This stormy afternoon in Idaho, I've been sitting with a mug of decaf at the kitchen table. It's cluttered with note cards, postage stamps, pens and a friendly stack of fan mail. Getting letters from kids is one of the quiet perks of being an author. They can be sweet, funny, and irritable--as in being forced to write for a class assignment.
For example, a 5th grade girl in Texas began her letter about the Cabin Creek Mysteries by saying, "I love all your books." I can picture her at her desk, pencil in hand, erasing the misspelled words and carefully starting over because her handwriting is very neat. Then I picture her ducking down out of the teacher's sight, hunched over her lined notebook paper as she wrote this confession: "p.s. I didn't really read all your books." Ha! I laughed out loud! Good for her, being honest.
Catherine from Florida wrote that the reason she liked Catherine: The Great Journey was because "it was her name." Actually, I've received a lot of letters from kids who read a book merely because of a character's name. That's cool. At least they're reading.
However, a middle-school girl from Wisconsin has given me pause. She "loved" Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie and sounded sincere with her praise. It seemed she had been paying attention to the plot and characters. Her questions were thoughtful except for the last one: "Is the book based on your life or career?"
Let me mention that this Dear America diary is set in 1847 on the Oregon Trail. We're talking covered wagons, Indians, buffalo. I came this close to answering her letter with, "Are you kidding me? Do the math!" But I didn't. I figured out a graceful response, which in itself worries me.
I'm worried kids aren't learning critical thinking. I'm worried that my being polite and not wanting to hurt a student's feelings might instead be a detriment in the long run. I don't know.
If you have thoughts on this, whether an author should be more forthright when answering fan mail, please leave a comment. I would really love your feedback. Thanks!