The Harmony of Fantasy and Reality

In Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus, Micah searches for the Light Bender. Since Micah was little his grandfather has told him stories of this fantastic man. The Light Bender owes Micah’s grandfather a miracle. Maybe that miracle can save Micah’s dying grandfather. So, Micah searches for his magical circus; a miracle. He journeys to the Circus Mirandus with the help of a new friend. There he learns more about his grandfather, his own power, and to let go if he has to.   The term fantasy is often associated with an escape. But it can also secure us in our reality.  This is apparent in Circus Mirandus and stated on the inner cover of Claire Legrand’s Some Kind of Happiness: “But as the mysteries pile up, and Finley’s reality and fantasy start to collide, she realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself. “ I almost put Some Kind of Happiness back on the bookshelf. That would’ve been a mistake. I wanted an adventure, something fun for vacation. It was, but it also promised to deal with depression and family problems. I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for something so heavy. But Legrand adds a light touch, even when taking the reader to the darkest part of the Everwood. Besides, I read the first line and refused to put it down. “Once there was a Great, sprawling forest called the Everwood. Magic lived there, and it lit up every tree and flower with impossible beauty. “ Those first lines are so important. And these resonated deeply with me. I’d been the girl standing beside the woods dreaming up a fantasy world. One in which I’d often drag my cousins into. I didn’t deal with the same heartbreak that Finley did in the story, but after reading it, I felt as though I could. Everwood brought Finley closer to her cousins and in turn closer to the family she just met at age 11. She made friends with outsiders and brought down barriers built high before her time. She learned the heaviness of secrets. By searching for magic, she found possibility, resilience, and learned to not keep her pain hidden. I loved this book. In Claire Legrand’s Some Kind of Happiness, Finley creates magic in a world full of secrets and heartbreak. In Circus Mirandus, Micah seeks it and it becomes his reality. In both, I found myself strengthened by story. And... read more

What’s Write about Punk?

Social media keeps me connected with the authors of the books I fall in love with. They continue to inspire, influence, and remind me why I need to keep on my writing journey. The annual Hay Festival had its 30th birthday recently. A Facebook page for the event posted a video of Neil Gaiman and he then reposted it. Gaiman attended the festival and was asked what influenced him most. He said: “It was 1976/1977, I was 15 going on 16. And it was punk. And the idea that in order to do something—you just did it. There was a chart in some fanzine. I remember that it said here’s a chord, here’s another, here’s another—now write a song. And that simplicity…the idea that you didn’t need big complicated things. If you wanted to do something—you did it. You can learn on the job. As an idea has built my life, changed my life, and shaped my life. And I’ve done so many things that I am manifestly unqualified for that I would never have dared to do, if punk hadn’t entered my life back in 1976/1977.” I was born about 7 years after this, but I knew what he was saying. Punk influenced me in its own way. My dad loved Lou Reed and would play Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane over and over on his electric guitar. Mostly, so that I could bang on an upside-down garbage pail and try to keep the rhythm. Both the simplicity of the chords (I played guitar) and the need to learn on the job, both hit home. I love learning. That’s why I love teaching and especially writing. If I have an interest in anything, I can explore it. Recently, I wanted to know something about robots, which meant I needed to know something about computer programming. Both of which I have no experience in. But through research, I found myself playing around with basic programming on Scratch. I was able to share the experience with my daughter. Who after finishing with the coding went off excited and inspired. She ended up drawing one of the projects we worked on and messing around with the piano after. It became obvious trying something new inspired creativity. On March 14th this year, Kate Dicamillo posted about her and her editor’s relationship. She said, “Sometimes, when people ask me about the writer/editor relationship, I explain it by saying that writing a novel is like... read more

The Magic of Imagery

Our critique group read Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap. It is a young adult novel with magical realism. Ruby’s voice is fantastic. She adds touches of magic to her descriptions. This is what immersed me in the real and created believability. Often, I’d forget the world was imagined.   How did she do it?  She emphasized the charm in the setting, the plot, its characters. She used the comparative devices of personification and metaphors to enchant the mundane. Throughout Bone Gap, the corn whispered, yapped, and twitched its green fingers. The scarecrows weren’t intended to scare off the crows, but to intimidate the misbehaving corn. The river sucked at legs, lifted and pulled a person forward. The honeybees whirled and the queen bee’s movements were determined. The characters in love even acted like bees: “The twitch of her nerves was like the beating of a billion tiny wings, as if messages passed from his breath and his hands through her skin and back again, the way bees stroke one another’s antennae, feeding on another by touch.” She showed the character’s worries with a black horse, a night mare. She brought to life love with the horse as well. It carried the young lovers through the woods and leapt at the edge of a mountain: “…they were falling over the cliff, until they felt the wind catch them, carry them in its soft, dark hands as if the horse and two riders were nothing but a feather that wended its way down the mountainside.” There are many successful writers that use the magic of imagery. What are some of your favorite children’s literature voices? How do their voices utilize imagery? “But if I’m it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I’m going to let the story end this way…Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.” —Rick Yancey, The 5th Wave “Because Margo knows the secret of leaving, the secret I have only just now learned; leaving feels good and pure only when you leave something important, something that mattered to you. Pulling life out by the roots. But you can’t do that until your life has grown roots.” —John Green, Paper Towns “The words were on their way, and when they arrived, she would hold them in her hands like clouds, and she would ring them out like... read more

