A LITTLE PRINCESS, THE SECRET GARDEN, LITTLE WOMEN, and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA are some of my favorite works of children's literature that deal with difficult subjects. Add to that list every single Newbery Medal winner and even Harry Potter. Death, loss, abandonment, loneliness--tough subjects are part of life and as such have a crucial place in children's literature. Reading about topics that relate to real life even if set in fantasy worlds can open a dialogue for young readers and encourage them to be strong and brave while also reminding them that they are not alone in these experiences. In writing about difficult subjects, I have two rules that I always follow:
Respect the young reader
I have tremendous respect for young readers. In my MG novel, JANE IN BLOOM, I tackled the heart wrenching subject of death of a sibling and in my YA novel, SILENCE, I focused on sudden deafness and loss of identity. In crafting the stories and the characters' responses to their tough situations, I felt honesty would resonate most with readers. I spent a lot of time researching the topics in both books so that the portrayal of these situations would be as realistic as possible.
Approach the subject in a responsible manner
Regardless of my respect for young readers, there are certain storylines or factual descriptions that may be too difficult for certain age ranges. I consider writing for children and teens to be an honor as well as a responsibility. This is why I ask myself a question when writing: Would I want my own child to read this story? Approaching difficult subjects from the point of view of a parent definitely affects the choices I make as a writer. For me, the responsibility to the reader and awareness of my target age range is most important in being a storyteller for young people.
Young readers have a greater capacity for understanding than many adults recognize. As writers, we do not underestimate these young people, but encourage them. This allows for rich literature that can be both moving and inspiring. Now let's get to work...