Sunday, September 28, 2014


A while back, someone here at Creation Point (I’m looking at you, Jack) asked me how I would define “kid-friendly” entertainment.  Considering my passion for creating stories—especially comic books—for children, I thought it was a wonderful question.  So let’s move on to the answer... 

“If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups,” Madeleine L’Engle, author of the classic Wrinkle in Time series, once said, “then you write it for children.”  When I set out to write an “all ages” comic book like Abadazad or The Adventures of Augusta Wind—or a prose novel like ImaginalisI want to stimulate the imagination and explore deep themes, creating a story that a parent and child can enjoy together without fear of the content overwhelming or seriously disturbing the child.  I say seriously because a little bit of nightmare is good for the soul:  the Wicked Witch of the West and Monstro the Whale terrified my younger self, but it was an exhilarating kind of terror.  (It could be—as some have argued—that exorcising our demons through stories is, in the long run, psychically and emotionally therapeutic—but that’s another post for another time.)      
Of course there’s no such thing as a Generic Child:  they all react differently to the stories they encounter.  I remember a friend’s daughter who could watch all manner of violent movies—absorbing images far too unsettling for my own kids—yet the stepmother in Disney's Cinderella paralyzed her with fear.  Then there’s the age factor:  What's suitable for an eight or nine year old could traumatize a four or five year old.  There's a big leap from Winnie The Pooh and Doctor Seuss to the later Harry Potter books and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. 

When my daughter was little, she would often come to us, without prompting, book in hand (a book we’d screened and declared acceptable) and announce, “This is not appropriate for me!”  We’d put the book away and Katie would try it again in six months or a year.  My son, on the other hand, would sometimes push for entertainment that crossed the border into edgier territory we didn’t think he was emotionally prepared for.  Sometimes we drew an uncrossable line in the sand, but, when we acquiesced and set Cody free to explore, his judgement was often correct.  We continued to carefully monitor our kids’ choices, but we also learned to have faith in their instincts—and to regularly question our own.  
All of which makes it seem like my answer to the question of what constitutes child-friendly entertainment comes down to Justice Stewart’s infamous definition of obscenity—"I know it when I see it"—and, in some ways, it does:  The line between Young Readers and Middle Grade, Middle Grade and Young Adult is fuzzy at best.  As parents, it’s our job to be constantly vigilant:  We don’t want our kids to grow up too fast, but we certainly don’t want to shut down their minds and imaginations.  Still, I think there’s one essential quality that defines all the best children’s literature:  innocence.  Not a juvenile point-of-view or some cultural/societal conception of innocence, but an innocence of the soul:  a primal sense of wonder, too-often discarded when we leave childhood behind, that allows us to view the world through eyes unclouded by cynicism or despair and see the miracles of creation that are all around us—if we would only look.  
The best children’s stories (some of which come to us disguised as stories for adults) expand and challenge the mind, heart and spirit but keep that innocence intact.  As a creator, I want the experience of writing these stories to keep my innocence intact, as well.  To remind me of who I truly am, and what reality is, beneath the sound and fury of the (so-called) adult world.
©copyright 2014 J.M. DeMatteis

Monday, September 22, 2014


In an age that sometimes seems lost to violence and hatred, this short, profoundly moving, TED talk gets beneath the skin of the world, beyond the CNN Reality, and offers hope.  I urge you to watch it.

As Buddha said:  "That which is most needed is a loving heart."

Thursday, September 4, 2014


After a long respite, my  IMAGINATION 201 writing workshop is coming to Kingston, New York in October.  Details are here.  Told you this was short!