Another Way Devices Are (Not) Killing Creativity

IMG_1462

Once they get hooked, there’s no stopping them.  Morning, noon, and night they’re begging for more.  What can you do?  It’s the way of the world.  Stories are just that much fun.  (And yeah, video games, too.)

See them up there?  They actually aren’t playing a game.  He’s telling her a story.  I wish I could take credit for this.  I wish I could say I came up with a fun way to use technology to promote creativity and storytelling.  But this?  This they did all on their own.  Once you start with the stories, it all sort of takes on a life of its own.

doodlebuddyThese two use the DoodleBuddy app.  You know this one?  It’s free and really basic, and we kept it on our devices for them to use when they were little and we were desperate to distract them while we actually spoke to other adults for a while.  It was great for that, but they quickly outgrew the doodling aspect of it.  That’s when they started making up stories.

screen320x480The cool thing about DoodleBuddy is that it has these stamps.  Preset pictures that you can put anywhere on the screen, and (if your parents don’t make you turn the volume off because, annoying) each one makes a little sound effect when you use it.  So they fill half the screen with trees and it’s a forest.  Then the forest is infested with ladybugs.  But the sun comes out and kills of the ladybugs and…on and on and on. The pages of pictures themselves suggest new plot points.  Forest fire?  Rain?  That’ll work.

They tell them to each other.  They tell them to me.  I even hear them open it up and mutter the stories under their breaths to themselves.

So there you go.  A good idea from my kids to yours.  Next time you’re waiting in line for the oil change or hanging out in a dangerously overcrowded restaurant, give it a try.  It just might save the day.

Posted in The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment

Playing with Time: Three Books Just For You, Mom

Okay, moms…and overly busy women everywhere…I’m going out on a sexist limb today to say that these ones are for you.  Find a few minutes when the kiddos are playing with friends or, gasp, watching TV, or tucked into bed and go curl up with your own book.  If it were me, I’d start it with a long, super-hot bath and a cup of tea.  You do it your way.  If your way involves ice cream, that’s even better.

Don’t feel guilty about this.  You want your kids to see you reading.  You want them to see you enjoying books for yourself.  The example you are setting will go farther toward making them strong readers than any number of library trips where you  never leave the children’s section.  Check out Common Sense Media’s report on “Children, Teens, and Reading.”  One of the things they found is that the few kids out there who are reading frequently are very likely to have parents who are readers.  (You can read the full report here.)  That’s data to backup your need stretch out by the pool with one of these books.  This is what good parents do.

I already gave you a list of books to make you a better person.  These ones are just to enjoy.  No lofty goals.  Nothing but relaxation.  These books are romances, but not the kind that make you stutter over the title or hide the cover.  These books take you backward and forward through time, but their nods to science fiction are brief, and you won’t get lost.  These books will pull you in and help you lose yourself for while, but they aren’t total cotton candy.  All three are thoughtful, so your brain can feel good as well as your heart.  Let’s start with the one everyone’s heard of, just to get it out of the way, and finish up with one that no one’s talking about but which blew me away from the first page.

