Friday, June 13, 2008

Editorial Anonymous's Celebrate Reading Pick: VOYAGE TO THE BUNNY PLANET by Rosemary Wells

Today, we welcome Editorial Anonymous as our Celebrate Reading Month Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: Editorial Anonymous is a children's book editor who blogs about the publishing industry and takes questions from readers. Turn-ons include long walks in bookstores, quiet evenings at home with good lighting, and really childish senses of humor.


It’s easy to see this set of three stories as being as much for adults as for children, and I know many adults who love it dearly. If you’re unfamiliar with these stories, each starts with a ‘bad day’ part (a child trapped in interminable math lessons; flattened by cousins; held down for a doctor’s shot, etc etc) which is then followed by a ‘Bunny Planet’ part, where we see “the day that should have been” (time with mom in the garden and the kitchen, cooking tomato soup; time with dad in a cozy lighthouse while the storm is safe outside; time with oneself in a protected glade).

The ‘Bunny Planet’ parts are a chance for adults and children alike to reflect on the small things that build happiness. They are the comfort and the charm of these books.

But I’d like to talk about how meaningful the ‘bad day’ parts are.

Children don’t get to choose how they spend most of their days; the trips they take; the food they eat; the people they live with. The things that go wrong in these stories are, I think, apt to be trivialized by many adults, because many adults have forgotten what it’s like to have very few choices.

Do you remember how much better every single one of your days became when you got to decide what to do with them? Most adults don’t. Most adults think the jobs they go to are roughly equivalent to school, because it is something they have to do, and they have to deal with bullies and jerks, too—and hey! they have to work eight hours, whereas their kids only have to be in school for 6 or 7, and there’s recess! and, like, no commute!

There are a bunch of reasons why an adult’s workday is not equivalent, and quite a bit better than a kids’ school day, though, and good writers for children will remember these things.

1. I don’t care how many bullies and jerks you have to deal with—you know how. You know how to respond to them, or how to ignore them. Kids don’t. The rough side of social experience can and does make children wretched, sometimes on a daily basis.

2. I don’t care how traffic- or flasher-filled your commute is, if you don’t think a school bus is worse, try imagining getting on the same uncomfortable subway car every day, but it’s not full of strangers. It’s full of people who know you and generally have mixed feelings about you. Some of them are hostile towards you, and the rest have limited social skills—including your friends, and you.

3. I don’t care that you have to have a job, and can’t get out of that. There is an enormous hit to your morale that you are not taking because it’s still up to you whether you have to go to this job or not. Kids get no say at all in which school they go to, whether they get to (or have to) change schools, whether they take a sick day or vacation if they’re feeling burnt out.


Powerlessness is hard, and demoralizing. Kids know this. Most of them manage to be pretty darn cheerful anyway, because powerlessness is all they’ve ever known. But don’t be dismissive of it. It is exactly this aspect of children’s lives that makes small problems feel like calamities, and that attracts children to stories that feature orphans and magical powers and heck, even choose-your-own-adventure.

Everyone faces forces in life that they cannot control. But many adults forget just how many choices they get to make every day. If you’re writing for children, you don’t get to forget this: most kids’ favorite thing to imagine is steering their own lives.

10 comments:

JES said...

Powerlessness is hard, and demoralizing. Kids know this... It is exactly this aspect of children’s lives that makes small problems feel like calamities, and that attracts children to stories that feature orphans and magical powers...

Coincidentally, this was my thinking after just finishing the first Artemis Fowl book. It took me a while to get the hang of why the book was so popular: other than the author's assertion that Artemis was 12 years old, I couldn't figure out why he needed (in the book's and author's terms) to be a child. He wasn't doing anything particularly child-like, after all -- traveling the globe, criminally scheming, ordering his servant about, and he was too smart, really, to be constrained by any dull school's rules...

By the time the near-orphan subplot emerged, though, I realized it was exactly his clever mastery of adult "business" which was why kids love the Artemis Fowl universe so much. He's FREE.

I'm not familiar with BUNNY PLANET. Very nice review of it (and its theme), though!

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, an excellent essay on what writers should remember about being a kid! I remember being that miserable for reasons that now seem silly but weren't back then.

Merry Monteleone said...

This was a really great article on writing for children. I've seen a number of discussions on boards for children's writers about the cliche of killing off the parents - that a lot of newer writers rely on this to easily get them out of the way and force the mc into an independent role. I don't think that one, maybe overused, device takes away from good writing, though, or a kid's enjoyment of the story. There are a lot of creative ways to build a story where the character is in control of his/her own destiny. Charlie Brown had parents and teachers, but their dialogue was relegated to "Wah-wa-wa-wa-wa"... probably closer to what children hear anyway...

pacatrue said...

I've noticed a similar theme in lots of Japanese anime, Pokemon being the most famous. Supposed kids are allowed to roam the countryside for weeks, free and unencumbered, with only the most infrequent checks with an adult family member. Appears to be a continuing fantasy.

Christy Lenzi said...

Amen!

Anonymous said...

This post brought me back to the bedtimes when I would read these books to my son. These books bring such cozy reassurance to both children and adults that everything will be OK.

Kristan said...

What a great blog post!! I've honestly never thought about children this way, but I think Ed Anon's essay is very insightful and well-written. Thanks for sharing!

cindy said...

i can see why you must love your job, EA. what type of book is this? is it a childrens picture book? or for a little bit older? must look into it. thanks for sharing!

Sherryl said...

I am with you 100% on this. I've come to see that this is what drives me to write for children (and when I say this in public - the stuff about kids being powerless - adults look at me as if I am crazy).
These are the moments I remember most clearly from being a kid - the times when I was treated by adults as if I was a nuisance, or a pain, or being difficult, or just not behaving! And these are what I try to get into my stories, along with a character who is going to get out there and fight back in some way.
Thanks, EA, for summing it up so well.

ChrisEldin said...

I have never heard of these books, but I think they will be a quick favorite for my children.

Your vignette is a beautiful way of validating what children go through by having so little power in their own lives. The school bus truly can be a nightmare--it's exactly as you said it.
You are clearly passionate about what you do.