“I feel like I’m a piece, a fragment that’s missing all the good bits, but I don’t know where to find the rest … the parts I need to work properly. I bet they wouldn’t fit anyway.” (Lexy, age 17)
How Books Help Start Important Conversations
by Maura Pierlot
The importance of reading at a young age is undeniable. Books improve children’s literacy, imagination, memory, concentration, cognitive skills and empathy. But books also provide a great jumping off point for conversations with about real-life issues, particularly issues that may be difficult to broach in everyday life like race, gender, values, mental health, war and death. By engaging about a book’s story and characters, their complexities, and the good and bad choices they make, we can help children and young adults to process their emotional responses to the text as they strive to develop a sense of the world. It’s not hard to see why.
Books are portals to another realm, where readers constantly project themselves and draw self-connections. Young people need to see themselves in books – that’s why diversity and own voices are so important. And for children who are still building social-emotional skills, fiction offers a safe distance to process, understand and express their feelings.
Parents and carers play an important role in this journey. Mind you, I was so busy with three children under age four (and two businesses at the time) that I sometimes couldn’t wait to turn the last page of the book and bid them goodnight. But more often than not, I tried to relate the story’s issues and scenarios to their lives, even if our dialogue didn’t take place until the next day, or week.
Conversations were geared less to reading comprehension, more to the big ideas driving the story, often in the form of open-ended questions: How do you think the tiger felt when her big sister broke her toy? Do you ever feel lonely? Why do you think the new kid at school was nervous? I strived for relaxed and meaningful communication, no matter how easy it would have been to switch gears to lecture-mode, especially about issues like stranger danger and truth-telling.
Conversations about books can be started by the parent or carer (Have you ever felt this way?) or the child (That happened to me at school last week.) And the conversation, no matter how brief or basic, can lead to deeper dialogue at a time and place of the child’s choosing. One of our sons always opened emotionally when we took our dog for a walk; it was like truth serum. Perhaps he was simply relaxed, or refreshed by ever-changing scenery, but we enjoyed many deep conversations, sometimes sparked by a book he had just read.
Our other son more easily found his voice when his chatty siblings weren’t around, usually at bedtime. Many of the stories he selected raised issues relating to his school life and friendships at the time. Our daughter, on the other hand, would chat anytime and anywhere, car rides being her environment of choice and didn’t need a book – or anything, really – to prompt a conversation.
No matter where and when dialogue about books take place, the interactions don’t benefit only young ones. Conversations are opportunities for connection, offering parents an entry into the minds and worlds of their children, and a valuable opportunity to inform, guide, assure and support. This is especially important in the angst-fueled adolescent years, when teenagers are riding a wave of hormones and emotions as they navigate friends, relationships and an evolving sense of self. Add to the mix social media, where young people (older ones, too) curate their lives, presenting their best selves, chasing unattainable ideals. Thankfully, our teenage daughter was always open about what was happening in her life. Our teenage sons, on the other hand, revealed very little. (Q: What’d you do at school today? A: Nothing.)
In my day we only spent time in our rooms when we were sleeping, but kids today seem to live in their rooms, phone lights glowing under the covers into the wee hours.
Teenagers typically think their parents are far removed from today’s challenges, with little to no knowledge, or wisdom, about issues facing Gen Z and Gen Alpha. But the problems, temptations, confusion, struggles and self-doubt that adolescents grapple with today are not far different to the issues that I (and my friends) faced decades ago. And here’s where books, and conversations, come in. They bridge the gap between generations, and peers, allowing people to open up, even if indirectly.
I wrote Fragments to start a conversation, not only about mental health but about the feelings, fears and frustrations young people are experiencing in an increasingly complicated world. Many audience members told me that the play prompted frank, in some cases long overdue, family discussions. Some people were so moved by the work that they sought professional help for issues they had been struggling with in silence for some time. I’m not wanting to imply by any means that Fragments can resolve mental health issues, especially highly complex ones, but I do strongly believe that candid communication can have a therapeutic effect. Ideally, these conversations will continue through our children’s lifetimes, though the form, scope and nature of these interaction will undoubtedly evolve. Just like we do.
About this book
Written by Maura Pierlot
Ages 12+ | 126 Pages
Publisher: Big Ideas Press | ISBN-13: 978-0645099805
Publisher’s Synopsis: Eight young people navigating high school and beyond, each struggling to hold on – to family, to friends, to a piece of themselves. Perhaps you know them. The bubbly girl who keeps telling you she’s okay. The high achiever who’s suddenly so intense. The young teen obsessed with social media. The boy challenged by communication. Every single day they, and others, are working hard to keep it together. So hard, they don’t see their friends are struggling, too. Through eight imagined stories, Fragments moves from a place of disconnection to connectedness.
The action of Fragments takes place in the minds and hearts of an ordinary group of young people. Their stories encompass anxiety, depression, neurodivergence, gender dysphoria, social media, bullying, family dysfunction, cross-cultural diversity, and more, culminating in a sense of hope. Although set in Australia, their stories could take place anywhere.
From the Playwright: Rarely presenting as neat packages, mental health issues often involve feelings and behaviors with jagged edges and blurred origins. Fragments embodies the theme that stress at home, at school, and in life is challenging young people beyond their usual coping abilities, leaving them disenfranchised and vulnerable. So much of adolescent life is spent looking inwards that it’s perhaps not surprising that mental health issues are often internalized. I wrote Fragments to start a conversation. It’s only when we speak openly about mental health issues – without fear or judgment – that we can chip away at the stigma that prevents many people from seeking help. It is my hope that the work will find its way into schools in Australia and overseas. The publication includes a comprehensive Study Guide, detailing activities and curriculum links for English, Drama/Arts, Health & PE, Civics, and more.
A powerful and timely mental health resource for young people and their families. Essential reading for high school.
Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Fragments-Maura-Pierlot/9780645099805
Click here for the Entry Form:
Enter for a chance to win a copy of Fragments and a $50 Amazon gift card!
One (1) grand prize winner receives:
- A copy of Fragments
- A $50 Amazon gift card
Four (4) winners receive:
- A copy of Fragments
The giveaway begins September 6, 2021, at 12:01 A.M. MT and ends October 6, 2021, at 11:59 P.M. MT.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maura Pierlot is an award-winning author and playwright who hails from New York but has called Canberra, Australia home since the early 1990s. Her writing delves into complex issues including memory, identity, self, and, more recently, mental health. Following its sellout 2019 season in Canberra, Maura’s debut professional theatre production, Fragments is being adapted for the digital space, supported by artsACT. The work is published online by Australian Plays Transforms and in print by Big Ideas Press.
Maura is a past winner of the SOLO Monologue Competition, Hothouse Theatre for her play, Tapping Out. Her plays have been performed in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, and Hollywood. A former medical news reporter and editor of Australian Medicine, Maura also writes for children and young adults. In 2017 she was named winner of the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program, and recipient of the Charlotte Waring Barton Award, for her young adult manuscript, Freefalling (now True North). Maura’s debut picture book, The Trouble in Tune Town won the 2018 ACT Writing and Publishing Award (Children’s category) along with international accolades.
Maura’s poetry, short stories, microfiction, and essays appear in various literary journals and anthologies. Maura has a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctorate, each in philosophy, specializing in ethics. When she’s not busy writing, Maura visits schools and libraries as a guest reader and speaker, serves as a Role Model for Books in Homes, and contributes reviews for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s online magazine, Reading Time.