Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

June 2020 Meeting: Authors Cindy Baldwin, Bethany Hegedus and Catherine Stier

This month, authors Cindy Baldwin, Bethany Hegedus and Catherine Stier discussed writing about difficult topics for young readers.

Cindy Baldwin’s middle grade novel, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, includes a parent with mental illness, and her newest book, BEGINNERS WELCOME, features a main character grieving the loss of her father.

Nearly all of Bethany Hegedus’ novels tackle tough topics, from racism and violence in the GRANDFATHER GHANDI picture books to becoming an ally in ALABAMA SPITFIRE: THE STORY OF HARPER LEE AND TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and HARD WORK, BUT IT’S WORTH IT: THE LIFE OF JIMMY CARTER. She also wrote about sexual assault in RISE!: FROM CAGED BIRD TO POET OF THE PEOPLE, MAYA ANGELOU.

Catherine Stier drew on her personal experience as a cancer survivor when writing WHEN A KID LIKE ME FIGHTS CANCER, but difficult subjects aren’t always heavy topics like illness or injustice. In BUGS IN MY HAIR, she used a humorous approach to tackle a topic that’s usually avoided: head lice.

Cindy recommended writers present topics on an age-appropriate level that feels gentle and hopeful. Bethany said we have to be honest when writing for kids. That meant she couldn’t leave the sexual assault out of Maya Angelou’s story, instead she used metaphor to write about it. Catherine aims to empower children to take action with her books – whether that’s showing up for cancer treatments and following doctor’s instructions or taking steps to stop the spread of head lice. Overall, these authors called upon resources of deep compassion necessary for writing about tender subjects.