My youngest, the Fishing Fanatic, seems to be an unusual kid. He doesn’t live for video games and has little interest in an online life. He loves to be outdoors, fishing, exploring our woods, or working on outdoor projects. He’s a high-level reader but gets frustrated finding contemporary books he likes. So many middle grade and young adult books are fantasies. Even ones advertised as mysteries or adventure stories often have a fantasy element. The books that don’t are many times set in the past. But kids need adventure stories, set in 2020, with realistic plots, to inspire them to seek their own adventures.
The Problem with the Fantasy Element
Fantasy or scifi is my second favorite genre. I understand the attraction. But other genres offer equally entertaining reads. The glut of fantasy and scifi books in the middle grade and YA markets is discouraging to someone looking for something different.
I think all these fantasy stories convince kids that adventures can only happen in their imaginations, the time of true adventures is past. Or that they have to be the Chosen One, possess some special power or position, to be eligible for an adventure.
The Problem with Technology
The ubiquitous possession of phones seems to have convinced many authors that kids can’t have adventures in current times. I think that’s why a lot of stories are set in the recent past, so the characters don’t have access to phones. In America, so many people live in cities and suburbs that they don’t realize the country isn’t completely wired.
Smart phones have made creating adventures set in the U.S. more difficult. An author doesn’t want to resort to the idiot plot, forcing the main character and his friends into making stupid decisions in order to get them into challenging situations.
But with some research, contemporary adventures are possible.
I have firsthand proof. I live in rural Ohio. We can’t get broadband internet at our house. It’s not that it’s too expensive. It’s simply unavailable. I’ve hiked in many parts of the state where cell service is nonexistent. My phone would make a good coaster in those places, and that’s about it. Even in remote places where I can call out, it could take hours for first-responders to reach me if I was in trouble.
The truth of all these statement can be seen in the PBS series Expedition with Steve Backshall. Steve Backshall is a British explorer and naturalist. The point of the series is to explore little-known or unmapped areas of the world, like the jungles of Suriname, flooded caves in Mexico, or a mountain in Greenland. The crew and guides took a ton of gear with them, but if one person had a serious accident, getting help, in most cases, would be impossible.
The series ran here in the winter, and my whole family looked forward to sitting down together for each episode, excited to see a part of the world we know nothing about. Any of those episodes could spark a story.
My youngest has found a series he loves, The Three Investigators mysteries. Three fourteen-year-old boys run a detective business in California, and sometimes get work with the help of their friend, Alfred Hitchcock. The series was started by Robert Arthur in the 1960’s.
I want adventures stories to ignite in my kids a desire to seek their own adventures when they are old enough. I hope they see the world as a place of wonder, where mysteries still exist to be solved or explored or simply to marvel at.
Do you think real world adventure stories are important for kids to read? What books do you recommend?