Preschool Days*

Day CareOne of the major changes that we’ve seen in Western society in the last decades has been the growth of preschool and day care facilities. There are, of course, good reasons for this. For one thing, there’s an increasing number of both dual-income households and households headed by single adults. For another thing, there are fewer extended families living in the same area than there used to be. This means fewer grandparents and others who can help take care of little children while parents work (besides; many of today’s grandparents have full-time jobs themselves). What’s more, many Western cultures (certainly not all!) tend to be individualistic. So the care of small children isn’t necessarily seen as a family group responsibility in the same way as it is in more collectivist cultures.

All of this has arguably led to the day care/preschool solution. These facilities vary greatly, depending on income, location and the like. But in whatever form they take, they’ve become a fixture in many cultures, and many families depend on them.

Child care facilities/preschools show up in crime fiction as well. And it’s interesting to see how they’re portrayed. Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House begins with a prologue that takes place in 1968, when day care was just beginning to be a ‘respectable’ option and many people still thought less of parents who took advantage of it. An incident takes place at a preschool in the Swedish town of Katrineholm (and no, it’s not the stereotypical abducted child scenario). That incident has repercussions years later, when Stockholm real estate sales professional Hans Vannerberg disappears after telling his wife, Pia, that he’s going to look at a house for a client. When his body is later discovered in a different house, Stockholm DCI Conny Sjöberg and his team investigate. They’re just getting started when there’s another murder. And another. Sjöberg and his team will have to go back to the past, as it were, to find out the truth behind these killings.

Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal introduces readers to Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik. Together with their six-year-old son Axel, they seem to be living the idyllic suburban life. And that’s the way Eva is determined to keep it. Her world is shattered, though, when she discovers that Henrik has been unfaithful. When Eva learns who the other woman is, she is devastated. And in one plot thread of this novel, she begins to plot her revenge. That plan turns out to have devastating consequences for several of the characters. And without spoiling the story, I can say that Axel’s day care/preschool plays a role in what happens.

Håkan Östlundh’s The Intruder has as its focus Malin Andersson, her husband Henrik Kjellander, and their two children, Ellen and Axel. They return to their home on Fårö after a two-month absence, only to find that everything is in a serious mess. At first, they blame the state of their house on the tenants who stayed there during their absence. But then Malin finds a carefully mutilated family photograph – not something a careless or even spiteful tenant would likely do. She calls in the police, and Gotland police detectives Fredrik Broman and Sara Oskarsson begin to look into the matter. It could be a tenant with a personal grudge. It could also be someone else who knows the family and broke into the house. There are other possibilities, too. Then there’s another scare. Malin drops Axel off at his preschool/day care, hoping to get him back into the family’s normal routine. As she’s leaving the facility, she notices a woman watching her. It’s not one of the teachers; nor is it another parent – at least not one she knows. On the surface of it, it’s just a woman on the same street. But Malin has the eerie sense that this woman is specifically watching her for some reason. And thing brings up all sorts of fears for Axel’s safety. It’s little wonder that most modern preschools and other child care places have strict policies about who is allowed on the premises, when, and so on.

Gail Bowen’s series features Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, a now-retired academician and political scientist. In Kaleidoscope, her adult daughter Mieka opens a new facility in Regina’s economically struggling North Central district. Called UpslideDown, it’s a combination playground/meeting place. Parents can let their children play safely, learn from other parents, and support one another as they also take advantage of UpslideDown’s parenting information. UpslideDown acknowledges the reality that many parents don’t have family support, and cannot afford safe, high-quality child care and parenting answers. UpslideDown seeks in part to fill that gap.

Child care is addressed in two of Angela Savage’s stories. In The Half Child, Jim Delbeck hires Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney to investigate the death of his daughter, Maryanne. She was a volunteer at New Life Children’s Centre when she was pushed (or fell, or jumped) from the roof of the building where she lived. The police claim this is a case of suicide. But Delbeck doesn’t believe it, and wants the truth. Keeney takes the case and travels to Pattaya, where Maryanne died. As a part of looking into the matter, Keeney goes undercover at New Life to find out what goes on there. It’s not a day care/preschool in the sense that most Westerners think of such places. Rather, it’s a combination orphanage and child care facility. Some of the babies there have been abandoned, and are simply staying there until they can be matched with adoptive parents. Others, though, are ‘boarders.’ They are the children of young women, mostly single, who cannot care for them, and who no longer live in their home villages, where relatives could look after their babies. The ‘boarders’ live at New Life, but their mothers visit them. The idea is that these babies will return to their homes when their mothers have saved up enough money, and are in a good position to take care of them. It’s an interesting look at child care in a culture where extended families have traditionally provided that support. Savage’s short story The Teardrop Tattoos also involves child care. A young woman is released from prison, where she’s served a sentence for murder. She and her pit bull Sully are provided a place to live not far from a local day care provider. One day, one of the mothers lodges a complaint about Sully, and Sully’s human companion is given no choice but to get rid of him. Devastated at this loss, the woman plots her own sort of revenge…

Whether you call such places day care, preschool, crèches, or something else, child care facilities are fast becoming a fixture in many modern cultures. They provide a service that many parents depend on, and they can add an interesting layer to a crime novel.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Dogwood. Incidentally, they’re a punk band based only about 30k (about 21 miles) from where I live.


