Friday, September 28, 2012

Braving The Mighty Amazon

Be warned: The Amazon is a perilous place. One so easily gets lost, searching for treasure, and the temptations to deadly excess are everywhere. There are fiction books - the newest ones, the ones everyone is talking about, the ones with pretty covers.

Close behind are the books on writing, that promise to help us write heart-breaking books, breakout books, breakaway best sellers.

I may just have all of them, now. At least, all of them so far.

Most dangerous of all is the seemingly harmless orange button that reads, "Buy now with 1-click."

You can see that I have 1-clicked many times. I've succumbed to temptation, and I have failed to shield my young. My oldest son was the first in the family to buy a Kindle (is it wrong to envy your children's toys?), and my youngest was answering "The Call of Cthulhu"* on his Palm Pilot long before Jeff Bezos made an app for that.

I've trekked the forests, mountains and oceans of Narnia with both my sons. My eldest continues to tempt my three-year-old grand-daughter with new books every week.

My youngest, when he was three, used to catch me sinking into a chair with a cup of coffee for a break between chores. The moment my bottom hit the cushion, he would grab a blanket and a book, and say, "Let's get cozy here!" Could you resist? I couldn't. What better way to spend time than to read a good book with a child? And then to read it again.

One of his favorites was "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch. He loved every word, including the part where the mother crawls through her grown son's apartment window so she can hold him and sing the song again. I knew we'd crossed a threshold from which there was no turning back, the day my son stopped me on that page and said, "Wait! That's sick!"

I knew just as surely that something special had happened, the day he surprised me with this, at age eight:

We were driving in the car, going home after a long day, when he said, "I figured something out today about stories."

"What's that?"

"Batman can't be too strong."

"He can't? Why not?"

"Because if he's too strong, the Joker wins, and the story's over too soon."


"And if the Joker is too strong, then Batman wins, and the same thing happens."

It's terrible, the way I brag, I know. But wasn't he right?

Here's the thing: Both my kids are readers, but neither is tempted by books about writing. Even my youngest, who at such a young age figured out one of the great rules of writing, that villains and heroes must be evenly matched - even he feels no desire to break the bank over every book that promises to take his writing to the next level. At least not yet.

I just know there's a lesson here, and I think it is this: The books that will teach you best about writing novels are novels. 

That ought to cut the dangers of the Amazon in half, right?

It should. But it probably won't.

But since we're talking about our children this week, why not spill your stories? We love kids. And we love to read what you have to say.

*Back then, when my son said, "I'm really getting into Lovecraft," a friend thought he was reading sex manuals.


Megan Sayer said...

Teehee! I LOVED this post, it made me giggle.
I'm still right in the middle of that bedtime-story season, and loving it...just started The Last Battle (last of the Narnia Chronicles) with my 8yo, and she's asking me questions about what's going to happen in the story, and why so-and-so is happening, and what-about...and...and...Last night I stopped her and said "these are Story Questions. The author has put them there so to entice you to Keep READING not to interrupt me and ask so many questions!!!". It helped. A lot. It reminded me of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to her (every night) the year she turned 2, and how every night she'd ask the same questions. How I managed to read TVHC for a YEAR is beyond me now :)

Oh, and I have a similar relationship with the Amazon one-click button. Dangerous, dangerous is my Kindle...especially when my two boys sit on either side of me when I'm reading that and argue about whose turn it is to press the buttons.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I have a nook...I just can't get over how it doesn't smell or feel like a real book. It's as if I don't really own the book. So, I go back to the paper and glue books every time.

My daughter (who just turned 6 this week...oh my heart) sat on the couch to read the other day. She didn't move until the book was done. Her first, one sitting, cover to cover chapter book read.

"I have to figure out what happened to Sparkles," she said every time her brothers tried to entice her to play. (Sparkles was a unicorn that went missing and Nancy Drew had to find her).

After she finished, we discussed what she'd read.

"I can't wait to read it again, because the next time I'll know what happens and I won't be so nervous," she said.

(sigh) Isn't that just precious? Well, I think so.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, the book I thought I'd never see the last of was Richard Scarry's The Animals of Farmer Jones. Your answer to your daughter was very good. We'll see how long it helps. Questions are persistent things.

Susie, oh that is precious. I wonder if all mothers mark the time (right next to the first laugh, the first step, the first time to say "mama") when a child first reads a book all the way through.

