There has been some discussion in the book world lately about the prevalence of absent and/or dead parents in children’s literature. In an interesting article in Publishers Weekly called “The Ol’ Dead Dad Syndrome,” editor and author Leila Sales argues that dead parents in children’s literature are not only troublingly common, they can sometimes be symptomatic of lazy writing–after all, it’s easier to write a book if you don’t have to figure out the main character’s relationship with their parents.
Dead and absent parents in children’s books
Now, you may be less than shocked to learn I have written a children’s novel with an absent parent (or at least a parent who is either flying around the universe or currently living in Milwaukee who could say really??). Wherever he is, Jacob Wonderbar’s dad is not living at home with Jacob.
Although I am biased on this subject, I definitely agree with Sales that there is a certain appeal to just getting the parents out of the picture so the kids can go have their adventures. Roald Dahl perhaps knew this better than anyone when he had James’ parents run over by a rhinoceros at the beginning of James and the Giant Peach, and Sophie is already living in an orphanage in the beginning of The BFG.
And yet despite my good luck in the parental department (I had the incredible fortune of growing up with two relatively normal parents who managed to raise me to adulthood without getting run over by rhinoceroses), virtually all of my favorite books as a child involved kids having to fend for themselves with dead or otherwise absent parents:
James and the Giant Peach
Island of the Blue Dolphins
By the Great Horn Spoon!
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
and many many more
The tradition has been carried on in modern children’s classics such as A Series of Unfortunate Events (orphans), Harry Potter (orphan), and The Hunger Games (fatherless), not to mention in movies as diverse as Star Wars (thinks he’s an orphan, father actually a deadbeat/Sith) and The Lion King (father killed by wildebeests).
And it’s not exactly a new tradition. Early and medieval stories across cultures, from Cinderella (orphan) to Aladdin (fatherless), feature characters who lack one or more parental units.
Why are stories with absent parents so timeless?
So what is up with all those dead parents?
I’m not a psychologist or an anthropologist or even a cultural historian (though I play one on a blog), but I am a former twelve-year-old, and I can remember how thrilling it was to read books where the kids were off on their own, fighting and outsmarting adults, dealing with harsh landscapes, facing their deepest fears, making unforgettable friendships, and, while I didn’t know it at the time, learning how to be adults.
Around the age the books in this list are so appealing, we’re starting to imagine life without our parents, we’re starting to develop our own opinions and thoughts, and we’re starting to realize that our parents are not always right about everything (eventually we’ll learn that they were right about more than we realized at the time).
Dead parents, I would argue, are an externalization of this nascent independence. We’re starting to imagine life on our own and love to read about kids who have been suddenly thrust into that position. A tradition this common cannot be accidental.
Modern twists on an old form
Now, that’s not to say that we don’t need more authentic (and living) parents in young adult literature. Sales rightly points to the incredible Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron as an example of a richly rendered life with two different, compelling, divorced, and refreshingly alive parents, and my client Jennifer Hubbard presents a richly rendered two-parent household in The Secret Year.
But even still, it’s inevitably going to be a rare book that features a happy, stable child with happy, stable parents. We’re always going to be drawn to stories about children having adventures on their own, or as in the case of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You and The Secret Year, living in broken or flawed families during troubling times.
There’s a reason why when you reach “happily ever after” it means the story is over.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Originally published at The Huffington Post
Favoured Girl says
I remember reading the Famous Five series when I was a kid and wondering how the children could have had so many adventures without the adults stepping in to save the day. Now reading this post, I think that's because the adults were mostly absent or too busy to notice what the kids were up to.
On the one hand, I enjoyed reading about the five's adventures because it allowed me to dream of being a hero in my own little imagined adventures. On the other hand, I knew they were quite unrealistic because the adults in my life would never let me go off on my own for so long.
I'm with many of you. It is all about the freedom to make decisions without having to ask permission first (or being forced to).
"Mom, can I go look for the Sorcerer's stone and fight a two faced Quirrel in the basement of Hogwarts? Pleeeaassse, Can I, can I Pleeease?"
In my earlier comment, I should have pointed out the flak that Hit Girl's dad caught in the film Kick Ass. His presence and support (in fact enabling) of his daughter's heroic actions in the film was enough to polarize many people against it. They felt it was grossly irresponsible.
It was grossly irresponsible, but how else could an involved parent be portrayed in such a story?
christine tripp says
Parents (adults) always say no. To everything.
So… you have to dunk the parents, otherwise there would never be adventure, risk taking or fun.
