The Toymaker’s Dolls

Once upon a time a strong and healthy young man went off to a war.  He went because he felt it was his duty, leaving behind the farm that he loved and the orchards of trees he had cultivated with care since he was a little boy.  He was gone a very long time.  Very, very long.  Many things happened in the war, stories of terror and courage, stories of boredom and cowardice, stories of pain and loss and love, but those stories, though lived, were never told, at least not in full.  After many, many stories, the man came home, but he was no longer strong, no longer healthy, no longer young.  Now his legs were crooked so that walking was difficult, his back was bent so that pain was a constant companion, and his face was scarred so that friends and family alike looked upon him as a stranger.  Only his hands were still whole and unblemished, so he left the farm he still loved but could no longer care for and moved into a little house in the village, where he set about making toys to sell for his supper.

—–

Once upon a time four dolls sat on a wooden shelf in a shabby little toy shop.  Each one had a lovely face, for they had been carefully carved by the toymaker; and each one had a colorful dress, created from the toymaker’s memories of the fashionable gowns of far off cities; and each one had beautiful golden curls, lovingly glued into place by the toymaker’s own hand.

Each one also had two crooked legs that wouldn’t allow them to stand up properly, but they did not realize this yet as they had been sitting on the same wooden shelf their entire lives.

Life was comfortable inside the toy shop.  A fire on the hearth kept things cozy in winter, and breezes through the open windows brought cool air in summer.  The roof never leaked on the dolls’ heads and the sun never shone too brightly in their beautiful painted eyes.  Often there were lovely smells of cooking foods and pleasant sounds of laughter and chat from visiting children.  Indeed, the only unpleasant thing in the entire shop was the toymaker himself.

The four beautiful dolls were all quite afraid of the toymaker.  He was old and hunchbacked and made a dreadful amount of noise shuffling around on his malformed legs.  His voice was rough and his face was horribly ugly.  Anytime he came near their shelf, the dolls shuddered, hoping that he would not take them down.  Being held by the toymaker was too terrifying to think about.  But he did not take them down.  Indeed he hardly looked at them at all.

The day came, of course, when the dolls were sold.  It was, after all, a toy shop, and dolls were not made to stay on a shelf forever.

The first doll was purchased by a fancy Buyer from the big city.  He thought the doll’s face was exquisite and her dress simply charming, and though he noticed her crooked legs, he thought they could easily be overlooked since she had such lovely golden hair.  He bought the doll at a bargain price and put her into his bag, dreaming of the large profit she would bring.

In the big city, however, though her face was still lovely and her hair was still golden and her dress was still glittering bright, her crooked legs seemed much harder to overlook.  The Buyer placed the doll on a new shelf, made of glass this time, and hoped she would sell, if not for the price he originally planned.  Many days went by and many girls came into the shop looking for dolls.  Each one looked at the golden-haired doll and exclaimed at her beauty, but each one recoiled from her two crooked legs.  They bought other dolls, less beautiful but more perfect, and the first doll was left sitting on her glass shelf gathering dust.

Over time the doll became quite cynical.  Each time a new child came into the shop, she would roll her eyes and watch them pick out shiny new things without any flaws.  “Of course they wouldn’t buy a toy that is broken,” she said, and her face, which had been lovely enough to distract from her legs became set in a smirk of disgust that made it quite unappealing.  In her heart she was angry, angry at the children for not wanting her, angry at the Buyer for bringing her here, but most of all, angry at the toymaker for making her with crooked legs.  “Surely someone who could carve such a lovely face and design such a beautiful dress could have made two straight legs,” she said to herself.  “He was just a cruel old man to make me like this.”

Meanwhile, the second doll had been bought by a father to give to his little girl who was sick at home.  He noticed her crooked legs and thought perhaps his daughter would like a sick dolly to nurse, as she herself was so often nursed by her mother.  So he bought her and carried her home in his arms, thinking of the smile she would bring to his daughter’s face.

The little girl did smile when she saw the lovely doll, and though her smile faded upon seeing her poor crooked legs, she cradled her closer and promised to care for her each and every day.  From then on, the second doll was waited on hand and foot.  She was brought tea and toast.  She was bathed every evening, and her lovely dress was washed and hung out to dry.  She was wrapped tightly in blankets and placed on a soft pillow and given hugs and kisses beyond count.

At first, of course, all this was very wonderful for the doll.  She loved the little girl with all her toy heart, and she felt so much love in return.  After a while, however, the little girl got better, and though she still kept her doll wrapped tightly, she came less and less often to play with her “poor darling.”  Once a friend asked to hold her, and the little girl answered that her doll was too crippled for ordinary play.  The doll watched sadly as the two girls ran off, wishing with all her heart that she had two whole legs.  She sighed to herself, thinking what a lonely lot it was to be a cripple, doomed forever to wait until the little girl returned to bed each night.  “If only the toymaker had a little more skill and could have made my legs straight, how different my life would be!” she thought.

Meanwhile, the third doll was sold to a careless young girl with a great deal of money who saw her golden hair through the window and bought her instantly.  She was delighted by the doll’s beautiful face and her shimmering dress, and she never even noticed her two crooked legs.  She threw down her money, tucked the doll under her arm, and flounced out of the store as proud as could be of her new possession.