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – This one is world-famous and about to be a new TV show, so if you haven’t read it, now is the time.  You could call it a time-travel romance because it is, but once the main character travels back from 1945 to 1743, it’s really just historical fiction for the rest of the book.  This is a LONG book.  It’s gritty and real.  The time travel element adds serious interest to the dilemma that Claire, our out-of-time heroine, faces.  The romance is solid, but the book is just as much about Claire’s journey and about the history of the time and place (pre-uprising Scotland).  There are seven books in this series, and the time travel plays into the others even more than this one.  I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t like the other books nearly as much.  But you should read Outlander all by itself, even if you don’t want to go on.  It’ll satisfy the part of you that wants to wander the Scottish highlands.  (Oh, please.  Don’t pretend you don’t have that part of you.)
  • The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – This one is also a bestseller (and 10 years old, which is making me feel ancient), but I’m still surprised how many people I meet who haven’t read it.  Please read it.  Then watch the lovely movie.  But read it first.  If you don’t know, it’s about a man who has a disorder that makes him involuntarily travel through time.  It goes back and forth between the point of view of the husband and wife and handles the complexity of their relationship so beautifully.  It will make you laugh and cry and sigh and cheer and then cry a little bit more.  So basically, it’s perfect.
  • Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto – I’m guessing you haven’t heard of this one, and I almost don’t even want to tell you what it is about because I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Okay, here we go, no spoilers: Shelley and Max are young and happily married, when Max is unexpectedly killed.  Three years later, a young man shows up at the widow’s door looking very like her dead husband and bringing information that will lead her on a search through Europe and through her life.  This is a wonderful love story.  It is warm and thoughtful and builds on itself as it takes you back and forth through history in a way that won’t let you put it down.

Go read!  It will make your day better.  I promise.

Posted in Book Recommendations | Leave a comment

Glow

Once upon a time there was a City all alone in the middle of the wilderness.  It was protected from all that wildness by high walls and a love of learning along with a certain sense of superiority.  Many years of experimentation and hard work had enabled the citizens to grow beautiful gardens and build strong buildings and make a comfortable life inside the walls of their city, but the wilderness outside was harsh and untamable.  No plant would grow in it.  No animal would live in it.  The rivers were poison and the ground was hard and unyielding.

It had been many dozens of years since the last time someone had ventured outside, when a group of children playing up on top of the wall (without their parents permission, of course) spotted a man walking through the wilderness toward their city.  They stopped their play and stared.  The City had been alone for so long that none of them had ever seen a stranger before.

When the man arrived at the gates that hadn’t been opened in many dozens of years, they opened for him without a sound.  The children were the first to run toward him, though they hung back far enough to be cautious. The man was not particularly old nor particularly young.  He had pale, pale skin and striking dark eyes and hair.  Though he looked very tired, he smiled at them all as he reached into the small leather bag he was carrying on his shoulder.

dandelionWhen he pulled out a single flower, round and soft-looking and glowing with a silver light, the children drew closer.  Without a word, the man held out the flower and allowed the children to touch it with wondering hands.  These hands, when they pulled them away began to glow with the same light as the flower.  The childrens’ eyes grew round, staring at their own glowing hands.  The man knelt before them and spoke in a quiet voice.  The chilrens’ faces brightened as he spoke, and then one by one they ran off in separate directions.

It wasn’t long, of course, before the adults came to see the strange man where he sat resting beside one of the city’s many life-giving wells.  Children with glowing hands tend to attract attention.  The adults questioned him, and he answered.  A few came close enough to touch the flower themselves and see their own hands transformed, but not very many.  Most hung back and observed, wondering where he had come from and how and what he could want in their City.

Last of all, the town elders arrived.  They were very busy and important and had little time to chase down rumors, but once the whole town was abuzz, they could ignore it no longer.  The man greeted the elders with the same smile he had given everyone.  The flower he showed them had faded somewhat by then and was not so bright as before.  The elders examined it, receiving a tinge of glow on their own hands.  By the time they had finished, the flower, though still soft, was dull and plain.

The whole City looked on as the elders received the only information the man would share.  The glow was a sort of magic, of course, a power that could make things grow where nothing else would grow.  It could only be passed on by human hands and each hand could only hold so much, which is why he had traveled so far through the wilderness to find their City, the only place where people thrived and enough of them were available to spread the magic.  Now if any of them with glowing hands would pass through the gates into the wilderness, they could press their hands to the earth and think of something beautiful, and it would grow in that place.  The magic would not last forever, he warned, so they must use it soon if they would see the wilderness transformed.

The whole City took this news very seriously.  It was hardly surprising to any of them that they, who had built this wonderful place, would be chosen for the great honor of restoring the wilderness, as well.  The elders immediately called a town meeting to discuss the best way to use this new gift.

