Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Moment of Grief

JANICE: Recently I did an author visit with fourth graders to talk about  A Paradise Called Texas, the story of my German ancestors' immigration to Texas in 1845, which they had all read. Afterward the teacher told me that one of her students had just lost his father and took great comfort in reading how life went on for Mina, the main character, after her mother died.
Cover art by Karl Shefelman
Later I received a letter from that student. Here, in part, is what he wrote:

Dear  Frau Shefelman,
I want to be a poet. Did you start out as a poet?
Have you ever had a moment of grief in your life? I have.
Sincerely,
Marshal

I was stunned. A moment of grief?! I have always been amazed at how young readers relish the sad parts of books. But now I understand that they are practicing life by reading about others. That is why children's literature is so important. We all need practice. So I wrote back:

Dear Marshal,
No, I did not start out as a poet, but that could be your way. And
yes, I have had a moment of grief. No one escapes such a moment. It is what makes us thoughtful human beings and even poets.
Your book friend,
Janice Shefelman

Looking back on my other books I see that many of my characters have had a moment of grief. In Anna Maria's Gift, her father dies, leaving a violin he made for her that seems to hold his voice. When she loses the violin, it is as if she loses her father again.

Cover art by Robert Papp

Cover art by Tom Shefelman
In Young Wolf and Spirit Horse, his beloved mare is stolen and Young Wolf's grief sends him off on a quest.

In Sophie's War, her father must join up to fight in the Civil War. When she learns of a massacre on the Nueces River, she fears that he is dead and makes a dangerous journey to find his body.

Cover art by Tom Shefelman

Cover art by Tom Shefelman
And finally in Comanche Song, Tsena's father, the peace chief, is killed in the Council House Massacre along with many others. Tsena joins his tribe in seeking revenge.

Never underestimate the depth of thought of which children are capable.