One of the great delights of writing for the young is that they will sometimes write back to you. I was in Boston recently, thanks to the Wondermore Foundation. About a month after my visit, I received a large manila envelope filled with typed stories.
Teacher Lynn Barker at the Haggerty School in Cambridge had used my picture book, Chachaji’s Cup as a “mentor text,” she wrote. She’d read it with her class, stopping at a critical turning point of the story. She’d then asked her students to write their own endings.
I was enchanted. I understand completely the notion of the mentor text. I had many in my childhood, by writers who seemed as if they were writing every book just for me. I often closed them halfway and wrote my own endings, then went back to see if I’d gotten it “right.”
But here’s the thing. A lifetime has taught me that there may be no such thing as “right.” Story offers pathways. Each one you take is choice, for a particular reason, the product of your mind at that moment. The students’ stories were examples of all those many possible pathways my story could have taken.
Some of the young writers’ endings paralleled the one I’d chosen in my book. Others diverged wildly. Some went into the realm of fantasy. The old uncle died and returned as a ghost. There was tragedy and comedy and there was VOICE. In spades. Every single child had read the book with intensity and vision. Each writer had captured the drama of that single turning point and sent his or her own version soaring outward from there.
A footnote: The story of Chachaji’s Cup did diverge from the printed book, in quite another way, when it was turned into a musical production many years after its original publication. As for the talented young man who played the lead in that stage version–now there’s another story altogether. Raja Burrows–he had an exquisite voice and he brought my character to life. I still have demo audio files with a couple of songs from the musical.