Talking to Kids About Bad News: The inspiration behind THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reul
The story for THE BREAKING NEWS was born after the Paris attacks in November 2015. My husband’s family is from France; my girls go to a French afterschool. Pulling into the parking lot for pickup, I suddenly received a slew of text messages from friends checking in to say they were safe, well before any official information was available from traditional news outlets.
To me, it felt like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, when panicky check-in texts flooded in from my husband, who had been waiting with his brothers for their dad to cross the finish line when they heard the first explosions. It even felt like an echo of that awful September morning in 2001, when I was away at college upstate, frantically trying to get a phone call through to my parents in the city.
During the Paris attacks, as well as in Boston and New York, thankfully, our friends and family ended up being safe and sound. But this time, I had a six year old in the backseat, holding hands with her two-year-old sister. The radio was off, but she’d overheard me whispering with her teacher. She wanted to know – what happened? Was everyone ok?
I needed to find a way to explain without saying too much.
“I’m not sure”, I ventured. “It sounds like something bad might have happened in Paris… but all of our friends and family seem to be safe.”
Later on, she brought it up again, calmly asking for more details. I tried to stay vague and comforting, but carefully listed all of the people we knew and loved, emphasizing again that they were safe.
“Well, you know, mommy, of course they’re safe,” she said in her matter-of-fact way. “I made a force field to protect them, so they are ok. And I’m sorry it couldn’t protect everyone else, it wasn’t big enough, but at least it was able to protect SOME of the other people too.”
My heart ached. She had noticed that I was shaken, despite my attempts to hide it. She was trying to find a way to help me feel better, to get control over the situation.
I scribbled down her words and over the next few weeks, I sketched, I wrote, I researched. I found this quote from Mr. Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Everything simmered separately in my sketchbook until I eventually gathered it up into the beginnings of this book. With help from family, friends, critique partners, my agent and eventually my editor, it evolved into a story about a girl who notices the effects of bad news and wants to make it better.
As much as we try to shield our children from the worst of reality, they can often feel it anyway. I know that so many kids want to find a way to help. I wrote this book because I want to be one of the helpers too. I hope this story might, in some small way, counter sadness and fear with a little bit of hope and humanity.
Sarah Lynne Reul is an illustrator and award-winning 2D animator who likes science, bright colors and figuring out how things work. After a number of years in science museum education and non-profit administration, she was lured back to school by the magic of making drawings come to life. She earned an MFA in 2D Animation from the Academy of Art University and her thesis film, “The Search for the Monster of Lake Quannapowitt”, won Best Animation for Kids at Animation Block Party 2015. Sarah Lynne strives to pack all the dynamic energy of animation into each of her illustrations. Originally from Brooklyn, she now lives just outside of Boston with her husband and two little girls.