The Trouble with Happiness (also: a giveaway!)

cody cover

Every story needs A Problem. All writers know that.

So many wonderful middle grade novels re-enforce the lesson. Just recently, I’ve read and relished The War That Saved My Life, Stella by Starlight, Echo and Rain Reign, books that deal with abuse, deformity, war, racism, poverty, autism—problems with enormous consequences for the main characters. Their suffering leads to new, often hard-won knowledge about themselves and their world, and, of course, to change.

Something I’ve learned working in the children’s room of a public library is that plenty of kids love sad books. I’ve been asked, “Where are the books that make you cry?”  Any time I teach a writing workshop, there’s always one wrenching story about a parent, grandparent or pet dying. Grief, plain and unadorned, is what those stories are about.

So I felt myself going a bit against the grain when I set out to write my new book, Cody and the Fountain of Happiness (first in a series for younger MG readers). The title alone promises that everything will be all right in the end. Better than all right. Happiness will bubble up and overflow!

Joy is less compelling than sorrow. It’s nowhere near as dramatic. When we’re in the midst of joy, we take it for granted, something that does not happen with problems. Problems we want to solve, to conquer and eradicate, but good fortune? Being loved, being secure? We bask in the light, forgetting how lucky we are.

Cody doesn’t forget.  She’s the kid who finds delight in the ants in her front yard, or the grumpy new boy who moves in around the corner, or a brand new pair of shoes .  For Cody, many things are beautiful, from marshmallows to turtles with their thumb-shaped heads. I think of her as the optimistic part of me, times a zillion.

So what about the big problem?  Well, a beloved cat gets lost. Her mother has a hard day at work. Her friend accuses her of tricking him. Cody has her troubles, and to her they are plenty big. She makes mistakes, feels guilty, puzzles over the right thing to do. Yet her whole world, like so many children’s, is her family and neighborhood, literally the (ant-inhabited) ground beneath her feet. The trick of writing her story was to handle her small yet no less real concerns with a light but empathetic hand. To respect her worries and struggles while also keeping the tone reassuring. Writing Cody was as challenging as writing a book with much more serious issues at its center.  Kids are figuring out their world every day, every moment. Giving the ordinary its due requires a different, tender kind of attention. For examples of a writer who is a true master at this, see Junonia and The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes.

I confess: this is the kind of book I loved when I was in the middle grades. I hated to be (too) frightened or (too) sad. Surprised was good, but above all I wanted to recognize myself in the story. I’m hoping the same kind of readers will find themselves in the unsinkable Cody.

May your own fountain of happiness never run dry! And if you’d like to meet Cody, click here:


I’m giving away two signed copies of Cody, illustrated by the terrific Eliza Wheeler and published just yesterday (!!!!) with Candlewick Press. To be eligible, please leave a comment below.

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Tricia Springstubb
Tricia is the author of many books for middle grade, most recently "Every Single Second" (HarperCollins) and the third book in the Cody series, "Cody and the Rules of Life" (Candlewick Press). A frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, she lives in Cleveland OH. You can find out more about her and her work at
  1. looks so nice

  2. I love reading books with my 8-year-old daughter. She’s part of a book club. The girls read a new book each month and get together to discuss. Some Middle Grade books are just too dark for 8 and 9 year-olds and better suited for those closer to 11 or 12, but sometimes it’s hard to identify which books would be a good fit by title and description alone. I read the first few pages of your book via Amazon preview– I love the little bits of philosophy peppered throughout! If you’re still giving a copy away, I’d love to be added to the mix of hopeful recipients!

    • Thanks, Anastasia. You’re right–different children need different books, and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all.

  3. I love middle grade books for all the reasons above! Would love to win a copy of CODY (which happens to be my son’s name!). This is definitely going on my TBR wish list if I don’t win.

  4. My 8 year old daughter is an insatiable MG reader who isn’t ready for the heavy stuff. Thank you for writing something she will love!

  5. Many of my middle grade girls hate books that make them cry, but they love stories with ‘problems.’ This should fit the bill perfectly.

  6. Looks great! I’d love to win for my son!

  7. I love these books, too! Kids with a “cup-half-full” still encounter problems and griefs to overcome. Thanks, Tricia.

  8. This is a lovely book and lots of kids will find themselves in it. Please don’t enter me in the drawing. I have a copy and intend to review it soon on my blog. We need to spread the word!

  9. Cody sounds like someone I’d like to get to know.

    • Thanks, Donna! I hope the two of you get to meet.

  10. I love these kind of books too because kids need to see they are not alone out there with their problems. It helps them get through their day, thank you for recognizing this:)

    • One of my biggest goals as a writer is to reassure kids they are not alone. I always hope they’ll find themselves in my pages. Thanks, Joan.

  11. I know exactly who to recommend this book to! Thanks for sharing it.

  12. Hooray for happiness!