My ten-year-old daughter has been asking me to let her read The Hunger Games. The answer is, “Not yet,” mostly due to the novel’s child-on-child violence. But there’s another factor: Even if she read the book and the violence didn’t bother her, she still wouldn’t understand why kids are killing kids because she hasn’t yet learned enough about history or government. The concept of an oppressive dystopian society is for now, beyond her experience. (Please don’t tell her I wrote that) So this got me thinking about books for younger kids that are set in dystopian societies that could help her appreciate this subgenre of science fiction before she reads The Hunger Games.
One such book is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Usually read by 6th or 7th graders, this book is dystopian-lite, and Lowry does a great job explaining the dystopian elements. Another is The City of Ember, about a dysfunctional underground city by Jeanne DuPrau. Both books have multiple sequels.
A recently published junior dystopian novel is The Wikkeling by Steven Arnston. The main character Henrietta is a young girl who struggles with school and friends. She and two other children who become her friends realize they are being stalked by a strange creature called the Wikkeling. While Henrietta and her friends try to solve the mystery of the Wikkeling, they discover a strange room in her house that acts as a sort of time portal, a book-reading cat, and a huge hidden library where print books are kept.
A library full of print books may not sound like much of a discovery, but in Henrietta’s dystopian/consumer society, print books do not exist. Everything is computerized, including education, and all the fun has been stripped out of life by an overabundance of safety rules and regulations, a child’s dystopian nightmare. But the dystopian elements in The Wikkeling are not nearly as heavy handed as those in The Hunger Games where a power thirsty government punishes its citizens. In Henrietta’s world the only oppression comes from over regulation, rampant consumerism and an ineffective educational system, which are mostly things kids easily relate to.
So I’m taking home The Wikkeling to see if my daughter will read it. If she likes it, we’ll see about her reading The City of Ember and The Giver later on in sixth grade, due to its more mature content. And I suppose after that she may be ready for the gruesome dystopian violence of The Hunger Games. Orwell’s 1984 will have to wait at least until high school.