Look at this amazing drawing! This magnificent illustration, one of two made for Face Your Fears, captures the sadness, uncertainty, and confusion of the moment that Katherine and her infant sister were abandoned on the steps of an orphanage by her parents, who told her, "we'll come back for you..." What strikes me about the illustration by Angelica Devers is the look on the girl's face.Though clearly a young child, her expression shows her to be an individual in the world and clearly on her own life path -- which is what each of us are, whatever our age.
Jane Levi, who is one of the people who brings you Stone Soup, lives in London. A couple of years ago, she curated an exhibition at London's Foundling Museum, which commemorates the Foundling Hospital, a historical charitable institution for abandoned children. Those of you who have read Jacqueline Wilson's Hetty Feather series will know a lot already about these London foundlings! Some of you might also be familiar with the Messiah, a piece of music written by the German-born composer Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Handel was a patron of the Foundling Hospital. One of his gifts to the institution was the copyright to his Messiah, which at that time meant that when a musical group wanted to perform it they had to pay the Foundling Hospital for a copy.
Writing orphan stories is tricky because the theme is such a cliché in children's literature. The children who lived at the London Foundling Hospital, like the children in Jem Burch's Stone Soup story, were children who were not exactly orphans, as their parents were not dead. The foundlings were given up by their parents, often single mothers, who could not afford to care for them. The core relationship in the story of these foundlings from long ago was the love of mothers that was so strong they broke their own hearts to give up their children to an institution known for its superior care. They gave up their children to give them a chance at a better life than the one they could offer. One of the most powerful exhibits at the Foundling Museum is the display of 'tokens' left by parents with their children. These were small objects like buttons, coins and scraps of fabric left by mothers with their babies, that convey their love and hope for the future of their children.
I had a neighbor who adopted a boy from El Salvador from a family for whom this child was one mouth too many to feed. The family thought that it would be better for this boy to grow up in America with a new family. One of the powers of fiction writing is that you can use fiction to explore complex problems like this. What does the mother or father who gives up a child feel like? What does the child, grown up, come to think of the decision of their parents? Can you imagine being a parent giving up your child? Can you imagine being a child who has been given up for adoption?
There are many ways to write a story. One form of story telling, which was one of the earliest forms of the novel, is the "epistolary" story. This is a story told through letters. The story featured in this week's Newsletter, Kisses from Cécile is a story about letters. I think using letters as a way of telling at least part of an orphan story could be a way to offer a sense of what characters are feeling in their deepest being.