SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Seeking advice on difficult subjects in chapter books

Discussion started on

Hello! I need some advice on a chapter book I'm working on, #2 in a series, and what's appropriate for children ages 6-8.

My books are fictional and told from the POV of wild animal characters who convey basic misunderstandings about wildlife. The first book dealt with human-wildlife encounters, and the second one is about habitat destruction. In general, I try to keep things pretty realistic without getting TOO realistic.

My first draft had the three raccoon kit characters lose their mom, not overtly; she just doesn't come back after they escape the tree-cutting, and they're more or less "adopted" by another raccoon mom as they search for her. It's a story about how they learn to be on their own, since they were almost independent anyway.

A friend who used to teach that age group felt that that was too much for young readers and that they needed a "closed loop" where the kits find their mom. I was able to rewrite the draft without much of a problem and still get the "independence" lesson in there -- not a big deal, I'm just kinda attached to the original (there's a scene where they talk about how their mom is always with them) and I wondered whether anyone could offer a second opinion?
#1 - July 04, 2018, 02:55 PM

Member
Poster Plus
Immediately, my mind went to Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Published back in 1985 (and winner of the Newbery Medal), it's a chapter book that addresses death and remarriage. The Amazon listing has it for ages 6-10.

And there's Charlotte's Web, too! That's for ages 8-12.

I do understand what your friend is saying. For some especially sensitive children (and two of my chickadees would be among them), a "closed loop" is reassuring.  For others, a realistic scenario handled gently - as the example you gave really seems to be - is fine.

My bottom line: it's how you tell the story.  Sad news told well will just be sad, not unsettling.

Best, best wishes in whatever you decide to do, Christa!!
#2 - July 04, 2018, 04:23 PM

Thank you!! Do you think that the timing makes a difference? I admit I didn't read "Sarah," but the transition came at the beginning of the book, no? And in "Charlotte's Web," it's at the end, and the reader has the chance alongside Wilbur to close the loop. In mine, the kits comfort their little sister by telling her that Mama has taught them well and is with them in everything they do, and the little sister remembers that when she goes to rescue a smaller kit who's in trouble.

I did have another friend, a homeschooler, who agreed with me that this was plenty, but I'm just nervous because most of my grownup fiction trends pretty dark and so "OK" for me might not be for others.

Hmm... now I'm wondering if it would be implausible for the little sister to make her rescue and then return to her siblings to find that Mama has returned too... why yes, I am a charter member of Overthinkers Anonymous! ;) Thanks again!!
#3 - July 04, 2018, 04:34 PM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
You've made m think of Bambi.

But these are all old titles. I'm trying to think of any current chapter books that deal with death as a theme and not coming up with any. I can think of a bunch of middle grade novels that do.

In a lot of cases, it's about the writing and not the action. If handled well, you can do almost anything.

A question: is the book about independence or animal/human interaction? I'm not sure the independence theme needs the mother to die since her job is to create that in her children. In fact, unless her death sets up the need for human interaction or shows the worst effect of humans, I'm not sure that theme needs it either. Of course, I haven't read it. Just something for you to consider.
#4 - July 04, 2018, 08:22 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Thanks, Debbie, that's a great point. The point of the series is to show how basic misunderstandings between animals and humans create conflict. In the first book, the raccoons met the humans for the first time. In the second, habitat destruction drives the raccoons to a human backyard. This one is a little bit tricky because in reality, habitat destruction ends up being quite dystopian for raccoons and other animals -- they get disoriented and can't find food, water, shelter etc. In that kind of situation it's realistic for a mother raccoon to "adopt" orphan babies, but it's also realistic for two mother raccoons to band together to cooperate (as long as resources aren't scarce, which they aren't in this story). So while their mother's death/disappearance isn't strictly necessary, it does lend extra tension. Again though -- that may be more a function of writing for grownups!
#5 - July 05, 2018, 03:31 AM

Member.
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region midsouth
I understand what your friend is saying about closing the loop, and certainly for a younger age group, closed loops are nice and tidy. But as a mother of highly sensitive kids, I knew they would eventually encounter stories that weren't always nice and tidy. I always appreciated it when those stories were ones we might be reading together, like chapter books, so we could discuss any topics that left them a little unsure. If done gently, I think your original story would still be appropriate for that age group.

