Tuesday, August 23, 2016

If You Were a Book, Which Book Would You Be? Smack Dab in the Classroom by Dia Calhoun

"What is your favorite book?" is a question people often ask. So is, "If you could take only one book with you to Mars what book would you choose?"

Here's a new question: "If you had to BE a book, which book would you be?" Writers tend to think of their books as living things. But this may be a new idea for readers in general.

This question is not simply about being drawn to the hero and wanting to live vicariously. This question involves the entire book.

Could it be the setting you're drawn to? The world in the book? The community of characters? The challenge? Or is it something more subtle that appeals to you? The vitality? The depth? The breadth of vision?

I remember something similar in Fahrenheit 451. In that story,  people would memorize an entire book in order to pass it on. But that's not quite the same as embodying a book.

I wonder if the answer might have something to do with how, as a living book, you'd want to interact with the world? Would you want to be so read and loved that you become dog-eared? Would you want everyone to read you or only certain types of people?

What a fun idea for kids to work with--for anyone to work with.

So by now, you're probably wondering what book I'd want to embody. The truth is, I don't know yet. The idea is to new.  But I'm tremendously curious about what book you might want to be. And why. If you know, leave a comment.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Memory of One Ordinary Moment (August theme) by Claudia Mills

Many and sweet are my memories of the special joys of childhood summers. Walking to the public library every other day with my sister to carry home the four books the library allowed us to check out, reading all four as fast as we could, and heading back two days later to collect four more. Listening for the music of the Good Humor ice cream truck. Playing badminton and croquet in the back yard. Running through the sprinkler on stifling New Jersey days. Writing and sketching in a rowboat on our annual family vacation to a small lake in New Hampshire.

But one day of one July of one year, sitting on our front porch alone one afternoon, I decided that I wanted to save a memory that wasn't a special memory, but a completely ordinary one. I wanted to preserve one completely ordinary moment. I sat there, scratching a mosquito bite, on an afternoon of the usual triple-H of heat, haze, and humidity, and thought: This one. This is the ordinary moment I'm going to keep forever.

And I did.

A week or two later, greedy, I thought: I want to save another ordinary moment. If I could save one, why not save two? But, as it turned out, I couldn't save two. All other attempts at saving completely unremarkable time failed utterly. Only the first ordinary moment remains.

But maybe I could have saved more ordinary moments if it had occurred to me to set them down permanently in written words.

As a reader, I cherish the record of the small ordinary moments that make up the texture of a character's life. No author has ever captured these better than Eleanor Estes, who won Newbery Honors three years in a row in the 1940s (for The Middle Moffat, Rufus M., and The Hundred Dresses) and then went on to win the Newbery Medal in 1952 for Ginger Pye. The first lines of her first book, The Moffats, offer a description of Mama peeling apples: "The way Mama could peel apples!"  That's all. Just Jane Moffat marveling how Mama's "peelings fell off in long, lovely curls," while her own best efforts result only in the "thick little chunks that she popped into her mouth." Instantly, I identified with Jane and shared her yearning for apple-peeling competence. The smallest moments of Jane's anxious ruminations stayed with me for decades; I can still quote them by heart.

That's what I strive to achieve in my own books, which I admit fall into the oft-dismissed category of "quiet": an honoring of the ordinary, a remarking upon the unremarkable, a celebration of the everyday, a fixing in words of the fleeting, precious moments of childhood that would otherwise vanish without a trace.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Season of Magic by Naomi Kinsman

Every late spring, my parents used to dare me to jump into our un-heated pool on my birthday--May 20. Now in some cities, the weather has sufficiently warmed up by May 20. However, in Portland, Oregon, we might be talking about a 60 degree day with the water hovering about ten degrees colder. If I braved the freezing plunge, we'd go for ice cream. Thinking back, I should have requested a warmer reward. Hot chocolate, perhaps, or molten lava cake. But, I don't think it was the ice cream that made me bend my knees and leap.

It was the magic.

