Books

Caroline Adderson wrote a middle-grade novel about kids coping with the COVID-19 pandemic

The Canadian author's middle-grade work Sunny Days Inside features linked short stories of kids coping with the pandemic.
Sunny Days Inside is a middle-grade novel by Caroline Adderson. (Groundwood Books)

Caroline Adderson is the author of five novels, including The Sky is FallingEllen in Pieces and A Russian Sister. Adderson is also a three-time winner of the CBC Literary Prizes. She has also published short story collections and books for younger readers.

Her latest work is the middle-grade book titled Sunny Days Inside. The book is a collection of linked stories that follow the course of the pandemic as the kids in the building observe the stresses on the adults around them and use their own quirky kid ingenuity to come up with ways to make their lives better — and they survive brilliantly, each in their own way.

Adderson spoke with CBC Books about writing Sunny Days Inside.

The 'grown up' virus

"Sunny Days Inside is a book of linked short stories about a group of kids living in the same inner city apartment building during the COVID-19 pandemic. I came up with the idea at the start of the pandemic, when we were all terrified and hunkering in our houses. 

"I live a block away from an elementary school and kids would be skipping to school and then skipping home again. I would think, 'Do you not know the world is falling apart?' Then the schools all closed. I began reading stories in the newspaper on social media about the different things kids were doing to cope. 

It was the resilience and ingenuity of kids that made me want to write the book.

"I thought, 'Wow, they have such a great perspective.' One of the things that made it into the book was a friend who had posted that her children had misheard coronavirus and thought it was the 'grown up' virus.

"It was the resilience and ingenuity of kids that made me want to write the book."

Covering COVID

"Writing about the pandemic was really about self-preservation. I had been working on a different project and I was completely distracted. I'd always wanted to write a book of linked stories. I thought, 'Well, maybe this is the time.' I wrote this book in a totally different way than I've ever written anything. 

"Normally, I'm a real rewriter and it'll take me a long time to get a first draft. I keep tinkering and tinkering and tinkering. I decided I would write eight stories in eight weeks, and I would not allow myself to go back and read the story about one particular child's apartment that I'd written in that particular week. So no tinkering!

Writing the book helped me keep my sanity for sure.

"I spent a week on it and then it was finished and I couldn't go back, and then I went to the next apartment and the next apartment. That went on for eight weeks. This was at the very beginning of the pandemic, when we were all so terrified. I was in my apartment building and it felt like I buffered myself from the horrors going on in the world.

"Writing the book helped me keep my sanity, for sure." 

LISTEN | Caroline Adderson on the craft of writing:

The three-time CBC Literary Prize winner talked to Garth Materie about writing short stories and her new book, A Russian Sister.

Isolated yet connected

"I wanted to say with the book that we're all in it together. We were apart and yet we were together — and continue to be! When I wrote this book, I thought that by the time it was published, it would be a look back for children and what they had experienced. I certainly didn't expect that we would still be in the middle of it! 

I wanted to say with the book that we're all in it together.

"I hope that the book will be helpful to kids in terms of their ongoing issues with this situation. Writing Sunny Days Inside was all about this idea that we are all expected to be separate and stay apart, but somehow be together."

Writing for young people

"The mistake many people make when they start writing for kids is that they have young children and they think that's who they are going to write for. That's how I started to do it, but I realized that that's not the right approach because you tend to be too outside the protagonist.

When writing for younger readers, I try to remember how it felt to be a child and to try to recapture some of that wonder, joy and playfulness.

"If you do it that way, you're looking after them. But you have to inhabit the consciousness of children. 

"When writing for younger readers, I try to remember how it felt to be a child and to try to recapture some of that wonder, joy and playfulness. That's the pleasure of writing for children. Unlike adult books, which often plod toward darker, more despairing places, in children's writing you always proceed toward joy. You're writing toward that hope. It's probably the primary rule of the genre that you must not leave your child reader feeling hopeless. You don't have to solve the problems of the world, but you have to give children hope that those problems will be solved." 

Defining success

"Winning prizes such as the CBC Literary Prizes was so long ago, but it's been a wonderful, wonderful boost. It's true that if you win any prize thereafter, you can call yourself a prize-winning author. That's very nice to be able to say. But, really, the best reward in writing is a good writing day!

Winning prizes such as the CBC Literary Prizes was so long ago, but it's been a wonderful, wonderful boost.

"The tricky thing about the CBC Short Story Prize, for example, is that the word limit is so short. The fewer the words, the harder it is to write the story. I would encourage people to think very, very small and also to think like a poet. Because with the fewer the words, the more important each word is. You want to make sure that every word is perfect and move the story forward. 

"How the story is written, not what the story is about, that's the most important thing."

Caroline Adderson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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