Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Evening Pages

This may be a scattering of thoughts. I’ve felt a bit odd of synch with my blog because I’ve gone back to my personal journal pages and those have been a rambling of my thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts make their way to my blog and sometimes not. I’ve  been rethinking a lot of things and I do best when I’m preoccupied and don’t have too much time to over think. I tend to sometimes allow my thoughts to go everywhere and other times they are more focused. It could be that I’m winding down or winding up, depending on how I look at it.

I’m rolling along somewhat unexcitedly in my short story writing class. Yes, I have written a few scenes; and yes, I’ve written a couple of stories, but overall the experience wasn’t what I expected. I’m definitely glad that I’ve taken other creative writing courses in the past. Now, I have one more perspective to add to my collection. I think I may be outgrowing the community college course format.


Mr. Squirrel I almost ran over you.
I kept my eyes out for you
when I drove the winding roads.
I saw you with your cute
cheeks filled with nuts. You started to run.
I pushed the breaks hard. Next thing I knew,
I was clenching my teeth in hopes
that you made it across.
When I looked back, there you were
wiggling your bushy tail; you
zipped across, with those cute cheeks,
filled with your bounty,
bound for your winter home.


Have you checked out the iTunes U Apple App? They have a large selection of free course material from different universities that you can access. I’m currently enjoying a course: History of Children’s Literature through La Trobe University in Australia. The instructor is David Beagley. In this particular course I only have access to the audio, but I have enjoyed what I’ve listened to so far. Very insightful, and this is a strong area of interest for me right now.

Sunday I took myself to a used bookstore to sell a stack of books. I realized that the books I was taking could easily be checked out from the library at a later time if I still wanted to read them. Because I’m on a children’s book kick, that was my mission. I just wanted to browse what was there on the shelves. I was so excited when I saw a familiar book that I had completely forgotten about: Petunia by Roger Duvoisin. I just remember the cover with Petunia on it on a red background and that’s it, so I had to buy it to add to my books. I also saw a couple other books that I wasn’t familiar that I felt were worth having.

Some years ago I found myself buying an out of print children’s book from an online bookseller. There were a few other titles that I recently decided that I wanted to own, also out of print. So there I was on Sunday night, pressing the buy button, half feeling bad about the need to possess these books and half feeling what the heck, we only live once and these books may be even harder to find at some later date.

I’ve managed to finish a few other books…though this month or perhaps it’s the season, or perhaps there’s a cycle I’m in and that cycle is: scattered.

In getting ready to say goodbye to October,
I imagine myself enveloped in deep gray clouds.
Sitting atop a tall wall of white brick that looks onto a castle.
I hug my knees close to my body, listen to the night air—
this quiet feeling will carry me through winter.


Vincent said...

Thanks for this gladdening piece, Rebb, full of neat expression and insights. Your intervals of verse underscore the talent that you may unlock for writing children's books.

Yes, going to classes or writers' groups helps one see more clearly one's own direction.

When you speak of children's books, whether reading or writing them, what kind do you have in mind? The ones which a child reads for itself, or the ones which are read to it? Or do you see no distinction?

Vincent said...

I know you've been speaking lately about books you remember from childhood. This reminded me of a phase when I was 6, when I discovered the public library. They had a shelf with about 30 books by Richmal Crompton about an 11-year old boy called William (originally conceived as light reading for adults. I devoured them, modelled myself on the boy (rebellious, mischief-maker) and treated the story as windows on a world which I had not yet experienced. My mother thought I should read something else after a while. But then I was sent to boarding school, where we were encouraged to read G A Henty, Percy F Westerman, Baroness Orczy (the Scarlet Pimpernel), P C Wren (Beau Geste), Arthur Ransome (Swallows & Amazons), J M Ballantyne (The Coral Island) - all adventurous boys' stories. This was in the late Forties.

I think the most exciting and memorable book I read in those days was non-fiction: The Kon-tiki Expedition by Thor Heyerdahl. It had been recently published (1948) but I got to read it four years later when I was 11.

Searching for more childish tales, such as the ones my grandmother would read to me, around the time she taught me to read for myself, the one I remember best was The Story of Little Black Sambo, by Helen Bannerman. I'm glad to see it is still on sale in the original version, in the UK at any rate. There is controversy, though, as this comment on Amazon.co.uk illustrates:

"Sadly, I bought this book for the child of a friend who was born in the 70s. It was returned to Amazon, as being socially and culturally unaccceptable. Such a heartache, this is a beautiful childs' classic. I love it, and would recommend it to any child. Just be sure the parent isn't so closed-minded as to reject it because the Tamil people in the story are called 'Black'."

Rebb said...

Thanks for your words, Vincent. That is actually the only type of book I’m interested in writing at this point—a children’s picture book. I have wanted to for many years and have a few ideas that stem from my own childhood and as I embark on this road; and soon I will be reading one-on-one with a struggling reader who will be anywhere between the school ages of Kindergarten through third grade, so I will be able to share my love of children’s books and I imagine the task will come with its challenges. On that note, I was thinking of posting one of the short stories I wrote in class. It very much has part of me in it and it’s almost as though as I started writing it, I unconsciously wrote my own dilemma into it with a happy ending.

