Books for Children: A pandemic continues to have its impact on storytelling

A new kind of encounter-beauty is being explored in the proposal of Chandler Baker and Wesley King Hello (From Here).

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Not surprisingly, the global pandemic is making its way into children’s literature. This section has already featured a picture book with such content (Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca, reviewed April 24) and a novel for middle classes (Sunny Days Inside by Caroline Adderson, reviewed August 28). Today, the spot is on a YA novel, rounding out the categories.

Hello (From Here)

Chandler Baker & Wesley King

Dial Books

Ages 12 and older

A story of a boy meeting, Hello (From Here) departs from the usual plot, set in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when such meetings are rare and the chances of actually building a close relationship even rarer. Jonah and Max (short for Maxine) meet in a grocery store, where a nerd and anxiety-ridden Jonah accuses Max of storing toilet paper and tries to persuade her to share some of her hoard.

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Max, however, is a personal buyer – a 17-year-old essential worker who dares the outside world to buy people who don’t dare risk contracting the virus. She negotiates a trade for some of the items in Jonah’s shopping cart, but outwits him by giving up only a single role of Tp. Written with a light touch and clever humor, the opening chapter elevates encountering beautiful storytelling to a whole new level.

In fact, the whole book is in its own category. Not only is the story set in a pandemic, but as the book progresses, it soon seems like COVID is just one of several things the book’s characters are struggling with.

To this end, a publisher’s warning appears on the ISBN page. I hope it doesn’t scare too many readers away because, ultimately, this is an effort to the joys of friendship between characters that vary in age, race, and economic position. In addition, the book brings together two authors who are not yet personally acquainted, but who together have created a very readable story.

Chandler Baker, a mother of two who lives in Texas, and Wesley King, who was born in Ontario but recently moved to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia, were reunited – so to speak – by their agents.

“It’s not an easy thing to start a book with a friend, it doesn’t matter with a complete stranger, but it was really a joy to work with Chandler,” King told me in a recent email exchange. Baker handled the opening chapter and all subsequent Max chapters, alternating with Jonah chapters written by King.

“The book was written almost in exchange of letters,” he said. “One of us would write a chapter, send it, and then wait for a return chapter in a day or two.”

They “loosely edited” each other’s chapters as they read them, but took care to preserve their distinctive, individual voices. The result is a wonderful, cohesive story of two unlikely characters coming together at a time when people mostly remain apart.

– Bernie Goedhart

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