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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Kids at Work

Kids at Work

Riker electric car

One of my characters drives this electric Riker.

Okay, one of those SNI (Shiny New Ideas) got me. I have temporarily put aside my first draft WIP to revise another manuscript. (Sorry, Marcy Hatch! I know you’re still waiting for that next chapter of the new story.)

The most challenging part of the manuscript I’m working on now is that the 14-year-old protagonists don’t go to school. They have jobs. The setting is Long Island, New York in 1908, and these two characters work as apprentices in a lab. One of them rents a room in a boarding house. The other one drives an automobile on her own. My CPs have pointed out—and I believe they’re right—that young readers will find this very strange.

My story is set in an alternate history, but of course child labor was a common thing in the early 1900s. Kids worked in mines, factories, on the street selling newspapers, and in their family businesses.

Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley

Only one of my grandparents graduated from high school. The others had to work in the family business or raise their younger siblings. The one who did graduate did so because she was the youngest in her family and her older siblings had already quit school to run the farm.  Their sacrifices allowed their little sister the luxury of an education – and that’s what education was in those days, a luxury.

Harry Houdini quit school at 12 to get a job; so did Thomas Edison. Boys built the transcontinental railroad and the Empire State Building. Girls fought off wild animals with rifles, defended the homestead, and one really talented gal with the stage name of Annie Oakley became the most famous sharpshooter in the world!  If you want to go back a little further in time, young teenagers led armies (think Joan and Alexander) and ruled empires (Nefertiti and Amenhotep).

My challenge is to paint this backdrop for young readers and help them identify with the young apprentices in my story who don’t have the luxury of education, work for their living, and—as it turns out—make a remarkable scientific discovery.

16 Responses to Kids at Work

  1. Hopefully they learn to appreciate the luxury of education they have now in the process.

  2. I think a lot of stories, like fantasies, have kids in different roles. Hopefully kids will be able to make the leap in yours too.

  3. mshatch says:

    But you’ve left poor Holt all by himself! With only Rasputin for company!

  4. I’m betting kids will love seeing these more independent circumstances and dive right in. Even today, there are countries where kids work at very early ages (harsh reality). It sounds like a WIP you’ll have loads of fun with. Happy writing!

  5. Tiana Smith says:

    I think kids love reading about a world where they get to do more than they can here. I remember sometimes feeling stifled as a child, knowing I was capable of more, but being unable to do what I wanted.

  6. H.R Sinclair says:

    Kids love going in to new worlds and old ones. The Riker is cool.

  7. J E Oneil says:

    Yeah, I can see why that would be a challenge. It can be hard for kids to realize that things a hundred years ago were so different. But I’m sure they’ll get it once they understand the world that this story takes place in (cool car, BTW; they should love kids driving cars).

  8. I think kids will LOVE the new story. I know THIS old kid would.

  9. Check this out–it’s a line about real-life kids who lived through extraordinary events in American history. All the books are ghostwritten (although they let the authors tell the world the books were written by them). I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good home for your books:

    “Based on a True Story books are exciting historical fiction about real children who lived through extraordinary times in American History.”

  10. Anna says:

    Interesting take on the past, I just hope the gatekeepers are as openminded to the idea. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  11. Joanne Fritz says:

    I’m fascinated by the sound of your SNI. But I hope you’ll go back to the WIP soon (if it’s the one I think you’re talking about).

  12. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne – what a great SNI … and your stories will help youngsters (and adults – I feel certain) to think about other ways of life … and how we all got where we did (maybe we didn’t exactly … but our ancestors did) … so fascinating to remember the very early days of history …

    Have fun – cheers Hilary

  13. Lexa Cain says:

    Your premise sounds great! I love stories where the stakes are high and the characters have real problems, not like who to go to the Spring-Fling dance with. I think many young people don’t appreciate what they have today. While child labor may be banned in the west now, it’s still very much alive in 3rd world countries. I wish kids in the US understood that education is a privilege. Maybe once they read your new book, they will! 🙂

  14. Sounds interesting. And isn’t part of the point of historical fiction to show how different life used to be? Young readers might find it strange, but hopefully they’ll find it interesting as well, and be able to put themselves in the characters’ shoes and consider what they’d do if their lives were that different.

  15. Sounds like a really interesting perspective. Nothing wrong with giving kids a glimpse into another world…isn’t that what kids are supposed to do?

    I think young readers are far more imaginative and adaptable than others might give them credit for.

  16. RO says:

    This sounds very interesting and reminds us of the wonderful minds of children. Hugs…