Friday, March 19, 2010

More Mystery, Please

I just got back in town and went almost immediately to hear Tim O'Brian (THE THINGS THEY CARRIED) talk at the downtown library. One of the things he said was this -- fiction, rather than explaining things, should depend the mystery. He meant the mystery of being alive and doing contradictory things, being involved in stupid wars, hurting the people we love.

One of the complaints I hear about kids' writing is that it does, in fact, pretend to solve thorny problems. At its worst, it reminds me of the Hays Code in Hollywood which demanded that vice be punished.

At its best, on the other hand, it charts the intimate shipwrecks we call relationships and celebrates the passing joys of this planet in ways that most fiction-for-adults can't or won't.

Are you stuck this morning, friends? Ask the gods for more mystery. They've got tons of it.



  1. Ron, got any books for examples of "at its best?"

  2. Hey, this is off-topic--though it does relate to good kids' fiction--but our Gary is the judge today for SLJ's "Battle of the Books." Go to to see Judge Gary (Can't you just picture him in one of those robes?) wielding his gavel.

  3. In fact, Christine, you're right on topic. Wouldn't Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy be a relevant example here of children's lit at its best? It doesn't pretend to solve thorny problems, and yet, readers get a sense at the end that amidst the tragedy, some positive changes are taking effect.

    I would argue that the emphasis on hope is one way in which children's literature is more honest than fiction for adults. I've read some adult fiction that explores the cruelties of the world in such a way that a reader could think there's no point in getting out of bed in the morning. Yet, the truth is, terrible cruelties do exist, and we do get out of bed. And a lot of times, we have a pretty good day. And maybe we even see some of the beauty in the world too. How do we do that? Hope has got to be part of it. I don't mean that to be a pat answer to a thorny question, but rather one of the mysteries that can resonate in literature.

  4. This is a fascinating comment, Cheryl. Worth an article, I think.

  5. Indeed. Without hope in life, and about our writing, in the possibilities that we and our characters can transform, what do we have?

  6. Editorial anonymous featured Gary Schmidt on his/her blog. Would love to hear a post about this. Someone call Gary and see how he feels about it. :)