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"How Come?" and "What If...?"

This issue of ForeWord highlights children’s books. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes the best ones so darn good, and there’s at least one aspect I’ve identified about which I am certain: Kids constantly ask the hardest questions, unapologetically—things like “How come?” and “What if … ?” They are not afraid to dream, and their favorite books reflect that uninhibited spirit. Children are innately curious, but that curiosity can fade over time as adults carefully and methodically instruct them to go with the flow. But what if, instead of trying to curb that curiosity, we were to follow their lead and recultivate a willingness to ask tough questions of ourselves, our partners, our friends and colleagues, and of our government? At the least, we would be thinking about the kinds of subjects addressed by the best adult books in this issue, which also, as it turns out, feature authors and their characters who still dare to dream. With our newfound kid-knowledge, we may rediscover that the most valuable lessons are not always found in the likeliest places, and in the process, we just might ignite one of those dreams.

When Jeannette Winterson was young, her mother asked her, “Why be happy when you can be normal?” (the question that was to become the title of her bittersweet new memoir). Luckily for us, Jeannette didn’t listen to her mom, continued to ask hard questions of herself, and pursued her goal of happiness—which has extraordinary writing as its foundation.

There are other authors asking the serious questions, too. The authors of Autism All-Stars propose this: “What if autism wasn’t seen as a disability but as a unique strength?” Stephanie Marohn’s What the Animals Taught Me and Renata Salecl’s The Tyranny of Choice both resulted from their seeking out-of-the-way truths. Our collection of titles in the business feature asks this significant, preemptive question, “Do I really have what it takes to start a business?” then it steers readers through inventive ways to arrive at an answer. “How do we reconcile our religious differences in the political area?” poses the feature about the religion genre. The bottom line throughout the books in our self-help article is this: “Am I happy with my life and who I’ve become?” Expanding that query to a global scale and asking, “Is the US always destined to be at odds with Russia?” are two of the Spotlights delivering extended reviews.

In an Author Pages interview, Jack Driscoll, a northern Michigan author and teacher, recalls his writing instructor, John Irving, simply nodding when Jack first summoned the guts to tell him he wanted to be a writer. Driscoll took that gesture as a substitute for what he calls the most wonderful word in the English language: “yes.” And he never looked back. Ten books later, The World of a Few Minutes Ago, his new collection of short stories, has been released.

Our article on young adult fiction titles profiles children who are struggling with their passage to grown-up life: those who are without solid examples to follow and largely have to make it up as they go. And perhaps that’s the most important lesson to be gained from adopting a willingness to ask the hard questions: Charting your own course will no doubt be the most difficult—and most rewarding—path you can take through life. And, of course, you’ll need plenty of literary nourishment along the way.

Julie Eakin

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