Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When bad things happen to good characters

Last week I got to visit a school in my neighborhood to talk about my book, The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya. The kids had excellent questions about parrots and muffins and writing. One boy wisely chose to email me. He knew that his question would spoil part of the story for others. And so, if you haven't read the book ...... please be advised.

SPOILER ALERT!    (I've always wanted to say that.)

With his permission, I'm going to share his emails to me and my answer.


My name is Johnny and I'm nine years old. 

I loved your book! I really loved the adventure Zeno was on and how he had to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. I also liked when Alya climbed the six steps. There was so much tension and excitement.

I was hoping Zeno and Bunny would stay friends. I know sometimes characters die in books, so I was just wondering why you chose him to die?

Thank you, 
Johnny C.
Hi Johnny,

I'm glad that you loved my book. But I'm really grateful that you asked me such an important question. I had to think a lot about why I chose to let Bunny die.

First, I wondered did any of the characters really have to die? I think the answer to that is yes. If a book is realistic, then the events that the author describes should have real consequences. I think that Zeno's dangerous journey over the ocean is more exciting because you knew that bad things really might happen. Without real risks and real dangers,  his accomplishment wouldn't mean as much.

Hawks do kill pigeons. They don't do it to be cruel. They do it because they need food. I think you can accept that the hawk would attack a bird. But you want to know why did that bird have to be Bunny?

I could have let the hawk attack a different pigeon. But Zeno is so selfish, he wouldn't have helped anyone except Bunny. All of Zeno's adventures teach him important lessons. First he learns that a friend needs to fight for a friend. But he won't really learn how important that friendship is until he loses Bunny. Zeno has to learn the hard way.

If Zeno hadn't learn those lessons, he wouldn't have been there to help Alya when she needed it. That would have been sad too.

Like you, I hoped that Zeno and Bunny would stay friends. I do know that Zeno remembers everything that Bunny taught him. And, in that way, Bunny lives on.

Thank you again for asking me such a great question.

Jane Kelley


Thank you for writing back to me. What you said made a lot of sense because Bunny was such a good friend and Zeno cared for Bunny and when Bunny died, it changed Zeno and made the story better. It was sad, but I realize why it had to happen.

I can't wait to read your other books.

Johnny C.

I am grateful to Johnny for letting me share his thoughts on my blog. I'm lucky to have a reader who is willing to journey with my characters, over the Atlantic Ocean or up the six steps to a Brooklyn brownstone. And willing to think about why those journeys are important.

I'm humbled to be reminded that my characters matter to my readers. Writing novels for kids is a privilege––and a responsibility. Sometimes bad things have to happen to good characters––but there better be a very, very, very good reason.

(Thank you, Eliza Wheeler, for your amazing drawing of Zeno and Alya.) 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Everyone is an artist!

RUM JUNGLE by Julia Coash
Last month I went to Open Studio exhibit in New Haven, Connecticut. My friend Julia Coash was showing her paintings. I knew Julie's work would be hauntingly beautiful. I didn't expect to be so inspired by  the entire event. 

Julie Coash talking to other artists.
In an open studio,  artists allow people into their workplaces. This was open in another way. Anyone could participate. In other words, anyone can be an artist. Without a judge or gatekeeper, anything can be art.

I saw:  traditional painting, photography, sculpture, graphic design, colorful circles on small paper flags, giant boulders made from paper mache, food, recorded voices, a woman with her leg in a box. Some of the work moved me more than others, but I admired everyone for participating––including the people like me who wandered from room to room looking at the art.

"Everyone is an artist," said Joseph Beuys, an artist and art theorist. He believed in art education for all. He wanted to encourage people to find ways to be creative in everyday life.

As a writer, I know that I only do part of the job. Nothing I create exists until someone reads my words and uses his or her own imagination to fill in the gaps. (And believe me, I know I leave a lot of gaps!)

Last month I also got to attend Ghouls and Gourds festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Many people come in costume, so you can see the creativity that might otherwise be hidden. 

Look! This picture proves it! Everyone is an artist!