Monday, August 23, 2010

Sushi and Ginger Ice Cream

A water fountain, paper walls that slide open and closed, and a table full of brightly-colored food in the shape of a caterpillar...suddenly, mealtime has taken on a new form of adventure. For a child unfamiliar with Japanese food, the first visit to a Japanese restaurant is full of do's and don'ts. Do sit still at the table so as not to upset the cast iron kettle of steaming hot vegetable ramen. Don't place the chopsticks up your nose. Do try a little of each new food. Don't make a face and plug your nose in front of the server. Do observe the interesting dishes ordered by each member of the dining party. Don't point out that any of it looks like something you found in the park. Do try a taste of mom's ginger ice cream. Don't eat all of mom's ginger ice cream while she's talking with grandma.

While the little boy in the Japanese restaurant gobbled up his second bowl of ramen noodles--realizing with great pleasure that he had finally found a food he liked after gagging on a bite of sushi which he was forbidden to spit out--I smiled at the simple joy of watching discovery. Discovery that, although new and unfamiliar things can seem formidable, often pleasant surprises await us... red bean ice cream is actually delicious.

The Read-Aloud

The pink and orange of the sunset has faded and we can no longer see the weeds we are pulling in the flower beds. I call the children to come inside and the request is met with great opposition by my four-year-old. Despite his usual insatiable drive to eat, my four-year-old has happily remained outside until nine o'clock, thanks to the lingering sunlight. Unfortunately, once inside, his exhaustion and hunger hit and complete mayhem overtakes my kitchen. With dishes piled in the sink, splatters of marinara spleckling the counter, and a lump of sticky leftover noodles hardening in the bottom of the pan, we leave the ruin of a quick feeding-frenzy and cuddle into bed for a read-aloud. For my four-year-old, it's short stories from Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad Together. My son's particular favorites include "Cookies" and "The Dream". For my nine-year-old daughter, it's Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

I'll never tire of the magic that occurs while reading aloud to a young child. I heard of a study (although I cannot verify the source) that said a child will make some sort of physical contact with the person reading to them--leaning on their arm, holding their hand, resting a head on their shoulder. This type of connection must say something for the emotional value of reading aloud, in addition to the obvious academic benefits. My nine-year-old is a self-motivated, independent reader, yet she looks forward to being read to just as much as the four-year-old does. A voice can bring a story to life. Hearing the dialogue spoken by another, rather than by the voice in our heads, pulls the characters off the pages. And in a book like Mildred Taylor's, the dialogue is worth hearing aloud!

The Read-Aloud...such a peaceful way to end the day. Now, if only some fairy would appear and clean the kitchen.

A Dark Fairy Tale and Keeping Bees

I have two bookmarks employed at present. The first holds a spot on page 166 of Darkwood by M.E.Breen, a middle grade fantasy novel published in 2009 by Bloomsbury. I picked up this book from the library out of sheer curiosity. Darkwood is the author's first novel and Bloomsbury is a press I have had my eye on. I began the book for market study, but have found myself racing through the pages in anxious anticipation as the author's clever plot twists and thickens.

My other bookmark is on page 114 of Plan Bee by Susan Brackney. This charming little black and yellow book is one of my finds from the beekeeping corner of the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Vermont. Beekeeping has me fascinated. I would love nothing more than to don the signature coveralls, hat and mesh veil, and with bee smoker in hand, tramp off to the back acre and collect some of my very own honey. However, after taking Susan Brackney's quiz, "To Bee or Not to Bee", I have determined I am probably more suited to shadowing a local beekeeper and writing a story about it. Plan Bee is a delightful read about the tiny unsung heroes that pollinate our crops and about the beekeeper's trade. I look forward to reading more and plan to experiment with the honey recipes in the beekeeper's cookbook that also came home with me from Vermont.

in media res...and other great beginnings

Telling a story from a middle point, a narrative tradition called in media res, is a fantastic technique for children's books. What reader who has ever read E.B. White's Charlotte's Web could ever forget the opening line:

"Where's Papa going with that ax?"

Another great example of an opening hook that utilizes this technique of positioning the main character smack in the middle of the conflict is Jessica Day George's Dragon Slippers:

"It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon."

Kate DiCamillo's Newberry Honor book, Because of Winn-Dixie begins both with an effective character introduction as well as a great hook:

"My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog."

And here is one of my recent favorites from Victoria Forester's The Girl Who Could Fly:

"Piper decided to jump off of the roof."

While these beginnings lack the flowery, purple prose of many acclaimed literary works, such language is not missed, nor is it necessary. These children's authors have mastered a valuable skill--get the child reader's attention and keep it!

Now don't those opening hooks make you want to snatch up those books and read them?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Wakerife

Why is it that some people are the most productive in the early morning and that others cannot put a coherent sentence together before ten o'clock? I definitely fall into the second group. Now, I might consider that if I went to bed before two o'clock in the morning that I could get up early the next day, be well-rested, and think clearly. Not so! I've tried just such an approach--going to bed at 10pm and getting up at 6am--and it was quite unsuccessful. My brain just was not meant to work that early no matter how much sleep I've had. I've discovered that many of my most successful writing sessions have been between the hours of 11pm and 2am. I am fine with this discovery. I embrace it. Those hours are the most quiet and peaceful of the day. Those hours also have the virtue of being completely uninterrupted by the phone, the doorbell, my sweet kids, the exterminator, the UPS truck, and every other event that takes a creative thought from my head and scrambles it.

So, to the bafflement of my husband, I live like an owl at least three nights a week.