On the Other Hand October

It's not easy for young people, is it? Just for a moment, let's put ourselves in their shoes. (You can read this too, kids, if you've still got your shoes on.)

Right now we're eight years old, or nine, or ten, or perhaps even eleven. We're at that wonderful moment in our lives when for the first time we're starting to see the world through our own eyes. Taking our first tentative steps beyond the bedrock of nurturing adult certainties that were the foundation of our early childhoods. We look around and see that the world is fascinating and complex and mysterious. Our uncertainties don't scare us, they whet our appetite for understanding. Our senses sparkle when we contemplate the journeys of discovery ahead of us, and our intellects sing with anticipation.

Except ... what's all this? Noisy grown-ups everywhere, bashing us around the head with what our teacher-librarian has explained are called binary simplistics. You're wrong. I'm right. He's stupid. I'm great. Strawberries are horrible. Lawyers are criminals. Red cars are fastest. That lot are racist. We're all heroes. They're bleeding hearts. They're greedy pigs. They're enemies of the people.

The loudest of these big people, the ones who seem to be the most important, almost never say things like:

I'm not sure, what do you think?
I've got a feeling there are several ways of looking at this
Let's put ourselves in their shoes
Hmmm, it's not as simple as it I thought

Phew, thank goodness this month is On The Other Hand October. The time of year when we celebrate the power that stories have to make us thoughtful.

We open a book and soon we're seeing the world through different eyes. Plunging deep into the thoughts and feelings of different characters. Experiencing the different ways people struggle to be happier. Every story reminds us that life is rarely as simple as it seems on the surface. Not just black and white, us and them, I'm right and you're wrong. Much more interesting than that. Much more important.

Stories are often journeys that characters make to arrive at the truths in their lives. A destination they'll never reach without being a bit thoughtful. And when we readers share those journeys, we also share the thinking and feeling that happens along the way.

A story gets stuck if the main character is only ever capable of seeing things one way. Characters don't like being stuck, and neither do readers. So we authors make sure that in a story there's always more than one choice available to the main character. More than one point of view. More than one way of seeing things.

Too complicated? Too much to think about? Some of those noisy important people hope that's the case, because then we'll accept the one choice they're offering us. They should get themselves some books and take a peek inside. Then they'd realise that being thoughtful doesn’t scare us because we’re story readers and we’re onto it.


Read as many stories as you can.
Really, not just one or two, as many as you can squeeze into your life.
Don't forget to spend time in the bathroom, though, and at the dining table, and in bed.

Go back to the Stories Make Us Calendar.