The meeting was long and full of argument.  It didn’t take much time for everyone to agree that they needed a plan but what that plan should be was much more difficult.  Several of the City’s citizens were designers of gardens, and each of them thought he or she should be the one to design the new wilderness.  While they fought among themselves about which was the most qualified, new arguments broke out about methodology.  Some thought that those with glowing hands should be sent out systematically near and far to carefully cover the most possible area.  Others thought they should focus all their energies right around the City to make that part of the wilderness as beautiful as it could be.  Some thought to start to the north and others to the west.  Some thought to send out those with glowing hands in pairs and others in groups and others as individuals.  On and on the debates raged, straight through the night and into the next day.

It was well past breakfast time when the first cry went up.  The first woman who had been brave enough to handle the magic flower held up her hands.  The glow, which at first had been so bright, could now hardly be seen.  The others who had glowing hands now looked down and noticed that theirs, too, had faded.

At first this only led to shouting and confusion, but the brave woman took action immediately.  She ran for the gates and burst out into the bleak landscape beyond.  Immediately, she knelt and pressed her hand, now barely shining at all, to the ground.  A green sprout leaped up, bursting into bloom as soon as it was full-grown, a lovely lily.  Those who had followed her exclaimed in wonder, but the woman just began to cry.  Her hands no longer glowed at all.

Other citizens of the City crowded through the gates.  No one’s hands were glowing now.  They stared at the one lily which was all they had made from so much magic and they felt their own foolishness right down to their toes.

Then someone shouted.  In the distance a little girl came skipping toward the City.  A ways behind her a boy wandered, collecting rocks as he came.  The adults of the City realized in an instant that in their preoccupation with their important new task, no one had been watching the children at all.  They began to look around.

In the distance, points of color could be seen.  Red.  Orange.  Yellow.  Purple.  Pink.  White.  Blossoms of every variety.  And green.  Green and green and green.  There was no design, no pattern, no plan, no perfection.  But all those colors stood out against the colorless landscape with breathtaking beauty.

Most wonderful of all, the little girl who now skipped over to them held up her hands.  They were glowing still.

dandelion2Before anyone had recovered speech to ask how it was possible the little girl smiled and pressed her hand to the ground.  Green shoots.  Green tendrils.  A bud, just a hint of white fuzz at the edges.

Slowly the flower opened, glowing with a silver light.

 

Lovely dandelion photos by the incredible Tara of The Viewfinder by TSDG.

Posted in Magic | 1 Comment

Campfire Tales: Because We All Need A Little Fear

IMG_3053

The floorboards creaked as the mysterious footsteps came closer. The doorknob turned.  The children looked for some place to hide, but there was no time.  A hand appeared, its long claw-like nails scraping the wood of the door as it pushed it slowly open…

It doesn’t even matter how this story began.  This bit is enough to show that my kids love it.  Why?  Because they are shivering in their seats.  Oh, how they love that shiver.  And how I love the look of mingled terror and delight on their faces.  Their hearts are pounding.  They are shifting in their seats.  Though they don’t understand it themselves (and really, neither do I), their brains have felt their fear and gone into fight or flight mode, sending adrenalin coursing through their little bodies.  They are lit up, not dangerously so, but enough to feel the thrill.

By scaring my children, just a little, I’ve made them feel more alive.

The littlest child hid her face, while her older sister looked bravely ahead, determined to defend herself and her little sister against whoever….whatever…was coming through that door.  Seeing a hairbrush on the bedside table, she snatched it up, gripping it tightly as a shriveled arm followed the gnarled hand through the door…

This would be about the point that my five-year-old would bolt from her seat and skirt the fire to come and cuddle on my lap.  My son would make a joke to break the tension, and we would all laugh.  My oldest daughter would roll her eyes and then shush him, eager to hear the ending.  When the end does come, we’ll all exhale.  Then we’ll all talk at the same time for a few minutes.  Then it will be someone else’s turn for a tale.  The kids stories will inevitably include elements from mine, turned their own way, but recognizable just the same.  For days after, we’ll remind each other of our favorite scary moment.  At the next campfire, someone will say, “Remember the last campfire story?”  It’s more than just a story, it’s a shared moment of high emotion, a moment when we looked to each other for reassurance, some of us pretending we didn’t really need it, but we looked just the same.

