Nothing made me want to read Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish more than when I first heard it had been censored from certain schools. Plus, having witnessed the devastating effects of drug abuse in loved ones myself as a child, I was anxious to see her approach to such a difficult subject for younger readers.
And she exceeded all expectations. Here are four reasons you should add this book to your elementary school libraries and read aloud lists this year:
It’s a realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy your kids will love
One would be justified in worrying about how to address drug addiction in a realistic fiction for kids–how to avoid dwelling on its dark and all-encompassing realities while also avoiding an overly light-hearted tone that minimizes those realities? Messner masterfully achieves this by weaving the subject through other realistic and highly-relatable themes: feeling noticed by parents, helping friends who struggle with school or home, and pursuing dreams in sports. And to cap it off, she gets readers imagining what would happen to these if you found a magical wish-granting fish. She goes on to illustrate the impact on all these when a family member gets caught up with drugs, including a powerful parallel depicting the dangers of believing there’s any silver bullet that can solve our problems.
For the many lonely kids for whom drug addiction in a loved one is already a reality, it gives validation, hope, and courage.
Messner shared one librarian’s reasoning for pulling the book from her shelves:
“It’s not that I don’t think heroin addiction is extremely important. Our community has faced its share of heartbreaking stories in regards to drug abuse but fourth and fifth graders are still so innocent to the sad drug world. Even two years from now when they’re in sixth grade this book will be a wonderful and important read but as a mother of a fourth grader, I would never give him a book about heroin because he doesn’t even know what that is. I just don’t think that at 10 years old he needs to worry about that on top of all of the other things he already worries about… For now, I just need the 10 and 11-year-olds biggest worry to be about friendships, summer camps, and maybe their first pimple or two.”
But the devastating truth is that we can’t control what our 10 and 11 year-olds’ biggest worries are–and it’s unfair to ignore that drug addiction in family members is already the reality for far too many.
In the story, Messner validates those realities young kids face: the loneliness and embarrassment. The deception and theft. The pain of watching your loved one slip away. We cannot know how many of our students face this daily. But the real question is how many could be encouraged by this story’s message to know that they are not alone and that they can find a safe place to talk about how they’re feeling?
Furthermore, in the event that drug abuse has thankfully not yet touched the life of a younger child, this book will help him/her develop both awareness and empathy for their friends that have or will feel its impact.
It helps kids catch a glimpse of what true resilience looks like.
“But there’s no answer for this one. Mom didn’t do anything wrong.
It’s not fair. Life has rules, and if you follow them, things are supposed to work out.
If you place in all your dances, you get to move up to the next level.
If you brush your teeth, you’re not supposed to get cavities.
If you love your kids and take care of them and send them to a good college, they’re not supposed to stick needles in their arms.
But I guess it doesn’t work that way. None of this is working the way it should. Because Abby was stupid enough to try drugs.”
So much of what happens in life is out of our control–a fact kids know better than most. If we try to perpetuate the “fairness” of life in the name of protecting our kids, we only rob them of a developed sense of resilience when that false dichotomy is challenged.
It breaks away from the stereotypes of drug abuse users in typical D.A.R.E. programs
“We learned about heroin in the D.A.R.E. Program, when Officer Randolph came to talk to all the fifth graders about drugs. We had to watch a movie, and in the heroin part, these raggedy, greasyhaired people were sitting around a smoky room, sticking needles in their arms.”
Charlie keeps returning to the fact that that as a great sister, student, and athlete, Abby had never looked like the people in those videos, which makes the entire situation much more shocking and difficult for her to understand. But Messner’s decision to depict a user from a stable, loving family helps readers gain broader perspective that drug abuse doesn’t just happen to “those people,” but that it is a choice made by individuals everywhere.
I believe that sharing books that provide such a perspective would have a more powerful and long-lasting effect when it comes to drug prevention.
Have you read The Seventh Wish yet? Please share your impressions below!
featured image: John Liu