Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech breaks a cardinal rule of children’s literature in The Boy on the Porch. The main characters of this story are adults! The main child character even steps out of the picture for part of the story! But you know what? It works!
Marta and John walk onto their porch one morning to find a young boy sound asleep on a chair. He comes with a note asking the couple to take care of Jacob and stating that whoever dropped him off would return to get him. Unsigned and unspecific as to when they will return, the couple hesitantly agrees. Oh, and Jacob doesn’t talk, he taps.
Why it appeals to children: The events of the story are so outside of the ordinary, it compels the reader to stay engaged. Children will be captivated by Jacob. His quietness. His talents. His journey. Children will also fall in love with the compassionate dedication of Marta and John. Additionally, it has great appeal to reluctant readers. Most chapters are just three pages long, some are longer, and many are just two pages! The story starts with a shocking discovery and demands the reader to turn the page again and again.
Why it appeals to adults: The story will especially appeal to educators, social workers, and foster parents. It highlights the multiple intelligence stance – it’s not “How smart are you?” but “How are you smart?” And it portrays being a foster parent through a very pure and appealing light. While this book is not a “foster parent book,” it is an important thread that is subtly weaved.
It was a little odd to read a children’s book that focused on a married couple. Adult readers will identify with the dilemmas John and Marta face. What I appreciated most was the simpleness of their deep love. Completely different than the convoluted life of middle America. They didn’t have much to offer, but they gave everything they had. Not to mention how it tenderly brings in heavy topics like an abandoned child and loving a child that is not like all of the other children.
Creech trusts her readers to create their own mental movie and does not overwhelm with details. The story is written in an easy going way, but it profoundly communicates the simpleness of John and Marta’s love for Jacob and meeting his deepest needs.
As a writer: Yes, Sharon Creech broke a few rules in writing this story. She’s a Newbery Award winner and she in entitled to that freedom. For the rest of us pre-published authors, we have to stay in the lines for now. (I know what you’re thinking. Give it a try. I hope your unique idea works for you and you break new literary ground! Honestly.) We can, however, let books like this inspire us to dream of something different while we hone our craft and work on getting that first one published! We can also take note on how to write succinctly. Who? Me?
To Sharon Creech I say, thank you for this lovely story. It left me with a lump in my throat. It is one that will stay with me. And I am so very glad it is one that was written.