stories with nuanced concepts of good / evil (for children/ youth) - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 15 Old 01-15-2012, 07:07 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi - I am looking for suggestions stories with nuanced concepts of good / evil for children (age 8-12).

 

Trying to get away from stories where good characters oppose evil characters and looking for stories that explore good / evil and the nuances, elusiveness and complicated nature of these qualities. 

 

Specifically I would like to see

 

exploration of good and evil within various characters, without distinct and separate "good" characters and "evil" characters

 

responding to "evil" in a constructive rather than destructive way - rather than "killing the enemy" or in some other way opposing the enemy, finding another way to engage with the problem that does not require exclusion of the enemy.

 

An example that comes to mind is "Maggie and the Pirate" by Ezra Jack Keats.

 

 

 


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#2 of 15 Old 01-16-2012, 09:30 AM
 
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Great question! I have been racking my brains, lol! 

 

I know Harry Potter has distinct good-and-evil characters and a big good vs. evil fight, but you may find some fodder in a discussion about Harry and Snape. Harry can be unpleasant and a pretty bad friend (not evil though). Of course, Snape is the epitome of a conflicted character although he's essentially good. Not sure if that's helpful or not. 

 

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness deals a little with good and evil - or at least culpability and outcomes. A monster visits a boy and  tells him three fairy-tale type stories, each with unexpected endings. At least one of them doesn't end with the so-called evil person getting their comeuppance. It's a very emotional, overwhelming book about a boy dealing with his dying mother and his own feelings of loss, so beware.  

 

 

 

 

 

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#3 of 15 Old 01-16-2012, 10:37 AM
 
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See this is something I care very deeply about. I prefer stories that don't so much have a "good guy bad guy" thing going on. I respect children and feel that they understand allot more about human nature than most adults now give them any credit for. I have found that if you go back to older children's books, lets say most anything written before the 1950's are pretty good.

 

A few favorites

 

The Narnia series...yes there are bad guys, but the children have an inner personal struggle between right and wrong.

 

 

The Five children and It by E Nesbit...when they made a "modern movie" they had to add a bad guy that does not exist in the book. The children find a wishing fairy and have to deal with the consequences of their wishes, and work together as a group of siblings.

 

Pretty much everything else by E Nesbit is very good.

 

The Little Princess and The Secret Garden are also very good if a bit  "girly"

 

have fun

 

 

edited to add...Madeline L'Engle  post 50's but very very good


 

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#4 of 15 Old 01-16-2012, 06:21 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rubyjune View Post

 

 

edited to add...Madeline L'Engle  post 50's but very very good


 


 

Which L'Engle title do you mean? I've only read A Wrinkle in Time. From what I recall, there is a clear struggle between good and evil. Evil is characterized by conformity and seeks to control and exert authority over the entire universe. It seemed pretty un-subtle and not at all nuanced. But perhaps her other books were different? 

 

I admit I didn't enjoy Wrinkle and I fail to see its charms, but I didn't read it until I was an adult. My dc and a few of their friends also didn't enjoy it, so I don't think I'm alone. This review sums up a lot of the difficulties I have with the book. I think it's been massively over-hyped and really doesn't stand up well against so much other, much better written juvenile fiction. But again, she wrote many books, so maybe I should try some others, and I'd consider any suggestions you have. 

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#5 of 15 Old 01-16-2012, 08:01 PM
 
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Number the Stars is very good - but might be a little old for an 8 yr old.  It would be fine for the older end of your age group.

 

DD thinks Mysterious Benedict Society might fit.

 

 

 

 

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#6 of 15 Old 01-17-2012, 06:14 AM
 
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ursula leguin has really complex characters, though off the top of my head i can't say for sure whether it's an amalgamation of good/evil. 

 

nancy farmer, maybe?  or those may be too old for that age group.

 

 


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#7 of 15 Old 01-17-2012, 08:55 AM
 
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I found that Charles Wallace's struggle to over come the evil that was working on his own mind through vanity (it was flattering him into thinking that his intelligence made him better than other people) showed the internal struggle of evil within. But you are right "the darkness" was a pretty clear cut evil,  what was I thinking...

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#8 of 15 Old 01-18-2012, 08:03 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rubyjune View Post

I found that Charles Wallace's struggle to over come the evil that was working on his own mind through vanity (it was flattering him into thinking that his intelligence made him better than other people) showed the internal struggle of evil within. But you are right "the darkness" was a pretty clear cut evil,  what was I thinking...


Oh, that's interesting about Charles Wallace. And sorry for ranting about A Wrinkle in Time. I think I have a bit of a neurosis about being a weirdo who didn't like it when it's everyone else's favourite from pre-adolescence. 

