When Old Friends Meet New Ones -- by Jane Kelley
Whenever I make a character, I don't describe the color of their eyes or the slope of their nose. I describe what they are reading. Of course some characters are parrots or other creatures who can't turn pages. And there are humans who don't like to read. But I assume that anyone who reads for pleasure probably expects to read about characters who also love to read.
That's how I know who I might like to have for my friends. Do they read or not? What do they read again and again. And why?
I'm not referring to the so-called great books. Or the trendy books. Or the ones which everyone is talking about for good––or bad reasons. I'm talking about a book that tells me a little more about a person because they've chosen it for their own individual reasons.
"What's your favorite book?" is asking what spoke to you. What made you feel seen. Understood.
For me when I was a kid? Understood Betsy -- there! In the title! How Betsy came to be UNDERSTOOD.
Was this the cover of my copy? I don't remember. I read it so much that the cover disappeared.
I also understood that this wasn't a book I should claim as my favorite. Look how hopelessly old fashioned it seems. But something about her emotional arc was comforting to me. The difficult child was eventually appreciated.
In my current work-in-progress, the main character is reading The Little Prince.
"'Grownups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?' Instead they demand: 'How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weight? How much money does his father make?' Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him."
Or, if I dare add to Antoine de Saint-Exupery's list, -- what books do they love?
I had forgotten these essential truths in The Little Prince. I remembered it was about a traveler from another planet. What a delightful surprise to find one of my themes expressed so well.
Jane Kelley is the author of many middle grade novels in which her characters are reading other books. Nature Girl (My Side of the Mountain), The Girl Behind the Glass (The Bastable Children), and The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya (The Secret Garden).