(a question from the blog, Book Lovers Online Guide, courtesy of the Roseville, California Library)
The descriptions of the innocence and tenderness of the school children struck me deeply, made me think of my own young children. Is this feeling coming out of your own experience working at a school?
For the last ten years, I’ve worked in the library of an elementary school. The school where I work is a Title 1 school. About 90% of the kids are on free or reduced lunch, which in school language means they’re poor kids. Many of them have problems associated with poverty—their parents struggle to support them, some are in foster homes, some have parents in jail, some are homeless, some are drug or alcohol-affected. Some of the parents are in Iraq. The kids are often naughty, but they are also funny and insightful and philosophical.
At my school we spend a lot of time talking to the kids about using words to solve problems, being respectful, listening to the other guy, not blaming, taking responsibility. But the bigger world tells them that the bully wins. We don’t need anybody. It’s not our fault.
How do we counter that? How do we teach kindness and humanity in a culture that glorifies violence and rationalizes war?
I’ve wanted to write about the children for a long time and found, finally, that I could tell the truth about them, or get as close to the truth as possible, through fiction. I wanted my readers to meet the kids on their own terms, with their own observations, their own words. So, even though none of the characters in my book is taken from a specific child, almost everything a child says in the book is from something a child has said to me.
I don’t think most people understand how many of our children live in very difficult situations.
I don’t know what to do about these things but at least, as a writer, I can write about them.