Fixing Problem Novels

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In the 1970’s there was an abundance of problem novels and the editorial backlash from them is still around. At the various retreats, I’ve talked with several people who are writing a type of problem novel. They don’t sell.

From my discussions, it seems that editors wrongly assume that the market is glutted with stories about alcoholic parents, kids who are alcoholic themselves, kids being physically abused, kids being abandoned physically or emotionally, and etc, and etc. When authors do a search for titles, though, there are few titles for middle grade and only a few more for young adult.

So, it hasn’t made sense that editors reject these stories out of hand. For example, some estimate that there are about 13 million kids living in a home with an alcoholic care-giver! Wow! That’s immense. As a profession we often talk about the importance of kids seeing themselves in the pages of a book. Yet, for these 13 million kids, there is no book.

But someone recently made a lot of sense on this issue. They said that middle grade kids don’t really want to confront the issue head-on; instead, there needs to be a story that interests the kids and as a side issue, the problem is included. For example, they pointed to Gennifer Choldenko’s Newbery Honor book, Al Capone Does My Shirts, where the main character’s sister is autistic.

It has more to do with the nature of the middle school audience than it does with editorial resistance to a certain topic. Interesting. Certainly, Choldenko’s book is full of humor and other interesting events and doesn’t make the autism the main point of the story. Maybe, that is a better way to approach problems that kids encounter. It still seems difficult at times, because some life problems seem to overwhelm anything else that might be going on. But at least I’m looking at this with differeent eyes now.

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2 Comments
  • Sarah
    November 21, 2007

    Hurray.
    A livejournal feed. I have looked, but never found it.
    Thanks.

  • Clive
    November 21, 2007

    The English writer Jacqueline Wilson writes these kind of novels, including alcoholism. Although her work is distinctly for girls.