Here’s a special book with a whole lot of heart from a special woman with a whole lot of heart. I “met” Joan when I joined ALAN, since she is membership secretary and every email she sent had great info, lots of care, heartfelt sections and funny parts as well. The best part was that each email seemed to speak to me personally. Well, some of them did, because she’s great at responding to emails right away even though she’s a professor and executive director of the Florida Council of Teachers of English. Hmm, I wonder what she does in her SPARE time. (?!) As it turns out, she writes books! DEAR AUTHOR: LETTERS OF HOPE (top young adult authors respond to kids’ toughest issues) is a real beauty. A book for every children’s writer, every child, and really, everyone. It’s a great read aloud for teachers, although it’s a good thing I’m not a teacher because I’m afraid I would start crying at the poignancy of it all. But the key words is hope. There’s oodles of hope in this book that’ll keep you turning the pages and marveling at the care of YA authors and the strength of their readers. Thank you, Joan, for a book that reminds us all why we keep writing!
Now, for some words from Joan herself . . .
Kathy: Can you tell us how this book came to be published?
Joan: The idea for this book came while attending the 1999 Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) in Denver, Colorado. As president of ALAN that year, I had the privilege of planning the workshop and its theme, “Saving Our Students’ Lives through Literature and Laughter.” Authors who wrote realistic fiction that addresses tough issues for teens shared their writing, their wisdom, their good intentions, and their laughter with us. I asked each of the authors if they had letters from teenagers that they couldn’t throw away because “it was a piece of a child’s soul and a person can’t throw away a soul.” My request resonated with so many, so Dear Author: Letters of Hope was born.
Each author was asked to send me five to ten letters (though many exceeded that number), and I wrote a composite letter that protected the identities of each and every writer while attempting to capture the voice of a single child. The overriding themes contained in these letters written by kids were two very powerful ones: Your book SAVED my life, and I didn’t know that anyone else existed who knew me! Authors were then asked to write a “letter of hope” to the child so that their wisdom and writing talent could reach kids who are hurting.
Kathy: This question seems superfluous, but I’ll ask it, anyway: Tell us why we should buy this book.
Joan: Reading (and writing) are healthy escapes until a person is able to or old enough to address her or his pain. For those who like what a particular author has to say, information about the author, annotations of three of his or her books, and a website address is included.
Kathy: Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
Joan: Chris Crutcher, Beatrice Sparks, and Laurie Halse Anderson
Kathy: :o) ‘Nuff said. You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers. What is that?
Kathy: I love how you get straight to the heart of the matter, Joan! What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?
Joan: Books save lives. There’s hope in a book.
Kathy: Like I said, you really get right to the heart of things! Why did you choose this topic?
Joan: Twenty-five percent of today’s teenagers have inordinate emotional baggage beyond the normal angst of adolescence. This led to my pairing literacy experts with therapists which resulted in a second series of books for which I am series editor: Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope with [Various] Issues.
The idea for this six-volume series—addressing family issues, identity issues, social issues, end-of-life, health, and abuse issues—came while I, myself, was going to a therapist to help me deal with the loss of a loved one. My therapy revealed that I was a “severe trauma survivor” and I had to process the emotions of a bad period of time during my childhood. I was amazed that a trauma of my youth could be triggered by an emotional upset in my adult life. After an amazing breakthrough that occurred after extensive reading, writing, and talking, I looked at my therapist and said, “My God! I’m like the gifted child with the best teacher. What about all of those children who survive situations worse than mine and do not choose education or reading as their escape of choice?” I began to wonder about the huge number of troubled teenagers who were not getting the professional treatment they needed? I pondered about those adolescents who are fortunate enough to get psychological treatment but are illiterate. Finally, I began to question if there were ways to help them while also improving their literacy development.
Kathy: That’s beautiful, Joan. And that’s why you write for young people?
Joan: So they don’t have to wait for a mid-life crisis to address their situations.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker?
Joan: Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.
Kathy: I think you’ve followed that quote. What are you working on now?
Joan: Another volume of Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics
Kathy: Cool! And finally, why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?
Joan: It’s a healthy escape while they’re still in adolescence.
Kathy: Definitely! Thanks so much, Joan, for your time and your contribution. Please visit Joan’s website —http://www.coedu.usf.edu/kaywell/ — and I encourage everyone to go get a copy of DEAR AUTHOR: LETTERS OF HOPE!