Tuesday, September 5, 2017

KIDS AND STRAWBERRIES

post by Lynn

Mom, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Barney
I have been blessed to spend lots of time around kids through the years—the children of friends, my niece and nephews, step-grandchildren and now my grandnephews.

I’ve found that there’s nothing like a kid to bring you great ideas, an amusing twist on life and plenty of chuckles. Not to mention somersaults and bubble gum.

And for writers? Kids are the mother lode.

We can look to them for…

GIVING FRESH WORDS TO SENSORY EXPERIENCES
One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.                                                                          - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It was the child of a friend who first pointed out to me that sagebrush has a lemony aspect to its scent, and another child who told me that raw broccoli tastes a lot like crunchy dirt.

Kids express their immediate, unsullied reaction to the things they encounter in the world. They haven’t learned all the clichés that adults use. Because of this they can be wonderful guides in explaining things in fresh ways.

Ask a child, "What do you think that smells/tastes/feels/looks/sounds like?"

Take notes accordingly.


MASTERFUL WORD PLAY

As writers we often get into vocabulary ruts. We really need to lighten up and play with words, the way kids do. Even mistakes can be turned into fun new words and phrases to bring originality to our writing.

During make-believe time my granddaughter Claire said to me:

“Okay, you are gonna be the momma alligator. I’ll be the ala-baby-gator.”



And not long ago my grandnephew Mason was asked about where he lives. His response?

“We live in the middle of the nowhere.”

He does have a point there...

Last summer at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Colorado, there was a marmot sitting in the grass next to the river. I showed it to my grandnephew Lance. He called it a hedgehog.

“No, it’s a marmot,” I said.

Whereby Lance ran around telling everybody, “Come and look. There’s a varmint in the grass!”

OUT-OF-THE-BLUE COMMENTS

Need to get whacked out of logical thinking in order to write more imaginatively? Follow a kid around for a day.

Inside a big gazebo at Elitches amusement park in Denver, there was a sea of colored balls for the kids to play with. Mason was in heaven.

I noticed he only picked up the green balls, though, and asked him why.

“Those are good for the birds,” he said, as if the answer should have been obvious, and went on playing.

Whaaaa? 

SURPRISING WISDOM

I wrote a blog post about the motivating kick-in-the-rear I got from Lance one day, with a simple statement,

“I do my part.”

 AN APPRECIATION OF BOOKS

Jen Campbell, poet, short story writer and author of the Sunday Times bestselling “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” series, shares some stuff kids have said in her bookstore:

Little girl: I’ve written a book.
Me: Have you? What’s it about?
Little girl: I don’t know. It’s in my head. I haven’t read it yet.

and...

Little girl (whispers): They gave us Kindles to use at school, but I prefer books.
Me: What do you love about books?
Little girl (thinking hard): I like how quiet they are.
Me: Yeah?
Little girl: Yeah. Stories should be quiet, and whisper to you inside your head.


Author and Illustrator Bill Peet collected a few humdinger things kids have said about his books in their letters to him, including:

“I like your books. My whole family likes them. My cat does not know we have them.”



 … NOT TO MENTION A DOSE OF HUMILITY

Another of Bill’s pen pals wrote…

“I am in grade two. I enjoyed your books. What do you do for a living?”


How can writers capture these pint-sized verbal pleasures? Here's a few suggestions...

Find ways to be in the presence of children.

If you have your own, or plenty of young ones in your family or neighborhood, you’re all set. If not, you’ll have to seek out settings where kids are talking and then eavesdrop shamelessly.

For Cheyenne folks I highly recommend the second floor of the Laramie County Library as a spot to listen and watch kids. I’m sure other county libraries would work well too.

Fast food restaurant playgrounds are another hot spot for kid watching.

Lance being, well... Lance
When we lived in Lusk, my mother, husband Mike and I were “Grandma Readers” for the local kindergarten class. (Yes, Mike was a Grandma Reader too. No gender bias in that designation, eh?)

In this role, we would go to the school, gather our assigned 4 or 5 kids, and read books out loud to them. Lots of chatter about book-related and not-so-book-related topics went on. Maybe your community has such a program?

Slow down and really listen when you are in the presence of children. 

This takes discipline and effort. We adults are always trying to get someplace or get something done. But the rewards are immense when we take time out to really hear what the kids are saying.

Ask questions, and give the kid plenty of time to respond. 

I was one of those kids who mumbled, stammered and talked in convoluted circles. Lots of kids do as they are learning to talk.

Patience with these ramblings will not only allow you to gather all those good things kids say, but will also present the child with a great bonus: the gift of your attention and practice in putting their squirmy thoughts into spoken form.

"Dragons are very stretchy," notes Mason. 
Designate a notebook just for their words. 

When I started to take care of my grandnephews, I bought a small notebook in which to gather snippets of things they have said along, with descriptions of memorable events. Initially my goal was to share the notebook with their parents someday, and eventually with the adults that Lance and Mason will become.

Now I admit I do it mostly for myself—for all those insights, revelations and chuckles that I get when I look through the pages. And, of course, to pilfer all those unforgettable, juicy-squishy words.

My "Lance and Mason" notebook
Do it--find a kid and get 'em talking...

This is perhaps the best writing assignment I could ever share with you. Follow through with it, and I promise your writing (and mood) will improve.

But just remember…

“When you are dealing with a child, keep all your wits about you, and sit on the floor.”                                                                                                    - Austin O’Malley




CRUCIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6th, 2017) is National Read a Book Day.  To celebrate we are invited to grab a book and spend the day reading.

Alert your boss as to this important directive immediately.



 




Resources for this post included:
Children Say the Best Things in Bookshops, Jen Campbell
What Kids Say, Bill Peet


6 comments:

  1. Lynn, you reminded me that when my grandson, Louis, lived with us for a couple of years, he called magpies megapuppies. I reminded him of that this summer when he visited and we saw a megapuppy. He was thrilled to learn what he had said when he was three. And I pick up reading with my reading buddy, Theo, at the Odyssey School a couple of blocks from my house. He's now in 3rd grade. I'll read every Wednesday with Theo for the school year.

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    1. I will forever think megapuppies when I see magpies now--love that!

      Theo is a lucky kid--good for you for making that part of your life. But I can't say I'm surprised that you're a Grandma Reader too :-)

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  2. Why am I reminded of the story Maurice Sendak told? He sent a letter with a little drawing on it to a child, and the kid's mother wrote back, "Jim loved your card so much he ate it." Sendak considered it one of the highest compliments he'd ever received. http://www.openculture.com/2015/09/maurice-sendak-sent-beautifully-illustrated-letters-to-fans-so-beautiful-a-kid-ate-one.html

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    1. That's a riot! Never know what a kid'll do...

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  3. Children speak like poets. My sister's daughter said once when playing with bubbles, "Look, it's a like a flock of bubbles!" (That's a paraphrase) she said it more beautifully than that.

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    1. Jeanette:

      Children=poets, indeed. And bubbles do look like a flock when they're sent off by the breeze! Thanks for that image. And thanks for reading and commenting!

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