Monday, June 22, 2015

Adults In kid's Books: For or Against?

by Hilde Garcia

Eddie Money on the radio, great song about the 101. Another sunny day in LA. I am writing my blog on my iPhone in the car while we drive to the beach. 

Who needs a pencil when you have “NOTES” on your phone?
Father’s Day.  My family and I are on the way to go on a 10-mile bike ride along the beach between Santa Monica and Venice Beach with three kids between the ages of 9 and 10.
We will see how many bathroom breaks we will need or how many disagreements we will have to referee. This was supposed to be a Mother’s Day bike ride, but I was swamped with teacher stuff, so six weeks later, my hubby is sharing his day with me!
Happy Parent’s Day.


My kids were talking to me in the car and I began thinking about the novels we write and how we are often encouraged to take out the adult voices to make it more kid centered.  It’s not that the novels we write are devoid of parental units, it’s just that we really want the adult voices not to interfere with the story.

But why? Maybe a little interference is good. So much of our lives and our kids' lives are formed by what they learn from us, their parents. We are the little voice sin their head. I just saw the Pixar movie “Inside Out” with my kids.  WOW.  A must see. All those little voices in their heads, their parents’ head.  You can’t ignore them. They are intertwined.

Thinking of novels that capture the parent voice without that voice interfering with the story.  And it came to me, a few notable stories in which parental units and kid storytellers live in perfect harmony.

A Season of Gifts and the two amazing books that continue the character arc of Mrs. Dowdel, A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Not only is it masterfully written by Richard Peck, but you crave to know what Grandma Dowdel will do. You find yourself wanting to be her as her granddaughter grows up to realize. I can’t imagine that story being told only from her grandkids’ perspectives, without having Grandma be the force of nature that she is in all three books.

Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L.Holm is a beautifully written middle grade novel set in the 1950s, where family is central to the story, and Penny is torn between her two worlds.

The book is set in New Jersey in the year 1953. Protagonist Penny Falucci is an eleven-year-old girl who lives with her widowed mother and grandparents. Since the death of Penny's father, Mrs. Falucci shuns her big Italian-American family, but she won't give Penny a good reason. Penny loves that side of the family and spends as much time with them as she can. After an accident that puts her in the hospital for several weeks, Penny learns the truth about her father, his death, and how it tore apart the two halves of her family.

If Penny simply told her story and didn’t have all these parental units in her story, each adding to a piece of her background and the mystery about her past, you wouldn’t have this bittersweet story. Its cultural implications are profound and only effective when these characters are also the storytellers.

I think there are plenty of great books that have only the young voice and their perspective of the world, but then I think of all the Anne of Green Gables books and how bare they would be without Marilla, Matthew, or Mrs. Lynde.

And what about amazing classics like Caddie Woodlawn, the Little House Series and even Cheaper by theDozen, a fun story full of Father.  All so integrated with family and parental characters that these classic tales would be flat of what makes them special.  

I think of my own novel with an emotionally dead mother character and a father character who dies early in the story. In my pivotal scene, the mom tells the story. It has to be told by her point of view.  It’s the only way to connect the main characters, the sisters, to their past. The mom is integral to the storytelling. I can’t just have the girls figure it out without her and the bitter sweetness of the scene would be lost.

I was told to omit her storytelling and her in that scene, but I couldn’t. It’s also cultural. My story is true to the people and time period I write about. Why does the mid-grade or YA novel simply have to be from the kid’s point of view?

I feel there is room for both.

If you are considering killing off a parental character, also consider how they could enhance your story, if you haven’t already done so. They might not. My “father” character didn’t help the story and he had to die, which propelled the story unfold in a profound way.
I leave it up to you, the fate of your “adult” characters!

And in honor of Father’s Day (and all types of parents everywhere), I invite you to share the novels you feel capture the duality of the parent and the kid storyteller, where neither character detracts from the other’s contribution to the novel.

1 comment:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird.. To me the adults were peripheral in Anne. The book was all Anne's. it was Anne's view of them that was important.


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