The stories we tell our children

Published 5:54 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

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I like to think of myself as a storyteller at heart. I may not always be very good at it, but I have always loved being able to convey information and emotions through stories.

So I think a lot about storytelling on a daily basis. Stories can be told through multiple mediums, whether that’s simply a tale told around the kitchen table, a novel written on hundreds of pages, the catchy melody of a song, or even art that brings ideas to life without using words at all.

Perhaps this is nostalgia-induced because I’m in my 30s now, but recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the stories we, as a society, tell our children. There are thousands upon thousands of books and TV shows and movies produced all the time for children and teens to enjoy.

Think back to your own childhood for a moment. Didn’t a good story bring you some joy as you experienced it? I wasn’t around when the first Star Wars movie came out, but I’ve heard people talk about visiting the theater multiple times to enjoy it as many times as possible. For some of you out there, maybe it was a comic book series you read with a flashlight under your covers past your bedtime each night. For others, maybe it was a TV show you loved so much that you begged your parents to buy you the bookbag and lunchbox with the main character’s face plastered over it.

As for myself, I could name tons of books and shows that I absolutely loved as a kid. The Power Rangers franchise was a particular favorite of mine. I still remember countless trips to Blockbuster to rent whatever Power Rangers tapes they had in stock, and often, multiple times so I could enjoy them even more. These were also the early days of the Pokémon and Digimon popularity, and I got swept up in that too, so I guess I’ve always been drawn to action-packed fantasies.

Not too long ago, I rewatched my favorite Power Rangers series again just because I was curious how I would perceive it as an adult now. (It was Power Rangers in Space, by the way, because sci-fi has always been my other obsession). Because I’m not a child anymore, I can pick out more of the nuts and bolts of the storytelling in the show, like where the writers just decided to gloss over plot holes and fill screentime with extra silliness. But while the plots are extremely formulaic, they’re not all without substance. There are strong themes about teamwork, friendship, family, and never giving up. Themes that are good for children to start thinking about at a young age.

If I’d first watched it as an adult, I’d definitely be rolling my eyes at how hokey it all is. But the young version of myself didn’t notice or care how clunky the plot was. It was simply a fun half hour of television, and nothing more!

I’ve also been thinking a lot about another cartoon I enjoyed when I was a teenager: Avatar the Last Airbender. Unlike Power Rangers, this series was actually very well-written and dealt with a lot of heavier topics, such as war and death and grief. Some people might have clutched their pearls at this, saying that kids can’t handle those sorts of more “mature” topics, but it’s all written at a level that’s perfectly understandable for younger watchers. (And for older watchers too. It’s a great series for a whole family to enjoy together.)

I think it’s fantastic that there are so many different kinds of stories out there, featuring a diverse scope of characters and places and ideas. Some are just silly fun, while others encourage you to think deeply. With such a wide range, that means there’s something for everyone out there.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about all this in conjunction with book bans again, which haven’t died down since I wrote on this topic last year. I’m still reading news articles from all over the country and here in North Carolina about people and groups who are working to tightly control access to what stories kids read.

Collaborative reporting with several North Carolina news agencies recently revealed at least 189 book challenges across the state’s public school districts. Most of the books that people want to remove from library shelves feature topics including race or queer identities. The reporting also noted, however, that these challenges were coming from only a small but vocal group of people, and only 16 books have actually been banned at various districts in NC.

So, thankfully, it seems like most people aren’t on this strange crusade to cut down on the different kinds of stories available for kids and teens to read. What’s the harm in letting young people read about all kinds of life experiences? Are they scared that children aren’t able to handle being confronted with diversity?

I believe kids deserve choices in what they’re able to read and watch. They deserve access to a whole range of different kinds of stories, just like we all did when we were growing up.

I’m glad to see that school districts and school boards in North Carolina are pushing back most of the time when book banners show up.

Reporting from Border Belt Independent noted that a pastor in Robeson County had tried to get a book set in Afghanistan removed from the curriculum, and another that mentions the AIDS epidemic. The Robeson County school board, however, did not give in to demands to change the curriculum, which had been newly implemented to help improve education in the district and has been showing great results so far.

The district’s superintendent said they didn’t have time to waste on defending untrue allegations about the curriculum when they’re busy focusing on teaching students.

I hope that if people start trying to ban books here locally, we would all stand up to the naysayers to support reading in all forms.

Because I think the stories we tell our children are ultimately just versions of the stories we tell ourselves, stories that celebrate the diversity of human experience, from joy to grief and everything in between.

So what does it mean when we start narrowing those stories down to just one point of view?

I don’t think the answer to that is anything good.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.