests and doctor appointments —and Isabelle being sick from a nasty respiratory infection— I don’t know which way is up. For what it’s worth, the doctors don’t think the cyst is anything to worry about, necessarily; it’s just that they can’t tell exactly WHAT it is, and they had the choice of putting her under for a deep MRI, or performing an excisional biopsy. And since they would be putting her under either way, they advised the latter option. And because I just want it to be over already, I agreed. And I’m trying not to think about my (probably irrational) fear of general anesthesia. And trying to figure out how to get Isabelle to school when I have to be at the hospital with Gracie at 5:30 in the morning.

But, anyway.

Since my last post about taking them to see The Hunger Games, it has become All Katniss All the Time in our house. We went to see it a second time. They’re spending their allowance on trading cards. And Isabelle told me that it was her favorite movie. Now, this surprised me, because they’re passionate about a lot of movies, including Cars and Bolt and all of the Harry Potter films. So I asked her why? Why The Hunger Games, when it’s scary and violent and sometimes —for a nine-year-old—confusing? And she said, “Because it’s about a girl.”
From time to time, in literary circles, there’s a dust-up after some (usually male) author makes some disparaging statement about female authors. There’s some back and forth about institutionalized sexism and “chick lit” and income disparities. And often, people who argue that women are all a bunch of whiny babies will point to J. K. Rowling as a success story. Hers is a great rags-to-riches tale, to be sure. But if we’re past the need for feminism, and everyone is judged on his or her own merits rather than on gender, then why did her publisher insist that she use her initials, rather than her first name, saying that boys wouldn’t read a book that was written by a woman?

My point is that if anyone tells you that it doesn’t matter, that the important thing is a “good story” and a “compelling protagonist,” that it’s only left-wing academic types who notice or care about the notion of a gender disparity—among protagonists or among authors—and they’re just creating a problem where none really exists…I’m here to tell you that (in our family, at least) it does matter. Kids do notice. Girls are hungry for heroines. And, if box office numbers are any indication, boys will go and see a movie about a girl, and they’ll even read a book by an author who uses her real first name.

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Scary Movie

May 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

It’s true: I took my 3rd-grade daughters to see The Hunger Games yesterday (I’d already seen it twice). I had read all three books about a year ago, and was eagerly looking forward to the movie. It wasn’t really my plan to take the kids until recently. I knew the books were a couple of years beyond them, not in reading ability but in terms of real comprehension of the political machinations and implications in the plot. And I’m not generally a big fan of violent movies or TV; we’re one of those “no toy guns, no combat video games, no gratuitously violent media” households.

I was surprised by how many of their friends have seen the movie and/or read the books–including one girl whose parents strike me as generally quite conservative. (She has an older sister, though, so that might have been a family outing.) Anyway, I saw it first, and I went back and forth with them several times on whether I thought they should see it, and always discussed my reasoning with them. I told them I thought it was too violent for them and that they might be scared. Their commitment to wanting to see it changed with the weather. Sometimes they reeeeally wanted to; other times they were content to wait until it came out on DVD, which I thought was probably the best option. More manageable on a small screen, plus the option to walk away and go do something else if it got too intense.

But for some reason that I still haven’t fully figured out, I couldn’t put the issue down. So Saturday night, over dinner, I told them in some detail the plot of the first book, not caring if there were spoilers, and I explained my concerns about what I thought their reaction would be. After hearing the story and realizing that when I said “scary and violent” that I didn’t mean monsters or things of the kind that they saw when they accidentally caught five minutes of Supernatural in a hotel room (oops), they both were firm in wanting to go. And I’ve tended to be of the mindset that I would prefer to watch something with them and use it as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than forbid it outright.