The girl and her doll were only halfway home when some other girls met them in the street.  The girl showed off her doll, bragging of her painted face and hand-sewn gown, until the other girls, driven by jealousy, pointed out her crooked legs.  They laughed unkindly and ran away, and the girl was filled with petulant rage.  “What good are you?” she said, and she threw the doll into the gutter at the side of the road.  The doll lay, with her face half in the mud and her dress torn and stained, day after day.  The rain came and soaked her, turning her once golden hair into a matted brown mess.  The cold came and froze her, and the paint on her face began to crack.

The third doll’s misery was complete.  No one seemed to notice her there, half-buried in the mud, and there was no hope of her ever escaping the horrible weather as it changed day by day.  She knew she belonged here.  Where else should a crippled doll be but in the gutter?  But still it was hard to bear the endless days.  She wished the toymaker had never made her, for he must have known she was destined for this horrible life.  “He made an awful mistake with me,” she said, “but I’m the only one who has to pay for it.  It really isn’t fair.”

Meanwhile, the fourth doll was bought by a fresh-faced young nurse who worked in the hospital with children who had been injured.  She saw the doll’s beauty and her two crooked legs and thought what a perfect friend she would be for her patients.  The nurse quickly paid, put the doll in her bag, and hurried to the hospital with her new prize.

The doll proved to be wonderful medicine.  Children who had broken their legs could trace the bend of the doll’s crookedness and take courage from her beautiful smile.  Children who needed to have shots of medicine could bury their faces in her colorful dress while the needle went in.  Children who awoke in the night from the pain of their injuries could whisper in her tiny ear all of their fears and be comforted by her loveliness.

The doll was as happy as she could be.  The children came and went.  She loved them all, and each one loved her in their way.  Her days were long and she saw much pain and sadness, but she knew she was useful, and that filled up her heart.  “I am so glad the toymaker gave me crooked legs,” she thought often, “for otherwise I would not have ended up here in this place where I clearly belong.”

——

One day the toymaker went to the door of his shop.  “It’s time, I think,” he said.  He put on his hat and his coat and he locked the door behind him.

Down the street he went without hesitation and around the corner to just the spot where something purple gleamed in the mud.  He reached into the gutter and pulled out a doll.  He put her in his pocket and went on down the road.

When he reached a house with a young woman working in the kitchen, he stepped up to the door and knocked politely.  He exchanged a few words with the woman, who nodded and disappeared into the back. A moment later, she appeared and handed him an old doll wrapped tightly in a handkerchief.  He thanked her and put the doll in another pocket.

It was a long journey to the big city, but the toymaker arrived just as the sun was setting.  He went straight to the brightly lit store full of toys and bought one dusty doll from the highest glass shelf.  The store owner gave him an excellent deal, and the toymaker put the doll into yet another pocket and turned toward home.

He was nearly at home when he passed by the hospital.  For a few moments he paused and looked in the window at where a young boy was hugging a well-worn doll as the nurses lifted his crippled legs.  “Not yet,” said the toymaker.  “Not just yet.”

Back at the toy shop, the toymaker set the first doll on a wooden shelf where she sat glaring down at him.  She was very, very angry, too angry to be afraid of him anymore.  The toymaker smiled.

He unwrapped the second doll and put her on a table,where she stood leaning against the wall.  She looked quite relieved to be free of her kerchief, but she sighed as she looked at her legs.  “Soon,” said the toymaker.

Then he carried the third doll over to his workbench and set her in the circle of light cast by his lamp.  Her poor chipped paint and torn dress and dirty hair and crooked legs brought tears to his eyes.  So he sat on his bench and brought out his best tools, and the toymaker set to work.

 

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May Your Children Be Storytellers

Two weeks ago, my baby started Kindergarten.  She got up in the morning, put on a school uniform, ate a very small breakfast (nerves!), slung her new backpack over her shoulders, marched down the street to the bus stop, gave me one last sweet hug and kiss, and climbed onto the bus behind her big brother and sister.

The bus drove away.  I stayed on the corner.

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(Here’s where I reassure you that this is not a post about the pain of motherhood and letting go.  I did feel a little sad.  My quiet house felt extremely weird.  I also felt happy.  And free.  But this is not about what I felt.  Feelings.  Who needs them?)

My baby had a whole long eight-hour day, and I was not a part of it.  I also had a whole long eight-hour day.  She wasn’t a part of it.  Then she got back off the bus at 3:08.  I took her hand.  We walked home.  We were together again, but that gap, that eight-hour gap, it was there.

She has her own life now.  Her own story.

It happens sooner with some children than with others.  This one, my baby, more so than my other children, has had her story tightly blended with mine for longer than most.  We’ve had hours, even days, apart, but not with any regularity.  Her story, the overarching sum of her waking moments, was witnessed by me, and I was its chief supporting character.  All that is changing now.

I’m not afraid.  A little sad, maybe, a little sentimental, but not afraid.

Because I always had a story separate from hers.  I had years of story before she was born and hours each day while she slept.  So many things have shaped me and remade me, and she never experienced any of them except through the tales I chose to tell her.  But I have told her tales.  True tales of me.  True tales of my life.  True tales of my imagination.  Some I am saving for when she is older, but she knows enough.  She knows enough to know me.

And so I trust that she will do the same.  For the first time, she has tales to tell me that I don’t already know.  And as she chooses to tell them, that eight-hour gap, the one that is multiplied by all the days, is filled in.  I don’t know every detail, as I did when I lived it with her, but this is better really.  Now her story is coming to me through her filter, and not through mine.  I hear only what she finds important, what rings in her memory, and it is colored by her brain, her wonderful, magical mind.

