So, I posted about a child crying over Fly-In Fly-Out Dad and how I think it’s fine when a child cries reading a book. But then of course I got to thinking about this, and wanted to talk about it a little more. Because just going ‘yup, that’s fine’ is not going to work in every case.
Firstly, consider the child’s situation. In the example of a child crying when he hears Fly-In Fly-Out Dad because he too has a FIFO dad, who just happens to have left home that morning, the correlation between real Dad leaving and fictional Dad leaving, is a pretty fair indicator of why the child might be crying. In this case, there is an opportunity for the child to express his sorrow for his own situation, and for the adult (in this case a teacher) to offer sympathy and comfort, as well as for other children to perhaps be offered an insight into what the child is going through.
Secondly, consider how upset the child is. Think about when you yourself last read a sad book or watched a sad movie. Usually you cry, then smile, then feel better. You might continue to think about that book, even discuss it with other people, but you don’t stay sad for hours or days or weeks afterwards. So, if a child cries a little at a sad book, then moves on, don’t fret. But if the child cries for a prolonged period of time, chances are it may not be about the book at all, or the issue raised in the book is raw for the child in some way. Offer comfort but also consider further what it is that really upsetting the child and what can be done about it. If you are a teacher, for example, you might need to let the child’s parents know how upset the child has been, and as a parent you might discuss with your child what has upset them so much. Start a dialogue.
Thirdly, let your child see your own emotion. If a book makes you sad, too, don’t be scared of reading in front of children and letting them see that crying is not a bad thing. I used to avoid reading the sad parts of my stories during appearances. I worried I might get teary in front of the kids, so I read them all the funny,uplifting bits. Then I realised that I might be giving the wrong impression of my books, and that children might be made more sad when they read the books for themselves. So I got brave, and I read the scenes where Pearl and where John get bad news, and yes, my voice broke and I got teary. And I survived, and kids still read my books afterwards.
Finally, if you are an adult offering potentially sad books to children, do stop and think about the child’s situation before you give it to them. For example, Pearl Verses the World deals with a dying grandmother. The book may be too raw for a child who is grieving a similar recent loss, but they may enjoy it down the track. Read the book for yourself, and think about the particular child. I think it is possible for a book to be too sad for a specific child, just like a scary book might be too frightening for some children but not others.
The world needs sad books (with uplifting endings) because tough stuff happens in the real world. Not every book should make a child cry, but if sometimes one does, that’s okay.