But breaking up is hard to do. You and your characters have had a long term relationship. They’ve kept you up at night, accompanied you on your walks, made you miss your turn as you drove. You’ve made some bad things happen to them, and they’ve surprised you with their shenanigans. Maybe you’ve written the last chapter, but they haven’t gotten the hint. They’re still hanging around your head.
The end of What Happened on Fox Street left my hero, Mo Wren, balanced on the cusp of many things. Would she really have to leave the place she loved best in the world? Would she trust her father again? Would her sister, the Wild Child, ever come to accept underwear?
An image took form in my head: a smooth-skinned nut that swung apart on a little woody hinge. Open, it was two meaty halves, but closed it formed a whole. I wanted to answer Mo’s questions. I wanted to find her a true home. And, bonus–I was sure it would be easy! I knew her and the other characters inside out. The book would more or less write itself!
Ha. Ha ha! Speaking of nuts!
First came the dilemma of whether the second book would be a “stand-alone”. I definitely hoped for this. As a children’s librarian, I’ve seen too many kids reject a book because it’s # 2 and #1 isn’t on the shelf. But writing a stand-alone meant I had to shoe-horn in a lot of back-story without getting in the way of the new story. I had to jettison some old characters, or at the most give them a cameo. That made me worry about disappointing kids who’d read the first book, and expected more mayhem from the Baggott Brothers, more mystery from Mrs. Steinbott. Tricky business.
Even more challenging was discovering that Mo and the gang had gone and changed on me. We’ve all seen kids morph before our eyes. They grow taller, hairier, fatter or more bony. They get shyer or bolder, discover a new talent and lose an old friend, startle themselves and you. So unless you’re going to freeze your characters in time, a la Family Circus, you’ve got skittery new dynamics. Writing the sequel was like a reunion with dear friends I hadn’t seen for a while. Some things remained constant, but just as much had shifted. And when you’re talking about family, even one member changing effects all the rest.
In the end, I had as many or more things to figure out with book two as I did book one. Which is okay, because any book that writes itself is a book not to be trusted. But writing the sequel turned out to be so hard, I was curious to see how some other authors have done it.
Savvy and Scumble, by Ingrid Law
These are properly called companions rather than sequels, since the second book stars a different character from the first. No matter! Kids who loved the adventures of Mibs will adore the chaos that ensues when cousin Ledge comes into his own, havoc-wreaking power. Can he learn to control, or scumble, it? (Scumble is an example of the inventive language that enlivens and links both books.) The twisty plot features enough explosions to keep the most reluctant boy reader riveted. These books stand alone, but are twice the fun together.
Nory Ryan’s Song and Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff
It’s impossible to finish Nory Ryan’s Song, the story of an Irish girl and her family during the potato famine, without wanting to know what happens next. Giff answers the question wisely and compassionately in Maggie’s Door, which follows the family odyssey to America. Young readers will be stirred by the immigrants’ courage and hope, and absorb a lot of history along the way. Just sayin': Giff has long been among my favorite middle grade writers.
My One Hundred Adventures and Northward to the Moon, by Polly Horvath
Horvath’s quirky, winsome voice is perfect for Jane Fielding, a girl with an eye for life’s wonders. In the first book Jane prays for 100 adventures, and though she only gets 14, those turns out to be more than enough. In the second, her family embarks on a long, bumpy road trip, and Jane at last discovers that she doesn’t want “adventures to get away from things. I wanted adventures to get to things.” The voice in the second book has a drollness that seems a precursor of the woman Jane is fast becoming. Because the second book builds on back story, reading them in order is most rewarding.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back, by Tom Angleburger
What writer doesn’t want to hear “This begs for a sequel”? Angleburger heard it plenty after Origami Yoda struck a chord with kids who love Star Wars, kids who love origami, and kids who love both. In the first book, a hapless middle schooler communicates with classmates through his paper Yoda finger puppet. Who knows what will transpire when bad guy Darth Paper makes the scene this coming summer?
As we do with true friends, I hung in there with my sequel. Just today—ta da!—I turned in the copy-edited pages of Mo Wren, Lost and Found. Here I sit, warm and content, gazing out my wintry window, wondering– just a little– what Mo’s doing right now, if maybe she’s getting impatient to plant those vegetable seeds, or is on her way to the Soap Opera Laundromat, or…
Tricia Springstubb is done with Mo! She swears it on a big bowl of nuts! Please share your own favorite sequel or companion books below.