The Wisdom of Eight Year Olds

“They kill themselves, you mean?” said Bod.  He was about eight years old, wide-eyed and inquisitive, and he was not stupid.

I was just reading “The Witch’s Headstone” from Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book to my fourth graders and the above from page 104 caught my particular attention.  Why?  Because just a couple of days ago I wrote that perhaps the film of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas might work better than the book because the boy in the movie is eight whereas the boy in the book is ten.  However, as Gaiman points out so beautifully, eight year olds aren’t dense. And  I’d say they are certainly capable of figuring things out if their father is a toplevel Nazi and the whole family goes off with him when he is tapped to run a death camp.


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4 responses to “The Wisdom of Eight Year Olds

  1. hope


    I didn’t like Striped Pajamas either, but that’s more because I dislike the form, and not because I think the form wasn’t used correctly. I see it as an allegory, where things don’t have to make a real world kind of sense. Allegories have always left me cold. Moralizing allegories, even more so.

    That said, does your assessment of 8 y.o.’s have an historical perspective? My grandmother and I once talked about the depths of her child– unawareness of the adult world. At twelve she was comfortable with the fact that the doctor brought babies. She wasn’t even curious. That would have been the 1920’s. Sure, children today are more savvy. And children who lived cheek-by-jowl with the real world, were savvy back then. But I think that more privileged children lived in bubbles with nannies, and little contact with adults, and very little information, and their clueslessness could well seem stupefying to us today.


  2. I saw the trailer for Boy yesterday. I was with a student (senior in HS) and neither of us felt that the children’s dialog we heard was necessarily “real”. Yes, an 8 yo is capable of figuring out what’s going on (and whether it is “right” or not) but this one seemed – from what little was shown – to be someone’s idea of an 8 yo.

    Don’t know that I’ll see the film, as I grew up in a survivor community and these things just leave me cold.


  3. Hey Monica,

    I objected to the book for exactly this reason: I didn’t for one moment believe that an 8 year old with typical intellectual capacity could be so utterly ignorant about everything going on in the world around him. Not 21st century street-savvy, but not so completely sheltered and deluded. I disliked the book and have no interest in the film.

    How’s the pup?

    J x


  4. In the book the boy was ten which made it even more implausible,I agree. (The pup is just great! Getting her after my dad’s death was the absolutely best thing I could do for myself.)


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