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Author Caroline Cooney Joins Us to Talk about Her Janie Books

May 21, 2012

About a decade ago when Random House and Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishers became one company I had a lot of catching up reading to do of backlist titles. One of the great pleasures of this catching up time was Caroline Cooney’s “Janie” books which begin with The Face On the Milk Carton. Sure, working in Children’s Publishing I’d always known about these books and seen so many sold over the years, but I hadn’t read them yet. I picked up The Face on the Milk Carton and couldn’t put it down, quickly read the next two and recall shamelessly begging editor Beverly Horowitz for a peek at the manuscript for What Janie Found. Lucky me, and all of you too–Caroline Cooney has written a FIFTH Janie book, it will be published in early 2013, and Random House is reissuing the earlier books in trade paperback tomorrow.

Caroline Cooney joins us today with a special guest post about her beloved “Janie” books:

Five books about Janie and Reeve!

No one is more astonished than I am.

Over twenty years ago, I saw a home-made missing child poster and my heart broke for the parents whose child had vanished.  But their task was hopeless – nobody would recognise their daughter’s photograph after so many years…. except, I thought, if the little girl herself sees that picture. 

That idea became The Face on the Milk Carton.

Janie, my kidnapped fictional child, has grown into a terrific teenager with  fine parents, Frank and Mirand Johnsons, whom she loves.   When she recognises herself as the missing child featured on a cafeteria milk carton, she decides to say nothing.  She cannot risk damaging her wonderful family by telling the authorities what she suspects. But …  she has to let her real family know that she is all right.  What does a good person do when there is no good thing to do?

The Face on the Milk Carton is a book about worry, and I wanted my readers to feel her worry even after they finished the book.  So the ending is not tidy.  It doesn’t really tell what happened to Janie.

So when I decided to write a sequel, it had to be called Whatever Happened to Janie? because that was the question my readers asked in hundreds of letters.

I was never going to write a third.

But in the first two books, an adorable boy need Reeve lived next door.   

At that time, my son was volunteering at his college radio station.  I decided that Reeve, too, could work at his college radio station, where he dreams of being a brilliant talk show host.  But what should he talk about? He decides on the story of Janie, and he sells the tragedy of those two families, night after night, on the air.   

In the first two books, the kidnapper is barely mentioned.  She’s Hannah. She pawns her kidnap victim off on her parents, telling them Janie is her little girl, and they believe this.  Hannah has vanished and eluded the FBI.  One night someone calls into Reeve’s show and it just might be the kidnapper herself.

That became The Voice on the Radio.

But my readers loved Reeve.  He used to be perfect, they wrote, and you have to write a fourth book in which Reeve is perfect again.  Furthermore, Reeve and Janie should get married.  Most of all, the kidnapper should be caught and punished.

My editor Beverly Horowitz called with what I call a postcard idea: a snapshot from the midst of some not-yet-written story.  “I see a parent and a teenage child in an attic,” she said.  “One of them has found something which will irrovocably and tragically change their lives.”

 “It’s Janie and her  ‘kidnap’ mother Miranda,” I said. “ Janie discovers an old checkbook and sees that her father Frank has always known where their kidnapper daughter Hannah is and in fact, he’s been sending her support checks all these years.”

That became What Janie Found. It’s a suspense novel and there’s no wedding and no capture of the kidnapper.


In spite of the darkness of a kidnap theme,  the Janie books provided a lot of fun.  I sponsored my son-in-law’s race car, and we reproduced the cover of Face on the Milk Carton on the hood of his car.  As far as we knew, we had the only book race car out there.  One evening, Face on the Milk Carton was a question on “Jeopardy”!    

Twenty years after I wrote The Face on the Milk Carton, Beverly said, “Janie has been in high school all four books.  Reeve has been in college since the second book.  Write a book where they are adults—not fully matured-but older. Millions of your fans want to know what happened to them.”

I already knew what my readers wanted:  a wedding and a kidnapper. It would be exciting if Janie managed to corner the kidnapper – but how much more exciting if the kidnapper manages to corner Janie?

The  fifth book is Janie  Face to Face . I’ve also written an e-short story that can be read alone, but is also a bridge between books four and five: What Janie Saw.    

In the Janie books, love and integrity save two families and create a new one.

I thank all my readers who gave me the privilege of following Janie and Reeve into their  adult lives.

Many Thanks to Caroline Cooney for joining us at RAoR today and sharing Janie and Reeve’s stories and the history of these books with us. We can hardly wait for Janie Face to Face!

Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. litteach permalink
    May 21, 2012 8:28 am

    Oh how exciting!! I loved these books as a teen, and my current middle school students also love them. I really love the new cover art shown here. As a teacher, I have seen the importance of updated cover art. If the cover doesn’t look appealing, kids, especially reluctant readers, won’t read it. The covers shown here will definitely entice teens to read the series!

  2. Emily Grossenbacher permalink
    May 21, 2012 11:37 am

    I LOVE These too! I can’t wait for the 5th one!!!

  3. May 21, 2012 12:14 pm

    A decade ago? The merger was 1987! Time flies!!!

  4. May 21, 2012 2:45 pm

    Oh, I adore these books. So happy to hear there’s going to a 5th book! Yay!

  5. May 28, 2012 11:58 am

    I read the first book as a teen and wasn’t aware there was a whole series! I’m very excited, I’ll have to revisit this story and check out the following books.


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