By scaring my children, just a little, I’ve brought us together as a family.

The horrible creature that entered the room was like nothing the children had ever seen.  Hunched over and shuffling slowly toward them, they couldn’t take their eyes off of its wrinkled gray skin and the disgusting matted hair that obscured its face.  The older sister raised the hairbrush threateningly…

It doesn’t even matter how the story ends.  Perhaps the creature attacks and they are successful in fighting it off.  Perhaps someone comes to rescue them.  Perhaps it turns out that the creature was friendly in spite of its appearance.  In any case, the children end up safe and sound, their fears overcome.  My kids will feel the release of tension.  They’ll grin with relief as they feel the empowerment of victory.  If I were a slightly different person, it could end with the children being mercilessly slaughtered, I suppose.  That’s the next level of terrifying, but even so, the story ends.  My children look around.  They are all still alive and with their family and safe.  One more horrible thing that hasn’t harmed them, in spite of what it’s done to others.

By scaring my children just a little bit, I’ve made them feel safer.

(Parents, I know you remember the ghost stories that scared you as a kid.  Try them out on your kids, if you don’t feel up to making up your own.  Or check out these well-known legends .  And if you are interested in more thoughts on why we tell scary stories, listen to these fascinating clips from a talk given by Neil Gaiman.  His very way of speaking will give you a little shiver.

Posted in Campfire Tales, The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment

Review: The Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee

“Outside, the forest looked suspiciously adorable.
Cute little brownish squirrels were playing through the trees, and the birds sang and sang. But I thought: Claidi, you know this doesn’t mean much. Around the next artistic bush may lurk some hulking THING. This is what my utterly silly life has taught me so far.”
-Wolf Queen, Book 3 of The Claidi Journals

With so much talk about the need for really truly strong heroines in young adult fiction, I can’t believe I’ve never heard anyone mention these books. I came across a volume of the first three books in the series at a discount book store a few years back and picked it up on a whim (and because it was cheap). It was love at first read.

First, the basics: The Claidi Journals consist of four books, Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, Wolf Queen, and Wolf Wing. (I’ve read the first three a couple of times and just uncovered the fourth, so it’s in the TBR pile.) Claidi is a slave/maid to a spoiled princess in an isolated “House” surrounded by wasteland. Her life is miserable until a stranger appears and is captured and one of the old princesses of the house chooses her to help the strange prisoner escape and get home. This, of course, is the beginning of her many adventures, a sheltered girl in a foreign world.

It’s a very standard premise, but nothing else about these books is standard. The world she encounters is funny and weird and her adventures are unexpected, almost jarringly so at times. Tanith Lee (who is a prolific and accomplished writer) blends science fiction and fantasy seamlessly and has an imagination that verges on the bizarre. It’s weird, but weird in a quirky and super-clean way. I just read the series again to make sure my memory was accurate. Yes. True love, of course, but nothing remotely sexual. Nothing dramatically violent (just a few punches and such). Nothing inappropriate at all. I am itching to pass this book on to my almost 10-year-old. She will love it.