Parents never knew a quarter of what we did as children, thank G, and AS a parent I always said, what I don't know won't hurt me (or at least won't stand up in Juvi court:)
Bambi's mother was killed on screen, he was an orphan and what worked for mega millionaire Disney is good enough for me.
It's fantasy and children know it, if the adults do not. We so underestimate kids.
We have, in the past 30 years, wrapped them in a cocoon, thinking they are weak and feeble minded. Not able to make decisions, nor take care of themselves, yet less then 100 years ago, they worked full days, sometimes into the night, to help support their families.
Just view Lewis Hine's photos, on line, of "Child Labour in America" for 08 to 12 to see what children are really capable of.
I think they can handle a little fiction!
Martin Rose says
There's another reason why kids might like to read stories with other children that feature absent/dead parents —
maybe they don't like you anyway.
That is, it's a guilty pleasure for a child to experience the world vicariously without parents because if not for the fact that parents gave birth to them, they wouldn't be very interested in sharing their lives with them anyway. They love parents out of necessity for survival, not by choice. Maybe they want to live with Bobby's parents down the street instead.
Y'know, somehow, I just kinda get this feeling that all happy families are alike, but that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Maybe it's just me.
I did a serial story based very consciously on Horatio Alger, in which the father was missing. The boy carried on, helped to support his family and, at the end, we left readers with the news that the father had returned and was seeking his family. We then asked kids to write the next chapter.
I was stunned by the number of kids who, instead of expressing relief that Dad had returned, were furious with him and wanted an explanation of just where in the hell he had been. We'd tapped into something a little more "real" than we'd been hoping for.
Mind you, they loved the story. It was quite an education!
Do you think that a child that was in a fictional neutral family would be able to accomplish the things that the ones in absent parents fiction can? I don't think that it is being lazy that the writer just offs a parent or has them absent. I think that it is realistic. If your Jacob had attentive involved parents and he went off into space don't you think that the subplot to the book would be his parents in tears looking for their missing son? To do it any other way would make the story too fictional. Sorry kids out there with attentive parents, you will never learn to fly on a broom, shoot fire from your hand, or fly in space before the age of twenty. Damn those attentive parents.
Very good points. It is a pretty widespread phenomenon and novels that take a different tack can be refreshing. I really enjoyed the mother/daughter relationship in WHEN YOU REACH ME, for example.
Another way to look at absent parents is that of increased stakes. If Darth Vader was just some dude in a helmet, the Star Wars trilogy would lose a lot of its emotional impact. Um…okay, bad example. As an author you want your protagonist to really be vulnerable, to be at risk and in danger, and you want their circumstances to be darkest before things begin to turn around. In addition to being a practical safety net, parents are an essential part of a young person's sense of self. Taking your protagonist's parents away–so long as it's not *just* a convenient plot device–is arguably the most dramatic way to wound them.
I think there's a sympathy for the main character too. It makes the character more real and deep to have life issues like missing or dead parents. Especially with how the family structure has shifted since even I was a child as opposed to being a teacher there are a lot more kids out there living that situation.
Jan Markley says
Don't forget Nancy Drew! She didn't have a mother. I think it's because the child protag has to be the centre of the action and solve his/her problem without adult interference. My mystery series novels have two parents, but one is often on sabatical or less dominant in the story.
Disgruntled Bear says
There's a line in Kate Kaynak's ADVERSARY that covers it:
"I knew if my mom understood what we planned to do, she’d try to stop us. That was what mothers did—a big chunk of their job description involved keeping their kids from doing dangerous things. Breaking into walled compounds filled with murderous fanatics and their sociopathic leader definitely fell into that category." p.178
In my opinion, when it comes to YA books, I think parentless characters are more interesting. It's also more realistic. Teenagers naturally stray away from their parents at this era, so why wouldn't the character?
Terin Tashi Miller says
When I was a boy, the stories that made me think and empathize and try to understand the most were those of people surviving in the basic three themes: Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, and Man vs Himself.
I've mentioned before one of my favorite books from the time I was 8 or 9 was "The Hound of the Baskervilles," after which I was enamored of Sherlock Holmes and had no regard for the age or experience of either he or Watson as "too old" for me.
There weren't actually "Young Adult" books at that time, unless you count "Catcher in the Rye" or "Our Town."
By high school, after Ross MacDonald's excellent "Lew Archer" series, I began reading the Nick Adams stories, and I saw in them reflections of some of my experiences growing up in Wisconsin.