If you're watching the Olympics, you've seen those underwater shots. Everything is tinted blue-green and the world moves at a different speed. It's a land rich with possibility.

I spent my summers in this magical place, a land filled with mermaids and underwater missions. Once school let out, I slipped into my swimming suit and crossed over into a heroic story. As often as I could, I'd dive into the pool where my unfolding story awaited. The plot twisted and turned. Sharks, villains and other dangers showed up. I needed to find and collect the rings that lay on the bottom of the sea in order to save my mermaid sisters. In the above water world I was an only child, so this quest was urgent and belonged entirely to me.

Submerged in this story, I had no idea that I was training. I wasn't training to be an Olympic swimmer, but rather, to be a writer. To this day, drafting feels like plunging into another world. Sometimes I hesitate on the edge, worried about how the water will feel. Once I let myself go, though, I'm in. I lose myself in the story. If I'm planning, it's not about the next plot point. I'm completely inside my character's skin, strategizing what to do about that shark headed straight for me. When I carry out my plan, what happens next often surprises me.

Maybe I should worry about this multi-player mode that goes on in my artistic mind. But, I actually think this mode is a vital part of the creative process, one that is challenging to tap into and train. While drafting or sketching or improvising, we need to lose ourselves without becoming lost. How do we do that?

As a little girl, even as I dove deeper and deeper into my underwater story, a part of me watched over the entire process. That master storyteller kept working when I finally climbed out of the pool for the day. As we went to the library and walked in the park, she collected ideas and weighed options. She dreamed up and collected an abundance of possibilities so I'd have the opportunity to be surprised. She'd plan the next major plot points and make sure there were plenty of paths by which we might make our way there.

Today, my master storyteller does nearly the same thing. While I'm driving or teaching or wandering through a museum, she collects options. She helps me sketch out a basic map in the form of index cards. And then, she climbs up into the lifeguard chair to watch over me when I dive into my draft. She's there, so it's safe for me to take risks. I can try any crazy new idea that pops into my head--Wait, what if I ... ? She's there to toss in obstacles that keep me from spinning off into an entirely new story. If I climb out of the deep end to find I've made a giant mess, she helps me find my way back.

It's been quite some time since I've thought about the pool and the writerly training it provided. Now, having written about it a bit, I want to ponder it a bit more. As an adult, when I want to develop a skill, I generally work on it in the most obvious medium. If I want to learn to draw, I take out my pencils. Maybe there's something to entering the process through an unexpected doorway. The intangible skills--the ones that are arguably the most essential--might be tapped into much more directly when we approach them sideways.

What do you think?

Naomi Kinsman is the author of the FROM SADIE'S SKETCHBOOK series and recently collaborated with grammy-nominated artist, Natalie Grant on the GLIMMER GIRLS series. Naomi is also the founder and Executive Director of Society of Young Inklings, which offers classes, mentorships and publishing programs for young writers ages 6-16. Naomi crafted WRITERLY PLAY, a game-based approach to creative development that Society of Young Inklings utilizes as the foundation for all of its programming. www.naomikinsman.com 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Construction Summers by Bob Krech

When I was little, there was something about trucks that attracted me. Like a magnet. Maybe just the size. Like a big redwood, or the pyramids, or a mountain. They demanded attention.

Then there was the noise. Trucks announced themselves with a mashing of gears and roaring engines as they rolled through our streets. I was four years old the summer we moved into our neighborhood. It was still very much under construction. What had been a cornfield with a few ancient landmark trees, was rapidly becoming a suburb to be known as Nassau II. 

I would follow the trucks every day to their construction sites. Construction sites were my absolute favorite playground as a kid. (This was before I discovered baseball) Especially during the summer when there was a lot of construction and for me, a lot of free time.

Trucks rolled up and down our streets everyday, bringing wood, gravel, dirt, sewer pipes, stone, and brick. We would dutifully follow them on our bikes or on foot to the construction site. We would watch from the street during the day as they unloaded their contents. I was especially fond of dump trucks, letting go their loads of dirt and gravel, making huge hills were once it was just flat, uninteresting ground.

