Caroline Cooney fans will be pleased to know that the YA author has finished her fifth “Janie” book—a short story called Janie Face to Face.
“I can’t tell you how astonishing it is to me that I have written five books about this girl and this boy, about their families and their friends, who do not exist in real life, but are so large in my heart and my history,” says Cooney, the keynote speaker at Thursday’s SLJ SummerTeen, a daylong online event featuring the hottest names in YA lit. “The fifth book poured out, as if I had known all along what really happened to Janie Johnson and [her boyfriend] Reeve Shields.”
The best thing about her series, about a young girl who sees her picture on a milk carton and tries to uncover the truth behind her kidnapping, is that reluctant readers who enjoy her work are always looking for the next book in the series, which include The Face on the Milk Carton, Whatever Happened to Janie?, The Voice on the Radio, and What Janie Found.
The latest installment is “full of suspense and threat, but I’m in that ever dwindling group of YA writers in whose books the good guys win,” says Cooney. “So you don’t know the details, but you do know that romance will triumph, Janie will honor all four of her parents, and the kidnapper will get hers. “
Cooney personally knows what it’s like to deal with a reluctant reader. Her son, Harold, couldn’t learn how to read for years. That’s why the YA author is so pleased that many of her books have ended up on reluctant readers lists.
“I love reluctant readers, since I know how they’re behaving at home, dreading the act of reading, postponing it, hoping it will somehow go away,” says Cooney. “I love to hear from a kid who writes to me in wild excitement, because she actually enjoyed a book.”
Cooney went on to praise librarians for putting students in touch with good books.
“There’s so much competition, and for many kids, like Harold, reading is not a joy; it’s a chore” says Cooney, whose books have received an IRA–CBC Children’s Choice Award and have landed on ALA’s Best Book for Young Adults lists. “And you librarian are the one who is picking out a book that this unwilling reader may actually decide to finish and may even go on to read another book. Your jobs are crucial.”
What’s up next for this writer? Cooney says she’s busy conducting extensive research for a historical fiction novel about the children who sailed on the Mayflower.
“I’m writing about kids who really and truly did have a hard time,” says Cooney, who was inspired by the topic after reading Make Haste from Babylon by British scholar Nick Bunker. “I was fascinated by the Pilgrims,” Cooney goes on to say. “I became fascinated by the children who would eventually sail on the Mayflower. We know about the Founding Fathers and in the last few decades, we’ve begun to learn about the Founding Mothers. Now I’m going to write about the Founding Children.”
Cooney’s just returned from England, where she visited the villages where the various families lived and followed their escape routes. Now she’s heading out to Plymouth, MA, to work on the American side of the story.
“I don’t have a title for this book, and I’m open to suggestions, because this is one of the world’s greatest adventure stories,” Cooney says. But don’t bother suggesting Children of the Mayflower, she adds, explaining it sounds too much like a textbook.
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