I think that, unlike in many stories, many children now from elementary school on (though, perhaps less than we think) are not alone–they don't walk to school alone, they don't meet in parks alone, their lives and "play dates" and walking and transportation are all highly and strictly regulated.
My childhood was largely spent in the company of my friends, or by myself, not controlled and watched over or even that much outwardly worried over constantly by my parents.
Mary Pope Osborne has written an excellent series, that my 8-year-old loves, in which a brother and sister spend what appears to be days in a tree-house going on adventures with the help of magical books. No need to dispose of the parents. They are at the main house, the property on which sits the tree-house, where the children return, without much time having elapsed in reality at all.
Perhaps the key theme isn't so much dead or absent parents as much as escape, and learning, and self-reliance.
Of course, when I was 12, living in India, our teacher took it upon herself in English class to read The Lord of the Flies with us…a "children's book," or "young adult" novel?
Is it the characters, the subject, or the plot that makes a book "suitable" to pre-teen through teens?
It just took some explaining about what happened to James' parents, and honest reading of what his aunts were like, to have my son declare if he were James, he'd have done the exact same thing…
Terin Tashi Miller says
Other favorites from my childhood:
"The Call of the Wild"
Poems by Robert Service
"Little Sandy Sleighfoot (my mother sympathized with my big feet)"
"The Littlest Tailor"
"The Story of Ping."
"Winnie the Pooh,"
"Dr. Doolittle" (the series).
Last year, my son was interested in (because he loves trains) The Boxcar Kids series.
Another series where children are forced to survive without adults, until they find their grandfather (or he finds them, it was never that clear).
He was confused by it. He didn't get why the kids' parents weren't with them…
This topic depresses me, but it also gives me a lot to say. Instead of filling up your comment box, I'll just go make a post of my own about it…
Sales indicates that it's better to have an absent parent than a dead parent. In fact, that's her solution to the whole issue.
But what difference does it make? Either way you're trying to give the child plenty of challenges and individuality.
I just don't buy the whole "it's not realistic" argument. Yes, there are a lot of orphans in fiction. There are also a lot of vampires and heroes that save the world because they are the "chosen" ones.
We're writing about what we think is interesting. What's so great about being realistic? My husband has many fine qualities but he hasn't slayed any dragons–or orcs–lately and no one wants to read about his passion for gardening. Just sayin'.
I thought this was a great post.
A beta reader once told me my book had a Mr. Kim problem (after the Mr. Kim in Gilmore Girls who is repeatedly referenced but never seen). She meant that a character obviously had a biological father, but despite many important events in her life occurring, he never got mentioned, even to explain why he wasn't there.
Some time, some day, I'm sure, a shrink will explain to me why so much of my work involves kids with one (or fewer) parents in residence. Until that day, it's nice to know I'm part of a literary tradition. (Thanks for throwing in Aladdin. Would've missed him, myself.)
You know, Nathan, you may have just hit upon something.
I had completely normal parents until about the age of ten when they discover the joys of alcohol. That was about the time I dove into books and almost didn't come out. The search for fantasy parents like in a Wrinkle in Time soon took over and I read almost endlessly.
If I could give that gift to a child someday, that would justify all my craziness about writing.
Maybe you just save me thousands of dollars on a shrink.
Ahh very eenteresting. Two of my favorite childhood books—My Side of the Mountain and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—were full of parents. Although in the case of Mountain, the parents sort of allowed the kid to go on his own adventure.
I wonder how much criticism authors are sidestepping by getting rid of the parental figures; after all, "helicopter parenting" is en vogue these days. YA fiction featuring parents who let their kids go live in a hollow tree for a winter, or for that matter go into the unexplored lair of a weird and mysterious candymaker, doesn't seem like it would fly among the helicopter set.
Dead parents in stories are not – probably – an issue for most kids unless they happen to actually have a dead parent. That's when it becomes problematic.
My daughter's father died when she was three. I had to really police her books, movies and tv for a while after.
Cheri Chesley says
Call this lazy reading, but I couldn't sift through all 71 comments before me to see if this has been mentioned. I don't even know if you'll get to comment 72, but I'm doing it anyway. 🙂
I recently had a friend submit a book that was rejected by the agent because of the lack of parents in the MC's life. The purpose of Harry Potter having no parents, and then systematically losing all parental figures throughout the series was so, at the end, he could face the enemy alone. How exciting could the book be if Dumbledore, Sirius, Lupin and Lily and James were all at Harry's back? Sometimes the character has to be utterly on their own in order to grow and learn and experience.
