An award-winning children’s author from Campbell River is garnering acclaim for her latest novel, which tells the story of a 10-year-old girl named Cara Donovan separated from her dog Mike by a raging wildfire in the fictional town of Pine Grove.
Missing Mike is a story that will be familiar to a growing number of children. Author Shari Green wrote the book during the wildfires of 2017, the worst year on record in terms of hectares burned in B.C. before 2018 broke that record.
”People tell me, ‘Oh, it’s so timely,’” she said in an interview with the Mirror. “It’s terrible that it’s so timely, but it does seem to be our new normal.”
She researched the topic for the novel – which is written in free verse – by watching news footage and videos taken by evacuees, especially from the wildfires that forced some 80,000 people from their homes in Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2016.
In the story, the Donovans evacuate their home with no time to look for Cara’s beloved pet, but find themselves caught in traffic as the whole community flees. Time drags by as Cara gazes out the window:
“Two deer dash past the car / hurrying along the shoulder of the road / escaping faster than we are. / My heart races / to catch up.”
Green said she wrote the book in free verse primarily because it’s the form that comes most naturally to her, but also because the economy of words and blank space on the page may help children deal with the overwhelming feelings that come with crisis and loss.
“You sort of pare it right down to the heart of the story,” she said. “And that combined with the white space on the page, it’s like it’s giving kids time and space to process.”
And since the text is less dense than a story written in prose, it can also gives young readers a sense of satisfaction, as they quickly progress through the pages.
“You get kids who are finishing an entire book because the word count is less,” she said. “It’s great for their confidence as a reader.”
Words themselves are a theme in a book: clues for crossword puzzles intersperse the text, and the semantic difference between Mike being “abandoned” or “lost” becomes important for Cara as she loses hope for her animal friend.
“I guess it’s not surprising that as a writer, I get hung up on words and their connotations,” Green said. “But I think it arose more from the idea of people’s different concepts of home… we might all call it home but we actually mean very different things.”
As the story unfolds, Cara also deals with normal problems of being a kid, like the changing relationship with her teenage sister. Asked how she captured that childhood feeling, Green said that being the mother to four children might have helped, although her kids are all grown up now.
In writing children’s literature, it’s important to get back into the child’s mindset, Green said.
“They’ll recognize it right away if it’s not true to them,” she said.
Green works part-time at the Campbell River hospital as a licensed practical nurse, and part-time at home as a writer. Other middle-grade novels by Green include Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles (2016) and Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess (2017).
The latter won a number of awards and honours, including the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Middle School Book Award for 2018.
As for Missing Mike, the book is a nominee for the 2019 Silver Birch Award for fiction, which is handed out by the Ontario Library Association (OLA). The OLA’s Forest of Reading Kid Committee also selected Missing Mike for its 2018 summer reading list.