Saturday, August 11, 2018

THE ABBY BOB SHOW

     Before our first granddaughter was born, my husband and I contemplated what we wanted her to call us. His choice was "Poppy", which is what he called his own grandfather. I called my grandmothers "Grandma", differentiated by their first names, Grandma Manya and Grandma Marian. But the name "Grandma" made me feel old, so I decided that Molly would call me "Grammy". We would be Grammy and Poppy.

     However, as has proved true over the years, Molly had her own idea. Somehow Grammy and Poppy became Abby and Bob.

    To me, it sounds like a comedy team. In some ways, being a grandparent is a little like being part of a comedy act. We often work together to make our granddaughters laugh and smile. Bah-da-da-bum.

     The first time I was really aware of it was a day when my husband and I were at the playground with Molly. She was probably about one and a half years old then. My husband had gone to the car to get the sand toys and Molly called to him.

     She said, "Bob! Bob!"

      Another grandma, who was standing near to me, gave me a funny look, as if to say, "You let your little granddaughter call her grandfather by his first name?"

     So I said to her, "Oh, his name isn't actually Bob."

     Which made absolutely no sense.

     Over the years, Molly has begun calling my husband Poppy, except when she is referring to both of us. Then we still are AbbyBob. The day we babysit each week is AbbyBob Day. And I had to laugh when we took her to her swimming lesson and she pointed us out to the teacher saying, "There's AbbyBob." I don't think the swim teacher had any idea what Molly was talking about.

     But I'm still Abby. I kind of like it. It's unique. I don't know if it will last, though. Our giggly little Hannah is fifteen months old now, and may have her own name ideas. Whatever it is, I hope the comedy act continues.

   

Friday, August 3, 2018

DRIFTERS

     A few evenings ago my husband was sorting through some old letters. One was from his grandmother, written in 1972, when he was just twenty years old. She was writing in response to his desire to have a career as a professional photographer. Grandma was trying to talk him out of it. She was worried that by thirty he would be a "Drifter".

     Whoa.

     In some ways her points were understandable from her point of view. Her husband died young and she had survived the Depression mostly on her own, raising three children. She valued hard work and independence. She equated photography to a show business career, a field where there isn't room enough for everyone to make a living. Her solution was to work hard, even if it was a job one hated, put money aside and buy a house one day. That was about all one could expect.

     Whoa again.

     I found it surprising that she didn't offer a solution of education to find a career in a more lucrative field. I mostly found it surprising, and sad, that a twenty year old wouldn't be allowed to follow a dream, at least for a few years. In fact, my husband did become a professional photographer and has been successful at it all these years. He has worked hard.

     Drifter indeed.

     Of course, all this talk of Drifters made me think about Hank Williams, about whom I wrote a picture book biography. The people in Hank's bands changed over the years but all of his bands, starting from when he was very young, were called The Drifting Cowboys. I find so much romance in that name.

      Drifters and Hank made me also think of one of my favorite songs that he sings, "Lost Highway". "When I pass by, all the people say, just another guy on the lost highway". This is a sad song, a cautionary tale, about a man's life. I guess Grandma saw a lot of drifters in Oklahoma, where she was from, "rolling stones, all alone and lost".

      But her grandson certainly wasn't one of them.

Monday, July 30, 2018

I MISS THE CIRCUS

     I miss the circus. The Stupendous, Colossal, Death Defying Circus.

     I realize it's not politically correct to say so. Yet I'd like to shout it from the rooftops. I MISS THE CIRCUS.

     There really is nothing else like it, the acts, the people, the entire subculture of the circus. Cirque du Soleil is a nice show, but it's not the circus, the real circus, the gritty, fabulous, place apart circus. The circus is its own subculture, a world unto itself unlike any other.

    And no one can run away to it anymore.

     I wrote a book about the circus once called THE AMAZING TROMBONI MOVE IN. It is about a world, a town, without the circus. People in Hartleyville banned the circus because they said it is dirty and dangerous, filled with animals and strange looking people. I wanted to write about a circus family who moved to a town like Hartleyville, a sad, conventional town, and brought their own magic with them, their squirting flowers and trained chimps, their trapeze acts and big floppy shoes. It's my favorite story I've ever written.

