Dysfunctional Family Desired for Story Premise

Vintage reads

Remember those good old TV shows from the Fifties? Andy Griffith, Leave It to Beaver, The Lone Ranger, and a host of others. Today’s viewers say, “Boring. No conflict. Not enough action.”

 
Excuse me? While superheroes didn’t bounce out of the sky and smash a city to individual cinder blocks, the characters in those programs faced real problems and taught children how to solve them. In many family comedies, Dads led their wives and children through a jungle of moral decisions. The parents, as a team, guided their children toward wisdom, unlike many of the buffoons in today’s sitcoms.

 
Take Eddie Haskell, a problem that never stopped. Wally and the Beaver didn’t like him, but they treated him with grace. Their parents told them to, they obeyed, and further conflict was averted. At least, until Eddie tried something else, and the cycle repeated.

 
Or Opie Taylor, Andy Griffith’s son. I remember an episode where he had to choose: prepare to fight the bully for what was right or join the crowd to do wrong. Thanks to his father’s consistent example, Opie chose to stand for righteousness.

 

 

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Dennis the Menace entertained us with his inept efforts to be helpful, and his generous heart taught children like me to love our neighbors. His parents were often at a loss as to how to handle what Dennis might get into next, but they always explained to their son how he might have done things differently with less disastrous results.

 
Even westerns taught Judeo Christian morality. In The Rifleman, a father taught his son right and wrong and to use violence as a last resort to save other lives. The Lone Ranger never looked for credit for his good deeds. The rescued asked, “Who was that masked man?” as he rode into the sunset. Lessons in humility.

 
I want the same lessons of goodness in the books I read where characters solve problems in an honorable manner. It’s why I prefer the classics, books that contain intact families who love each other and face conflicts together. I get so tired of the dysfunctional families and missing parents in today’s literature. As an experiment, I went through the archives of The Scriblerians and checked the family situations in each of the books I’ve reviewed. I was dismayed by the results:

 
Dysfunctional Family/Missing Parent Intact, Loving Family
//// //// //// //// // //// //// /

 
Even if I discount the handful of books written past 1990, I found that authors use the lack of a good parent as an integral part of the conflict for the child protagonist. As much as I love each one of these stories, I’m saddened by that reality.

 

 

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Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars is a case in point. Thirteen-year-old Sara lives with her snarky teenage sister, her little brother Charlie, and their aunt. Their mother died; their dad split. Charlie has unnamed developmental disabilities. Today we might say he’s on the autism spectrum. Sara loves Charlie; she hates his neediness. She hates herself as many young adolescents do. The novel is beautiful and character-driven with a flawed protagonist who finally realizes she loves her family as it is.

 
Most of the events in the plot could have been accomplished with a mom and dad still around. Two parents could have struggled together in dealing with Charlie’s eccentricities, and teens in their struggle for independence get in grand funks even when they grow up in wonderful, loving homes.

 
Strong families are not exempt from ongoing crises. I’m currently writing a fictionalized memoir covering the first five years of my little sister’s life. Our parents enjoyed a solid marriage, and they had to cope with the uncertainties of raising a profoundly deaf child. Heartbreaking events occurred, and comical episodes still made life fun. We were strong. We were together.

 
This is what I feel called to do in my writing, to glorify God with stories of family who strive together to overcome the obstacles in their path as they journey through life, pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land.

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Meet Mitali Perkins

 

When I last took a turn posting in Scriblerians, I featured Mitali Perkins as an author who uses wise parents as characters in her books. I hoped to bring you an interview for my next post. Mitali very graciously agreed to said interview, and I’m delighted to share what she has to say about writing stories that appeal to young readers. With a first glance at Mitali’s infectious smile, I was eager to learn more about her. I hope my enthusiasm is contagious, and you, too, will want to read her books.

Mitali is now an Honorary Scriblerian!

 

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Nickname: “Zommie,” which is what our dogs call me.

Genre: Children’s/Young Adult Fiction.

Personal Philosophy: I love Jesus.

Favorite Scripture: Philippians 2: 1-4 is my vocational banner verse. “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Favorite Quote: “The challenge for those of us who care about our faith and about a hurting world is to tell stories which will carry the words of grace and hope in their bones and sinews and not wear them like fancy dress.” — Katherine Paterson

In high school I was… the Asian nerd, fresh off the boat.

 

 

Mitali Perkins

 

Thank you, Mitali, for agreeing to take time out of a busy schedule for the Scriblerians.