I think my direction is becoming clearer. Now I must embrace it and hope for the best. I am very aware that the children’s market is even more challenging to enter than the regular market, but if I am able to get those words down on a story board—gosh I wish I could also illustrate the book—I go from there. I did start jotting it in my notebook, so one small step underway.

Right now I’m more interested in children’s picture books, primarily those that are read aloud to the child and of course as they become familiar with the words, they will in turn be able to read the books as well. I think there is a distinction of books meant to be read aloud and those for the child to read independently; and it also depends on the child’s reading level, of course. Some books are written with no words, only pictures. I haven’t checked any out because that’s not where my interest is right now.

I also want to read/write a children’s book that has a story. I’d like to write one that is written with the sound of language in mind to accompany pleasant illustrations that doesn’t necessarily have a story; I like reading those as well.

I must confess that I don’t care too much for Dr. Seuss books, and they weren’t part of my childhood. I appreciate a few of those books and bought one a few months back, and I appreciate his playfulness with language, but I think if a child is to look at the words, they should be real words. I may be naïve on this, but he’s not my favorite, at least not for struggling readers. Though, I may select one, like Green Eggs and Ham. I’ve been checking a lot of children’s books out from the library and have been having a grand time reading them. There is one book that I was drawn to because of the illustrations, beautiful, colorful pictures with a lot of detail. One was so bright, it was like a light was behind the page. However, the words didn’t work for me. I felt that I could see what the author was trying to convey and I really did like the last line, but I didn’t feel that it worked as the words were paired with the pages—they seemed broken in the wrong places and could have been more sensitive to the sound of language—and it had won awards. We all have our personal preferences, awards or not.

I loved reading about your memory from childhood and those books by Richmal Crompton. Books are magic. My memories are of a different type and I am barely able to make them out. Luckily, it’s the pictures that have stuck that trigger the memories and now I can only try to fill in the blanks of what my mother must have thought when she chose the books she did or if I chose some. I wonder if you ever read Treasure Island. I started it some time ago and wish to come back to finish it.

I remember The Story of Little Black Sambo. How wonderful. Yes, I recall reading about the controversy over that little book. It’s too bad.

Boys get all the adventure stories. Well, I know there are adventure stories for girls too, but it seems more so for boys, especially in the 1940s, I suspect.

Another older children’s books I’ve finally begun reading is A Wrinkle in Time.

Vincent said...

You ask about Treasure Island. Yes we read it in class as a set book, and then we were taken to see the film, starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver. That came out in 1950, so I must have been 8.

Which makes me think of the other films we were taken to see. In 1952 it was the Prisoner of Zenda. I had already read the book and Rupert of Henzau too.

One of the most memorable film outings from that boarding school was The Red Badge of COurage (1951).

Like Treasure Island, it had lots of blood, but Wikipedia says "The plot is based on the book with less bloody details." I think that would explain why we were not encouraged to read the book!

I see now in retrospect what a hothouse of boys' education i was subjected to, completely unlike the average co-ed school of today. We started Latin at 7, French at 8. (Latin first because it helped with the French!) But the biggest emphasis was on sport, especially cricket. You were expected to excel. I was temperamentally unable to enjoy team sport but tried to make up for it by reading books by famous cricketers on the arcane techniques of bowling and batting.

The other children's books, such as Dr Seuss, Where the Wild things Are, Beatrice Potter etc, I got to know through reading them to my children.

I learned about other stories from my first wife to knew them from her own childhood, and we obtained these for our own, such as the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories which probably didn't cross the Atlantic.

Vincent said...

I think you might enjoy a particular episode of Black Books, a British comedy series about Bernard Black, bookseller, his assistant Manny, and their friend & neighbour Fran. Bernard and Manny take on a bet that they can't write a children's book over the weekend, and bet Fran that she won't enjoy a hen night with old school friends.

Here's a link to YouTube: Elephants and Hens.

Rebb said...

Yes, I imagine your boyhood education is quite a contrast to co-ed school and especially different than the American educational system. I read Roald Dahl’s slim autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood a while back. It’s very telling of how his childhood experiences ended up being at the crux of his stories. If I were a boy, boarding school sounds like something I would never want to experience. Some of those headmasters were horrible, power hungry toads!

No, I don’t think the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories crossed the Atlantic. I looked them up; they sound like precious stories. I think I will be revisiting some of the Dr. Seuss books that I missed, which is many. I still scratch my head at why I don’t recall seeing them around. The only thing I could guess is that my mother didn’t like them.

Thanks for telling me about the episode. This particular link didn’t work for the U.S., but I searched for it and book marked it to watch later. I watched the first few moments and it’s funny.