Life, death as lessons for children

Family Matters

March 28, 2004|By Heather L. Goddard | Heather L. Goddard,Sun Staff

Jonathon Scott Fuqua, an award-winning children's book author who lives in Baltimore, will discuss his new novel, The Willoughby Spit Wonder, Thursday at a fund-raiser for the Woman's Industrial Exchange.

The Willoughby Spit Wonder (Candlewick Press, $15.99), Fuqua's third novel for young readers, is set in 1953 in the Chesapeake region of Virginia. Carter Johnson thinks if he swims across the entire bay through a hurricane, then maybe his dying father will be inspired to beat death as well.

The book is filled with water fights, sibling rivalry, carnivals and pranks on the beach. Carter's wild imagination invents alien invasions from thunderstorms, and he could swear his ankles were about to sprout wings to help him fly.

Fuqua drew from the death of a friend to portray the tenacious and good-humored Mr. Johnson, Carter's father. The friend "maintained a spirit of life throughout the dying process," Fuqua says. "He had such powerful good intentions for the family he left behind." Mr. Johnson conveys the same attitude when he tells Carter: "What I've been trying to do is make it so that when I am gone, you're glad that I lived more than sad that I died."

In the spirit of the 1950s setting, Fuqua's characters are affected by the Korean War and the fear of communism. As Carter stays up at night worrying about his dad, planes from nearby Fort Wool whoosh by his window and cause fears of bombings and communist invaders.

Fuqua will speak at the Woman's Industrial Exchange, 333 N. Charles St., from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, The cost is $15 and includes a light lunch. Reservations are required. Call 410-685-4388.

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