Why do we tell stories?  Because we want our children to be storytellers.  How else will we really know them?

 

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Kick-butt Comics for Girls

I’m far from an expert in this field, and the more I read, the more I realize how ignorant I am, but in our on-going quest to totally nerdify our girls, we’ve come across a couple of great comic book series that my 9-year-old has DEVOURED.  As in read, then read again, then loaned to friends.  (That last one is the true test of pre-teen fandom.)

So.  This isn’t a list.  It’s the first step into a whole world which we are having so much fun exploring.  Want to bring your girls along?

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  • Mary Jane by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa – When my husband first brought this one home, I was a little iffy about the whole high school boy/girl drama aspect, so I read it before I gave it to my daughter.  Then I read all the other ones in the series.  You know, just in case it got worse or something.  They’re great.  Mary Jane is easily the best superhero girlfriend of all time.  Don’t even talk to me about Lois Lane (not that I don’t love her, but she just doesn’t have MJ’s vulnerability…or her red hair).  In this version MJ is smart and sassy and real.  She has problems without being whiny about them.  She tries new things, some of which work and some don’t.  The comic is super appealing to girls and it gets the tone of Spider Man just right.  It’s basically a gateway drug.

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  • Spider Man Loves Mary Jane by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa – This series continues the Mary Jane story.  It’s all basically of a piece, but I listed it separately so you won’t miss out on both parts.  I’m nice like that!

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  • Star Wars Legacy 2: Prisoner of the Floating World by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman – It’s been over a hundred years since Luke Skywalker took down the Emperor, and now his descendents (and Han and Leia’s) are still fighting to make everything right.  The first Legacy series is great, but this one centers around Ania Solo, and she’s the reason my daughter got into it.  Ania isn’t a Jedi, as far as I can tell.  She’s just your average scavenger and genius mechanic, traveling with her robot companions and being awesome.  What’s not to love?  To be fair, my daughter didn’t geek out about this as much as MJ, but I think it was mostly because it has multiple story lines, which made it a little harder to follow.  Still, she’s a Star Wars baby, and this is one of the few SW comics that’s clean enough for her age (as in, not so much on the scantily clad alien women).

So that’s our start, and we’re keeping our eyes open for more.  You have any comics to recommend?

(Ha! I had these comics out on my desk after writing this post.  My daughter came home from school and immediately picked them up and started reading again.  So I guess that proves my point…)

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Never Listen to a Baby

“What should we do today, baby?” said Sam.
“Urg, burgle,” said baby, and burped.
At first Sam was doubtful, but Urg was quite close,
So they went and stole ice cream to slurp.

“Are those sirens?” Sam asked as they finished their treats.
Baby smiled. “Ickle google!” he shrieked.
So Sam got out his laptop and read about sirens
As police came up, shouting, “Stop, thief!”

Soon baby and Sam were both locked in a jail cell
Their companions were scary indeed
“Dug bug,” whispered baby. Sam saw what he meant
And he swatted the roach off his knee

The insect flipped straight in the face of a huge man
Who shouted, “Apologize please!”
“No, no,” grunted baby, and Sam quite agreed
“It was only an accident. Geez!”

“Now how shall I kill you?” roared the big man.
“Ishy squish,” baby said to his hat.
“What an excellent notion,” the big man said, nodding.
Then he sat on Sam, squashing him flat.

Quite a bit later, the cops let them out
“Let’s go home,” said Sam, quite a bit thinner
“Burgle fish!” baby said as they hobbled away.
Sam considered, “Well, we do need some dinner…”

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Storytelling in Indiana

This one is for you locals because I just found out about it and I really, really want to make sure you haven’t missed this.  Did you know Indiana has an organization called The Storytelling Arts of Indiana?  I’ve been spending way too much time lately over on their website, and I want to make friends with each and every one of these people.

They have an index of local storytellers you can hire for school (or homeschool) storytelling visits.

They have GREAT resources for teachers, including some awesome lesson plans for teaching storytelling and (even better) using storytelling to teach other things.  That’s the page where I lost myself for a while, and I’m not even a teacher any more.

They also organize a ton of storytelling events around the state.  They just finished this years Annual Liar’s Contest at the Indiana State Fair.  There is no way I’m missing this next year.  You show up, you register, you tell your best whopper, you get judged, and winners get a prize.  It’s for adults and children, and even if you don’t want to participate, how fun would it be to listen?

They also have monthly Jabberwocky meetings, “a gathering of “jabbers” willing to share their life stories based on a different theme each month throughout the year.”  They do these in two different Indianapolis locations.  I’m so in.

And as we head into fall, Indianapolis residents should consider Ghost Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery.  Um…how much would my kids love this?  This one isn’t free.  It isn’t even cheap.  But it’s no more expensive than taking my whole family to a movie, and you get to bring a picnic and shiver together under a blanket in the October chill.  Sounds good to me.

Okay, I’m done raving, but seriously, check it out.

Also, have you heard about the Life Stories Project?  True stories of everyday people. You can go online and listen to the ones they’ve recorded so far (searchable by topic as well as author and date), and if you’re interested in recording your own story, they have scheduled time and places to record.  I plan to spend some serious time this week listening to stories.

Can I be honest with you here?  I haven’t always enjoyed living in Indiana.  I’m just really not from around here.  But the last few years…I’m having a harder and harder time coming up with reasons not to love it.  And I think today I may just have decided to claim the title Hoosier after all.

(As always, I’m not paid in any way to rave about these things.  I’m just a lunatic who’s happy to rave for free.)

 

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The Secret Source: Deleted Scene and Announcement!

It’s exactly ONE MONTH until the release of The Secret Source!  I can’t wait.  I mean, I actually can’t wait.  So I’m giving you a little piece of it today!  This is a scene from the original draft of The Secret Source.  In the editing process, we took it out of the final book because it interrupted the flow of the story, but I loved it so much, I saved it for you.  So here you go, a little taste of things to come:

Adam always felt happier in the Gylf forest. The second he walked under the spreading branches and felt the soft give of leaves and rotted wood underfoot, he relaxed. Taking a deep breath of damp forest air, he let his worry about Alex’s dad slip out away for a while.

He had gotten ahead of the others, so he turned to wait as they left their bikes at the edge of the trees. Alex was hanging back a bit, but Dominic stayed by her until she came up to join the others. No one said anything. They just turned toward the Gylf home and walked quietly in single file.

Adam led the way, feeling suddenly confident. Logan’s idea was a good one. The Gylf had a funny way of talking about the world that somehow always helped things make sense.

They were halfway to the clearing where the Gylf lived when Adam heard a sound off to their left through the trees. He stopped and cocked his head, listening. In a minute it came again, a weird high-pitched keening noise that Adam had never heard before.

“What is that?” asked Logan.

“It’s an animal,” said Eve. “And it’s in pain.” Without further warning, she took off through the trees, crashing through the brush where there was no way through, straight toward the sound.

Logan followed her immediately. Adam looked at Alex and then Dominic behind her. Alex shrugged and headed off after the others.

The wailing started again. Adam and Dom left the path together.

The cry sounded three more times before they got to the spot it was coming from. The last cry was right overhead when Adam pushed through a tangle of branches and found the rest of his friends gathered around the trunk of a huge tree. Unsurprisingly, several Gylf were sitting on its lowest branches. There were maybe ten of the little people, most wearing the dark browns and greens that made them blend in perfectly with the trees.

“…only found it just this morning,” a dark-haired Gylf woman was saying. “It is terrified and it fights even our most skilled handlers.”

“We would not be able to free it even were it to cooperate fully,” said a golden-haired male that Adam thought was called Wen. “It is too large for us to lift, even working together, and it no longer has use of its own limbs.”

“We can help,” said Eve. “We’re…you know…a lot bigger.”

“That is where the problem lies,” said Wen. “You are too large to reach the upper branches where it is trapped.”

Eve snorted. “I’m great at climbing trees. Don’t worry, I won’t be afraid of the height.”

“It is not your fear that is the concern,” said Wen. “The branches can only sustain so much.”

“I’m sure there’s a fat joke in there somewhere,” said Eve, “but I’m going to ignore it. You have to let us try.” A heart-breaking sound came from high above again. “Listen to that! We can’t just leave it there.”

“I do not think…” began Wen.

“If they are willing, Wen, it is not for us to stop them,” said the dark-haired woman. “Sometimes a great deed must be attempted, even if it is doomed to failure.”

Eve looked up sharply and caught Adam’s eye. They stared at each other for a moment, then another cry caused Eve to choke. “We need to hurry!”

“Eve and I are the smallest,” said Alex. “We can be the ones who climb.”

Since she immediately grabbed the lowest branch and started scrambling up, no one argued. Eve was a little shorter than Alex, so Logan boosted her up, and both girls had soon climbed out of sight among the thickly tangled branches.

Adam peered up from the base of the tree as an even louder wail drifted down. “What is that up there, anyway?”

The Gylf had all climbed up to help guide the girls, so it was Logan who answered. “They said it was a bear cub.”

Adam turned to him in disbelief, “A bear?! How would a bear be down here? Don’t they stick to the mountains? And how would it get stuck in a tree?”

“They said it wandered into their woods alone a few days ago. There wasn’t time to get any of the details. I have no idea why it’s up there or why it can’t get down.”

“That is so weird,” Adam said. “I’ve never heard of any bears around here.”

“They come down out of the mountains sometimes,” said Dominic. “My grandfather found one in his garden once. It ran off when it saw him.”

“I hope this one is that cowardly,” said Adam. “Do you think the girls are safe up there with it?”

“Cubs are pretty small, right?” said Logan as another howl came from above.

“I’m going to climb up part of the way just in case they need help,” Adam said.

The other boys agreed, and they all pulled themselves up onto the lower branches. Climbing was not as easy as the girls had made it look. The branches were too close together, making it necessary to push through tangles of them that scraped and poked every part of Adam’s body. It thinned out a little as they got higher, but the larger limbs were also farther apart, and it became necessary to hang one-handed from time to time. Adam had never been particularly afraid of heights, but he didn’t like how shaky some of his footholds were, and he slowed way down.

Now that the branches were more open, he could see the girls up near the top of the tree. The Gylf had been right; none of the branches above them looked strong enough to hold them. They were stopped just below the brown lump that must have been the bear. Logan came up next to Adam and stopped. Dominic passed them and climbed up a few more levels, hands and feet both moving with expert surety, until finally one the branches snapped when he stepped on it, and he stayed put.

