Social Issues in YA and Children’s Literature: A Chat with Penny Jaye

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome Penny Jaye to the blog. Penny has published more than twenty books for children under the name Penny Reeve. Today, we’ll mainly be talking about her latest two books published as Penny Jaye. Thanks for chatting with us today, Penny.

You’ve had so much experience writing for children of all ages, including picture books, chapter books, Bible studies for young children, and novels for middle grade and adolescents. As a writer, is it hard to swap between the different types of books and age groups? How do you approach that task?

I don’t find it too difficult to switch between the genres and age groups because for me, the writing is always about the story and its connection with its audience. So when I’m writing about human trafficking, for instance, I’m always thinking about who I’m trying to communicate with and what the best story/medium is for that readership, and how to connect emotionally with them. The writing will vary depending on the answers to these questions. I think it’s one of the challenges I particularly enjoy about being an author for many different age groups.

The two books you’ve published as Penny Jaye both deal with social issues. Let’s start with your most recent picture book The Other Brother. Can you tell us a bit about that book and the inspiration behind it?

The Other Brother is a story about welcoming the stranger. It’s about foster care and/or adoption although neither of those terms are used in the book. I once heard a social worker bemoan the fact there were very few books about foster care and how the ones that were written always used animals to depict the characters. I began wondering whether I could write a story to reflect and honour the experiences of children in care without belittling their stories. I knew I wanted my story to be from the perspective of an older child welcoming a new child into their family, so that became my starting point.  

Books featuring marginalised children in a positive way are certainly needed. Good on you for tackling that subject. Have you heard how children have reacted to The Other Brother? Is it something that’s an issue for many of them? 

As a children’s author you don’t always hear how children are responding to your work, but I have heard that children appreciate and relate to the story and the main characters. Because the book doesn’t use the words foster care or adoption, The Other Brother is deliberately open for interpretation. It seems to be sparking lots of discussion. Children in care see themselves in the pages. Children who share their families see their experiences reflected in the story. And neighbours, school mates and friends also get a chance to consider the courage and kindness it takes to welcome someone new.

Your young adult novel Out of the Cages focuses on human trafficking. I believe you got the idea for it while in Nepal some years ago. Can you tell us more about your time in Nepal and the inspiration behind the book?

I lived in Nepal for 5 years in the early 2000s and during that time I started hearing about young women or girls who were sold across the border and down into the brothels of India. I began to wonder what it would be like to return home after having been trafficked. How would you piece your life back together? How would you heal? I did a lot of research, both in Nepal and in India. I met a lot of inspiring people and Meena’s story is the result of that research.

Although the book deals with a traumatic issue, there is hope in its pages. Without giving spoilers, can you tell us a bit about Meena’s story?

Machhapuchre, Nepal

Yes, hope was a very important theme as I was writing this book. I knew I had to be writing about restoration, not despair, so I deliberately crafted the novel around these priorities. The story itself is about two young girls who are trafficked into the brothels of Mumbai and one of them that escapes. As Meena pieces her life back together, her memories of the journey to India and the young friend she was trafficked with, demand her attention. Out of the Cages is a story of courage, perseverance, friendship and hope. 

Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for readers who are interested in helping those touched by the issues we’ve talked about today? 

I think, for me, knowing about something is one of the most powerful ways to help others. With human trafficking, knowledge exposes the secrets of traffickers. It allows us to advocate against modern day slavery in all its forms (for example: do you know who picked your tea and whether they were free?). Learning about issues also allows us to empathise with others. Stories like The Other Brother allow us to consider another person’s story, to feel what they might feel and appreciate their experience. So my advice would be: ask questions and listen – listen well. Then ask God how he would have you respond in the situation he has placed you in today.

Thanks for chatting with us today, Penny. You’ve definitely given us some food for thought.

Book Giveaway

Penny has kindly made available an autographed copy of one of her books for one lucky reader. If your entry is drawn, you will have the choice of either the hardback picture book The Other Brother or the young adult novel Out of the Cages (suitable for readers aged 15+).  In order to enter the draw for the prize, just add a comment below by midnight on Sunday 4 October 2020 (Australian Eastern Standard Time). In your comment, please specify which book you would prefer. The winner will be chosen at random from the eligible comments, and their name will be published in the comments section of this blog post, in my next newsletter and on the Nola Lorraine Facebook page. As the prize is a print book, this giveaway is only available for those with an Australian postal address. (Hopefully, I’ll be able to have other giveaways in the future that will be open to anyone.) For full terms, please click here.

