The other day Stella went to the library with my mom and she came home with The Boxcar Children. When she pulled it out of the library bag, I started to squeal, “Oh that was one of my favorite books growing up. I can’t wait to read it to you!”
I could tell she was pleased by my excitement, and I was excited to read the book with her, but I was secretly nervous that I wouldn’t like it as much as I had as a child. It was the first book that grabbed hold of my imagination. I remember spending hours and hours sitting in the pink beanbag in my room with it propped in my lap, thinking about where my sisters and I would hide if we became orphans and had to take to the woods to flee an unloving relative.
D and I alternate putting the girls to bed. (If I read to Zoë one night, the next night I’ll read to Stella.) So I made Stella promise that The Boxcar Children would by my book and that she would read a different book with D. (I hate it when I’ve read the first three chapters of a book to her and then I two nights later I have to pick up at the 7th or 8th chapter. I feel completely lost.)
She promised, and as we cuddled into bed with the book the other night, we were both giddy. As I began to read—“One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.”—I was immediately swept back in time, to the excitement I felt the first time my mom read me this story.
And the book moves! Talk about narrative urgency, from that first sentence. I didn’t want to put it down, but I could tell Stella was exhausted, so I stopped after four chapters.
I remember that Julie Schumacher, a wonderful fiction writer who has been primarily writing young adult novels in recent years, said that she turned to YA fiction because she felt she needed to work on plot and structure, and that because YA novels are very plot-driven, she thought she’d try it out. You can read an interview with Julie here.
The Boxcar Children is all plot. (I remember certain plot details from when I read it, almost 30 years ago, which is extraordinary.) But as we made our way through the first chapters, I kept getting the siblings confused. I know I’ll be able to differentiate them as the book goes on, but I was surprised that we weren’t given a few more character details in those first chapters. But then maybe I spend too much time thinking about character development. (I’ll admit that I’m a little obsessed lately.)
Do any of you out there write for children or young adults? I’d love it if you’d weigh in on plot and character (or really anything else that you’d like to share about writing for young people.)
In the meantime, I’m going to try to sneak away with Stella to read the next chapter of The Boxcar Children.