The Issue of Issue Books

All throughout my career in children’s bookselling/publishing, I have heard and read many debates about so-called “issue books” – yes, of course they are necessary, but are they good literature? Why do we want kids to read them? Etc…I could always see both sides of the issue.

I have just finished a book called Dear Author: Letters of Hope that nudged me more towards the “pro” side of issues books. Edited by Joan Kaywell, it contains real letters from kids to authors of many books dealing with everything from anorexia to being gay to abuse and rape. Almost every letter writer mentions how the character in the book they’re writing about went through exactly what they’ve gone through, and they talk about how much it helped them to read the book. I had tears in my eyes for most of the time I was reading it – to think that somehow, magically, the exact right book found its way to the exact right kid.

The replies from the authors are wise and caring: Chris Crutcher, Nancy Garden, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jerry Spinelli and 2 dozen others share their own lives, words of advice, and much encouragement. I was tickled at how many of the kids also wanted to know what happened to the kids after the books ended, as if they were real people – but of course they want to know how their own story turns out.


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