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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jennifer Gladen on Kids' Books about Tough Subjects


There can't be much in life harder than watching your child battle a serious illness. But if you're a writer, you have a chance to use that experience to help others. Jennifer Gladen is one such remarkable parent, whose book Angel Donor, was inspired by her own daughter's need for a liver transplant. Here Jennifer discusses how she approached writing about such a difficult topic for children.

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WRITING ANGEL DONOR
by Jennifer Gladen

When I started writing Angel Donor, I was nervous. How could I write such an important story aimed toward children and not frighten them? Angel Donor is a story about Olivia, a little girl in need of a liver transplant. It follows Olivia through the day she gets a call that her doctors have a new liver for her. This is certainly a topic which could easily overwhelm and frighten children. However, the goal of the book was to be a book children in the same situation could identify with. I knew the book needed to be informative and comforting.

When writing children’s books about serious topics, it is important to be honest and educational. I thought about the basic things a child goes through when they are preparing for a transplant. I wanted children to say as they are reading the story, “Oh yes, I felt that way.” Or  “I had to get an IV too!” It was important that children who are going through the same things feel validated when reading the book. My hope is that Olivia, the main character in the story, is someone who “gets it” for the readers.

Although honesty is important in the story, I also made sure there was a balance. Simple things can be frightening to children, so it is important to choose the text and descriptions carefully. It is a tricky performance to be able to show the readers what Olivia experienced, yet not be too frightening.

Why write a book about such a serious topic? The idea came to me when my own daughter, Jacqueline needed a liver transplant at age 4.  Many times, I longed for a book I could read to her about the hospital, liver disease, or transplantation. As a  teacher, my training told me the best way to prepare a child for life experiences is to read and learn about them. This time, however, I could not find a book to prepare her. “There should be a children’s book about this,” I said to myself. And there, the idea for Angel Donor was born.

It took years to put it together. I worried I wouldn’t do the story justice. What if I left something out? What if it was too scary? As any writer will tell you, sometimes you have to silence that inner editor and “just sit and write”.  But I didn’t just write off the top of my head. I interviewed other parents of children with liver disease and asked them what they would like to see in the book. I ran the manuscript by doctors, nurses and social workers. Each bit of research helped shape the book and kept the focus on helping children as they watched Olivia get her liver.

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Learn more about Jennifer Gladen at her website.

Purchase Angel Donor from the publisher, at Amazon, or at Barnes&Noble.

15 comments:

  1. Thank you for having me visit today!

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  2. Kudos to Jennifer for writing about such a serious topic.

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  3. I am newly astounded at the courage of parents at such challenges. Jennifer went further, and made the best lemonade out of this.

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  4. I think stories like this are important. Children don't need to be frightened, but they need to have honesty in their lives so they will grow up to be better human beings. Shielding children from all scary things, to me, does nothing but cause them to be more unsure of themselves and unable to handle delicate situations. Kudos to Jennifer for getting her story out there. Goodluck with it!

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  5. A lovely interview. Kudos for Jennifer and her daughter's bravery!

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  6. Thank you all for your kind words! It was a story that begged to be told :)

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  7. This book was needed, not only for kids getting liver transplants, but for those getting other transplants and kids who know them, or kids who knew someone whose organs were used for transplants. There's nothing else out there I've ever heard of to help children deal with such a scary topic in a positive way.

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  8. Mission accomplished Jenn. The book is well in the zone of making a child comfortable for what they must endure. You've made wonderful contribution to the world of children's literature.

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  9. What an incredible story, Jennifer, and one I'm sure brought much assistance to many. You are remarkable in your ability to tell this story!

    Karin Larson

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  10. Very good interview Jen. Now I know a little more about you and why you wrote the story.
    KC:)

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  11. You sure did research, Jennifer - right in your own family as well. Children needing a transplant or other serious help will be informed and comforted by your tender and loving account.

    I am adding it to my Writing Help board on Pinterest.

    Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques
    http://www.margotfinke.com

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  12. Jennifer,
    This sounds like a wonderfuland important book. I can't wait to read it.

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  13. I think the fact that you were able to write about this is amazing. I find sometimes it is so hard to write about subjects "close to home." Thank you for sharing your gift and knowledge with the world to help other families. :)

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  14. Thanks Margo. It was tough and nerve wracking for me to do the book because I wanted to do it justice...for kids like my daughter and for people like her donor. I'm so glad it is helping people.

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