One of the best things about having made the move to fiction, and especially fiction for children, is the mail I’ve gotten from some of my young readers. Sometimes adults who’ve read my book will comment that they liked it, but can’t imagine children getting it. I’ve never agreed with this attitude, because I remember myself as a reading child, and I remember my own kids reading at various ages, and I know that kids get a lot more than some adults give them credit for. And, like adults, they don’t just read superficially, understanding the story line, but missing the themes. I have had kids notice things in the story, and show deeper levels of understanding, than some adults. I’m a firm believer that age is not a barrier to understanding a book and relating to it on a deep level. Which leads me back to a group of letters I recently received from a sixth grade reading group in Illinois. They gave me so much pleasure that I asked their teacher for permission to share them. She got it for me, (Thank you, Colleen!) and so I thought for this week and next I’d post excerpts from some of them here, especially the ones in which the kids asked questions that intrigued me, and that I’ve noticed other readers asking occasionally. Alongside them, I’ll post some of my responses, because of course I had to write back to such wonderful correspondents! I should say spoiler alert here, because if you haven’t read the book, the letters refer to things that you might not know just from the first few pages. So, with that out of the way, here are some pieces of the letters:
One letter-writer, Emily, wrote the following:
. . . My favorite part was when Andrew Snow arrived and when Annie was going to mail the letter but she didn’t. I feel like she didn’t mail the letter because half of her wanted Andrew to stay because he was taking care of them and half of her did want him to go because he was causing trouble.
Honestly, that blew me away. Here’s part of my answer:
You understood perfectly why Annie had so much trouble and why she didn’t want to mail the letter for Rew. I like to write about thoughtful people who don’t know the answers right away. It’s especially hard for people like Annie to figure out what’s right when there are other people, like Rew, who feel so sure they know the answer. But sometimes it’s the people who take the time to think for a little while longer who end up making things better.
And then there was Tony’s letter, which probably made me the happiest:
. . . I would like to thank you because your book really changed my thoughts about reading in general. It has made me want to read more books because as I read Zebra Forest I realized how enjoyable reading can be. . . .
Is there anything better than that? Not likely. And that’s exactly what I wrote Tony.