She will love it because, Claidi. As fun and interesting as the world is (full of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy element: a variety of interesting cultures and culture clashes), the star of the show is Claidi. From the first page, you just love her. She is rebellious but good-hearted. She is sarcastic and original and unintentionally funny. She is strong-minded though naive. She is incredibly brave but not stupidly so. She is a delight in every way. And she is REAL. She doubts herself and criticizes herself and is weak at times and makes mistakes and doesn’t understand what is going on around her and has fluctuating emotions and is just trying to figure it all out. She reminds me of my daughter. She reminds me of me (so now you know I think I’m a delight). These are her journals, so it’s all in first-person, in one of the strongest voices I’ve ever read. Tanith Lee is a person I wish I could have a conversation with. Anyone who can invent a character like this is my kind of person.

I don’t do rankings and I can’t put numbers to things, so no 5-star system here. This just gets an “I super recommend it!” I’m handing it off to my daughter. That’s the highest compliment I can give something. Check it out, for your own kid, or really for yourself. It’s a fun read.

I’m off to research more books by Tanith Lee. I’ve heard there are a ton, and I can’t wait to find them.

Posted in Book Recommendations | Leave a comment

Smug

The trees of the forest gathered to consult
Knowing nothing of melting polar ice caps
It had not escaped their leafy notice
That the lake was rising higher day by day

The willows broke down weeping at their loss
So many scattered seeds just washed away
Without seedlings what future could there be?
The poplar was fed up with so much drama

A few brave ash trees thought it time to fight
With mighty roots clinging to brown earth
They might take back the land the water claimed
Poplar felt the proper sense of horror at a war

The wise old oaks spoke last and practically
The time had come for choosing a new life
The forest should retreat into the higher hills
Leaving the valley to the all-consuming lake

Following their elders, the trees all shifted
Leaving the banks alone and casting seeds uphill
Poplar thought them all so many sheep
To go to so much effort just to stick together

So poplar stayed as the forest moved away
He dabbled roots in water happily
He did not miss the trees with all their talk
Or notice the earth beneath wash down to nothing

Poplar was quite alone when his wood began to rot
But still felt proud that he had held his ground
Better to die in the same place you first took root
Was his last and most self-satisfied reflection

ID-10021792

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

Breaking News!

Book 3 in the Book of Sight series is finished and in the final productions stages!!!

At long last I have a release date and a title to share with you!

Are you ready?

Where’s my drumroll?  (I like a bit of fanfare from time to time.)

Book Three is called… The Secret Source!

And I’m happy to announce it will be available for purchase on…September 8!

(That is, not so coincidentally, my birthday.  Happy Birthday, me.)

This is not just about me, however.  I have a gift for you!  Today is Digital Book Day!  Check out the website for all kinds of free ebooks.  The Book of Sight (Book 1) is free today, too.  You can get your digital copy over on Amazon all day (but just today).  Happy Reading!

Stay tuned in the next few weeks for a sneak peek at the cover of The Secret Source and some deleted scenes which may not have made the final cut but were too fun not to share with you.

Are you excited?  I am.  I’m going to go burn it off by downloading ridiculous amounts of free ebooks.  It’s a good day.

DBDsquare

Edited to Add:  Just heard that so many people are visiting the site that it gets overwhelmed at times.  If you try it and an error message shows up, just try back in a minute or two and you should get through!  Free stuff is worth the extra two minutes, I think.

Posted in The Book of Sight | 1 Comment

Manga Classics: A New Reason To Give Your Kids Comic Books

Not that you should need new reasons to buy your kids comic books. Comics are one of the most amazing forms of storytelling ever. I didn’t grow up on them, but I wish I had. The form has limitations, like anything else, but the visual nature of telling stories in comics, the way even the arrangement of the frames can communicate and move the action along, can give kids an instinctual feel for the structure of storytelling. Sometimes we worry so much about our kids becoming good readers that we dismiss things like comics as fluff that isn’t “real reading.” But learning to love story, well-told tales in any form, is the true foundation for being a good reader.

How was that? Did I convince you that there’s an adequately intellectual reason to sit down with a good comic book?

