I don't really do Big Message books. I don't ever expect to win a Newberry Medal. I'm OK with that. I write escapism. I write adventure stories. I write funny. I like spooky tales that you want to read out loud around a campfire. And I rarely write a book that doesn't have at least one poop joke in it.
I think my books are important.
When I was five years old and just starting to learn to read, my dad died. I was the youngest of five kids, so Mom's hands weren't just full. They were overflowing with housework, schoolwork, actual work, and her own grieving. Each of my older siblings was processing their own grief in their own ways. Me, too.
I turned to books. I was a naturally quiet kid and as soon as I learned to read, I started blazing through whatever I could get my hands on. But I sure as hell wasn't looking to read about the five stages of grief. I didn't want to read about Old Yeller dying or find out Where The Red Fern Grows. Those books are amazing, but they weren't what I needed right then. I was starving for comfort and I needed mac and cheese more than I needed broccoli.
So I read Roald Dahl. I read Spider-Man comics. And I read Mad Magazine. I escaped. I laughed. I felt better. I read those books, comics, and magazines over and over so many times that I nearly memorized them. Quotes from them still rattle around in my head today. I can still recite the entire Augustus Gloop song. I still know the plots of many movies only from the Mad satires, and I still want to end my paragraphs with "'Nuff said," just like Stan Lee did.
My latest book is a picture book--A Is For Apple, Unless... It's a very irreverent ABC book, full of references to poop, farts, barfing, and other bathroom humor. Some reviewers are sure to find it wholly lacking in merit. So why write it?
Today, I received a note from a woman named Kelcey, who said she was ordering "quite a few" copies of this book for the Rachel Lynn Henly Foundation, a local organization that "strives to help children and young adults live with a cancer diagnosis while also working toward finding cures." They plan to get the books to some of the kids in the hematology and oncology department at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital here in Tacoma. Because those kids need comfort. They need mac and cheese. They need jokes.
Sometimes, when the world is painful and when we're all hurting, we all need a joke.
What do I need? Every now and then, I need a note like this, to remind me why I write what I write.
Oh, and here's a picture of the beautiful Rachel, a local hero, and a powerful wordsmith in her own right. Rachel, your power lives on.