I’ll admit to not being super familiar with the work of Suzanne Collins outside her deserved juggernaut The Hunger Games and its sequels. I’d been meaning to read the novels for a while at the behest of my Middle School teaching cousins when my fianceé one-upped me by tearing through all three novels in the series in a week last Christmas.
Still, it struck me reading up on Collins in the wake of being impressed by Games that unlike so many of the hot “phenom” YA and kidlit writers that have struck a pop culture nerve over the past decade, she was an established kids author (and TV writer) before breaking through to millions of readers. While Stephanie Meyers – to chose the most obvious example – carries a rap for being a fluke whose prose connected with tweens, teens and housewives thanks to its thinly veiled connection to her own sexual interests/politics, Collins success is as much a result of earned craft chops with character, theme and action as it is one of zeitgeist. She can really WRITE is what I’m saying.
With all that in mind, it was really interesting to watch the rollout announcement for Collins’ next project: a picture book called Year Of The Jungle with longtime collaborator artist James Proimos. The news should have been pretty easy to engage with. “Renowned kids book author does different kind of kids book” is an easy news hook, after all. But looking through the mainstream press coverage of the announcement, I saw again and again a tone taken that was practically one of surprise.
“The lady who wrote the violent action movie ‘The Hunger Games’ has now written a CHILDREN’S book!” so many of the stories seemed to say. A lot of this fell at the feet of editors desperate for a more Google-able headline like this one at the Examiner where it seems the writer of the article is more comfortable labeling the project a picture book, but there are also stories that play up the supposed surprise more directly like this story in the Atlantic Wire.
Of course, I don’t think we should be surprised that editors at publications whose front page has a special tab for “Bars & Clubs” aren’t experts on the specifics of kids book publishing and its terminology (NOTE: ALL books published by Scholastic are children’s books. Collins’ novels are YOUNG ADULT. Her new one is a PICTURE BOOK), but that they write their copy based solely on the PR for the new book and do virtually zero research on Collins’ history as a writer is a sobering reminder of how the outside world views our business. As far as many of these journalists are concerned, all hit kids books spring from the skulls of daydreaming housewives like Athena from the skull of Zeus. Why put any more thought – or better yet any thought at all – into the fact that a woman who’s written one kind of anti-war book for kids would then write a different anti-war book for kids? Boggles the mind.
In better news, Year Of The Jungle sounds like a great idea for a picture book. I hadn’t been aware of this history of Collins father in Vietnam before now, but makes perfect sense for her interests as a writer. I reminded me of this great, brief Hunger Games comic by cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks and the accompanying reflection on the series she drew for Tor.com:
(You should really click through and read both)
Regardless of how dumb some adults in the media can be about Collins work, I’m betting its themes will read through just fine to a generation of kids who have grown up in a United States perpetually at war with the Arab world.
And if nothing else, the books will keep inspiring crazy fan tributes from comic artists like this one from Dan Hipp: