Breaking down gender barriers, questioning man’s treatment of the environment, and creating an understanding of the concept of family: three trendy topics today’s adults love to discuss at length but that are most often glossed over with children. If these issues are brought up with children, they are very likely pared down to the simple statements, “boys and girls are equally special,” “recycle,” and “family comes above all else.” These simplifications leave no room for discussion, which deprives curious children the opportunity to explore their own understandings of these topics. This is especially lamentable because, by age 10, children are especially sensitive to gender differentiation, highly susceptible to peer pressure, equipped with a highly developed sense of right and wrong, more interested in the problems of the world, and more likely exposed to changing family patterns.
In the third and final installment of his WondLa trilogy, The Battle for WandLa, author/illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi provides the grounds for an open-ended discussion of these trendy topics in a format appropriate for children aged 10 and up.
DiTerlizzi presents readers with a feminine and powerful female protagonist in the traditionally boy-dominated science fiction genre, thus attracting both female and male readers and guiding these young readers to have broader views of gender roles. The crossover of traditional gender roles gives children of both genders the opportunity to see themselves in the story while simultaneously gaining a greater understanding of others’ lives and experiences. In other words, The Battle for WandLa provides both mirrors and windows to readers: it provides boys and girls the opportunity to simultaneously see characters like themselves and learn about characters from whom they differ.
The main premise of this installment of the series is that aliens and humans are viciously battling each other for control of the land. DiTerlizzi challenges his readers who are equipped with a highly developed sense of right and wrong and are more interested in the problems of the world to consider the consequences of acting on the belief that beings can own and control land by providing barren illustrations and subtle character commentary. By subtly presenting readers with questions concerning the environment, DiTerlizzi provides readers with the opportunity to engage in the highest level of critical thinking: evaluation. Readers have the opportunity to evaluate the importance of conservation themselves.
Though Eva Nine was grown underground, she still interacts with many familial characters readers will relate to: an overprotective mother, an irritating sister, and a friend close enough to be considered family. However, DiTerlizzi avoids creating archetypal characters by giving them multifaceted personalities. For example, though Muthr is portrayed as annoying and overbearing, she (SPOILER) willingly sacrifices herself for her daughter. By presenting his readers with multifaceted characters, DiTerlizzi gives readers the opportunity to relate to and learn from these bizarre but strong family dynamics.
If you’re looking for a way to present any of these trendy topics with your late elementary school audience, I would highly recommend The Battle for WandLa!