September 09


Your Book Would Have Been a Gift and a Lifeline for Me by Caroline Starr Rose

sunny side upDear Jennifer and Matt Holm:


Sometimes books are gifts, sometimes books are lifelines, and sometimes we grown ups come across stories that would have been both for our younger selves.


SUNNY SIDE UP is that book for me.


Like you, I also had an older brother who struggled with substance abuse. My brother is twelve years older than I am, and I entered into the story of his addiction when it was already well under way. By the time I was in first grade he’d been arrested for armed robbery. He was in prison for the next seven years.


It’s scary and confusing to be the kid in a the midst of grown up problems. Your brother doesn’t act like he used to. There’s tension and anger and ugly words between the people you love. Then there’s the phone call that tells your parents to turn on the news, their kid’s been arrested, and the girl in your Brownie troop who announces to everyone in the car she saw on TV that your brother’s going to jail.


As well-meaning adults we often describe kids in difficult circumstances as resilient. Children adapt and bounce back and take hardship in stride. The idea of resilience isn’t a bad one, but it’s not the whole story. I’ve come to believe resilience is often a quick response we grown ups use because it’s easier for us to think hard things don’t make lasting impressions.


But kids aren’t equipped to fully process of all the things the world throws their way. That’s why books like your SUNNY are so important. Children need to see they are not alone, they are not responsible for others’ problems, nor must they be “good” enough to counteract someone else’s “bad.” Kids need to hear a family member’s substance abuse problem both is and isn’t their own story — while they don’t play a leading role, they certainly are affected by everything that happens. They need permission to learn their feelings count, that it’s okay to be embarrassed or sad or mad or to cry when they need to.


My kid self wishes she’d known there were other kids out there living with the same challenges I faced. I would have never, ever, ever wanted to talk about it out loud, but I sure would have found comfort in reading about a regular girl like me living a story similar to mine.


Thank you for your honesty and your commitment to young people. Your words will touch lives. I know because they have touched mine.


With gratitude,

Caroline Starr Rose


Caroline Starr Rose was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B., which was an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book. She is also the author of a second historical verse novel, Blue Birds. Caroline spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping by the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She has taught social studies and English, and worked to instill in her students a passion for books, an enthusiasm for experimenting with words, and a curiosity about the past. She lives in New Mexico. Visit her