Monday, December 11, 2006

Dead Parents Society: Books About Orphans

I gravitate to books about orphans. As an immigrant kid who had to translate a new world's secrets for my parents, I liked reading about protagonists who triumphed without much help from adults. And orphans like Anne Shirley or Sara Crewe definitely fit the bill.

But as I'm reading through the stack of books nominated for the Cybils, I'm overwhelmed by the number of middle grade novels published in 2006 that feature dead parents. Does this generation of children need to process parental loss through the excellent therapy of fiction? Or is abandonment more of an issue underlying the psyche of the generation currently writing and editing books for kids? Here's my question as I read: will a kid want to read this book again and again, like I did with A Little Princess or Anne of Green Gables? Or will a beautifully-written book written and critiqued by adults from my generation receive yet another an award, despite the fact that kids won't read it?

2 comments:

Liz B said...

My take on dead parents in kids books is that 9 out of 10 times it's a device so that the kids can act without interference from parents. Usually easy to spot because the book contains no mourning or grief over the loss; the death is background, not part of the story. I wish authors would be more inventive in how to get rid of parents; for example, have both parents working, or a parent on a trip.

Now, if the books you are reading do deal with that loss... I wonder if its easier to have books that address loss thru divorce as loss thru death? That is, the loss that the kids are working thru is the parent no longer there because of divorce, but for some reason the books don't use divorce (perhaps because with death, the parent isn't to blame?) I do think that abandonment from divorce is an issue today.

Anyhow that is my two cents worth!!

Mitali Perkins said...

I wonder if just reading a book about abandonment in general heals the soul; my parents weren't dead, just unable to help me much in certain areas of life ... thanks for your thoughts, Liz. It would be interesting to find out what books kids with divorced parents read over and over again.