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…

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