Thursday 31 May 2018

Racking sobs, sniffles and heartbreak - Why we absolutely LOVE getting in a state over Children's Books - A ReadItTorial

Illustration by Ethan Rilly
After last week's ReadItTorial went down like a lead balloon I figured it'd probably be a good idea to step into slightly lighter-hearted territory this week.

Let's talk about emotions?

No wait, don't run, we are your friends! We'd specifically like to talk about how it is that a grown man of half a century - and his daughter - can be reduced to hot messes, blubbing, sobbing and snot-covered cry-messes purely because of the words and illustrations in a children's picture book.

We'd recently read "If all the world were..." by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys, and it's one of those books that makes you feel like that scene in Toy Story 2 where Jessie is plaintively singing about being dumped by the side of the road by her owner, unloved and unwanted. Or that scene at the end of Toy Story 3 that gets me EVERY SINGLE TIME where Andy is pulling his toys out for Molly and they play with them together one last time.

Oh god, even though I know what's coming it just destroys me every time.

So it was with "If all the world were" and so it has been with several other books that usually have one thing in common. They deal with a subject that you don't really expect to see much of in children's books.

Death, grief, loss, grieving, missing people you know you're never going to see again but reminding you (in that lovely way that children's books always do) that they're always with you because they exist in your memory.

Death is a tough subject to get right, to give it enough weight and importance in a story but not to scare the living bejesus out of kids. Just to stimulate enough of a thought-provoking inner dialogue that will remind them just how amazing their elders are, and not to take them for granted.

Well, that's the intention anyway - quite often it just means we sit there in a puddle of tears wondering what we can do to cheer ourselves up (the answer: reach for a book that's a complete giggle-fest from cover to cover instead). It is weird though, I think both of us actually enjoy the fact that books can affect us in that way.

Both my wife and I have entirely different triggers for what sets us off, as does C. My wife can sit there sobbing her heart out over grown up books (quite a few times I've been happily in the land of nod, only to be woken up by her crying her eyes out over some novel she's downloaded onto her kindle). Our daughter has picked up subtle nuances of what triggers her to turn into a sobbing mess from both of us - basically anything involving animals will completely destroy her, though she has a slightly greater tolerance for the death of human characters in stories. I noticed she also has a lot of her mum's toughness (some might say "hard heartedness") in that neither of them just cry on a whim over something they're not so invested in - whereas I am so much more of a big softy that quite often it'll take just one single subtle thing to push me right over the edge.

I guess the modern world favours folk who can handle their emotions more robustly, but I also think that humans are designed to be emotional creatures with great empathy for others so there's a lot to be said for bringing up your girls or boys to understand that it's OK to be emotional about stuff. It's natural, not something you need to stick a cork in.

The craft of writing something that can so keenly tap into someone's emotional states like that - well, potentially millions of different people who (if you're lucky) might encounter your stories and books. It's a fantastic writing challenge that I'd recommend to anyone who thinks they have an idea for a story bubbling under the surface. It is as tough as nails and it's on my bucket list of 'things I want to write' along with a book that makes someone cackle uncontrollably with laughter, or a book that means so much to someone that they can't possibly imagine life without it.

Writing something to tug at the heart strings is so much tougher than any other type of writing because you've first got to get the reader's investment in your characters to a point where they'll still be invested in them even when you snatch them cruelly away.

Hats off to the many, many children's authors who have achieved this throughout our blogging adventures.

Fancy a cry-fest? Here's a selection of the best tear-jerkers from our reviews:

Baby Bird by Andrew Gibbs and Zosienka (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 29th July 2016 - "Fox and Goldfish" by Nils Pieters (Book Island)  (Oh god, this one....ARGHHH!!!!)

Book of the Week - Rabbityness by Jo Empson (Child's Play International Ltd)

Le Visite De Petite Mort by Kitty Crowther (Lutin Poche)

Goodbye Mog

Booky Advent Calendar Day 17 - 17th December 2013: "Winter's Tales" by Metaphrog (Metaphrog Publishing)

World on a String by Larry Phifer and Danny Popovici (Storytime Works / IBPA)

ReaditDaddy's Book of the Week - Sparkle's Song by Samantha Hale and Maria Ruiz Johnson (Maverick Books)

ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - 5th March 2015 - "Missing Jack" by Rebecca Elliott (Lion Hudson Publishing)