There were a couple of occasions where they hid their eyes and/or plugged their ears, but really they were more freaked out by some of the previews we saw. (Like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Nothing in their 3rd grade history lessons prepared them for THAT. And I made them cover eyes AND ears when The House at the End of the Street trailer came on). But by and large, they loved the movie. Sat enthralled for all two and a half hours. To be honest, I think they were a bit young to grasp the real horror of the story–oppressive government demands child sacrifice for its entertainment–and just saw it as a gripping and suspenseful story. I don’t say that everyone should take their 9-year-olds to see it. It’s heavily dependent on your kid and her tolerance for this kind of thing. It’s actually kind of hard to predict what will upset my daughters when it comes to movies; they’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies more times than I can count and have never batted an eye at them, but they could hardly sit through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe because it was too suspenseful and scary.

I’m sure not everyone will agree with my decision to take 9-year-olds to see it, and I’m still very sensitive about exposing them to gratuitous violence, weapons, and so on. Maybe this is Monday morning quarterbacking, but in hindsight, I have no regrets. First, there were the economic considerations: I wanted to vote with my wallet. It’s not easy to find a female protagonist in movies that aren’t easily dismissable as “chick flicks” and that are marketed to young males as well as young females (the fact that the heroine actually saves the male lead is even better). I’m happy to boost the box office receipts of this movie by three matinee tickets.

But on a more philosophical level, I think it’s good for my daughters to see strong, brave, and resourceful young heroines who fight for the right to be self-determining. I think it’s okay for them to see that people in violent circumstances are deeply affected by it—whether they’re committing the violence or victims of it—and that it changes them. And I also think it’s important for them to see that you can feel scared and sad, and show it, and it doesn’t make you any less strong at the end of the day. I weighed the character of Katniss, and what I thought she might be able to teach my daughters, against the violence, and the scary moments, and the disapproval of many of my parenting peers. Katniss won.

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Hungry For Books

By: Tanya Ward Goodman

I have just started to read “The Hunger Games.” I’m curious to see what the hullabaloo is about.

My nine-year-old son wants to read the book, but after a lot of thought, I’ve decided against it.

I think he’s too young. I thought a lot about my decision. I did some research. I asked around. I talked to the librarian and to the woman who works in the children’s department at the bookstore. I Googled “Hunger Games age appropriate.” I read all the articles in the newspaper and I watched the trailer for the movie. And then I decided that my boy was too young to read this book.

It is not that he couldn’t read it. He’s an advanced reader and willing to lose himself in a good book for hours at a time. He could easily follow the story. But I’m not sure he will really get it. I’m not sure he’s ready to read about kids killing other kids. (Truthfully, I’m not sure I’m ready to read about it.)

When I was in second grade, I read “The Hobbit.” I was very impressed with myself and carried this fat tome around with a certain degree of pride. Later, in seventh grade, (at my father’s recommendation,) I read “The Magus” by John Fowles. I have very little memory of either book. I don’t think I really absorbed them or understood them and so some might argue that reading these books did me no harm. It might be said that simply carrying them around boosted my self-confidence and gave me the will to read other challenging books.

But what if I missed an opportunity to really connect my life to the ideas in these books? What if I’d read the Hobbit at twelve or thirteen? What if I’d waited to plumb the erotic, violent, obsessive weirdness of “The Magus” until I was in high school or college or at the very least until I’d gone through puberty?

When my son was four going on five, we showed him what I consider the “first three” Star Wars movies. He and all his friends in pre-school played at being Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. He got an X-wing Fighter for his birthday and a light saber for Christmas. Star Wars was all the rage until around first or second grade when it was suddenly “for babies.” Now that he’s nine going on ten, this well-told story of a boy torn between good and evil would come in really handy. Sadly, I let the excellent metaphor of the Force versus The Dark Side go to waste at a time when they didn’t really resonate with my boy.

I am not saying that our children shouldn’t read these books (or see these movies). I am simply saying, why rush it?

My boy is young for such a little bit of time; I want to let him be young. He’s reading Harry Potter, but he’s also cuddling up to me and asking to hear “Winnie the Pooh.” He is a pre-teen and a post-toddler all rolled up into one silly, weepy, petulant, nose-picking, joke-making ball. I’m taking it slow while we can. Because between now and the day he asks for the keys to my car, he has plenty of time to read “The Hunger Games.”

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