Fictional Truth by Heidi Schulz
I lie about telling lies. My official author bio says, “Lies to children for fun and profit,” but I strongly believe the job of a children’s author is to tell the truth. Ever since Dick and Jane, I have depended on books to illuminate, reveal, or to reinforce truths that I already know—but never so much as I did when I was eleven, for that is when books first saved me.
One evening in my last year of elementary school, I went with a friend to a local roller-skating rink. There, a cute boy asked me to couple skate with him. Obviously, I said yes. But, unbeknownst to me, another girl had decided that this particular boy was off limits to anyone but her. Back at school on Monday morning, I found myself in the middle of a Girl War: me vs. every other girl in my grade.
For the rest of the school year—two long months—I was totally friendless. My interactions with the other girls ranged from being ignored to being outright ridiculed. Unfortunately for me, my home life wasn’t much better at the time.
It was a very painful period in my life. I may have sunk completely if I didn’t have books. Tucked safely between their covers, I saw bravery that gave me greater courage and injustices that helped me feel understood. I read the truth and it lifted me up.
Things eventually got better for me, both at home and at school, but I continued to carry the truths I had learned, and they never stopped giving me warmth.
Now, I’m a children’s writer myself. It’s a privilege and responsibility I do not take lightly, even while writing humorous stories—or perhaps especially then. No matter what I write, I always strive to tell the truth.
Some stories are inspired by my own experiences. Take, for example, in Hook’s Revenge, when Captain Hook’s daughter, Jocelyn, reaches in her cloak pocket and finds it filled with cruel notes from the girls at her finishing school. That incident comes directly from the aforementioned Girl War, and my own small hand slipped into my coat pocket while heading out to recess. The scene tells a lot of truths. Among them are these: Other people can be unkind. It hurts to feel different, even if we pretend it doesn’t. Sometimes we get angry. If we are lucky, a real friend will come along and keep us from doing something we might later regret.
In my latest publication and picture book debut, Giraffes Ruin Everything, I tell two seemingly opposite truths: Giraffes are terrible. Giraffes can be great friends.
In the book, the young narrator becomes increasingly frustrated with the company of a giraffe. The giraffe ruins the boy’s birthday party by spilling a glass of punch on his favorite shirt; an afternoon at the movies, by blocking the screen with its long, long neck; and even the boy’s No Giraffes Allowed secret clubhouse, by accidentally removing the rope ladder when it gets tangled in the animal’s legs.
This story also came from my own experiences, first from a childhood run-in with a nosy zoo giraffe that mistook my beloved baby doll’s head for a delicious snack.
Truth: Giraffes, pardon the expression, can be a real pain-in-the-neck. (And sometimes people can be, too.)
But in a deeper way, this story came from having a much younger brother, one who got into my things, made messes, ate all the candy from my Easter basket, and who I adored more than anything. I started out writing about how annoying giraffes are and ended up with a story about making friends with someone, even if they don’t always play the way you want them to.
Truth: Sometimes pain-in-the-neck friends can be the best friends, if you can find some patience and empathy for one another. (And we are all pain-in-the-neck friends at one time or another.)
Perhaps the truest truths always hold a bit of opposition. Maybe that’s why truth is so often found in fictional forms. I hope to always share it as I tell my lies for fun and profit.
Heidi Schulz lies to children for fun and profit. She is the author of the New York Times Bestselling Hook’s Revenge, and its sequel, Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code. Giraffes Ruin Everything is Heidi’s first picture book and was inspired by a run-in with a rude giraffe. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, their daughter, and a terrible little dog.