I want to introduce a wonderful friend today. Her name Is Flo Barnett and her stories have delighted many readers between the ages of nine to ninety-nine.
Flo recently taught me a valuable lesson. Sometimes questioning people, as to why their work turns out to be so different from what you expected, can be a good thing.
I’ve always enjoyed reading Flo’s stories and my normal routine was to follow with a review letting others know they’ll enjoy her work also. But this time, I couldn’t honestly do so. I had been expecting a funny, lighthearted child’s read and instead, I found the tale to be very realistic and a bit harsh. Not at all like her previous books. Rather than finish reading to the end, I put it aside.
Then I fretted on it for days. Knowing I’d promised a review, I finally broke down and wrote to her personally. I explained my reservations as to whether she’d meant for this book to be quite so severe. I worried that most kids want a fun-filled adventure and not something this serious.
Rather than being angry with me, she took the time to explain her reasoning. My respect grew in leaps and bounds when I read her explanation. As a grandmother who worried about her family, she knew from experience that the world doesn’t always treat us with tenderness. There’s hard knocks for everyone to suffer. Flo wanted the lessons in her book to be a way of showing those readers that it’s not so much what you’ve done that counts. It’s how we eventually deal with the final outcome. How we overcome the obstacles when things seem grim. This book is her way of teaching children that even their grandparents had problems and situations they needed to learn from.
Once I understood that she meant for this to a realistic view of her own experiences as a child. Her reasoning behind the story made more sense to me. I did finish reading it, and much to my delight, discovered a photo of her parents who were actual characters in the book and her explanation of how the plot was based on a true story of her and her brother.
She asked me…
After you finished reading the book, if you don’t mind sharing, what was your final conclusion regarding its negative depictions? And by negative, I mean the tragic elements that are exposed in their rawest form. I value your insight, Mimi. I can’t promise to change my approach, but perhaps I might consider tempering it a bit.
I did find your book a bit harsh but I didn’t understand the reasoning behind why you wrote it that way. Once you explained, I accepted what you were trying to do. Therefore, I wonder – if you put a small explanation of your reasoning with the photo of Frank and Mary in the front matter – let the reader know why you feel these lessons are important, then they won’t have the same reaction that I did. But will be prepared for what’s to come.
She followed my advice and thanked me graciously. But I should have been the one to thank her. She reminded me of a very important lesson. As authors, we don’t have to just entertain out readers. Especially, those of us writing for children! We can go a step further and inform them, teach them by our characters and the plots of our stories. If we let them know they aren’t alone getting into mischief and fearing how to get out of it, it might just make them less afraid to overcome their own battles.
Flo Barnett says
As always, Mimi, I appreciate your kind words regarding my children's books. Being a grammy of seven, six boys and one girl, I wanted to leave all of them a special remembrance in the form of a book dedicated specifically to each one. All seven are thrilled with their personal legacy and will know how much I loved them "always and forever!"
About my first chapter book, Playing Hooky, I decided to shift gears from the fantastical, and let my grandkids see me as a human being with all the flaws and frailties that come with the territory. I want them to know who I am, not what society tells them regarding what parents and significant adults are supposed to be.
Mimi, you're absolutely right when you make comment about showing children our own imperfections so they feel less afraid to make their own blunders. How else can they learn to make right decisions when they're teens, if we overprotect them as youngsters. Risk-taking is a critical skill that is necessary to maneuver through life. Allowing two-year-olds to decide whether or not to climb a steep hill will teach them far more about themselves than learning the abc's ever could. If they roll down and scrape their knees, they will decide to never do it again, find an alternate route, or wait until they're older to challenge the slope a second time.
Independence is the greatest gift we can give our children from a very early age. Be generous to them by letting go and watch them grow by leaps and bounds. If children aren't afraid to face the unknown, why should we, the adults, put up roadblocks that hinder their development? Take a deep breath, hold on as tight as you can, and let them decide how to experience life to the fullest.
Thanks for introducing me to all of your many readers, Mimi. I'm always happy to make new friends.
Mimi Barbour says
Love ya too!