Dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World are the kinds of books you do not expect children to read. They present an impending bleak world where governments control all aspects of their citizens’ lives.
Since the late 1990’s there has been an explosion of dystopian novels marketed to young adults and children as young as 9 or 10. Some examples include The Giver, Hunger Games and others by Suzanne Collins, the City of Ember series, the Among the Hidden series and The Eleventh Plague. Here we have the same bleak futuristic worlds but with simpler language. Some stories present corrupt governments, while others portray anarchy. In each of them life is about survival with limited resources, often featuring a collapse of the technologies (electricity, cars, medical knowledge) we take for granted in North America. Are such books really a benefit to children?
This style of book has some positive elements. The lead characters are often resilient and resourceful in the face of oppression. The confidence of children can be built up as they read about such courage. As well, in the Among the Hidden series where population control is government policy, students can learn that such practices have been used in other countries and see for themselves why they are immoral.
Having said this, it is crucial for educators and parents to read the books their children are reading. Discussion and reassurance may be necessary; some children may not be ready for a certain book until they are older. As in most things, balance is needed. A child’s reading diet needs elements of delight, surprise, humour, escape and security as well as these serious issues.