     But I never expected that the circus really would be banned, forgotten, taken out of existence. Barnum and Bailey is gone, and small circuses are struggling internationally. So much of  the circus has been vilified too.

     Take clowns. They have become scary. But clowns are wonderful. Fellini's great movie, Clowns, is one of my favorites, about the artistry of clowns. There is the whole idea of clowns becoming other, unique, fabulous to make folks laugh, not to scare them.

     I miss trapeze, tightrope walkers, ringmasters, and yes, even trained animals. As Grandpa Tromboni tells the family in my story,

     “I knew a man who knew a man who knew a man who left the circus. Moved to a little town and bought himself a house to live in.”
     “I knew no such man,” Grandma said. “Is who?”   
     “What I mean is,” Grandpa continued, “it may be time to try something new, to try a life outside the circus.”
     “Is there a life outside the circus?” Grandma asked."

     I guess we will have to see if there is.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

IF ONLY

     If only, when I wrote my first picture book and received wonderful letters, although not offers of publication, from editors, I was wise enough to either keep sending it out, rather than stopping after four "nos", or to show those letters to an agent who may have been willing to help me, perhaps my professional career would have started sooner and been all that I had imagined it to be.

    If only, when I wrote my first novel for children at the age of 23, I had been lucky enough to have had it published, or if only someone had been so amazed at my accomplishment at such a young age, perhaps I would have been on my way then to acclaim in the industry I've cared about so much.

    If only, when I was young, I had followed my heart and moved to New York City, as I had always wanted to do, the center of publishing for children at that time, perhaps I would have the career I wanted. If only I hadn't been so worried about my parents' stability if I left, and my own well being if I moved to a city where I knew no one and had no prospects for a job or housing.

     If only, when I joined the SCBWI in the 1970s, I had been smart enough to attend a conference then, perhaps I would have met people who could have helped me in my career and taught me what I needed to know to succeed.

     If only I had always made the wisest choice and done everything right then I would be my Perfect Me. I would like to be my Perfect Me, but I didn't do everything right and I am not my Perfect Me, I am only...me.

     I reached for the stars and landed on the roof. But the roof isn't such a bad place to be. From here I have a marvelous view of our yard, which looks particularly beautiful just now, as the roses are about to bloom. I'm a bit closer to the birds, and I love to watch them fly. I can wave to my neighbor and watch my dear husband come home. And being here makes me remember songs which I'll sing to my little granddaughter when I see her next week.

     How I wish I had been gutsy, glamorous, gregarious! I should have had more confidence, courage and charisma. It would have helped to be more self-centered, focused and even ruthless.Maybe then all of those unpublished manuscripts hidden in a box in my closet would have been published books. Yet I still wrote those books, labored over them, dreamed about them, searched for the perfect words, revised and completed them. I am proud of my work, especially that novel I wrote when I was only 23. Although I never considered that I would have to work so many years at the public library, I have read thousands of books and affected many many children in a positive way, and I am grateful for that.

      So the roof isn't such a terrible place to be. I have a lovely view. And to those of you who have reached the stars, I will bask in your glow.

    

ON PUBLIC SPEAKING

     I can still remember the day in seventh grade when I had to read my report out loud to my class. My hands trembled so badly I could barely hold the paper. My voice grew so soft it was inaudible. When the ordeal was over I gratefully took my seat. I never wanted to talk in front of a group of any size ever again.

     I had wanted to be a writer ever since I first began to read on my own. I liked the way writers worked, in isolation, reading, writing, researching. It seemed an ideal life to me.

     Except that writing, especially writing for children, carries a public speaking component. School visits, bookstore events, book festivals, writers are expected to speak, and to be both entertaining as well as educational while doing so. It's a tall order, and the act of writing itself is difficult enough!

    Yet over the years, I have come to enjoy these events, which were so difficult at first. For example, talks I prepared which I thought would last half an hour were over in ten minutes. Questions from the audience focused on someone asking how she could get published, rather than about anything I had presented.

