Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Does Your Ending Say?

One of the nuggets of wisdom that's really stayed with me over the years is

"If you don't know how your story ends, you don't really know what it's about."

And while there's a lot of discussion about avoiding being preachy and didactic in our books for young readers, there's the opposite pitfall - giving readers an ending that teaches them, but not necessarily something we're intending.

I thought this review by Yapha Mason, an elementary school librarian, offered a lot for us all to learn:

I was so disappointed in this book. It starts out well. Sara's younger brother Bernard is picked on at day camp by Big Dan, who calls him Bernadette and teases him mercilessly. Bernard takes a while to figure out what he wants to do, but ends up very happy in the sewing activity. He takes old clothing and jazzes them up with embroidery and other bits from different pieces. The other kids are impressed with his work and he makes a lot of friends, none of whom call him Bernadette anymore. At the end of the book, he gets his revenge on Big Dan by sewing flowers on the back of his costume for the play and writing "Daisy Dan" on it.

This book was great until the end. I loved that Bernard could be his authentic self. He followed his heart, did what he loved, and was appreciated by the other campers in the process. To have him humiliate Dan by calling him something feminine at the end ruined the book for me. It sends the completely wrong message. Bernard saved the day with his costume design. That should have been enough. He of all people should know better than to disparage another's gender identity. A disappointing read that I cannot recommend.
I really appreciate Yapha's honesty, and her letting me share her review here. After reading the book she's discussing myself, I was also pretty taken aback at the everyone-laughs-at-the-humiliated-bully ending.

What does the ending of your book say? Is it the message you're going for? And does that ending reflect what your book is really about?

Questions worth considering.

Illustrate and Write On,


Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Cinderella walks the line of doing the same thing. In some versions, she gets her revenge, and it seems completely out of character for her. Tread lightly!

laurasalas said...

Endings are the most important part for me as a reader, and the hardest part for me as a writer. A bad (imo) ending can ruin an otherwise brilliant book, because it can effectively negate everything that came before. Thanks for the food for thought. Not that it puts any more pressure on my current picture book draft or anything...