|No one ever really paid close attention to the faces of the missing children on the milk cartons. But as Janie Johnson glanced at the face of the ordinary little girl with her hair in tight pigtails, wearing a dress with a narrow white collar—a three-year-old who had been kidnapped twelve years before from a shopping mall in New Jersey—she felt overcome with shock. She recognized that little girl—it was she. How could it possibly be true?
Janie can't believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she begins to piece things together, nothing makes sense. Something is terribly wrong. Are Mr. and Mrs. Johnson really Janie's parents? And if not, who is Janie Johnson, and what really happened?
|The Face on the Milk Carton, first of the Janie books, is the book you wonder about most. Years ago I was in La Guardia Airport. It’s a New York City airport and it’s immense. On that day, the concourse was plastered with home-made missing child posters, each with a grainy picture of a very small child, maybe three years old. When I went up close and read the type beneath the photo, I found that she had been missing for fifteen years. Can you imagine? Those parents got up that morning with their stack of posters and their roll of Scotch tape and drove into New York still hoping that if a hundred thousand people came through the airport, one of them would recognize that little girl, and tell the parents where she is now?
But no one can recognize a child fifteen years later from her three year old picture. It’s hopeless. The mother and father will never find her. I got on my plane, weepy from thinking about those parents, and thought—actually, there is one person who might recognize the photo. The little girl herself.
Right away, I thought: what a great idea for a book. You recognize yourself on a missing child poster.
Over the years, many of you have written to me about the ending of Face on the Milk Carton, which does not tell you what you want to know. I wanted you to have to go on worrying about Janie, just as those real life parents had to go on worrying about their lost child.
I did not mean to write a second book about Janie. But in a sermon at the church where I was then organist, the minister retold the story of King Solomon, who was faced with two women, each claiming to be the mother of the same child. How could the King tell which of the two women was the real mother? Split the baby in half, he said, and each of you take half. Of course, the real mother was the one who did not want her baby destroyed. In Janie’s messy and tragic situation, who was her real mother? That question was the basis of Whatever Happened to Janie?.