 

Your comment demonstrates the challenge of the OP's request though. I think that it's much more common to find nuanced illustrations of good/evil portrayed in specific characters or situations in juvenile fiction, rather than an entire book. I can think of books that present situational ethics problems (stealing is okay, if it's a dog and you are rescuing it from abuse by it's owner/ breaking and entering are okay if you are investigating a crime) but there is a clear line between good and evil. 

 

 

 

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#9 of 15 Old 01-18-2012, 04:47 PM
 
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Here are some that might have at least some of what you want:

 

The Hundred Dresses - Eleanor Estes
This might come the closest to what you're looking for, though the ordinary childhood meanness in it might not be quite bad enough to be called evil.  The main character participates in the meanness, but comes to regret it.

The Coat-Hanger Christmas Tree - Eleanor Estes
I just read this one to my kids and loved it. (Sadly, it seems to be out of print.) There's no evil in it and no bad guys, just a loving mother who wants something different from what her kids want, and kids who are sad as a result. Marianna's mother has never let her kids have a Christmas tree, even though they really, really want one, but this year they hope they can finally talk her into it. She doesn't end up changing her mind, but Marianna comes up with a compromise that makes everyone pretty happy.

Ronia the Robber's Daughter
This is one of our all-time favorites.  Ronia's father loves her dearly and is a good guy in a lot of ways, but he's also an unrepentant robber with a big temper, and when Ronia befriends the son of a rival robber he can't forgive her.  Or so it seems at first, but eventually it turns out that he can, and it also turns out that the rival bands of robbers can stop hating each other and join forces - and even grudgingly accept the idea that the kids won't be carrying on the robber tradition.

Tove Jansson's Moomin books
I love these books.  There's no evil here, but there are characters who are not only good but also foolish or annoying or selfish.  There's Little My, one of my favorite characters ever, who is cheerful and fearless but also entirely self-centered. She's not exactly bad, but you might not be able to call her good, either.  There's also the Groke, who is dangerous, but not evil.  In Moominpappa at Sea, Moomintroll sort of makes friends with her.

Cornelia Funke's Inkworld series (Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath)
This has some people who are just purely evil and must be fought and destroyed, but others who are more nuanced and do both good and bad things. One of the main characters evolves in an interesting way that's exactly the opposite of what you're looking for: he starts out as utterly non-violent, but eventually finds that he can't fight evil and violence without becoming violent himself.  
 

Peter Pan
There are "good guys" and "bad guys" in this book, but the bad guys aren't all that bad, and the good guys aren't particularly good.  There's Tinkerbell, for instance, who hates Wendy and tries to kill her, and very nearly succeeds (but later drinks poison to save Peter.)  And here's Peter, when Wendy, John, and Michael are flying with him to Neverland:
 

Quote:
Certainly they did not pretend to be sleepy, they were sleepy; and that was a danger, for the moment they popped off, down they fell. The awful thing was that Peter thought this funny.

"There he goes again!" he would cry gleefully, as Michael suddenly dropped like a stone.

"Save him, save him!" cried Wendy, looking with horror at the cruel sea far below. Eventually Peter would dive through the air, and catch Michael just before he could strike the sea, and it was lovely the way he did it; but he always waited till the last moment, and you felt it was his cleverness that interested him and not the saving of human life. Also he was fond of variety, and the sport that engrossed him one moment would suddenly cease to engage him, so there was always the possibility that the next time you fell he would let you go.

 

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#10 of 15 Old 01-19-2012, 08:46 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post

 

Ronia the Robber's Daughter
This is one of our all-time favorites.  Ronia's father loves her dearly and is a good guy in a lot of ways, but he's also an unrepentant robber with a big temper, and when Ronia befriends the son of a rival robber he can't forgive her.  Or so it seems at first, but eventually it turns out that he can, and it also turns out that the rival bands of robbers can stop hating each other and join forces - and even grudgingly accept the idea that the kids won't be carrying on the robber tradition.
 



I thought of Ronia, and it's a wonderful book for lots of other reasons too. I just am not sure about where the whole robbers-are-really-just-mischievous-big-boys fits into a discussion of good and evil with kids. The sheriff or soldiers or law enforcers (sorry, can't recall exactly who they were) who capture and want to hang the robbers are nuisances, more than bad guys, but there isn't a lot of sympathy for the law-abiding victims and law-enforcing citizens (aside from Ronia's rejection of thieving as a way of life). 

 

I suppose Robin Hood is a possibility, although again there is a larger clear-cut fight between good (the oppressed) and evil (oppressor and usurper to the throne). 

