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.