When I’m asked why I write sad books, I often reply that I don’t: I write happy books with sad things in them, and I believe that. Roses are Blue seems sad, because there’s a girl going through a very tough time, and a mother who is permanently disabled, and there isn’t much there to be happy about. But ultimately, I hope I’ve written a story about hope. about finding happiness in the midst of these trying times. If a reader finishes reading that book, or Pearl Verses the World, or Toppling, and feels nothing but sad, then I have failed in what I’m trying to do. I want to make people feel good, not bad.
Having said that, it’s possible to make people happy without first making them sad. There are plenty of children’s books that do that, and I have written some of those which I am very proud of. Nobody feels sad about the story of Head Hog, or The Floatingest Frog. These are books which, I hope,make people smile.
So, why do I write the sad books then? (Again, I argue that they are actually happy books, but can see why people describe them that way.)
I have visited a lot of schools this year, which is a wonderful wonderful part of my job. I get to read from my books, talk about myself and meet the kids who read my books, or who might read my books. At every one of those schools, there is a child who has had really sad things happen in their lives. Sometimes those chidlren keep those sad stories hidden inside themselves, but sometimes they share them with with me.
It is an honour when a child trusts me or connects with me enough to tell me that they, too, have lost a grandparent, like Pearl does, or that they too have a family member with a disability. Last year a gorgeous girl and her classmates told me of her struggle with cancer, like Dominic in Toppling.
Sometimes, chidlren tell me things that they haven’t told their friends or their teachers. And sometimes, I’m guessing, they don’t tell me, because they don’t want to talk about it, and that is fine too.
And, for every school I do visit, there are hundreds – thousands – of schools I can’t visit. But there are children in those schools, everywhere in the world, who have really sad things in their lives. In the end, don’t we all have tough stuff happen to us sometime in our life?
I put this sad stuff into my books because it’s real. I wish it wasn’t. I wish children didn’t have to have terrible things happen in their lives. I really do.
What I hope is that by writing about these topics, I might help children, in some small way, see that even in the midst of sadness, even in the midst of tough times, there can be happiness.