These dirt hills were excellent areas for all kinds of quality kid activity. Climbing up and then sliding down the dirt hill was of course a natural. King of the Hill, where you tried to stay on top by throwing everybody else down was also high on the list. We also scavenged the site for wood, nails, stone, and brick. We used this cast off material to make our own little huts in the woods. 

I must admit we physically explored those half-finished houses, young trespassers that we were, climbing down into open basements and up temporary wooden stairs into second stories where we could imagine ourselves anything from pirates to kings to generals. It was like a stage set that was purposefully unfinished so as to allow the imagination of the playwright to make it whatever he wished.

As I remember, construction went on for two summers while the neighborhood expanded till it reached its limits. Finally the construction trucks stopped coming. A sad day indeed. Fortunately they were soon replaced by trucks that were just as interesting in their own ways; bread trucks, milk trucks, mosquito control trucks, and ice cream trucks. Each with its own charms for a kid. We followed those too for sure. But those were different summers.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer Memories by Darlene Beck Jacobson

S and sticking to sweaty skin - perfect for building.
U nder an umbrella, hiding from the sun.
M ilkshakes from a tall silver vessel - enough to share.
M udpies served to dolls with tea.
E ating from a tray table in front of the TV 'cause it's too hot in the kitchen.
R iding the carousel for a quarter.  The ride lasts forever 'cause the guy is flirting with mom.
M ovies at the drive-in.  A car load of kids for $2.00.
O range toe nails felt so grown up and daring.
R eplaying 45's - "She Loves You" and "Twist and Shout" - until daddy begs us to stop.
I ce cream cones dripping down mt hand.  How fast can you lick?
E verything seems possible in summer.
S itting under a tree with The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Archie and Friends.  Reading All Day!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Summer of Nancy Drew

by Jody Feldman

Not nearly the whole collection. I kept my favorites before giving the rest to yet a younger cousin.
It was the summer between 5th and 6th grades, the start of maybe the most difficult time I had growing up. We’d just moved to a great new house where my brothers, my parents, our dog and I no longer needed to share a single bathroom (not that the dog used the bathroom in the normal way; she liked to drink from the toilet and the bathtub). But it also meant moving from a neighborhood where you only needed to take one step out your front door before a swarm of kids had the exact same idea: it was time to play outside. Alongside a lack of neighborhood camaraderie at the new house were all the nerves that came from moving from a solid group of friends into the great unknown of another school that, rumor had it, was full of cliques. The rumors were true, the adjustment was hard, but that’s another story for another day.

That summer, though, my aunt brought over two large boxes of books, what turned out to be nearly all in the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series published to date. They’d been passed down from cousin to cousin to cousin. Now it was my turn.

It was late one afternoon when I picked up my first Nancy Drew. After that, nearly every day that summer went as follows:
1. Early morning: finish the book I started the previous day
2. Late morning: go outside and tan (yes, I know) and cool off in our poor excuse for a pool
3. Midday: eat lunch and go back outside
4. Afternoon: come in to cool off and read the first half of the next Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys

Yes, I grew weary that Nancy’s relationship with Ted never moved forward. Yes, I questioned how these kids could always get into so much trouble. Yes, I still remember what to do if someone forcibly goes to bind my hands. But I got through every one of those books that summer.

I found a comfort in this routine... probably the stability I needed as I prepared for the next chapter in my life.
Several years younger than what I'm talking about, but you get the idea. (I'm on the left.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dog Days of Summer
By Marcia Thornton Jones

When Mom finally relented and said we could have a puppy, she gave my sister and me three requirements.

It must be a small dog.
It must be a male.
It must be a good dog.

At the Humane Society, my sister and I peered into the kennel of puppies as they tumbled and fought over a single bowl of food. Only one sat off to the side watching.

He was teeny-tiny.
He was a he.
He was being soooooo good.

He was perfect. Mom would be so proud of us!