They watched as the little bear cried out again and twisted its body, causing the whole treetop to sway back and forth. Eve made a desperate attempt to climb higher, but the limb gave way, and she slid back down. Alex stretched herself out to pull on the branches tangled around the cubs fur. She could just tug on the bottom of some of them, but she, too, slipped and had to grab for Eve to keep from falling.

Dominic muttered something in Spanish, and Adam remembered that Alex was afraid of heights. He wished they had some of those bubble flowers now. He had never seen them here in these woods, but maybe the Gylf knew where some were.

He called out, and the little dark-haired woman, who had been invisible among the branches and leaves, skipped and jumped lightly down beside him. He described the flowers to her, but she had never heard of them.

“We could go get some from the Redoubt,” said Logan, his eyes still on the girls where they were making another attempt to reach the struggling bear.

“I don’t think there’s time for that,” said Dominic as the bear twisted again and yelped when a branch jabbed into its side. “That thing is going to be seriously hurt if we don’t get it out of there soon.”

“Well, we’re never going to get it out if we can’t reach it, either,” said Adam.

“We need to bring it down to us,” said Dom.

“That would be great, except it’s stuck, which is the problem in the first place.”

“No, we bring the whole thing down,” said Dom. “if it can’t get out of the branches, we bring those down, too.”

“You want to chop down the tree?” gaped Adam. “How is that a solution?”

“Not the whole tree,” snapped Dominic, “just the top part there. Climb as high as we can and cut down the rest.”

“Won’t the bear fall, then?” said Adam. “As in, down will come branches, bear cub and all.”

“I think if we all work together and use the rope we can keep it from falling.”

Adam looked up and tried to consider the idea seriously. “What would we use to cut it with? I didn’t bring any axes in my backpack today.”

“I have a saw in mine,” said Logan.

Adam stared at him. “You have a saw in your backpack? Seriously?”

Logan shrugged. “I got it at Maddie’s house when we dropped off the kids. She wanted me to take it and cut out all the poison ivy growing out behind those new kids’ trailer.”

“How does it fit in your backpack?”

“I’ll show you,” Logan said, already climbing down. A few minutes later, he was back, carrying what looked like a giant pocket knife, but sure enough, when he unfolded it, a long, serrated blade gleamed.

By this point, the bear’s howls had become constant, and Eve had nearly killed herself twice trying to climb up to him. The Gylf were working more urgently now, climbing over the bear, avoiding his flailing claws, offering him some kind of berries in an attempt to calm him. Even they could not get close enough, and from time to time a handful of berries rained down on the boys’ heads.

Dominic called up to the girls. “I think we have a plan. Come down for a minute.”

Alex had to tug Eve away, but they came. As they got closer, Adam could see that Eve’s face was streaked with dirt and tears. Alex’s face was also dirty, but she wasn’t crying. She looked pale and determined.

When Dominic outlined his plan, Eve refused point blank. “He’ll fall! You’ll kill him that way!”

Alex shook her head. “I don’t think so, Eve. I think this could work. Anyway, what else are we going to do? There isn’t any way to get to him.”

“We have rope,” explained Logan. “And Maddie just gave me this saw this morning.”

“It’s like destiny,” said Adam, only half joking.

Eve bit her lip and looked up at the thrashing cub. “Are you sure he won’t fall?”

“No one’s sure of anything,” said Dominic, “but we have to try something.”

For some reason this made Eve laugh. “I really need to remember not to ask you for comfort, Dom,” she said. “Okay, let’s do it. He needs to get down from there before he seriously hurts himself.”

Dom was down and back with rope in two minutes. Adam wondered where he had learned to climb trees so well. Somehow in all their other adventures, it had never come up.

The girls took the rope up higher and explained things to the Gylf as they tied off to several different branches. The Gylf came climbing down to where the boys were discussing the best place to cut.

“This plan is a good one,” said Wen, “but you will need to act with great care. The tree will be damaged enough by the bear’s panic. We must not hurt it more than is necessary.”

“Of course,” said Dominic seriously. He showed the Gylf where they were thinking of beginning to saw. Wen suggested a place a bit further up. It was harder to reach, but Dominic thought he could get to it if he stepped carefully. Adam didn’t envy him the job, even if he was a good climber.

Slowly, Dominic eased himself up into position as the girls climbed back down holding the rope. They all ranged themselves around the tree, trying to be prepared for whatever may fall down. Logan had taken the rope, looped it over a nearby branch, and sat holding the end steady.

“Here goes nothing,” said Dominic from above, setting the saw against the tree trunk.
It wasn’t very thick that high up, but it still took Dominic a good fifteen minutes to saw far enough through.

Eve cried out as it started to fall, and Adam saw Logan brace himself on the rope. The entire treetop tilted sideways, and then came crashing toward them, tip first, weighed down by the baby bear still tangled in its thinnest branches. If it hadn’t been for the rope, the whole thing would have ended in disaster. Not only would the bear have fallen all the way to the ground, but the whipping branches would have taken one or two of them with it.

Adam was in its direct path and had just registered his imminent doom when it was pulled up short by Logan’s grip on the rope. Logan cried out as the rope burned his hands. He was hanging on, but the weight was too much for him. Quick as they could, both girls crawled toward him and, seated on branches just above, took hold of the rope.

Adam could see the cub swinging in its leafy trap just a few feet away. He reached out and grabbed the sturdiest looking branch he could find on the swinging treetop. A ways above, he saw Dom do the same.