You've written two versions, and one sings to you. I say go with your gut. If you're still unsure, have a critique partner read both and see which one resonates with him or her.

The series sounds great! Good luck!
#6 - July 05, 2018, 05:46 AM

With my chapter books, a few times my stakes were life or death or veering toward that, and I was asked to make the stakes not so high. I'm certain my editor would say no death, but it could vary from house to house.

My advice, for what it's worth, would be to submit it without the death. And if you do make a sale, at that point you could discuss whether or not adding the death would make a stronger book.
#7 - July 05, 2018, 07:01 AM
MG-SCHOOL OF CHARM
BACK ON THE MAP
Scholastic CB series:
ENCHANTED PONY ACADEMY
THE WISH FAIRY
MERMAIDS TO THE RESCUE '19
PB-GOODNIGHT LAGOON '19

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region carolinas
My advice, for what it's worth, would be to submit it without the death. And if you do make a sale, at that point you could discuss whether or not adding the death would make a stronger book.

This is good advice. Chapter books are for kids to be able to read by themselves, unlike PBs which are read to the child in the safety of a mother's lap very often.

My own kids were highly sensitive as independent readers. They were forever traumatized by Bambi.

However, execution is everything, as Carrots says.

I recommend you post it on the secure SCBWI critique board to get more feedback and best of luck with your submission.
#8 - July 05, 2018, 07:54 AM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
In some cases, humans create the perfect habitat for animals. Human garbage is a great food source for raccoons, who are omnivores. I have raccoons in my area and have critter proof lids. There are disease issues that come from exposure to other animals, like dogs and cats. Lack of proper shelter may be an issue when they can't break into a shed and there isn't good tree cover. I'm curious to see how you'll carry this off without it seeming like the humans have done the raccoons a favor in the end. I haven't researched the animals and am merely responding to my personal experience and pondering.
#9 - July 05, 2018, 08:12 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

In some cases, humans create the perfect habitat for animals. Human garbage is a great food source for raccoons, who are omnivores. I have raccoons in my area and have critter proof lids. There are disease issues that come from exposure to other animals, like dogs and cats. Lack of proper shelter may be an issue when they can't break into a shed and there isn't good tree cover. I'm curious to see how you'll carry this off without it seeming like the humans have done the raccoons a favor in the end. I haven't researched the animals and am merely responding to my personal experience and pondering.

Hey, sorry I let this drop. You're correct about all of the above, and those factors all make into the story to varying degrees. It was definitely tricky to write in a way that educates young readers about all the risks without making it TOO dystopian -- it ends up being a story about resourcefulness, and it is heavily based on research about how their habits change in urban environments vs. rural (such as more social behavior like eating and denning together). The humans certainly don't do the raccoons any favors, but by the time of the third book in the series, they've adapted -- that's the crux of what I'm trying to show.

And a big thanks to Vijaya for recommending the secure critique board -- I will check it out for sure!
#10 - July 09, 2018, 06:21 PM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
Your description wasn't clear before. I think a key for you will be to have each book stand alone but still have the overall arc. I'll keep an eye out on the crit boards for your post. The idea here is so intriguing and curriculum based as well. I want to see how you're carrying it off.
#11 - July 10, 2018, 06:32 PM
« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 08:19 PM by Debbie Vilardi »
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Your description wasn't clear before. I think a key for you will be to have each book stand alone but still have the overall arc. I'll keep an eye out on the crit boards for you post. The idea here is so intriguing and curriculum based as well. I want to see how you're carrying it off.

Thanks, Debbie. I did look at the crit boards but admit that the thought of posting a 9k word story was a little daunting ;) Just something to bite the bullet on?

#12 - July 11, 2018, 03:58 AM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
There is a limit to how much you can post at once. We generally suggest one chapter at a time. Read the stickies on the crit boards and a few threads. That should help you decide.
#13 - July 11, 2018, 08:21 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Members:

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.