If not, try these on for size. UDON Entertainment and Morpheus Publishing Limited has a new line of books which adapts classic literature into manga editions. (If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, manga is a Japanese style of comics.)  Right now they have Pride and Prejudice and Les Miserables available for purchase, but I understand more are in the pipeline. Which we will be buying as soon as they are out. Because they are awesome.

mangapandp

My husband picked these up a couple of weeks ago when he was working the ALA conference, and my 9-year-old devoured them both in two days. Then my 7-year-old picked up Pride and Prejudice. Then the next thing you knew, we were watching the BBC mini-series and my children were quoting a hysterical Mrs. Bennet in hilariously atrocious British accents. Then my English teacher heart swelled up and burst.

They love these stories, you guys. Because, come on, these are some of the best stories ever told. And the simplicity and beautiful artwork in these books gave them access to something that would otherwise have been years away (if they ever read them at all because, be honest, how many of you have actually READ Les Miserables?)

If you care about such things, these are also a great intro to manga as an art form. They are beautiful. And they each come with a fun little “how to read manga” page that walks them through the dizzying nature of reading right to left. That aspect of the whole thing was also really fun for them.

So what do you think? Classic literature definitely makes comic books intellectual enough, wouldn’t you say? If not, we can call them “graphic novels.” I’ve heard that helps.

mangalesmis

Quick note for parents: These are kid safe. Even the desperate Fantine portions of Les Miserables are handled nicely, which is to say that it shows her desperation and is gut-wrenching, but when she sells herself, there is nothing remotely explicit. In fact, it’s handled so obliquely that I’m pretty sure my kids didn’t even know what had happened.

Posted in Book Recommendations | 1 Comment

The Librarian on the Roof

Once there was a town that was famous for nothing. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was neither very large nor particularly small. No important battles had been fought in its long ago history. No president or movie star had visited its local diner. It produced nothing of note. It had no famous citizens.

It did have some peculiar citizens, but since every town in every part of the entire world has its own oddballs, even this was nothing of note. There was old Mrs. Eady who had fourteen poodles and took them all in once a month to have their curly white fur dyed a different color. There was Mr. Macomber who grew his mustache so long it hung down on both sides and touched his jaunty bow tie. There was 7-year-old Davey Newman who refused to wear anything but green, and who therefore went around every day in little green polyester suits. Though, come to think of it, it may have been his mother who was the peculiar one.

Then one lovely June day, a particularly peculiar person arrived in town. She was short and slight and had the grey hair and knowing eyes of a comfortable grandmother, but she didn’t look or act like any grandmother that anyone had ever seen. In the first place, her clothes were nothing short of outrageous. She wore a rich purple dress sprinkled with bright green polka dots. Her legs were covered in tights of orange and yellow stripes. Her hat was peacock blue and her little boots were red.

It wasn’t just her clothing that caught everyone’s eye. She didn’t do anything that anyone would expect. Instead of taking a house or a room at the town’s one little hotel, she spoke to Mr. Fredericks at the hardware store and installed herself on his flat roof in a little patchwork tent. Instead of shopping or gardening or showing around pictures of her grandchildren, she set up a large ladderback chair right on the edge of the roof and sat there all day, dangling her feet and reading a book.

Of course everyone thought she was odd, but no one wanted to say anything, so three weeks went by, and the town’s citizens passed under her red boots and wondered what on earth she was reading up there on the roof. Finally, one day young Archie Macready, who was known for speaking his mind without thinking too much and who had recently married and was feeling quite fine, dared to yell up as he walked along, “Isn’t it dangerous to be so close to the edge?” He giggled to himself at his own cleverness and daring as moved along, but then jumped a foot in the air when a loud THUNK sounded right at his feet. He looked down and saw a book on the sidewalk, face up and perfectly neat. He glanced up at the roof of the hardware store. The old lady winked at him and went back to her book. Archie picked up the book and read the title: Living on the Edge.