In my last post here I expressed how I found it extremely refreshing to read your teen fiction because the main characters have GOOD parents! These are intact families with both Mom and Dad loving each other and watching out for their children. Chiko and Tu Reh and Sparrow all experience growth by making their own decisions and relying upon the good examples of their parents. This goes against the grain of many books in the same genre. Did you have any trouble convincing an agent or editor that a broken home or a foolish parent is not required for teens to be good hero material?

Mitali: Thanks so much. No, none at all. My editors have all been supportive of my characters’ loving parents.

 

Without getting preachy, you create characters who are Christians. Do you consider yourself a Christian author or an author who writes Christian fiction?

Mitali: I think of myself as a follower of Jesus who writes books for kids.

 

In the writing process for Bamboo People, what was the balance between researching Burma’s recent history and your own experiences in the country?

Mitali: I mostly relied on research because I had lived there a while ago. I also interviewed missionaries who are currently living and working there.

Have you worked with people on both sides of this conflict?

Bamboo PeopleMitali: Not firsthand. But we love and support close friends who do.

 

 

 

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I loved the names that you gave to Sameera/Sparrow in First Daughter, Extreme American Makeover. I could see Sparrow gradually grow into the more grown up Sameera. How do you come up with names for your characters?

Mitali: They just come to me, and then they stick.

When I see your smile in photos, I can imagine that your family may have also called you Sparrow or something similar when you were a child. What percentage of Mitali Perkins makes up Sparrow’s character?

Mitali: Most of my main characters are like me. But I wasn’t a petite child; I was hefty! I was the fattest baby ever born in Shebashodon General Hospital in Kolkata, India. I made headlines!

 

Since I don’t want to go too long in a blog segment, I’m saving the rest of the interview for next time. Mitali will share a little of her own childhood, and we’ll talk about her experiences with the publishing process.

If you have already begun reading her books, let us know what you think of them. If you want to learn more about Mitali, you can find her at http://www.mitaliblog.com.

 

 

 

 

 

The EXTREME JOY of Parenting Teenagers

I found it in the bottom of the waste basket as I emptied the trash — a crumpled copy of her weekly sociology assignment.  Not in the waste basket in her room, but in the no-really-serious-secrets-here computer room/spare bedroom wicker container.  It was fascinating reading.  I perused with great interest our sixteen-year-old daughter’s take on the things that sway society.  As she expounded on the cultural entities that have negatively influenced today’s youth, I was amazed by her insight.  She seemed to truly grasp the “garbage in, garbage out” concept, sighting numerous examples of how less than wholesome input resulted in less than moral, upstanding behavior.  All in all, she sounded much like a younger version of her father and me!

When she went on to note an example from her own life, where she had been nearly swayed by negative influences toward a dangerous mindset, well, frankly, it’s a good thing I was already sitting down!  While the self revelation was a bit surprising, what really astounded me was the acknowledgment of her firmly held beliefs and in writing no less!  It seemed she had been hearing us all along. Our admonishing that everything in our lives influences us one way or another, us insisting that song lyrics DO matter, repeated cautioning that just because something or someone is popular, has a great following, and is “cool” doesn’t mean it/he/she is moral, just, or constructive.

Somehow, through fingers jammed firmly into her ears and in spite of loud chants of “I’m not listening!!”, our words had made it into her brain matter and had been mulled around sufficiently for her to reach conclusions that bore a very close resemblance to ours.  I was speechless yet thankful; dumbfounded yet very, very grateful.  Maybe all the slammed doors and episodes of the silent treatment had been worth it.  Maybe we weren’t doing as lousy in the parenting realm as I sometimes, late at night, feared.

Lest we become too big headteen girled about our parenting skills, not much more than a week after discovering her discourse on modern society, she fought with us to the death over something even more basic than the truths she had acknowledged in her assignment.  Our pleas of reasoning and requests to just consider our viewpoint went completely unheeded.  Another round of the silent treatment followed.  But this time I had renewed hope that all the time spent not talking to us might just possibly be used instead to chew on our sound reasoning with the hope that her conclusion would, in the end, closely resemble our own.

At least we had the assurance that some of our wise counsel was finding a home in her heart and mind. The truths we tried so hard to instill in her were in fact making an impact. We steeled ourselves for more “discussions”, more beating our heads against the brick wall of parenting, more of the frustration that goes with turning teenagers into responsible adults. It’s amazing how a little proof in black and white can encourage the weary souls of parents.

So, what kind of teenager were YOU?