 

 

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#11 of 15 Old 01-21-2012, 01:07 PM
 
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for dd it was bridge to terabithia that really profoundly affected her understanding of this subject. 

 

the gentle giant in the magical land was the bully on the school yard Janice Avery. 

 

it profoundly affected how she saw teasing and bullies in school (mild bullying) and how she reacted with them. ultimately they all became friends. 

 

and i will credit dd's questioning mind and this character to help her see that the good and bad can lie in one. 


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#12 of 15 Old 01-21-2012, 03:19 PM
 
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Number the Stars was one of my favorite books as a child. I read it so many times. In fact my 8 year old and I took turns reading it to each other the other night. However, I'd say Number the Stars isn't the nuanced book you're looking for, bad and good are very clear in this book. I wanted to read it to my son for several reasons..one being that I enjoyed it so much, and the other reason was that he, like many boys, is happy to play more violent pretend games, sometimes about war, and I wanted him to view war from a different aspect. 

 

However, The Giver is a book by the same author and might be more what you're looking for. This book is definitely for the older end of that age group though. I think I first read it when I was 10, but it might be intended for an audience a little older then that. It is an amazing book, with some sequels. I suggest anyone read it, even as an adult. I can't wait to have my son read it. From wiki...  "The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to "Sameness", this is a plan which has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives".


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#13 of 15 Old 01-21-2012, 07:48 PM
 
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Number the Stars was one of my favorite books as a child. I read it so many times. In fact my 8 year old and I took turns reading it to each other the other night. However, I'd say Number the Stars isn't the nuanced book you're looking for, bad and good are very clear in this book. I wanted to read it to my son for several reasons..one being that I enjoyed it so much, and the other reason was that he, like many boys, is happy to play more violent pretend games, sometimes about war, and I wanted him to view war from a different aspect. 

 

However, The Giver is a book by the same author and might be more what you're looking for. This book is definitely for the older end of that age group though. I think I first read it when I was 10, but it might be intended for an audience a little older then that. It is an amazing book, with some sequels. I suggest anyone read it, even as an adult. I can't wait to have my son read it. From wiki...  "The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to "Sameness", this is a plan which has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives".

The Giver, IMHO is for 12 plus (or so).  I would not present it to an 8 year old.

 

I agree Number the Stars is not nuanced.  I reread the Op, and see she is looking for books that are quite nuanced.  Somehow I missed this on my first go through. 

 

 

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#14 of 15 Old 01-23-2012, 06:54 AM
 
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Rowan of Rin, by Australian author Emily Rodda may suit. It's basically a journey-of-discovery/quest fantasy novel. The smallest, weakest boy in the village accompanies a team of the strongest and most talented adults on a quest to discover why the river has stopped flowing from the mountains. Each of them succumb due to a personality flaw but he succeeds when the others fail, by treating a wounded dragon so it can resume melting the ice that supplies the river. I don't recall any terrible evil, just hubris. It's the first in a series, so the others may be worth looking at too. 

 

NB - I thought it was kind of a simple, slightly preachy story so it may not appeal to the 12 y.o's. 

 

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#15 of 15 Old 02-12-2012, 05:35 PM
 
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Ok, so I haven't read this book in a long time (A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver) but it's YA historical fiction.  It's good because there are definite "bad" guys - Henry II keeps Eleanor locked up for years, mostly to preserve his own power - but Eleanor still loves him, and she's hardly the classic "female victim"... it's somewhat sanitized history but it's real people, nonetheless, with real nuances and good people do dumb things and bad people do smart things and I really loved it when I was a young teen.

 

I thought the Phillip Pullman "His Dark Materials" wasn't bad - I mean, sure, it was kind of good vs evil, but there were a couple good people serving "evil" for what seemed like really good reasons and a lot of the "evil" people had some redeeming features.

 

The later Narnia books were better than The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as far as nuanced good and evil.  Especially The Silver Chair - a lot of the "good" guys are decidedly unhelpful to the protagonists and Jill and Eustace spend a lot of the book squabbling with one another.  Puddleglum is a great character - totally negative outlook, but a "good" guy.

 

Edit to add: Almost forgot one of my faves: The Druid's Tune by O.R. Melling.  (May be out of print? It's Canadian, so if you're in Canada, look for it in used book stores and libraries)  Two teenagers get drawn into ancient Ireland and accompany first one side, then the other, on a cattle-raiding campaign.  It's great in that it shows a conflict, "propaganda" that each side uses, and the good and bad on each side.  Tons of likeable characters, great story.


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