Someone said at a writer's conference once that, to kids, having to step up and be the one in charge is what scares/thrills them–which is why it's such a prevalent theme in children's literature. Whereas it's not so prevalent in adult literature, since that's what we do every day. Kids fear having the ultimate say. Adults fear having that taken away.
B. A. Binns says
I think this depends on the age range of the intended reader. Younger readers are not unhappy to see mom and dad step in to savethe day. But as they get older and begin to both crave independence and recognize the perils that come with it, well, it's like getting on a roller coaster to simulate danger. The book becomes a way for them to experience independence and retain the safety net of patrents in their day to day lives.
By coincidence I had this discussion earlier today with a crit partner whowrites Middle grade, and her protagonist's parents are alive, involved hi his life, and the kind of wonderful people any kid would love. Her hero is in a situation where just one sentence to these good people would solve all problems and end the book. Her dilemma is finding a good reason for him not to say that sentence. Yes, things would be so much easier without those pesky good parents, but sometimes authors do give it a try.
Susan L. Lipson says
Fern had both parents in Charlotte's Web; her challenge was to keep her parents out of her barnyard business. I think that in some ways the "secret-life-kept-from-parents" theme is more exhilarating for kids (probably more so for those who do have both of their parents), because getting around the parents' watchful eyes provides a greater challenge, and requires a savvier protagonist. That said, the protagonist who has lost a parent is automatically wiser for having experienced one of life's most profound emotions and events: loss and death. Regardless of their parents' presence or absence, young protagonists must make us care about them because of how they REACT to what life deals them (rather, what we authors deal them), more so than simply what life deals them.
live, laugh, inspire says
Your post brough to mind Marshal from the TV sitcom,'How I met your mother'. When Lily is away and Marshal wishes to have a solitary fondle and fatasy, he needs to imagine Lily is killed off first so he doesn't feel like he's cheating. By doing this he gives himself free reign to fatasize about the wildest romps possible. Strange coomparison I know, but it's kind of the same(and besides its fun to be cheeky). The kid is freer to have wild adventures if the parents are killed off first and then there is no need for the child to feel the need to obey, or feel the guilt of breaking the rules of childhood'.
I think that your analysis is spot on. The alternative to absent parents is conflict with parents, which is a more post-1960s, angsty kind of book. Before the 1960s, all good parents were dead or far, far away. Think A Little Princess. Think boarding-school books. Think Ballet Shoes. There were very good reasons for this, as you have pointed out: with parents absent, kids can have adventures, or are forced to grow up, or both.
For an annotated list of my 25 favorite "orphan" children's books see my list on Amazon: I can't post a link here apparently, but the list is called "Imaginary Orphans." I also have a 16-page-long annotated bibliography of children's & YA books starring orphans, from the 19th century up to about 2004, should anybody here want such a thing. I was a bit obsessed with orphans for a while…. (I adopted a bunch of them!) Anybody who's actually interested can find me via librarything — I'm "annamorphic" there.
It's not easy to have parents in the stories when every "Writing for Children" course at Uni or elsewhere tells us not to have them around because: the children must solve the problems on their own.
Nathan, I think you are spot on (and I'm almost a psychologist). However, I also want to point out the realism of non-existent parents. I happen to have grown up in a very stable household with two wonderful parents (plus or minus seven siblings, but that's not the point). When I think back on my teenage years, I almost never think of anything related to my parents. For me, my teenage years were about discovering myself and my freedom–literally. I was actually spending much more time away from my house and my family, hardly spending quality time at home. My parents often joked about the fact that as soon as me and my siblings reached high school, they never saw us any more. We treated our house as "home base" to come back to in between the rest of the activities that encompassed our lives. It was a place to eat, sleep, and gain other necessities, but not a place we spent much time.
So, for me, my parents weren't dead and I didn't live in a broken home, but my parents were nearly as non-existent as the parents in many of these stories. Even for teenagers who did spend a lot of time at home, that emotional distance which is often present can easily be related to the characters.
Karen Peterson says
In addition to giving children the freedom to have grand adventures, dead parents lend young protagonists a certain, and arguably necessary, degree of tragedy. We love to root for the underdog. And who's more of an underdog than a kid who's alone in the world?
Ishta Mercurio says
When I was in college, I learned that good theatre is about ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and I think the same can be said for literature. Normal and stable is not very interesting, and it doesn`t really give us anything new. It`s the other stuff, the extraordinary things like having your parents get run over by a rhinoceros, that are worth writing and reading about.
