EYE-WITNESS At the height of the pandemic, when I lacked comfort, I advised my children to write about what was going on. The only thing I knew for sure, I explained, was that their grandchildren would want to hear what it was like to live through those days. Let’s just say the pens weren’t exactly flying out of the mug in our kitchen and no one was stealing my laptop charger to launch Google Docs.
But the bestseller list for the children’s series supports my theory that the younger generation has a great appetite for the hardships of others. How else to explain the 67-week series of Lauren Tarshis‘I Survived Books, a 21-volume juggernaut exploring the toll of natural disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake), man-made tragedies (the Holocaust , September 11) and garden variety nightmares (shark and grizzly bear attacks) through the eyes of young storytellers who lived to tell the tale. With the exception of three non-fiction spinoffs, the books are novels, but Tarshis does extensive research and includes reading recommendations, additional historical context, and helpful information (eg, “How to Stay Safe in a Hurricane” ) at the end of each paperback.
“For some kids, finding out about another person’s struggles is one way to navigate our own,” Tarshis said. “I think there is something to be said to be able to read something from a distance and come to terms with your own fears.”
As an editor overseeing over 25 in-class magazines for Scholastic, Tarshis knows reluctant readers are drawn to articles about real people. (She was also lukewarm about the writing: “I didn’t read a book from book to book until I was 14.”) I Survived was born out of the idea that, as Tarshis said, “You don’t have to be the kid who reads ‘Lord of the Rings’ under the covers” to be curious about what’s going on in the world.
A decade of writing about disasters will have dire consequences; When she visits classrooms, Tarshis jokes that her next series will be called Rainbow Cupcakeland. But hearing from fans keeps her focused on I Survived, which now includes four graphic novels: “They’re coming up to me and they’re all stained with weed and they smell like milk and they have so much they want to tell me.” said Tarshis. “I tell them, you should go home and talk to your parents, your grandparents and your guardian, because we all have a connection to history in one way or another.”