Boys, Families, and Section 13

For two years I ran a monthly book club with middle grade boys from our church family. It taught me a lot about the age group, and the literature available. Running that book club also had an immeasurable impact on how I would write The Lost Property Office.

The boys and I started with classics and historical books that we could connect to on a manly level, like My Side of the Mountain or Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, but we also wanted to read some contemporary works—maybe broaden our horizons beyond survival stories. As I searched for selections, though, I noticed a trend. The families in popular secular middle grade books were beyond broken. In the most popular series, the parents were dead and the hero’s adopted family was both comically and tragically abusive. In the next most popular series, the hero’s mother didn’t make it past the first couple of chapters. His step father was abusive, and his father was . . . well . . . an absentee Greek god—as in the original version. Thus, we turned to Christian books for our first few contemporary selections, but the stories were similar. In the first book we tried, the hero’s parents were divorcing and losing touch with him. In the next book, the hero’s adopted father attempted to kill him. These books were not what my heart was yearning for as a guide and teacher.

Children need windows to look through and mirrors to see themselves in, meaning they need to read about different types of families. And families don’t always look the same. But whether the hero was adopted, or helping a single mother deal with adversity, I wanted a story where the love between parent and child, brother and sister, became the center. When I finally confessed this to my wife, we could not come up with a suitable book, and so she told me to write the book myself.

The Lost Property Office opens with a family in crisis and a young teen thrust into becoming the man of the household—with a sister who isn’t exactly cooperative. Jack may react to all this change with teen angst, but the reader is never in doubt as to the love he holds for his mother and sister or the love they hold for him. And that love continues through the story until the family is whole again. When I finally handed the manuscript over, I was terrified because I hadn’t read anything like it in recent months. How could a story with a loving family survive in a market filled with abusive step-parents? But then something wonderful happened. People connected with the Buckles family. Jack’s story became a Book Expo America Buzz Book. Sony optioned it for film.

As it turned out, others had similar ideas. In April, former children’s laureate Dame Jacqueline Wilson vowed to restore “lovely dads” to children’s literature. In a Publishers Weekly interview, a YA agent described seeing and selling more books with a “family or sibling story at their heart.” Suddenly, this story I had worried so much over was at the crest of the wave. Who knew?

God knew. I felt called to write The Lost Property Office for the broadest possible audience. I wanted children from all types of families to have that mirror or that window into love-centered family relationships. Sadly, I’ve missed my chance to read this book with my middle grade boys’ book club. They grew into highschoolers on me while I was busy writing. But I hope they’ll read the Section 13 books anyway, and enjoy stories that shows the love between a mother and child, brother and sister, and father and son.

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