Some adults make the mistake of believing children are fragile little human being. While they may be little, most of them are not nearly as fragile as adults make them out to be. Typical school-aged children are already bombarded by the horrors of their daily lives. Not all of them are that serious – not being allowed to watch a certain television show or buy a certain toy – while others certainly are – like being bullied, excluded from the group or even abuse. Sadly, these are all part of reality. Most children already know about the horrors of reality; therefore, the horrors of fiction might be much more appealing.
As a child, I was bullied by the other kids. It was not that severe – some teasing, some provoking, some exclusion – but it still caused me not to like my classmates very much. For me, fiction was a way out of the stress of daily life. It was not harmful or permanent in any way, yet it allowed me to feel free. Especially horror and fantasy fiction did the trick, mainly because those genres were not based on the reality. None of the things that happened in the stories would ever happen to me – and that was good. It was nice to read about people who got themselves into absolutely crazy situations with witches, fairies and werewolves. Sure, the main characters were children like myself, so I could still pretend that I lived the wonderfully unreal lives they did.
In all honesty, I do not quite understand why the most popular genre – at least in the Netherlands – seemed to deal with whatever gritty ideas writers could come up with, ranging from bullying to sexual assault and dealing with anorexia. I am also not so sure if those subjects truly should be read by children. Sure, they are not fragile. They know what is going on in the world, thanks to the news, the movies and the talks of the day at the school yard. However, I know many that were absolutely shocked when encountering any of the aforementioned subjects. Not all nine-year-olds need to know about sexual assault, especially not in a way that hits as close to home as a book character.
I may be contradicting myself, but truth is: children love the horrific, whether it could happen in reality or not. It is forbidden, it is unknown and therefore, it is alluring. While I sometimes doubt if certain subjects really are appropriate for children, the children are the ones who pick these books up to read them. There must be a reason for that. For me, I preferred fantastic horror to escape this world; others might prefer the real horror they luckily have not encountered for themselves yet.