Author Bio

Penny Reeve is the Australian author of more than 20 books for children, including picture books, junior novels, children’s non-fiction, young adult fiction and Bible studies for tweens. She loves writing for and sharing her stories with children, encouraging them to respond to the complex, fascinating and sometimes difficult world we live in.

Penny lives with her husband and three children in western Sydney, where she enjoys juggling the fun of busy family life with several writing projects on the go!

She also writes as Penny Jaye and Ella Shine.

Connect

Penny's Books

Penny’s books are available from all good booksellers online and in-store, including:

Amazonhttps://www.amazon.com/Penny-Reeve/e/B0034NJ9D4%3F and https://www.amazon.com/Penny-Jaye/e/B07NCXW6GQ%3F

Kooronghttps://www.koorong.com/c/penny-reeve

Wandering Booksellerhttps://wanderingbookseller.com.au/search?type=product&q=penny+reeve

Dymockshttps://www.dymocks.com.au/book/out-of-the-cages-by-penny-jaye-9781925563412

Signed copies of her books are available from her website.

Out of the Cages is also available as an ebook via Amazon and Koorong.

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13 Responses

  1. These books sound very interesting . I enjoy books that address issues like this. I have a real interest in Nepal as several of my friends did missionary service there in different parts of Nepal.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Heather. Once you start talking to people, it’s fascinating to learn how many of them have connections to Nepal in one way or another. It’s a beautiful country and makes a lasting impact on all who travel there.

  2. Thank you for your contribution to addressing important social issues for children and young people. Knowledge is power.

    As I have been working in the child protection sector for the past decade, predominantly in foster and kinship care, I would be interested in a copy of ‘The Other Brother’.

    1. Hi Tahirih, Thanks for your comment and encouragement. I agree, knowledge is so important especially for equipping us to respond with sensitivity and wisdom to the situations around us. Given your experience in child protection and foster/kinship care, I’d love to know your thoughts on The Other Brother!

  3. Penny’s picture books are a hit in our school library and since we have so many adopted kids, we’d love a copy of “The Other Brother.” I’ll read “Out of the Cages” eventually too, but I’ll go in the draw on behalf of my smaller students.

    1. Hi Robyn,
      How lovely to hear of the welcoming nature of your school community! I hope stories like The Other Brother can help encourage empathy and understanding for children in all sorts of families. Thanks for stopping by to comment.

  4. Thank you for sharing your writing, Penny. I recently watched a Christian movie, called Priceless. Education through storytelling is such a powerful way to both change lives and to make a change in the way people think and I am passionate about the privilege that all artists of all mediums hold in changing the world for potential good and not evil. I have two young ladies growing up in this house and I know that Out of The Cages is a story that would especially resonate with my sixteen year old, social justice warrior, Cordelia. I would like her to be able to read such a story more specially told through the pen of a Christian.

    1. Hi Deirdre,
      Thanks for stopping by. I haven’t seen the movie Priceless (just googled it) but it looks like a worthy film (especially as it was inspired by true events). Stories like this happen all too frequently in our world, and most of the time they are hidden and secret. By talking about them, learning how to see the signs of trafficking occurring under our noses, we are better equipped to act. Well done for equipping your teens to follow their passion for justice!

  5. Writing from the heart and first hand knowledge certainly adds a depth to a book.
    I recall L.M. Montgomery’s advice from Gilbert Blythe to Anne Shirley “write what you know instead of your fanciful imaginings”, truly wise.
    I’ve recently been reading stories of the terrible torture of the Jews, what suffering and what courage to rebuild life.
    Out of the Cages would be of interest to me.

    Thank you Nola and Penny.

    1. Hi Dianne,
      I love Gilbert’s advice too! (Although I admit some of the manuscripts I’ve been writing lately have been full of ‘fanciful imaginings’! But maybe what we need sometimes is a bit of both?)
      Your current reading sounds powerful. The tough stories are often the ones that inspire us the most. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Hi Penny, I loved reading about how you weave these themes in your book. I am keen to read “Out Of the Cages”. Given the subject matter, I admire the way you add hope into it too! Well done!

    1. Hi Anna,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, hope was a very important theme for me as I was writing Out of the Cages. I knew the subject matter would be difficult, so wanted to equip readers with hope and inspiration to act rather than leaving them in despair. It was tricky, but so important that my readers (especially young adults) would finish feeling empowered. If you get a chance to read it, I’d love to know how you found it.

  7. Thank you to everyone who commented on the blog, and thanks again to Penny for your fascinating insights and for generously providing a book for the giveaway. I did the draw this morning using a random number generator, and I am pleased to announce that the winner is Dianne Riley. Dianne will receive a copy of ‘Out of the Cages’.

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