For me, it was Star Wars. I remember idolizing Princess Leia, and wishing for a pet Ewok, and lining up to spend hours under the sweltering Texas sun to buy a ticket to see Return of the Jedi with my parents. I didn’t just like Star Wars, I loved Star Wars. I had every scrap of dialogue memorized and entered my teenage years hoping to one day fill out a gold bikini.
For my kids’ generation, I believe it’s The Hunger Games. This dystopian trilogy by Suzanne Collins has taken the world by storm. With more than 23 million of her books in print, Collins continues to sit atop the bestseller lists (The Hunger Games has been on the USA TODAY list 132 weeks and counting) and her saga’s popularity shows no signs of diminishing as the books hit the big screen. Tickets are already on sale for the March 23 opening, and I have to admit I was in the first wave of parents to eagerly snap up passes (why stand in the sun when I can buy from the comfort of my laptop?).
In case you missed the book, let me hit the highlights. The story is set in post-apocalyptic world (formerly North America) where society is run by a tyrannical government. As a sadistic reminder of exacty who’s in charge, the government forces each district to once a year give up two of its young people, a boy and a girl, as “tributes” to a gladiator-style, fight-to-the-death tournament. Only one of twenty-four tributes will survive.
Unlucky participents in the games are chosen by lottery. The star of the book is Katniss Everdeen (played in the movie by Jennifer Lawrence), who endears herself to readers early in the story by volunteering to take her younger sister’s place at the games.
I had some misgivings about these books at first. Several moms approached me at the neighborhood pool and expressed “concern” that my fifth-grader was reading them. (I resisted the urge to push them in the pool for being so nosy.)
Some people think these stories aren’t appropriate for young kids because they contain violence. And serious themes. And death.
But I was glad to let my kids read them because, you know what? They wanted to. I had to practically pry the books out of their hands at night. After years of trying (unsuccessfully) to get my kids to fall in love with Junie B. Jones, or Harry Potter, or Percy Jackson, or practically any series fiction character, I was delighted to see them take an interest in reading.
I read the books myself, and while I didn’t fall in love with everything, I can certainly see the appeal. First, they have a strong female lead, who comes from an impoverished background where she has learned to use her wits to survive. Katniss is smart, resourceful, and knows her way around a bow and arrow.
Another reason I liked the story is the classic play of good versus evil. The tyrants are so tyrannical. And the setup of the games brings out the best, and worst, in everyone. At times, the dark mood of the story reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I think the main reason these books are succeeding is because they don’t talk down to kids. The stakes are high, the themes are big, and I believe young readers can sense from the beginning that the author isn’t candy-coating her tale.
I hope the movie lives up to the book! From my perspective, anything that gets kids to fall in love with reading is a welcome addition to our popular culture.
What was your favorite movie saga when you were a kid?
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Have a great weekend!