Handling Violence in Children's Literature

Suspense novelist Lois Duncan is on a mission. She wants the world to know what she knows: Violence happens in real life, not just in the movies or in books.

Seven years ago, Ms. Duncan's 18-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, was chased down in her car and shot to death in Albuquerque, N.M.

"I don't think the experience dramatically changed the way I handle violence in my novels, but it brought home the importance of dealing with the consequences of violence," observes the North Carolina-based Duncan.

"Kids need to see that violence has serious ramifications, they need to see the pain it causes," she declares, noting that on television the violence itself is the climax, with no time given to the aftermath.

"Death is not real to many kids. They can see these same actors come right back in another movie, creating the sense that it's all just a game," Duncan says.

Duncan says that books are more important than ever in the video era. "We're competing with TV, but we can do what movies can't, namely get inside the heads of those who grieve."

Duncan says the burden of responsibility on the writer is greater than ever before, because kids are trained by television to want violence and sex. "We have an obligation to write about those things in an appropriate manner," says the award- winning author of such young adult novels as "Summer of Fear," "Killing Mr. Griffin," and "Down a Dark Hall."

While Duncan deals with intense themes, she also firmly believes in "age-appropriate" subject matter, saying that "if you give a child a book [with mature themes] too soon, it will wreck it for them later." After her daughter's death, Duncan wrote a nonfiction bestseller, "Who Killed My Daughter?" which was featured on television talk and news shows.

But, because Duncan and her husband, Don Arquette, believe their child was murdered (New Mexico police have classified the death as a random drive-by shooting), they've moved into the video age themselves.

The family now maintains the Kait Arquette Home Page on the Internet, in an attempt to gather information they hope will lead to the arrest of their daughter's killer.

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