Q&A with Laurel Snyder discussion

Bigger than a Bread Box
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Do "sad" books for kids upset you?

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message 1: by Laurel (new) - added it

Laurel | 22 comments Mod
My most recent novel is about a family that's really struggling. There's a magical element too, but divorce/separation is at the heart of the story. I was surprised to find a lot of adults didn't think kids should need to read about something so sad.

I wonder if you agree?


Sasha (kywriting) Not one bit. In a perfect world, kids wouldn't experience those things in real life, but they do. Books help them cope and to not feel alone. I think your book was fantastic, and would share it in a heartbeat if and when I have a student whose family is struggling.


Adam (mr_shaffer) | 1 comments They only upset me in the way they're supposed to, in the way sadness is upsetting.

The fact that there are sad books for kids does not upset me. We need sad books for kids, and happy books, and angry books, and silly books.


message 4: by Laurel (new) - added it

Laurel | 22 comments Mod
I loved sad books as a kid. Dicey's Song?

I experience this as a parent myself, just not wanting my kids to be sad. I get that. But I think kids are tough.


message 5: by Tara (last edited Feb 25, 2012 09:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tara Hall (taralhall) | 8 comments I have been fascinated as a bookseller at the prevalence of these tough topics in kids and teen literature recently. Teens especially seem to gravitate to it. It's not just "sad" topics. It's the deep and dark as well: drug use, teen pregnancy, human trafficking, violence in general. A lot of people (all of them adults) are up in arms about this trend.

The fact is that kids go through some bad stuff, now moreso than ever. I certainly did as a child and a young teen. Do they think sad movies aren't okay? Disney disagrees. Have they ever watched The Land Before Time? Bambi? Dumbo? Books on tough topics were few and far between for kids my age at the time, so I started reading adult novels. I think it's far better for kids to have access to books meant for people their age on these subjects.

It then falls to the booksellers and the librarians to be familiar with the subjects enough to explain them to kids and parents. I ADORED your most recent book, precisely because it deals with those issues in a sensitive way, a way that would allow a child going through something similar to relate and not feel alone in their struggles. Just recently I had a customer ask me for books for kids about parents divorcing. I immediately handed her your book. What if we didn't write and publish sad books? What would that child resort to in order to fill that void? Violent video games? It's a need, a necessity, to have this literature available.

Also, it's worth noting that Number the Stars was my favorite book in elementary school. I went on to study Jewish and German history in college, and I graduated cum laude with departmental honors. I'm pretty sure it didn't damage me irreparably.


message 6: by Tara (new) - added it

Tara (taralaz) | 1 comments My parents separated when I was 10 and divorced when I was 12. It was difficult to find books about kids going through a similar situation back then. Glad to have them on the shelves now to help kids going thru similar circumstances. I think it's especially nice to have magical elements combined with the very real and difficult circumstances--it lightens the story.


Colby Sharp | 2 comments I'm all about the sad books for kids. A lot of my read alouds to my 4th graders the first half of the year are "sad books". A lot of these shared reading experience drive our reading conversations the rest of the year.


Abigail (woodrose) | 2 comments Books that tackle tough topics in authentic ways are amazing, in my opinion, because they don't talk down to kids. Kids know when things are wrong, they know the world isn't perfect, and it doesn't help them to shelter them. Beautifully written literature with structure that shows models of people (their age, or other) dealing with tough times and moving past it helps kids prepare for the rocks ahead or handle what has already happened or is happening in their own lives.

As a kid, I escaped the craziness of my life through fantasy novels, where the trials of life wore different masks. Fantasy is only kind of an escape, but in my case it was what I needed. Other readers need the realistic approach.

I wonder if the fact that we (societally) tend towards greater protectiveness over our children's physical environments plays a role in the popularity of this type of writing? Especially in combination with the kind of violence and grit that is pervasive in media...

Sorry that was so rambling. I could have just said I agree with everyone else. :)


message 9: by David (new) - added it

David | 1 comments the problem isn't "sad" books, its the notion that we should be categorizing books by the emotions they MAY elicit from readers. i think the cultural aspect of this is the pervasiveness of storytelling media (books, movies, TV, games) that emphasize happy resolutions and winning as goals. you can convince anyone that something unpleasant is better with a cupcake at the end, but ultimately that sort of thinking conditions a person into thinking that only those "happy" endings are worthwhile.

recently i glanced at something suggesting fairy tales were "too scary" for kids, as if the idea of a story can only be of one cheery emotional subset. how do we teach children to address and conquer fears and anxieties if, instead of using what scares them as teachable moments, insisting that stories do all the work and with as little confrontation as possible?

laurel, what surprises me about people thinking you book is sad is that it completely overlooks the complex emotional terrain covered by the various characters in the story. rebecca, her mom and her dad, all have to address their situation and spend the book struggling to find solutions. these are both valuable as lessons and character traits.

generally when i hear people say books are too sad for children i tend to think they are doing children a great disservice by teaching them that the realities of life can be avoided, or simply shut out. i think it stunts character to be overly concerned with sheltering children and, in a sense, breeds ignorance.

but that's just me i'm sure.


message 10: by Laurel (new) - added it

Laurel | 22 comments Mod
Yes, yes, yes! I think this is a dominant instinct in contemporary parenting-- that the job of a parents (esp one of means) is to keep kids happy. So we don't take them to funerals, let them watch the news, explain racism. You name it. We make an imaginary world for them. We tell them they are special in every way. Etc. This isn't a black and white issue-- some kids need some elvel of "protection" I think. But most are going to be unprepared when they run into discomfort. There's a GREAT book about this (and I loathe parenting books) called Blessings of a Skinned Knee.The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children


Abigail (woodrose) | 2 comments Love your incisive comment, David. And absolutely agree w/Laurel (and will add that to my tbr list!)


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