Probably not.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Great post, Katy, and lots of memories. My son is 20-something and I love to find him in the armchair or in his room deep in a book. Or when I ask, "Where ya goin'?" and he says, "The bookstore." There are so many other places a 25-year-old could go. He credits our reading 'The Fellowship of the Ring' when he & his sister were young. It appeals to the warrior in him (Marine guy) but I know the call to the quest speaks to him. He needed characters to admire.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Oops, I guess I let the cat out of the bag with that age-thing. :)

Patti Hill said...

When our boys were 3 and 6, we packed up our itty bitty Toyota the day after Christmas for a 16-hour journey to Grandma and Grandpa's house. I'd recorded new-to-the-boys stories on cassettes, complete with a toning bell for turning the page. Of course, they received Walkmans for Christmas.

What about hunky hubby and me? How would we occupy our minds as we drove through Utah and Idaho to Spokane, WA? The library came to the rescue.

I checked out Clan of the Cave Bear because it was looooong. (This was our first audio book. Now, I don't travel more than 20 minutes without a story to keep me company.) What surprised me was that Geoff and Matt abandoned Berenstain Bears for our adult story. They didn't even want to get out of the car at McDonald's. "Can we go through the drive-through," Geoff pleaded. Yes, of course, we had to fast forward through a few inappropriate passages, but they listened to all 20 hours as quiet as church mice.

I never read down to them again. I chose superior middle readers and YA fiction at the suggestion of a librarian. They both love to read.

Jennifer Major said...

My kids LOVE anything by Barbara Reid. All her illustrations are in plasticine. AMAZING!!!

And, umm, cough...may I brag a weensty bit? I have actually swum in the real Amazon.

I won't bungee jump, but I'll swim in a jungle river.

Bonnie Grove said...

What a great post, Katy. And SO true. If you want to know how story works, read lots and lots of stories. Then read more.

My son loves to start talking seconds before he is supposed to turn out the light and go to sleep--stall tactics, but it works every time--he is reading The Book Thief at home, and at school he is reading a different novel. He grabs me by saying, "I'm reading a YA book at school"

This is a big deal because he is in grade 6 and i had to sign a form allowing him to check out YA books from the school library (the school system trying to protect the young minds of our children).

He went on to describe the novel (Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby) in stunning detail.

I listened, and asked a few questions (What do you think will happen? is a very good question for young readers. Predicting plot --it's good for the brain!)

But (here's the really braggy part), he's telling me about the novel and all I can do is stand slack-jawed at his ability to name all the characters. They have names like Solveig and Raudi, and Bera. The story takes place among the fjords. All of which he pronounced with practiced perfection.

I marvelled at my son's mind. And a little part of me jumped up and down and said, "Look. He'll be a writer, just as soon as he gets over his loathing of writing."

Lynn Dean said...

Oh, I just love this post and all the comments! So precious!

When our kids were little, we got into the habit of reading out loud in the evenings. At first, we just tried it one night a week, but once they got into the stories, they requested reading over tv--which was fine with us. We started with children's Bible stories, the Little House books, Watership Downs, Alice in Wonderland, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings--always something just slightly above their reading levels so they would be encouraged to stretch. Everyone read in turn "until their voice got tired," then passed the book to the next one.

We knew our book-loving daughter loved it. She was the child who had me read Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day so many times that she'd memorized it at age 3 and stopped me if I missed a word!

The surprise, though, was when our son, now grown, said that read-aloud evenings were one of his favorite childhood memories. He was somewhat of a late bloomer in the reading department, but not long ago a list of classics circled around Facebook. Guess who had read more than anyone? Once he figured out that he read much more easily on computer screens, he had found a list of classics on his own and started at the top. We're talking War and Peace, the full Bible, and the Koran (because he has an evangelistic streak and wanted to be able to have informed discussions).

I was amazed. :)

Kathleen Popa said...

It sounds like we've all got some brilliant kids. Amazingness must be hereditary.

Debbie, yes! Much worse places. And what about the age thing?

Patti, I want to ride in the Toyota with you.

Jennifer, you may absolutely brag. Do you have piranha bites?

Bonnie, I feel the same way about my kids. They're writers - they just haven't gotten the memo yet.

Lynn, I am amazed! And so pleased that your son's favorite memory is storytime. You rock!

Cherry Odelberg said...

Well, there was the year we planned a 10 day road trip to California in the camper van. My two youngest were 8 and 10 and I had ordered a set of Frank Peretti books for kids to keep them occupied on the trip. Trouble was, the books arrived 48 hours before departure time.

Kathleen Popa said...

Guess what I learned tonight? My youngest is THINKING of writing a short story. And so it begins.

Other good news, tonight, too. But it must wait till tomorrow.