Archie’s new book proved to be so inspiring that before anyone knew what had happened, the young man took up skydiving and was soon performing daredevil stunts every weekend. His young wife was terrified for him and worried constantly, until the day when she walked past the old lady on the roof and muttered, “Thanks a lot,” and then nearly fell over as a heavy book landed neatly in her purse. She opened it to the first page and read the title: The Large Book of Small Worries.

Whatever was in that book must have been greatly helpful because young Mrs. Macready was always seen waving cheerfully at her husband as he jumped out of airplanes after that. Needless to say, this remarkable change was noticed by her friends. A few early morning strolls past the hardware store resulted in Peggy Granger carrying around an enormous cookbook (much to the delight of her thin young husband) and Sandra Barnett flipping through the pages of Knitting for Newbies just days before announcing that she was expecting a girl. Then Penny Harding was seen reading a bright red book, the cover of which she kept carefully hidden. It may or may not have been a coincidence that two weeks later she introduced her father to her new fiance, but since he was the sort of steady and well-do-do man that Mr. Harding did not think he would ever see with his little girl, Mr. Harding chose to believe that the book had been full of some sort of magic spells.

Everything would have been fine and still rather unexceptional (for after all, people being inspired and changed by the books they read is nothing terribly new) if Mr. Harding hadn’t decided to visit the old lady himself. By this time, everyone in town was talking about her. As they didn’t know her name, they just called her “The Librarian”. Mr. Jeremiah Harding hadn’t previously had any desire to visit any librarians, but since he credited this one with taking care of a daughter had been worried about since she was five, he decided it was worth making an exception. Not wanting to be too forward, he stayed on the street below and called up to the Librarian, “That’s some kind of magic you’ve got there.”

The librarian just smiled and went back to her book.

“Where’re you keeping all those books, then?” he asked.

The librarian just smiled again and turned another page.

“What’s a fellow have to do to get a peek at some of that treasure?” he said with a big wink.

The librarian smiled, but this time she set down her book at tossed down a small volume, which Mr. Harding easily caught in his big hand.

It had no title, but it changed everything anyway, for when Mr. Harding took it home and examined it, he found some very specific instructions, and when he followed the very specific instructions, he found a very large treasure buried under his very ordinary town.

You can imagine how the discovery of buried treasure affected everyone. Soon the librarian had so many visitors she didn’t have time to read her own book anymore, and soon the town had so many visitors that it couldn’t very well be called ordinary anymore. In fact, it began to be downright famous.

Things would probably have gotten quite out of hand had old Mrs. Collier, the oldest woman in town, not decided it was time to act. She had been quite curious about this Librarian person for a while, but getting about wasn’t so easy for her anymore. When she found teenagers digging up her flower beds looking for treasure, though, she decided it was well past time she made the effort. It took her all morning to hobble in to town and find herself outside the hardware store, where she stood looking up and catching her breath.

The Librarian looked down and a spark of recognition passed between the two women. Without a word, the Librarian folded up her chair and packed up her tent and made her way down the stairs and out onto the street. With a small smile, she slipped an ordinary book into old Mrs. Collier’s wrinkled hand. They exchanged another knowing look, and the Librarian slipped out of town unnoticed.

It was a long walk home on tired legs for Mrs. Collier, but when she got there and found her reading glasses, she smiled at the title on the plain brown cover before her: The Extraordinary Book of the Wonderful Ordinary.

It is amazing how quickly fame can come and go. A town that is famous for nothing may one day find that it has gained some fame only to find the next day that its fame has passed on again. It finds itself unnoticed, overlooked, ignored, and probably never realizes how hard someone worked to make it so.

No one in the town ever saw the Librarian again, but it was always quite common to see ordinary people walking the plain old streets carrying books in their hands or trading books or nestled under trees reading. And though that didn’t make the town particularly famous, it was perhaps more extraordinary than anyone knew.

