“It’s my belief that we need to TALK. We need to share our stories, as often as possible, when it’s safe to do so, because that’s the only way understanding, and a path to real peace, can happen”
– MFA Alum Jess Verdi
Earlier this winter Writing for Children/YA alumni and students gathered as MFA alumni Jessica Verdi, Julie Sternberg, and Tonya Hegamin generously shared their thoughts, experiences, and tips on creating hope and positive action in the children's literature world, ourselves, our communities, and of course, young readers. Verdi was kind enough to share an excerpt of her inspiring insights from the evening.
Here is a look at what she had to say:
For me, “hope” is directly linked to another word: Peace. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the definition of peace, and how it doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone. For me, peace equals harmony, balance, acceptance. A state where all beings are treated with respect and understanding. And all on a very deep, base level.
I know this sounds like an unreachable utopia, and maybe it is, on a grand scale. But I think this sort of peace absolutely exists in smaller pockets, and that it’s our duty to try to make those pockets grow and expand wherever possible.
To some others, their definition of peace is silence, non-confrontation, basic civility. But it’s often in these situations that people purposely ignore the ways in which others may be persecuted, or hurting. This is a state where important issues and conversations are swept under the rug, a “you think your way, I’ll think mine, and let’s not discuss it” mentality. On the surface, this does seem to create “peace” in times when there would otherwise be strife or head-butting. But this is also where harm can happen because there’s no room for sharing or understanding, which leads to there being no room for progress and harmony.
So, it’s my belief that we need to TALK. We need to share our stories, as often as possible, when it’s safe to do so, because that’s the only way understanding, and a path to real peace, can happen. And, in turn, hope for the future can happen.
Starting conversations, and opening a window into the lives of characters living through lesser-discussed realities is what I always try to do in my books, and my small way of creating hope for young readers. I believe that representation in books for young people directly creates hope in two distinct ways.
1. As we all know, it’s very important for kids to see themselves in books. Like adults, kids and teens are living out countless situations every day, and they need to know they’re not alone. That the world sees them. I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we see little bits of our own lives in the books we’re reading, and felt vindicated or understood. Giving young people this opportunity is one of the most important ways we can create hope and confidence for them in their individual lives.
2. It’s also important for young people to read about characters and situations that are different from their own. By allowing them to get inside the head of someone who is dealing with an issue foreign from, but just as real as, their own, we’re giving those young people the chance to develop empathy and compassion. This is a huge step on the way to that “idyllic” kind of peace, and an important means of creating hope for all our futures.
I write contemporary YA, and while I have personal insights on the subjects I write about, I am by no means the authority on any of them—or any subject at all, for that matter. And there are many other subjects that I don’t have personal insights on and therefore wouldn’t feel comfortable tackling. That’s why this community of children’s book authors is SO crucial. There can never be enough talking. There can never be enough books. There can never be enough perspectives. No story is ever a complete view of the subjects or themes it’s tackling. We all need to keep going, keep writing, keep fighting, keep doing our small parts.
Jessica Verdi is the author of several contemporary novels for young adults, including What You Left Behind, The Summer I Wasn't Me, My Life After Now, and an upcoming untitled novel from Scholastic. She received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School in 2012 and is a Senior Editor at Crimson Romance, Simon & Schuster's digital romance imprint.