Filed under Angela Savage, Carin Gerhardsen, Gail Bowen, Håkan Östlundh, Karin Alvtegen

31 responses to “Preschool Days*

  1. Pingback: Preschool Days* | picardykatt's Blog

  2. Started reading this and then decided I probably shouldn’t as I’ve just filled out the application Beany in our local preschool next year when she’s two. I’m a stay at home mum and have many reasons for doing this if only so she can socialise more with children her own age. If I read this I might rush down the rd and take back the application 😉

    • I know the feeling! I remember when my daughter was Beany’s age. In all seriousness, I think some preschool experience can be very beneficial, especially for little ones who don’t have siblings. I made the same choice you did, and never had one hint of a problem.

      • It feels like the rigjt thing to do and she loves playing with other little ones. I think you have trust your instincts and accept that whatever you do parenting is just one big guilt trip lol

        • Yes, indeed! Parents become champions at second-guessing, don’t we? And I’m glad she enjoys playing with other children. I’ll bet she’ll do beautifully!

  3. Tim

    Actors are warned: never work with dogs or children.
    That has nothing to do with anything, I guess, although all actors will understand instantly what I mean, but I will say that I wish crime writers would avoid working with children. Moreover, I do not care for crime novels involving children because of so many good, bad, and ugly memories. Was that cryptic enough?

    • You’re not alone, Tim, in preferring novels that don’t involve children. All too often, the child characters are placed in terrible danger (or worse), and plenty of readers choose not to read such stories.

  4. I also fear novels which feature children in jeopardy. Write a story about it early on and have regretted it ever since.

    • It’s definitely a difficult subject to read, and even harder to write, Patti. That’s one reason for which I’ve not done it. I never say never, but thus far? No.

  5. I’m a bit wary of stories involving young children too, but they do sneak past my guard from time to time. Johan Theorin’s ‘The Asylum’ involves a young man who goes to work at a pre-school attached to St Patricia’s psychiatric hospital, reassuringly known locally as St Psycho’s. But we soon discover that he’s got an ulterior motive for taking the job there, and is more interested in the asylum than the pre-school…

    • Like you, I don’t normally reach first for a book where children are at risk. But Theorin’s very talented, FictionFan. I can see how you’d let that one get past you. And it does sound like an interesting premise, and very like Theorin. I admit, I’ve not (yet) read it, but it sounds intriguing.

  6. I hadn’t realised I had a literary preoccupation with child care facilities until I read this post, Margot. In retrospect, I realise that I was wrangling a toddler/small child when I wrote those pieces 😉

  7. With the number of crime fiction novels I’ve read featuring children I should have some examples to add but sadly none spring to mind at the moment – you have some great examples though and The Gingerbread House was already on my radar!

    • Thanks, Cleo. And I do hope you’ll enjoy The Gingerbread House if you get to it. It features a very clear past/present connection in the plot. And I do like Conny Sjöberg’s character.

  8. Margot: And Mieka’s place has good coffee for the adult visitors and better cookies for everyone

    • That most definitely adds to UpslideDown’s appeal, Bill. I really like the fact that Mieka has tried to make it the sort of place adults want to be. It has benefits all around.

  9. Col

    Not familiar with any of the examples and none of my own to add. Stretching the carer aspect a tad – I did enjoy the film – The Hand That Rocks The Cradle!

  10. I’ve never read a novel that involved day cares, or really, children in general. I fear it would rip my heart out if they were put in jeopardy, especially since I have two granddaughters in daycare. Nonetheless, if handled well, I can see how the pre-school environment would add an interesting layer.

    • It really can, Sue. But I think you’ve mentioned the key: it has to be handled well. And even if it is handled well, that theme can really make a story too difficult for a lot of readers.

  11. Your well of Mystery knowledge never fails to amaze me, Margot. Thanks for another interesting post. Daycare . . . who would’ve thunk it?

  12. I look forward to reading The Half Child soon, Margot. It is on my TBR shelves.

  13. Margot, except for Gail Bowen all the other authors are new to me. Such a fascinating cast of books for a theme that makes me uncomfortable. I mean, children in crime fiction.

    • I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with the theme of children – especially children at risk – in crime fiction, Prashant. If it’s going to work at all, it really has to be done quite effectively and carefully.

  14. I was going to mention Theorin’s Asylum, with its very creepy plot and strange child arrangements, but someone got in first! So how about that Charlotte Armstrong book Mischief – short and terrifying, it would discourage anyone from trusting a babysitter…

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