02 February 2008

Orphans 'R' Us

I was struck by this quote from a Publishers Weekly interview with the venerable Lois Lowry, on the occasion of her new book, The Willoughbys:

Lowry: I was in love with orphans when I was a kid, but that doesn’t seem to be very popular in today’s books. It’s become politically incorrect to do away with parents. We send kids to camp instead, to get away from their parents. So it began with orphans.
Wha'? No orphans in today's books? Heck, we're knee-deep in orphans these days!

What about a certain hero named Potter? Or the Grimm sisters? Or the Baudelaire children?
Lowry: I haven’t read Lemony Snicket, I’m afraid.

The title characters of Lowry's Willoughbys are, PW says, "a quartet of old-fashioned kids who aren’t orphans--but who long to be." So it seems she's unwittingly come up with a parody of the recent trend of parentlessness in popular children's literature, as well as the previous trend of same. Still, it seems wise to know what you're parodying before you launch into it.


david elzey said...

Long ago, a few years back now, I read on Lois Lowry's blog that she admitted in an interview with children that she does not read children's books at all. It initially struck me as an odd comment that a writer wouldn't read from their field. But many creative types don't follow the trends in their areas because they don't want to poison the well of their creativity.

And yet...

If you're going to do that then you ought not go around making broad statements about what does or doesn't appear to be popular in your field. Admit that you don't read children's fiction, explain thet you don't do so for creative or personal reasons, but don't say something like "It’s become politically incorrect to do away with parents" because there are missing parents all over the place.

True, orphans in the orphanage are out, but I think I've read a dozen books with various missing parents in the last month. It's gotten so that when I read a book with a complete set of functional parents in it I find it radical.

J. L. Bell said...

Good points. I suspect Lowry's thought that orphans had gone out of fashion applied to the period when she was reading a lot of other people's children's books because she was raising her children, and then perhaps at the start of her writing career.