Posted in Stories for Book Lovers | Leave a comment

How To Tell A Story: The Topsy-Turvy Method

I mentioned this method on Friday when I told you about the wonderful little book, My Lucky Day, by Keiko Kasza.  Today we’re going to bring it to life and hopefully I can convince you to try it on some unsuspecting kid in your life.

This isn’t going to be as structured as the boringly-named “Four Step Method.”  In fact, it isn’t structured at all, so if it doesn’t work for you, go back to that one for now.  Still, I think topsy-turvy is pretty fun for generating new and interesting ideas.  Or at least new and silly ideas.  Which is even better if you’re a kid.

So here’s how it works:  You pick something ordinary, anything from your day or from nature or from well-known fairy tales or from old college textbooks.  Anything.  Then you turn it upside down.  Follow the upside down trail and see where it goes.  That’s it.

So:

  • You eat your food and drink your water at lunch time = you drink your food and eat your water
  • You brush your teeth = Your teeth brush you
  • The early bird gets the worm = The early worm gets the bird
  • The waterfall cascades over the cliff = the water leaps up the cliff
  • Cinderella can’t wait to escape her step-mother and marry the prince = Cinderella wants to stay with her step-mother but the prince kidnaps her

These can go in all directions.  You can tell the story of why:  Why would you need to drink your food and eat your water?  Why would the water be going up instead of down?  Or you can tell the story of how:  How exactly does a worm get a bird?  Or you can tell the story of what happens next: How does Cinderella escape the prince and get back to her lovely step-mother?

Or you can just tell what happens with no explanation at all.  Let’s take the teeth brushing example:

Once upon a time there was a family of teeth.  There was Mommy Tooth, Daddy Tooth, four very old Wisdom Teeth, and twenty four brother and sister teeth.  The littlest tooth was only four years old when Mommy Tooth said, “You’re big enough now that it’s time you started brushing your person.”  “Aw, Mom,” said Littlest Tooth.  “I don’t want to brush my person.”  “Hush,” said Mommy Tooth.  “If you don’t brush your person, your person will be dirty and will smell bad and maybe will even fall apart, and then where will you be?”  So the Littlest Tooth brushed her person, just as she was told, but she grumbled because it seemed like a waste of time and she would so much rather be chomping.  After many days of brushing her person like a good little tooth, Littlest Tooth noticed that Mommy wasn’t really paying much attention any more.  She decided it wouldn’t hurt to skip brushing for just one day, so she went off biting with her sisters instead.  The next day, she thought that skipping two days wouldn’t cause much damage, so she decided to chomp with her brothers.  So it went on for many days until one day, Littlest Tooth noticed that her person was looking extremely dirty.  Her mother noticed, too.  “You haven’t been brushing your person, Littlest Tooth,” her mother scolded.  “Now we will have to take your person into a special person doctor to get it repaired.”  Littlest Tooth was afraid of the person doctor, but there was nothing else to be done.  Into the person doctor they went.  The person doctor shook his head and said, “You haven’t been brushing your person, have you?”  Littlest Tooth felt ashamed.  “I will do my best to repair the damage,” said the person doctor, “but you really must do a better job from now on.”  “I will,” said Littlest Tooth.  So all day long, Littlest Tooth had to sit at the person doctor while he worked on cleaning up her person.  It was very boring.  She wished she were biting.  She wished she were chomping.  But she couldn’t do any of those things without her person.  When that long, long day was over, Littlest Tooth went home with her shining clean person and gave it a good brushing, just to be safe.  And she never forgot to brush her person again.

Is this story ridiculous?  Yep.  Is it super weird?  You bet.  Does it have a plot?  Not really.  Does it at all explain how a tooth could brush a person?  Not a bit.  Would my five-year-old like it? She sure would.  And I’m guessing that she would have some mental image of a tooth brushing a person that would be way more interesting than anything I could come up with.

That’s all there is to it.  Next time you need a story and are stumped for an idea, turn something ordinary around.  What do you think?  Are you up for it?

Posted in The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment