PORT TOWNSEND — Books for children need not always be tied up with a happy-ending bow.
What they should have on the closing pages, author Dana Sullivan believes, is hope.
That’s one of the ideas Sullivan discusses with the Kiddie Litters, the lightheartedly named group of local writers of children’s literature. They get together twice a month to talk story, pictures, dogs, cats, birds — and how to create a whole new world with words and images.
The conversation is freewheeling among these five writers at various points in their careers: from Sullivan and Patrick Jennings, who’ve published many books, to Faith Pray, whose debut, “The Starkeeper,” comes out in spring 2020. Rowena Russell is both writer and illustrator of the forthcoming “Nibbles and Kanoni,” a tale about refugees, while Michael Galligan had his first picture book, “My Name Isn’t Oof!” released this past spring.
It was an appropriate season for his story about Warren, a fledgling Townsend’s warbler whose first try at flight lands him on the forest floor. The book, Galligan said, blossomed from his own question: What really happens when an avian youngster falls from the nest?
The authors ask such questions, research their ideas and write stories about rising to life’s challenges. These range from not giving up — that’s the “Oof” tale — or dealing with a bully at school, making a difference in the world or embracing your you-ness.
But such messages have got to be buried deep, Sullivan said. Fiction for youngsters, like fiction for anybody, can’t preach. Instead, the story’s got to sweep the reader away on a good ride.
“It’s hard, because you want to help a kid navigate whatever it is,” said Sullivan, whose “Dead Max Comix” for middle-schoolers is about a boy whose beloved dog is hit by a car.
“The best way is to make them laugh, and make them wonder,” he said.
Another rule Sullivan lives by: The youngster in the story must be the hero who saves her- or himself. Parents and grandparents can offer comfort, but the kids are the ones who must figure out solutions to their struggles.
Children’s authors have their own to cope with.
Sullivan’s first book, “Ozzie and the Art Contest,” got 26 rejections. Jennings’ “Naughty Claudine’s Christmas” was likewise turned away again and again until Penguin Random House chose it years after the first pitch.
Then there’s the joy of not only having your book in libraries and stores across the country and beyond, but also of going on school visits.
Teachers hear about children’s authors through word of mouth and from the Internet, and invite them to come to their classrooms either in person or via Skype.
Jennings has done online school visits around the world as well as traveling around the United States to talk with kids about his books, which include “Odd, Weird and Little,” “Hissy Fitz,” “Guinea Dog” and “Faith and the Electric Dogs.” That one is being made into a movie, Jennings added, with Charles Martin Smith of “Dolphin Tale” and “A Dog’s Way Home” directing.
During this holiday season, the authors of course hope their books will find their way into children’s hands. They also want to furnish a kind of between-the-pages refuge from the hectic days.
“Books can bring a quiet moment,” Russell said.
On her own or with her grandchildren, “I love to sit down and get lost in one.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.