Generations of pre-J.K. Rowling books described kids acting (mostly) without adult supervision. Among other KidLit classics, characters from Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, and The Chronicles of Narnia often had at least one missing parent.
But Leila Sales, a children’s book editor at Penguin Young Readers Group, is speaking out against the ever-growing “ol’ dead dad syndrome” in KidLit. In a Publishers Weekly column, Sales describes the approach as “lazy writing,” offering a quasi-Oscar Wilde quote: “‘To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose a parent in nearly every children’s book looks like lazy writing.’ (I assume that is what Wilde meant.).”
Sales argues that by killing off parents, authors decrease the number of characters, make readers instantly sympathetic, and avoid boring adult subjects. Later she writes:
Dead parents will always have their place in children’s literature. If your book is set at an orphanage, then I would hope you include a lot of dead parents. Or if a book is about a teen coping with the recent death of her mother, then, you know, her mother should have recently died. But when authors omit parents for the sake of convenience, I take issue — as an editor, and as a reader. Because a convenient story is not the same as a good story.