Also: there is something very empowering to a child in reading about kids their age who figure out how to make it on their own.
Sylvia Allen Fisher says
I don't think I ever really registered the absence of the parents when I read as a kid. As others have mentioned, it was just something I took at face value and then plowed into the story.
I think what every kid can relate to about the missing parent scenario is the feeling of loneliness, and I loved reading about kids overcoming that. I was shy (shocker!), and to me it was all about the friendships that came about as a result of the adventures. I remember wanting a sidekick SO BAD. So when I read BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, it tore my heart out.
Also, the absent parent might be less about laziness and more about writers using their art to re-imagine a situation they had no control over at the time.
It's funny how I was reading this article in the Daily Mail recently and it talks about the absence of parents in most Disney films and TV shows. PURE EVIL:
(PS: word verification ECULTH)
Sheila Cull says
"Go ahead and cut this mom and dad. Script doesn't need them."
Aren't we forutnate? As writers we can create any scene, for any reason.
Ballet Shoes (orphans). Anne of Green Gables (orphans). Boxcar Children Series (orphans). Turn Homeward, Hannalee (separated from parents by war). Maniac Magee (orphan). Holes (separated from parents by incarceration).
I submit these to the list o' parentless excellence. Sometimes the lack of parental presence serves to deepen the emotion of the story and raise the survival stakes.
Plus, I have always loved the James and the Giant Peach line about the rhino–what a dreadful end for two such gentle parents.
ICE CB says
I read part of the article in PW that you referred to. I think (and I could be wrong) the author of that article meant that there are too many similarities in the stories she has been reading. The list you mentioned includes animals (The Lion King,) a young boy (Tom Sawyer,) and a story with a little bit of everything (The Wizard of Oz.)
I wrote an animal story where I remove the parents as well; however, I never really thought about it. It just flowed that way. I wonder if my subconscious has been influenced by all my reading. I just graduated with Honors in English!
J. Keller Ford says
It never bothered me to not have parents around in the stories; however, I have taken a different approach with my own story. My protagonist is actually searching for his. He'd been told all his life they were dead and then he finds out after fifteen years it was all a lie. Now he has to come to terms with why those close to him, even his own parents, lied to him 'for his own good'. Through his fantastical journey, he learns the meaning of true sacrifice in order to achieve one's goals and to protect those we love. I think this is a concept kids, even teens and some adults, have difficulty wrapping their minds around. it is also a different perspective in that a teen is trying to find his parents, not run away from them.
In my book main character's mom is with her for about a quarter of the book and her dad is for another quarter… I don't think it took away from the book at all.
Hmm, never thought of it before but you're right. I was wracking by brain to think of a children's book with two "good" parents, and the only one I came up with was The Giver.
Which is kind of funny considering the whole point of that book is that societal perfection isn't perfect.
Nathan Bransford says
By the way, I just wanted to register that Sales' article (which I hope everyone clicked through to read because it's funny and clever) is more saying that it's not strictly necessary to kill the parents off even if they're not present in the book. I took the blog post a step further, but I hope people don't think that the linked article is advocating parents present in every book, because that's not what she was saying.
Laura Maylene says
While I recognize that there are many examples of powerful stories told about orphans/young heroes with dead parents, I also agree with Sales that it can be a co-out. Especially in the hands of a less-than-masterful writer. Making a kid an orphan is a quick and easy way to define the character as someone who has suffered (and is overcoming) a huge loss early on. In some cases, I'd equate it to the writer taking an emotional shortcut.
On the other hand, as Cheri pointed out, the reason the orphan trend was and is so huge is because it feeds on one of the greatest fears a lot of kids have, which of course draws them in.
Liz Fichera says
I'll take absent parents over the clueless ones that I see written all too often in young adult literature.
Mr. G says
I have been thinking about this a lot recently and specifically remember that it was on my mind while reading The Hunger Games. The tradition is as old as people have been telling stories. I would rather have missing parents than stupid parents rendered in literature, but wouldn't more kids lit with richly rendered, present parents be great?
Children protagonists can have adventures – even with parents. There is nothing so adventurous as the imagination in the back yard or neighborhood.
When I started writing my book, I didn't even realize WHY I was killing off or leaving out parents. It hit me what a phenomenon the dead-parent thing was, and whether or not I was doing it because I was used to reading it, or if it was pertinent to my story. I even thought about changing it. I didnt. It just didn't work for me–or my character.