We carried him in the house and placed him on the family room carpet. We were beaming.
The puppy took one tentative step. And then he toppled over.
“That dog is sick,” Mom said.
She was right. Mom stayed up all night with him, one hand on the tiny whimpering puppy who was so sick that it was doubtful he’d live through the night. But he did live. Then he thrived. And that quiet, well-behaved puppy turned into a hyper-active, non-stop, dog who delighted in escaping from our yard by digging, climbing, and even chewing holes in the fence. He could out-run and out-dodge the fastest of us.
We thought about naming him Sergeant. Or maybe Killer. But the only name that stuck was Muffles: a word Mom muttered in a moment of exasperation in order to avoid using language kids weren’t supposed to hear.
One day, during one of his infamous catch-me-if-you-can games, I chased Muffles on my bike. He led me up and down streets, finally disappearing into a maze of backyards. I stood on a corner, yelling for him. But then I saw a friend, and so I left that corner—left Muffles—to walk my bike down the street and around another corner for a quick visit. It wasn’t long before I heard the most mournful howling ever. I walked my bike back around the corner. There was Muffles, right where he had last seen me calling for him, his nose pointed to the clouds, howling over and over and over.
“Muffles?” I hollered.
My dog—the one who was impossible to catch—ran straight for me, jumped up, knocked me down, and became a tail-wagging, body-wiggling, face-licking, I’m-so-glad-to-see-you kind of dog.
That’s how we learned that Muffles wasn’t an escape artist trying to get away from us. He just wanted to play.
Muffles and I spent summer days lying on the porch that ran the length of our house. We took long walks, stopping to rest under shade trees. I rode my Schwinn bike (white with a seat to match the orchid pin striping), and Muffles ran alongside. At night he obediently settled on the chair in my room since he wasn’t allowed on the bed. But as soon as Mom finished tucking me in, he leaped straight from the chair to the bed and curled up on my pillow.
I loved that dog. Really. I did.
But the years passed, and I discovered other interests besides riding my bike with a dog running happily beside me. Things like shopping, slumber parties…and boys. I spent more and more time learning to be a teenager which meant Muffles spent more and more time sitting at the gate waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
Mom told me how unfair I was being. She encouraged me to spend time with him. I heard it as nagging.
One day she told me she found someone who had a farm that would take Muffles. A place where he could run. A place where he wouldn’t be sitting at a gate for hours at a time.
I was furious. How could she do that? How could she just give him away? I loved that dog!
But she was the one who saw his loneliness. His sadness. Saw the look of abandonment in his eyes. His grief.
I look back at those dog days of summer, and I grieve for that little dog who loved me better than I loved him. I wish I could tell him I am sorry. I wish I could relive those days so that I could give him the time and attention he deserved.

I wish I could have loved him better. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Summer Memory ... by Jane Kelley

Summer. We rode bikes. We read books. We swam in the lake. We made s'mores. We played kick the can. Then we did all these things again. And again.

The days, uninterrupted by the demands of school, flowed like a lazy river.

Then, one night there was a terrible storm. The next morning, we woke up and discovered a U.F.O. had landed in the empty field next to our house. A pirate ship had docked among the queen ann's lace. A jungle had grown up from the grass.

Or so it seemed. For when that storm knocked down a huge tree, everything changed. Now we spent all our time playing in the tree. It was perfect for hiding and climbing and even sitting and reading. How had we ever gotten along without it?

I don't remember which one of us got the first red spot. Soon we were all covered with an angry rash. We got poison ivy at least once a summer, no matter how we tried to avoid those leaves of three. But this was the worst ever. When the tree fell, it crushed the plants. The broken stems and leaves released their toxin much more readily.

Now every game had to be interrupted by "itch breaks" where we raced in circles to keep from succumbing to that brief ecstasy of scratching that would only, we knew, lead to regret.

But we did not regret our time in the tree. We were only sorry that it was removed from the field so that someone could build a house.

Luckily the memory––like the stump––remains.