Sounds heavy, right? Since it’s a middle grade novel, I’ve had some concerns about it not being a read-aloud. After all, I thought I had written this story for That Kid. You know the one. She is quiet. Maybe he stares out the window more than he should. She likes Monet because she thinks the colors are melancholy. I was one of those kids and always felt more comfortable on the fringes of things, so I wrote that sensibility into my main character. But would the story translate to all those other kids in the class? The ones who have heaps of friends and don’t even know, or care, what the word “melancholy” means?A couple of weeks ago, I heard from a teacher who read a galley aloud to her 6th grade class. I was nervous. Were they bored by all the emotional stuff? Did it make them overly sad? When I went in to talk to the kids, I was pleasantly surprised. They were not quiet, or sad. No one even mentioned the word “grief.” They wanted to know more about how I came up with the main characters and whether or not I was going to write a sequel. Some of them had drawn art from the story and folded origami. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is mentioned in the novel and this teacher had them read that story as well. She had them fold origami. All wonderful ways to deepen the meaning and talk about symbolism and metaphor.
I came away from this experience realizing something I hadn’t before. Stories about grief meet kids where they are. Some really hear the emotional journey and get something out of it, while others are happy to follow along with the plot and nothing else. Is Mama really leaving the treasure hunt? Where is all that origami coming from? Will Grace and Grandma find their way to each other?Not every child has experienced grief and loss, but we all know it’s coming. And I hope, hope, hope my story will not only reach those kids who have suffered, but will reach the ones who haven’t. That even if they don’t remember they read a story where a girl suffered a terrible loss and found a way through it, they will know, for some reason they can’t quite pinpoint, that they will too.
There is always a way through. For everyone.