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Writing Prompt: Literary Reflections

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For each issue of Literary Mama, Literary Reflections shares a writing prompt, inviting our readers to respond. Our editors provide feedback on the responses we receive, and we post our favorites on the blog. This month's writing prompt is inspired by Kim Zarins's essay Reading Mommy's (R-Rated) Book: An Adventure in Three Acts.


Photo by Literary Mama photo editor, Heather Vrattos

Kim Zarins describes her young son's reaction to her first two books—both written for very young children. So when she wrote her novel Sometimes We Tell the Truth, which is targeted to a YA audience, her then-11-year-old son asked to read it, too. Sometimes We Tell the Truth is a modern-day retelling of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The teen characters who give Chaucer's stories a present-day twist use bad language, talk about sex, and bring up difficult topics like homosexuality, rape culture, and sexual abuse—just as Chaucer himself did. Zarins thought the book was too mature for her son. But slowly, gradually, with her giving him the "safest" stories first, he does read the whole novel and more than once. Although Zarins worried the mature content of the book might have an adverse effect on her son—especially since it was written by his mother—she discovers instead that the book opens up conversations with him about these challenging subjects:

As parents and teachers, we can help younger readers process mature themes rather than discourage interest and curiosity which only send the message, do not bring up these topics with adults. When my son learned about consent in seventh-grade health class, he already knew about it from "The Reeve's Tale," in which the concept is wildly violated, and we had already talked about deception as a tool for rape. We got comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics, which in turn has helped my son be more open about his own anxieties entering the teen years.

Zarins says she learned that allowing her son to read a novel with mature themes when he was still on the young side opened up greater opportunities for conversation because he was willing to reach out and talk to her.

Is there a literary book or story that prompted you to have conversations with your children about a topic that might otherwise have been uncomfortable? How did the book make the subject matter easier to discuss?


Read Zarins's essay and submit a 500-word response to this writing prompt by March 9, 2018, for feedback from our editors. Email it to LMreflections (at) literarymama (dot) com and note "February Prompt" in your subject line. Please do not attach the essay but paste the response in the body of the email.

Susan Bruns Rowe lives in Boise, Idaho, and has two children in college. She has an MFA in creative writing from Boise State University and teaches memoir for The Cabin and The Osher Institute. Her writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The American Oxonian, Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, and the book, Fighting the World’s Fight: Rhodes Scholars in Oxford and Beyond.

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