A Monster Calls: Fairytale or Truth

A Monster Calls cover was a little misleading. It wasn’t the typical fantasy or horror I had expected to read. Instead, it was an unexpected fairytale, that was also not a fairytale. An original for its time, I wanted to explore its elements of folklore. Many say that fairytales use groups of three. Three objects, events, characters. I attended an SCBWI conference in Birmingham this past fall. Bruce Coville, the keynote speaker, said that wasn’t exactly true.  He claimed there was groups of four: three things and a twist. Like three bears and goldilocks or three pigs and a wolf. In A Monster Calls, the monster comes to Connor. He promises to tell 3 stories and then Connor must tell his own. In true fairytale fashion, there are lessons to each of the Monster Yew’s stories. The values of action over thoughts are highlighted. But they are also atypical. Usually in fairy tales there are clear good and evil characters. In the monster’s stories, there is an evil witch worth saving and a prince that is both a murder and a savior (witches/royalty/monsters/mentors are all motifs of fairy tales). I appreciated the contradictions in the Monster’s stories’ characters. It made it feel less far, far away and more here and now. It felt true.  Even the actual characters not within the fables, like the main character and his grandma contradicted themselves. In typical folklore, human truths are revealed. These truths are consistent throughout time. We all wish to end our own pain and isolation. We punish ourselves for the painful truths we know and also the comforting lies we tell. Humans are complicated, not all good, not all bad. So, it isn’t who the character is on the inside that determines the bad or the good. It is their actions. Other human truths include that time is ticking away and that we must face ourselves to heal. Recurring patterns (another element of fairy tales) such as clocks and yew tree’s healing properties reiterate these truths. A Monster Calls was set in the past with supernatural elements. Special beginning words symbolized that it has happened before and it will happen again: “The monster showed up at midnight. As they do.” There was even a happily ever after ending (I won’t ruin). It was uncommon, yet it was full of hope and love. Inspired by folklore, A Monster Calls is an original tale that puts a spin on the plot structure,... read more

The Newbery Medal

  In the same month I read the 2017 Newbery Medal recipient: The Girl Who Drank the Moon along with the 2013 Newbery Medal winner: The One and Only Ivan. And I couldn’t wait to share these great books.   Newbery Medal winners are considered the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. That means that kids have to actually enjoy these books and they do. I was a fourth grader who fell in love with Katherine Patterson’s The Bridge to Terabithia.  I believe young readers enjoy them because the powerful messages these books have are not preached. The authors tend to present difficult issues, but never talk down (The Bridge to Terabithia deals with death). Readers are allowed to think their own big questions as they escape into the words of the pages. Katherine Applegate captures her readers’ imaginations with Ivan’s unique gorilla voice.  She shows differences in the way he thinks and how humans think. His thoughts come at their own pace. She uses appropriate descriptions and verse to allow the reader to imagine a gorilla’s world view. This allows kids a chance to think about the way they look at animals and reflect inward. It gives them experience in a world unfamiliar to them. As for The Girl Who Drank the Moon, readers are drawn in by the magic, the promise of story, and a dragon that fits inside a pocket. Barnhill said she wrote the story for herself and didn’t expect many to like it because she thought it was a bit weird. Instead, she found that kids related deeply to the themes. The idea that even when we are genuine and true, sometimes we still make mistakes. And the notions of rumors and getting the wrong idea about a person are issues kids deal with. The seeds of wonder are planted on the back covers in simple phrases. “I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks…” And, “There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.” But the stories themselves are not simple and are filled with thought-provoking insight. Both novels are quite different, yet both include similar themes of sorrow, hope, humor, and friendship. I have fallen for many Newberry Medals and honors. Kelly Barnhill’s is definitely my newest favorite. If I hadn’t read it, I would’ve said The Graveyard Book.... read more

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