Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 9, 2014

Why Children’s Books Can’t Be All Rainbows and Light

There is an on-going and often heated debate about whether or not dark topics are appropriate in children’s literature. There is of course a need for happy, simple, light stories, but dark topics and themes have their place. I have always contended that dark lit is not only appropriate, but necessary.


Because darkness finds our children.

The real world is full of darkness, and no matter how hard we try to protect them, at some point in their lives our children will face it. Books give children a safe place to confront, think about, and ultimately vanquish evil, before fighting it in real life.

One day in July, darkness walked through Cassidy Stay’s front door. A crazed ex-family-member shot her, her four younger siblings, and her parents, then left the house to hunt her grandparents. Cassidy survived by playing dead after being shot. When the man left, she called the police and saved her grandparents’ lives.

The rest of her family died.

Just like that, everything she knew was gone.

Darkness had found her.

At the memorial service for her family, Cassidy quoted Albus Dumbledore from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

This is why we need darkness in children’s literature.

Because darkness finds our children.

And, sometimes, it is a book that can help them find their way back to the light.


  1. I couldn’t agree more. Many people mistakenly think that it’s not children’s lit if it veers into darker themes, but many very successful children’s books do exactly that.

    I remember reading “Number the Stars” when I was in 5th grade and how moved I was by that book. “The Giver” isn’t exactly light reading either, and I read and loved both books when I was younger.


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