In recent years I've found myself choosing some book topics that could be difficult for young readers. My 2011 book, "Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance," dealt with a dog rescued from the Michael Vick dog fighting operation. My Spring, 2012 book, "The Horse and the Plains Indians: A Powerful Partnership," had to face up to how the U.S. government dealt with Indians and their horses during the westward expansion movement, and my most recent book, "Dogs on Duty: Soldiers' Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond," is about Military Working Dogs. In each case, I needed to figure out how to frame the difficult truths I needed to present so that children could understand what was at stake in these situations but not become frightened or depressed by the information.
My Walker editor, Emily Easton, rightly insisted that readers needed to know what was at stake for the Vick dogs had they not been rescued--certain death. I dealt with that issue by writing two short paragraphs for the first spread that appeared over a dark gray background, with Audie's worried-looking face on the opposite page. Then, when the reader turns the page, the immediate topic is the happy news, the rescue of the dogs, who now had the potential for survival and love. When I heard from a mother on the book's Facebook page, Audie's Journey, that her 4-year-old loved the book so much she had to have it under her pillow at night, I relaxed.
"The Horse and the Plains Indians: A Powerful Partnership," is luckily for an older audience, so I was able to include more detailed information about how the Indians and their horses as well suffered from the determination of the American government and settlers to take over their lands and leave them with very little in return. I was the one who ended up on the depressed side from the research and writing, but I knew what mattered was telling the truth, and the positive reviews the book has received validated my approach.
"Dogs on Duty: Soldiers' Best Friends on the Battlefield
and Beyond," presented its own difficulties for young readers, since it deals with an ongoing struggle against people who plant bombs meant to kill. As I researched and wrote, I kept my mind focused on the main important facts--these dogs save lives and provide a bonus service with their wagging tails and gentle snuggling after the days of difficult and scary work. Again, the positive reviews the book has gotten help me know I reached a good balance.
Now I'm on to new projects with happier focus, and I'm looking forward to the fun and challenge of research. One of my favorite activities is learning new information--gee, I never knew that!!--and writing books for children gives me the excuse to indulge myself.