Writing & Reading About Hard Topics

Photo: Laura P. Salas
Photo: Laura P. Salas

[Hi, educators–I’m in the middle of a technology crisis! Please forgive me for possibly not responding to comments the rest of this week. I will be reading them! In fact, they will cheer me up. But it’s likely I might not be able to respond. :>(   ]

I definitely have a melancholy side, an awareness of the hard and scary things of this world. Lately, I’ve been worrying about a bunny.

A couple of months ago, I looked out into the yard while writing and saw a bunny. A black bunny. Here in Minnesota, there are bunnies in the yard all the time, and I like watching them hop around and chase each other. But the wild bunnies are all light brown. This bunny was black. It was a lot bigger than the wild bunnies, too (even though it looks quite petite from this angle). I saw it almost daily for a couple of weeks, and as we moved into colder weather, I realized this bunny might have a hard time surviving the winter. It looks like an escaped pet, and it’s probably not used to our brutal winter temps outdoors. Would it find food? Would it find shelter? Would it find friends? (The other bunnies kind of shunned it.) And would its black fur make it easy prey for an owl or fox?

I did what I could. The police sent over a community animal officer, who tried to catch it. He said it was pretty approachable, but wouldn’t let him actually touch it. I called the local animal shelter to see if anyone was looking for a lost rabbit. I rented a live trap from the police department and spent two weeks trying to catch it. I caught TWO wild bunnies and scared them half to death, but not the black bunny (who seemed too big for the rabbit trap, anyway). I checked Craigslist for missing notices. Finally, I had to accept that this was out of my hands. All I could really do was hope, watch for him in the backyard, and be a witness to his adventure.

Publishers don’t put out many picture books that deal directly with this harder side of life. The casual brutality of nature, the harsh realities of life, and the inability, sometimes, despite our best efforts, to do much about it beyond hope, watch, and witness.

I love Jane Yolen’s The Stranded Whale and Matt de la Pena’s Newbery-winning Last Stop on Market Street for tackling hard subjects for our youngest readers. Here’s the poetryaction I wrote to Last Stop last year. When doing school visits, I’ve had students choose to write poems about the death of a parent, a mom’s battle with breast cancer, being bullied, feeling worthless, and more. The writing that pours out when the topic is a tough one is often powerful far beyond just the words on the paper. I’m working on some manuscripts of my own about tough topics, and hope that they will harness some of that power, too.

I don’t know how the black bunny’s story will end. It’s January now, and I still see him almost daily. The forecast high temp today is ‑1 degree Fahrenheit, with a low of ‑13, and wind chills in the ‑30s, I think. So I just keep hoping. And tossing out carrots when I see him. Sometimes there are problems I can solve, or help solve. Other times, watching, hoping, and putting my heart into my writing is all I can do.

9 Responses

  1. Oh, Laura. That black bunny chose the right yard to escape to. You are this bunny’s angel. I so agree with you about tackling hard topics. I am going to look for THE STRANDED WHALE. Writing can help us get through these hard topics. Much love…

    1. Thanks, Amy. It’s told in a very straightforward way, and it broke my heart. That eye of the whale. You’ll know the page when you get to it… Love back to you. FOREST HAS A SONG, though not sad in any way, is a wonderful uplifter for any hard days, and every time I see your name, I think of your book. Can’t wait to see your birds book…

  2. This story reminds me of your deeply kind nature. You just want to help anyone (or anything) you can. It’s hard for us helpers to realize that there is only so much we can do. You can’t save them all. And some of them, despite all your efforts, save themselves. I hope for survival of the bunny.

    1. I am having a rough week, Margaret, with my technology chaos. Thanks for your lovely words. They actually made me tear up a little as I sit here at Taco Bell realizing I can’t access the docs I need, so I’m checking in on my blog instead. What a gift your words are:>)

  3. Blessed are the tender-hearted, for all who come near them will have a better chance than they would otherwise.

  4. I think many creative people have melancholy sides to them because of their sensitivity! Thank you for your post about the black bunny. You are a thoughtful, caring person.

  5. The very best writing I’ve read from my students has been their earthquake stories. Even this many years later (six), every detail is vivid. I never require them to write about this topic, but when they do, I feel honored to read it.

    1. I thought of you when I read Serafina’s Promise–another gorgeous book about a very hard topic. Not just the event itself, but the hardness of life there, the lack of choices some (many) kids around the world have. It’s painful to read about and acknowledge, but so important, too…

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,526 other subscribers

Are You Looking For?

