Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Making bad things happen to good characters......by Jane Kelley


A few years ago I visited a school in Brooklyn to talk about my book, The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya. The kids asked me about parrots, muffins, and writing. One boy didn't want to ask his question in front of the group, however. He knew it would ruin the story for those who hadn't finished reading the book yet. And so if you haven't read that novel this is a

SPOILER ALERT  (I always wanted to have an excuse to say that.)

With Johnny's permission, I'll share his emails to me about my character Bunny, who happens to be a pigeon.
 
Hello, 
My name is Johnny and I'm nine years old. I loved your book! I really loved the adventure Zeno was on and how he had to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. I also liked when Alya had to climb the six steps. There was so much tension and excitement. 

I was hoping that Zeno and Bunny could stay friends. I know that sometimes characters have to die in books, so I was just wondering why you chose him to die. 

Thank you,
Johnny C. 

Dear Johnny,
I'm glad that you loved my book. I'm especially grateful that you asked me such an important question. Before I could answer it, I had to think a lot about why I chose to have Bunny die after being attacked by the hawk. 

First I wondered did any characters ever have to die? I think the answer is yes.  If the book is realistic, then the events that the author describes should have real consequences. Zeno's dangerous journey over the Atlantic Ocean was more exciting because you knew that bad things might really happen. Without real risks and real dangers, his accomplishment wouldn't mean nearly as much.

Hawks do kill pigeons. They don't do it to be cruel, they do it because they need food. I think you accept that. But why did that pigeon have to be Bunny? Why couldn't the hawk attack a different pigeon? 

Zeno is so selfish, he wouldn't have helped anyone except Bunny. In that scene, Zeno learns that a friend has to fight for a friend. Until Zeno loses Bunny, he doesn't really realize how important friendship is. All Zeno's adventures teach him important lessons. If he didn't learn them, he wouldn't be there to help Alya when she needed it. That would have been sad too.

Like you, I hoped that Zeno and Bunny would remain friends. But Zeno remembers everything Bunny taught him. In that way, Bunny lives on.

Thank you again for asking me such a great question.

Sincerely, 
Jane Kelley

Hello, 

Thank you for writing back to me. What you said makes a lot of sense because Bunny was such a great friend and Zeno cared for Bunny and when he died that changed Zeno and made the story better. It was sad, but I realize why it had to happen. 

I can't wait to read your other books.

Sincerely,
Johnny C.

Drawing of Zeno by Eliza Wheeler
I'm grateful to Johnny for letting me share his thoughts on this blog. I'm lucky to have a reader who will accompany my characters on their journeys, whether across the Atlantic Ocean or up the six steps to a Brooklyn brownstone, and a reader who ponders about why those journeys are important. 

Writing novels for kids is a privilege and a responsibility. Sometimes bad things happen to good characters. That's as it should be. But there better be a very, very, very good reason. 

5 comments:

  1. A lovely reminder of why we write for children.

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  2. Jane, this is great! Thanks for sharing this very thoughtful exchange with us. And thanks to Johnny C, too! Sounds like a pretty excellent kid.

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  3. Thank you for this inspirational reminder! Well said!

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  4. A beautiful exchange between you and Johnny. Thanks for sharing it.

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  5. I agree--INCREDIBLE exchange between you and Johnny. What a fantastic young reader.

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