“I think we can steady it,” said Dom. “Slowly lower the rope. Slowly!” he yelled as it dropped a few feet, jerking the branch out of his hands.

Somehow Adam managed to climb down one level, gripping the tree trunk with one hand and keeping hold of the cut branches with the other. It took all his concentration to hold on and keep slowly moving down, a step here, a shift of grip there, steadying the swaying branches as the bear cub writhed and howled. In some part of his consciousness, he was aware of Dominic calling out orders, of the others moving around the tree. Soon Alex joined him in steadying the treetop as Dom took over her spot on the rope. The three up above held all the weight as they let it down hand by hand, but still Adam had no energy for anything but holding on and inching downward. He didn’t remember the tree being so tall. It felt like they would never reach the ground.

It wasn’t until Alex suddenly disappeared from sight that he realized he was stepping onto the lowest branch. Alex called up to the others. Adam let go of the treetop and watched as it lowered freely now onto the ground.

No sooner had it touched down than the bear cub began thrashing with renewed energy. Alex immediately leaped onto the tangle of branches and began to peel back the ones that kept the small animal trapped.

“Hey there, easy,” she crooned, as it swiped its small but sharp claws at her. She gave a final hard tug that made the branches snap.

In a blur of brown fur, the bear cub jumped away from its former prison. Adam saw it crouch and he yelled, but not before the little animal had raked its claws across Alex’s bare leg. Alex screamed, and the cub turned and shot away through the trees.

The other three kids were dropping to the ground around them as Adam bent over Alex. She was lying on her side, clutching her leg, her face white and set, her jaw tightly clenched. Adam saw blood between her fingers. His mind raced but didn’t get anywhere. He didn’t know what to do.

“Alex? What happened?” said Eve, nudging Adam aside. “You’re bleeding. Did he scratch you?”

“It was a little more than scratching, Eve,” said Adam. “It full on attacked her. The second it was free, it just…”

“It was terrified,” said Wen in a voice that was calm but full of concern. He and several other Gylf had now gathered around, too. A female with long blonde hair was quickly smashing red berries between two flat rocks.

“Sanberries, Alex,” said Dominic softly. “Move your hands away so they can help you.”

Alex swallowed hard and closed her eyes. She let go, screwing up her face as new pain struck her.

Adam had to look away. The sight of the four long slashes made him feel sick. He cursed himself. Why didn’t he warn Alex to leave it alone until the Gylf could help calm it? He was right there. He should have done something.

“These will heal nicely,” the Gylf woman was saying. “They are not very deep.”

“Can I help?” asked Eve anxiously.

“Perhaps a few more of these leaves,” the Gylf answered.

The light-haired Wen came around to Adam’s side. “Did you see where the creature ran? He may hurt himself in his panic. I should follow his trail and see him safe.”

Adam pointed the way through the trees. The little Gylf nodded his thanks and took off at once. Adam watched him disappear, and when he turned back to the others, Alex was sitting up. Her leg was wrapped in large green leaves held on by a pinkish paste. She seemed to be in less pain, and Adam knew it was because of the sanberries. They would take away the worst of the hurt and they would help the cuts to heal without leaving scars. Alex was going to be okay. He relaxed just a little.

“Okay, so bears are not much for gratitude,” said Alex. “Something to remember for next time.”

Eve gave a hysterical little laugh and hugged her friend. “Oh my…, Alex, I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault we even got into this, and now your leg. I should have known it would be dangerous. I should have told you to let me get him out.”

“It’s okay,” said Alex. “I wanted to help him. My leg will be okay.”

Eve looked at her for a long minute. “You should tell your dad tonight.”

And there’s so, so much more to come!  Which brings me to the announcement:

You can PRE-ORDER The Secret Source over at Madison House Publishing, starting today!  Put in your order now, and the book will be shipped out to you September 8.  You can even request a free autograph or special message.  If you’ve never purchased the first two books, there’s also a special deal to get all three at a discount price.  We’ll send you the first two right away, so you can be all caught up by the time The Secret Source is released.  Check it out!

TSS_COVERangle

Posted in The Book of Sight | Leave a comment

Ssebastian

Once upon a time there was a baby snake named Ssabastian.  For the longest time he looked exactly like all the other snakes.  His skin was green and brown.  His body was long and skinny.  His tongue was pink and forked.  Ssebastian’s mother loved him very much and taught him all about how to hunt for small animals to eat and how to stay out of the way of dangerous birds of prey.

As Ssebastian grew, he got very good at hunting for small animals.  Very, very good.  He often caught dozens of mice each night, not to mention the odd squirrel or chipmunk.  And since he always ate everything he caught, Ssebastian grew at an alarming rate.  His mother was alarmed.  His friends were alarmed.  It goes without saying that all the small animals in the forest were extremely alarmed.

Ssebastian grew and grew and grew.  The bigger he got, the better he was as hunting.  Soon he could catch rabbits and then racoons, and once he even caught a fox.  By this time, Ssebastian was longer than the old pine tree which had fallen over just before his birth and nearly as big around.  Ssebastian’s mother still loved him very much, of course, and now she began to worry that he would attract attention from something far more dangerous than birds of prey: humans.