     Then I started to do better. Presenting library story time, often to an audience of over one hundred wiggly preschoolers, helped. Watching the performers who came to the library to give programs helped. I attended other writers' talks at bookstores and libraries to see what they did, and scoured the internet for advice. At my last school talk, the principal told me mine was the best author visit they had ever had.

     Yet sometimes I can't help envying writers of books for adults, who merely need to tell an entertaining story, read from their work, then wait for questions...

    

    

Sunday, February 19, 2017

MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN'S BOOK DAY

     My book, CHICKEN SOUP, CHICKEN SOUP, was one of the books reviewed on this year's Multicultural Children's Book Day, January 27, 2017. Book bloggers throughout the US reviewed the book at their sites. Very exciting! Here is the link to this wonderful event.
https://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/
 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

WHERE'D GEORGE'S MOMMY GO?

     Reading CURIOUS GEORGE to my two year old granddaughter has been a revelation.

     In truth, before now, it's never been one of my favorite books. Although it's been translated into twelve languages and sold millions of copies, I did not understand its appeal. But now that I've read it with a two year, I finally get it.

      CURIOUS GEORGE is a work of genius.

      Really. The story so aptly mirrors the world as my granddaughter, Molly, (age two years and two months, by the way) sees it, opens it to philosophical discussion and ends with a sense of the miraculous. Not only did I learn to love this book, it taught me quite a bit about writing books for children too.

      I was babysitting Molly at her house and I asked her to pick a few books to read before naptime.
When she pulled GEORGE off the shelf I wasn't thrilled. I thought the story would be too long for a two year old's attention span, and dated too, with that ringing telephone and all.

     Boy, was I wrong.

     Let's start with the cover. Does the cover show George eating a banana or with the man with the yellow hat? No. The cover shows Geroge being led away be two firemen. More about why I consider this genius a little later.

     Molly was captivated by the story from the first few pages. When we got to the page where George is caught by the man with the big yellow hat, Molly asked, "Where'd George's mommy go?"

     Where, indeed?

      For a child Molly's age, Mommy is everything. When Molly was one and  half and we read THE THREE BEARS by Byron Barton whenever we came to the page where Goldilocks had broken Baby Bear's green chair, Molly would point to it and say, "Mommy". As in, Mommy will take care of that broken chair. So George was caught because Mommy was not there to protect him. A two year old is trying to understand her world, and the safety of Mommy makes that exploration possible. "Where'd Mommy go?" is actually the central conflict of this story. Without Mommy to take care of him and protect him, George is left to explore a confusing world. He is literally at sea, as he is in the next scene, when the man with the yellow hat takes George onto a boat.

       When he gets to the city and goes to the man's house, George tries to understand the world by being just like the man. He eats dinner at the table, smokes a pipe, and wears the man's pajamas. But when he copies the man by using the telephone as he does, trouble ensues, big trouble. GEORGE HAD TELEPHONED THE FIRE STATION!

      Firefighters are pretty important to a two year old child. Most children take a field trip to the fire station sometime in preschool or kindergarten. Firefighter hats are part of most dress up bins, and shiny fire engines race down streets. So when George phones the fire station it is a super big deal.

     I didn't know how I would explain prison to Molly, but I didn't need to. The picture of George in a dull, grey place all alone was the only explanation that she needed. It is a terrible, dark moment for George, and for the story.

     But he runs away, and then the miraculous - George sees a balloon man.

     Balloons are magical for a two year old child. They seem alive, they seem to have personalities. Just think about the wonderful French movie, THE RED BALLOON, and you will have an inkling of what children feel for balloons.

     Molly was mesmerized when I read about George wanting a red balloon, then getting the entire bunch of balloons instead. The balloons whisk him away and he flies through the air holding tightly to them, just as he had tried to fly like the seagulls when he was on the boat in the beginning of the story. The balloons lead him back to the man with the big yellow hat.

     In the last picture, when George is at the zoo, not only is he holding the red balloon he wanted, all of the other animals have their own balloon too.

      Magical, and completely satisfying.