Fairy tales and scary campfire stories are often ways for children to explore the nature of good and evil in a setting that's safe, because it is just a story.
This holiday season, parents might be looking for just such a story, and we think we have one: William Alexander's debut novel "Goblin Secrets" has just won the National Book Award for young people's literature.
It's set in the city of Zombay where theater is outlawed, no person may pretend to be someone else. Only goblins are allowed to perform plays, because they're not considered human.
Rownie, the hero, is an orphan living with other parentless children under the watchful eye of Graba the witch. His older brother, Rowan, a promising actor performing plays in secret, has vanished.
Alexander told Here & Now’s Robin Young that he thinks dark themes should be explored in fantasy.
“I think its tremendously important, especially in fantasy, in any non-realist genre, because there's something you can only get at sideways,” he said.
For a child who's been in a car accident, Alexander said, reading a story about a car accident might be too close to home. But when reading about a creature who keeps its heart in a box in a hollow tree, or who turns to stone from time to time, there's still an element of fear and danger – and it can even be nightmarish – but it doesn't directly parallel the child's experience.
Coming at pain and violence sideways can be healing, Alexander said. It also helps them to feel less isolated, and “anything that can break that solitude is good, including kinship with fictional characters who also had to go through something incredibly difficult.”
This segment aired on December 18, 2012.
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