29 January 2009

Reality, fiction and believability

I attended a great adolescent/children's literature panel discussion, featuring Lois Lawry, Jack Gantos and Mitali Perkins. They were a great and very diverse group: Jack was hilarious with his dry wit and diagrams, Mitali told cultural stories that were tragically hilarious, and Lois is just an amazing storyteller.

One story, in particular, grabbed me:

When Lois was 12, she lived in Japan because her father was stationed in Tokyo. Perhaps to make them feel more 'at home,' they were placed in an all-American house in a (fake) all-American neighborhood. Not content to be stuck in a bubble and ever-curious, Lois would take her green bicycle out and ride it all over town to see what real Japanese life was like. One of her favorite pastimes was stopping at a Japanese school to watch the kids playing. (Sounds a little creepy, but remember, she was a kid then, too.) As she continued to watch kids playing on different occasions, a little boy started to watch her watching them.

Many years later, when Lois won the Newbury award for children's literature, the ceremony also awarded the Caldecott award for children's illustration to a Japanese man. Delighted to practice her Japanese, Lois signed the man's book in Japanese. When he asked her how she had learned to write her name in Japanese, she explained how she lived in Tokyo, and they compared details-- and he said, "So, you were the girl on the green bike." And she figured out that he was the boy who had watched her watching him and the other children in the schoolyard.

Lois was so excited, she pitched this as a story idea and was told that no one would ever believe it. It's funny how often, real life is less believable than fiction. Go figure.