Poetry Friday posts

Classroom Connections posts

All my poetryactions

Go to my Poetry page for:

  • National Poetry Month projects through the years
  • Small Reads Roundups (poems grouped by topic)
  • Introductions to several favorite poetry forms
#waterpoemproject15 Words or Less Poems20for2030 Painless Classroom Poems50 State Poemsacrosticsactivity pagesactivity sheetALAA Leaf Can Be...Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterA Need to FeedanthologiesanthologyA Rock Can Be...art projectsaudiopoemsawardsbad newsBarbara Juster EsbensenBilly Collinsbiopoemsblog tourbookalikesbook festivalsBookSpeak!book spine poemsbook trailersbop poembyr a thoddaidcafepresscalendar poemsCamp Read-a-LotCan Be... bookscan be... poemsCapstoneCarol Varsalonacascade poemsCatherine FlynnccbcCCRA.W.3CCRA.W.4CCRA.W.5centoschapter bookschoral compositionschristina rossetticinquainsCLAclassified ad poemsclassroom connectionclassroom connectionsClover Kittyconferences and conventionscrown sonnetscybilsdansaDare to DreamDavid Elliottdeeper wisdom poemdefinitosdiamantesdiversitydizaindodoitsuDot DayDouglas Floriandownloadablesdrum corpse.e. cummingsekphrastic poemsepistolary poemsequation poemsessentialethereeseventsexquisite corpseFairy Tale Garage Salefamilyfibonaccifiction picture booksfinding familyfirefightersforeign editionsfound poemsfree author zoomsfree versefrom studentsgeesegeorgia heardghazalGift Taggiveawaygolden shovelgoldilocksgratitudehaikuheart of aheart of a teacherHeidi MordhorstHelen FrostHighlightshow-to poemshow to make a rainbowI Am FromI Am poemsidiomsif you want to knit some mittensIf You Were the MoonILAimagepoemsinterviewin the middle of the nightIRAIrelandIrene LathamJ. Patrick LewisJanet WongJoyce SidmanKendraKerlanKidlit Comboslailaura's board booksLaura's booksLaura's poemsLaura's readingsLaura ShovanLee Bennett HopkinsLilian MoorelimericksLinda Booth SweeneyLine Leads the WayLion of the Skylist poemslittle free librarylive writingLullaby and Kisses Sweetlyricsmadness poetrymargaret simonMarilyn Singermary lee hahnmask poemsMeet My FamilyMelissa StewartMentors for Rentmentor textsmetaphorMichelle Myers LacknerMillbrookMinnesota Book Awardsmoneymoonmy reading lifemy writing processN+7naaninarrative poemsNational Poetry Month 2012 (haiku a day)National Poetry Month 2014 (riddle-ku)National Poetry Month 2015National Poetry Month 2016National Poetry Month 2017 (#wonderbreak)national poetry month 2018 (haiku a day)National Poetry Month 2020National Poetry Month 2021 (#EquationPoem)national poetry month 2022 (sticky-note poems)National Poetry Month 2023 (Digging for Poems)National Poetry Month 2024 (magnipoems)ncteNerdy Book Clubnifty newsnifty stuffNikki Grimesnonfictionnonfiction booksNonfiction Writers Dig Deepnovelsnovels in verseodesOne Minute Till BedtimeoppositifyOskar's VoyagepadletpantoumsparodiesPatreonpeacepersonalpet poemsphotopoetryphrase acrosticspicture booksplagiarismpoempicspoemspoems for two voicespoemsketchpoetic pursuitsPoetry 7poetryactionspoetry activitiesPoetry Blastpoetry booksPoetry FridayPoetry Friday AnthologiesPoetry Princessespoetry promptspoetry sistersPoetry Tips for Teachersprogressive poempublishing processpuddle songPutridquotationsraccontinosRandy Salasread-aloudreadaloudreading poetry in the classroomRebecca Kai Dotlichrecipe poemsrefugeesresearchreview copiesreviewsrevisionrhyming booksrhyming nonfictionrhyming picture booksRhyming Picture Books the Write Wayrhyming poemsRiddle-kuriddle poemsRock Can Be...Rock the Blogrondeau redoublesRudyard Kiplingsalas snippetsSCBWIschool visitsScotlandseasonssecrets of the loonSELsestinasshrinking daysskinnyskypeslice of lifesmall readssnack snooze skedaddlesnowman-coldsonnetsStampede!storm poemstorytimestorywalkstudent poemsstudent workSylvia VardellTanita Davistankatautogramteachableteacher resourcesteen/adult poemsterza rimasthankfulthank yous and referencesthe business sidethings to do iftracy nelson maurertrioletstunie munson-bensonvideosVikram MadanvillanellevillanellesWater Can Be...wealthy elementaryWe BelongWhat's InsideWhy-kuwinterwonderwonderbreakword of the yearwordplaywordsmithswork for hirewritingwriting bookswriting processwriting promptswriting the life poeticyoung authors conferencesYouTubeZapZap Clap Boomzenozentangle
Show More Show Less

Discover more from Laura Purdie Salas

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Join Laura's monthly newsletter for eductators

Get three of Laura's favorite poetry activities when you subscribe to "Small Reads."