Which is why I was afraid this post was gonna be "DEAD PARENTS ARE OUT–PRESENT PARENTS ARE IN", which woulda started my doubting wheels to spin again. I'm glad it's not, but it still makes me think about what I can do next time.
Great, thought-provoking post!
Lydia Sharp says
it's easier to write a book if you don't have to figure out the main character's relationship with their parents.
Death ends a life, not a relationship.
Just because a child's parent is dead doesn't mean that parent is "out of the picture" and most certainly doesn't mean the dead parent isn't thought of when the child has an important choice to make, or when making goals for their future. It affects you more than if the parent were alive. The living parent is not necessarily viewed as wrong, either, but it's easier to argue with someone who is enforcing rules, aka someone who isn't buried. Often, the living parent is blamed for the other parent's death, which causes even more friction.
My husband lost his dad to suicide when he was only 12. Everything he then did as a teen was to either a) prove his dad wrong–life *is* worth living, or b) prove to the world that his dad's death could have been prevented. He was still a teenager, though, and still had to answer to his mother. Arguments were plentiful yet there was an underlying loyalty–"I'm not going to leave you too, Mom, so don't worry."
It's not lazy writing and it's not always about the kids wanting to be on their own. It's a real situation. MOST KIDS WHO HAVE A DEAD PARENT WOULD RATHER THEY DIDN'T. If we ignored this in our fiction then we'd be doing a great disservice to those kids who are in that situation through no fault of their own.
Lydia, author of teen lit that sometimes includes dead parents.
Long live dead parents! Wait…
Daniel Smith says
You very eloquently stated your case and I enjoyed reading it. My own WIP features the loss of a father too.
However, I think it can be simpler than that. Humans, child and adult alike, crave conflict in their stories. Having both parents is common, mundane and therefore boring. There are few sources of conflict closer to a child and with as much of an emotional punch as being without a parent or parents.
Stated even simpler, it's interesting to children.
Thanks for this blog post Nathan! I read books to my nephews regularly and I've noticed the absent/horrible death fate of parents in stories. I've wondered about this and your theories make sense. The type of stories where children are somewhat on their own thrill the imaginations of young readers, firing them up with a spirit of excitement and danger (the idea of being without a primary caretaker). Perhaps they encourage a sense of independence in the young reader by planting the seed that they too can face peril, make choices, and emerge victorious in the end?
Parents, in real life, tend to have a bigger job in raising children other than embarking on a series of adventures with them. The adventurous kids can't save the world/travel in a peach/live with dwarves AND brush their teeth before bed, finish their homework, or consider their options for college. Where's the fun in that?
I just read my nephews The Golden Compass and both parents are alive but they are also dark, villainous, kidnapped, and shady. Neither of them reminds the little protaganist that she has a math test tomorrow.
How can a kid have an adventure if the parent is telling them, you can't cross the street, don't jump off the roof, don't slide down the bannister. Ha. Too funny.
I myself didn't have my dad growing up. Just me, my brother, and my mom. He was killed in an auto accident before I turned 2. I don't remember him. And really it's kind of nice to only have one parent to ask to do something. Go ask your dad or mom can get to be obnoxious. As I noticed it with my friends parents.
To each his own. Families are diverse and wonderful.
Sierra McConnell says
I remember reading something about how it forces the child to have to take on that role themselves. That the lack of the male or female parental figure, causes them to become that part of the family.
Boy hero? Lacks a father. They're the head of the family or the strength. They learned to be tough because of it.
Girl heroine? Lacks a mother. They're the tough yet sensible and loving matriarch of the family. She's the one who makes sure her siblings are in bed and her homework is done, that the father is fed or (in some cases) the abuse is taken all by her.
At least, that's how it was in the classically wonderful books. Now they've gone soft…
My main characters…Carmine has a stepdad and a mother. His father was a monster of a man and he's dead now. She's…detached…because she's afraid she'll have to kill him. Stephen's more than helpful, and goes with him on his quests.
Mikael…has a mother, but lost his father in a plague. So I guess that I followed the 'became the head of the family' thing there. He's tough, but he's loving. And then he goes on his quest.
ryan field says
I enjoyed this post a lot. And mostly because I know absolutely nothing about children's literature…or children for that matter.
Laura Pauling says
Some of my favorite books have dead parents or one dead parent. It creates an emotion in the mc that immediately draws my sympathy. With any overdone element, it's really about the writing, not whether the parents are dead or alive.