Luckily, Ssebastian’s mother was a very intelligent snake.  She decided to make a disguise for Ssebastian.  Taking the bark off of many fallen trees, she pieced together a new skin that Sebastian could slither inside.  When he did this, if he lay perfectly still, he looked just like a fallen tree himself.  In this way, she planned to protect him from the notice of humans and so keep him from being killed out of panic or worse, put into a zoo for children to gawk at.

Ssebastian liked his new disguise.  It was fun to pretend he was a tree, at least at first.  He lay very still and smelled the lovely sappy smell of his bark and watched the clouds go by overhead.  After a while, though, he started to get tired of lying still, and his skin began to itch.  He longed to slither through the forest and to coil around the trees and scratch his skin on their branches.

Ssebastian looked around at the other trees.  He saw how they swayed in the wind and thought to himself that he didn’t need to be a fallen tree.  He could slither around in his disguise and be more like a living tree which moved back and forth as much as it wanted.  So Ssebastian began to move.  First, he just rolled over, and that felt so good that he slithered over to some trees and arched against them.  Their bark scraped against his in such a pleasant manner that he stretched higher and higher, reaching for their branches.  He let the branches brush against the back of his head and then ducked his head down and let the branches slide down his back.

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At this exact moment, two human children came walking through the woods.  Ssebastian froze when he saw them coming.  He was in a very compromising position: his tail in the trees, his back swooped down low and then arched high into the air, and his head ducked down in the grass.  It was too late to move, though.  The children had seen him.

Luckily, his bark disguise was very well-made.  The children began to exclaim about the cool shape of this tree, and Ssebastian thought he was home free when suddenly they started to climb on him.

“Come here!” said one child.  “We can slide down it!”

“I’m going to do flips!” said the other child.

“Bet you can’t hang by your ankles!” the first child answered.

They did.  They did all those things.  Poor Ssebastian had to hold perfectly still as the children slid down his back and climbed up again, as they gripped his bark and swung back and forth, as they bent their knees around his middle and hung upside down.  His back was hurting dreadfully, and he didn’t know how much longer he could hold his position.

Now Ssebastian was a very kind and friendly sort of snake (friendly toward everyone except small animals, of course, and even that was only because he was so hungry all the time).  As uncomfortable as he was, he actually found himself liking these little humans.  They laughed and shouted and sounded like they were having so much fun that he could hardly stop himself from trying to join in.  He tried to remember all of his mother’s warnings, and to think about her stories of the horrible zoo, but between the pain in his crooked back and the sound of laughter all around him, he couldn’t seem to remember what was so bad about these humans.

All at once, Ssebastian let his back drop, lightly setting down the child who had been clambering up it.  It felt so good to finally be released that SSebastian rolled over twice and let out a hissss of pleasure.  The children screamed.  Very loudly.  SSebastian curled around them protectively, just as his mother had done for him when he was scared as a tiny snake.  The children screamed even louder and started kicking his sides.  Ssebastian thought maybe this was a new form of play and tried to nuzzle the children with his head.  They screamed louder than any noise he had ever heard.  Then one of the children grabbed a stick and started hitting Ssebastian.  This broke open some of Ssebastian’s lovely bark disguise.  The children kept on yelling.

The nose was beginning to be almost as painful as the climbing had been, and if these children kept on hitting him, his whole disguise would be ruined.  Ssebastian realized now why his mother had wanted him to remain unseen.  He wished he had listened to her.  He wondered if it was too late to pretend to be a fallen tree again.  He decided to try it.

Ssebastian lay completely still on the ground, stretched out straight and flat.  The children cried in triumph.

“I killed him!” yelled the child with the stick.

“He’s dead!” yelled the other child.

“Let’s go tell Davey that we killed a snake as big as a tree!” yelled the first child.

The two children ran off through the trees to brag of their adventure to all their friend, none of whom, fortunately, believed them.

As for Ssebastian, he had learned his lesson.  His mother made him a new bark disguise, and Ssebastian spent many long hours lying silently inside it, resting and thinking about the peaceful lives of fallen trees.  Only at night, when it was too dark for anyone to see him, did he come out to do more hunting.  This restriction in his hunting time was a good thing for everyone.  The moderation in his diet kept Ssebastian from growing even larger than he was, and the small animals of the forest, of course, were quite relieved.

Posted in A Thousand Words, Frogs and Snails, The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment

How to Tell A Story: The Picture Brainstorming Method

Okay, visual learners, this one is for you.  Just because you think in pictures instead of words, you aren’t shut out of the storytelling world.  You have stories in you.  You just need to access them in a different way.  With this method, you’ll get to use a picture, which will probably speak to you more, and if you get stuck on the rest, you can always get your kids (or your friends) to help you with the brainstorming.  Kids are very useful for brainstorming (which is good because they aren’t so much help with chores).

To be honest, this one is pretty great for all kinds of brains.  I’m not particularly visual myself, but I still use this method probably more than any other.  Are you ready?

You start with a picture.  Any picture, really, but it helps if it’s of something unusual or in some way particularly appealing to you personally.  I often troll the internet for inspiring pictures (and collect many of them here).  I also take advantage of my amazing photographer friends.  But the picture doesn’t need to be professional.  For today’s example, we’ll use this low-quality snapshot I took with my phone when I was out walking a few weeks ago.

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Cool tree, right?

So here’s how it goes: we look at the picture and we just start asking questions.  The first question is easy.

What is this?

Now write down (or keep it in your head if you can do that sort of thing) as many answers to that as you can think of.  Don’t skip over the obvious.  Don’t discard the ridiculous.  Not yet.

