Why So Many Dead Parents in Children’s Books?


I’m branching out.  My first foray into newly published fiction for grades 5-8 was Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  It was an amazing book.  I enjoyed the second book I read too – Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes.

The books were very different.  However, they had one similarity I find in many books for late elementary and early middle schoolers.  Both parents in each book were dead.  I started thinking about the children’s books I’ve read.  There’s a lot of dead or missing parents.  Think Harry Potter, The Secret Garden, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond,

I did a little research on the subject and found two thoughts on why there are so many deceased parents.  One children’s editor, Leila Sales, shares her opinion in an article in Publisher’s Weekly entitled The Ol’ Dead Dad Syndrome. Her opinion is some authors are lazy.  It’s easier to have dead parents than fully develop more characters.  However, she agrees dead parents are important in books set in an orphanage or about a child coping with the death of a parent.  Julie Just, the children’s book editor with the New York Times shares a different opinion in this April 1, 2010 essay, The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit.  Her opinion is there are too many parents in young adult fiction. “In fact, it’s the removal of the adult’s protective presence that kick-starts the story.”

That’s what happened in Unhooking the Moon.  It’s hard to create a characters ages 12 and younger who can smuggle themselves into New York from Canada, sleep in Central Park, hustle in Times Square, ride their bikes all over Manhattan, and spend the night at a famous rap star’s penthouse apartment if parents are in the picture.   And that’s just a tiny bit of the book.

Neither is a book, I’ll recommend to ML today.  But I’m glad both are on my radar for when she is older.  Hopefully, she and her friends will continue their book club.  Both of these would be excellent choices.  In the meantime, I’m recommending them to all my coworkers and any kid asking for good books.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Counting by 7s wins the Newbery Medal or named an Newbery Honor book this year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s