What is this?

  • a twisted tree
  • a giant snake posing as a tree
  • a backwards letter N
  • a sideways letter S
  • a doorway to another world

Now, pick an answer you like and apply the second question:

Why is it here?

You’ll probably have several possible answers to this, too.  Try it out with several of your original “whats” and see which story appeals to you the most.

Why is this twisted tree here?

  • a giant sat on it
  • it grew around a rectangular object which was later taken away
  • a wizard twisted it and turned it into a doorway
  • it got tired and drooped over
  • it’s made out of rubber and kids have been playing with it

Why is this giant snake posing as a tree?

  • It’s on the run from a giant eagle who wants to eat it
  • This is how it lures in tired travelers, posing as a seat, so it can eat them

Why is there a backwards letter N in the woods?

  • The man who planted this was named Nick and wanted to be remembered
  • It’s all that’s left of the words NO TRESPASSING, a warning left by elves long ago to keep people out of their woods

Now just pick one of these many, many story ideas and keep applying the questions:

What? Why? How?

Sticking with the most ordinary of all our responses:  This is a twisted tree which grew around a rectangular object that is no longer there.

  • What was the object?
  • Why was the object there?
  • How did the tree grow around it?
  • Why was the object taken away?
  • What will the tree do now?

Again, unless a story just jumps out at you and starts telling itself (this is a thing that happens), you should brainstorm several ideas for each answer.  That way you can find one that’s silly, funny, tragic, terrifying, or inspiring (depending on how you like your stories).

What was the object?

  • Sponge Bob Square Pants
  • A refrigerator
  • A coffin
  • A door
  • A swing set
  • A window
  • Han Solo frozen in carbonite

And that’s all there is to it.  A picture.  A few questions.  As many answers as you can dream up.  String it all together, and you have a story.

Get yourself over to Tumblr or Pinterest or your favorite photography blog (or your own photo archives for that matter) and give it a try.  Even if you don’t feel brave enough to tell anyone your story, I bet you’ll have fun.  This is one thing that always makes my  brain happy.  It might make yours happy, too.

Also, check back on Wednesday.  I’ll make a real story out of some of these brainstorming ideas.  Any votes on which ones?

 

Posted in The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment

Classics for Kids

You may have noticed from our book lists so far that we lean toward the sci-fi/fantasy/fairytale with our kids.  So far, I haven’t been terrribly successful in interesting them in historical type stuff.  Even the American Girls series haven’t done it for my girls, and though my son will read anything about the history of baseball, he isn’t ready for anything else that isn’t all adventure and mystery.

My oldest daughter (who is nine and an avid reader) has tried out Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables, but never made it far.  Too much description.  Too little action.  That’s just the way she’s wired, and that will probably never really be her genre, but I’m not giving up.  I think I’ll try again in a couple of years when the sweet love story aspect is more interesting to her.  (Okay, that will basically be later this year, but whatever.)  I’m also going to hand her Little Women as soon as I think she’s ready.  Because every girl just needs that book.  (How much will she love Jo?  So, so much.)

In the mean time, though, the English teacher in me is proud to say that there are a few classics out there that have enough adventure in them to have already caught my kids attention, even as young as 8.  In a couple of cases, they’ve read the simplified children’s version, but I was thrilled that they were getting into the stories.  So.  If you’re thinking your kids are too young for the classics, here are a couple that might surprise you.

Classic Stories That Can Still Thrill An 8-year-old

  • The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss – What is it about figuring out how to survive on a deserted island that is just so dang appealing?  Whatever it is, my son agrees with me that this book is the best.  I do recommend a children’s version of this to simplify the language a bit.
  • Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – From the moment that Tom tricks his friends into whitewashing the fence for him, my kid was hooked.  Tom is clever and funny and his adventures are exciting.  Mark Twain totally understood what it was like to be a boy.
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – This is the first classic my daughter got into.  We did a children’s version of this one to cut out some of the lengthy descriptions, but the friendship aspect of this book is so wonderful that it drew her in right away.
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink – Definitely in the same genre as Anne and Laura Ingalls, but this little book has some more exciting action to it that got my daughter’s attention in a way that the others didn’t.  She got a little bogged down in the middle, but she made it through and in the end told me that it was great.

Okay, just a few to get you started.  I’m sure there are a lot more out there that we haven’t explored yet.  Too busy reading Harry Potter, I guess.  We’d love to hear any suggestions from the rest of you.  What are your kids favorite classics?

Sunday, Aug. 3:  HA!  I knew it.  After I posted this on Friday, I recommended to my 9-year-old that she try reading These Happy Golden Years, starting her on the Little House books with the love story.  Sure enough, she finished that in 24 hours and wants to read the others.  It’s all about strategy, people.  And about trying to remember what it felt like to be nine.  I’m not the best at this, but I’m getting better. 

Posted in Book Recommendations | Leave a comment

A Mama’s Warning

Please lower your voices
No startling noises
Step lightly, just take off your shoes
Please contain your emotions
No swift, sudden motions
Better yet, just sit still and muse

sleepingbabies

Yes, you see those sweet babies
Want to cuddle them, maybe?
Don’t think it! They’re finally at rest!
If you wake them, they’ll leap
“Feed me! Feed me!” they’ll cheep
And I’ll kick you right out of this nest

hungrybirds

Once again, photos by the magical, marvelous TSDG.

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment