Remember when books were just…books? If you wanted to read a book, you picked up a book…period. In the beginning, all books were hardcover. Then came “mass market”—small paperbacks printed on inexpensive paper, they were mostly westerns for male readers, romances for females. The next advance was “trade paperbacks,” better-quality paperbacks, larger in size and printed on paper that was heavier, more durable, less brittle, and didn’t have the same tendency to yellow or break that the pages of mass market books did. Another advance was large-type books for people with low vision. And then there were Braille books, with their raised characters, for those who were not sighted at all.
The world of publishing has quietly been undergoing a revolution for some time now. Three forces have converged to level the playing field for authors, enlarge the selection of books for readers, and make the whole game more interesting all around.
As little kids in elementary school, you may have participated in “Show and Tell.” But as writers, we are always advised, “Show. Don’t tell.” This admonition is intended to guide us into showing rather than telling what a character in fiction or a real-life person in nonfiction is thinking, feeling, planning, and so forth.
Thanksgiving 2016…well, “as near as makes no never mind,” to use an old colloquial expression that, while it isn’t grammatically correct, is very expressive.
Thanksgiving 2016. It’s been a turbulent year, but if I don’t get into politics here—and I won’t, I promise—that excludes most of the turbulence and most of what everyone is still talking about weeks after the election. Continue Reading
Yesterday I read Created Equal to a group of kids in an after-school program. At first they were less than thrilled that I wasn’t going to be reading a storybook. Almost all the kids I read to in after-school programs prefer fiction over nonfiction. And history? That’s something they have to study in school, but this was after school was over for the day. They wanted something fun.Continue Reading
“My dad is taking me to DisneyWorld for my birthday.”
The cacophony of counterpoint voices rose in pitch and volume as each child struggled to be heard above the competing claims. It all started when one girl in the audience eagerly announced, “Today is my birthday.”
I asked her name and suggested we all sing the birthday song to her, which the kids gleefully participated in. But then they all wanted recognition for their birthdays…though it soon became obvious that most of them were not too clear on when their birthdays were. You see, to avoid having everyone in the audience—there were some 40 kids—take a turn at reporting their respective birthdays, I said, “Let’s do it this way: Whose birthday is in September? Raise your hands.” Almost every hand shot up. “Whose birthday is in October?” And again almost every child claimed that as his or her birth month. “November?” Same response.
It all started as I finished reading one of my books to the group of pre-K students. “Does anyone have any questions about the story I just read?” I asked. That was when the little girl raised her hand to announce that today was her birthday. And they were off and running, the story forgotten. I tried to get the Q&A session back on track, but after that it was, as a friend of mine described it, “like herding cats.”
I love reading to these kids—even when they go off on unexpected tangents. There is one group in particular—first- and second-graders at an after-school program in the area, which I’ve visited any number of times now with various books—that is particularly receptive. They all but cheer when they see me, calling out, “Cynthia!” “Miss Cynthia!” “Cynthia!” and running over to hug me.
They LOVE hearing stories.
In fact, ALL the groups of kids I read to love hearing stories. When I ask, “Who wants to hear a story?” no matter which group I’m reading to, all the hands shoot up into the air, and I hear a chorus of “Me!” “Me!” “Me!”
I hope their parents read to them on a regular basis. It can stimulate a child’s desire to learn to read well on his or her own as well as sparking the child’s imagination. And it has been my view for years that the imagination is a “muscle” that needs regular exercise just as much as any other—a subject I plan to expound on in this space in the near future.
But for now, let me close with this bit of unsolicited advice: If you’re the parent, grandparent, neighbor, godparent, aunt, or uncle of a young child, or are in some other warm relationship with one, READ TO HIM/HER. You’ll establish a closer bond with the child while fostering a love of reading, since the child who is read to often soon builds a desire to learn to read on his/her own. But even after he/she learns to read by himself/herself, keep reading to him/her. You can’t replace the closeness that ensues from that experience.
In last week’s blogpost I told you I had written a play while still in elementary school. Let me tell you about it…and what followed thereafter.
I don’t have any idea what on earth inspired me to write a play when I was in sixth grade. By then I had co-opted my mother’s typewriter and set it up on a bridge table in my room semi-permanently. The writing bug had bitten and bitten hard. Yet, at that age, as I said in this space last week, my ambition when I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was still to act on the Broadway stage. So I suppose it was only logical, loving both writing and the theatre, that I would write a play.
The play was in either four scenes or four acts. I wasn’t sure which. I still didn’t know the difference. It was rather short, and the title totally telegraphed the ending. So it certainly wasn’t a perfect piece of dramaturgy. But for an 11-year-old’s first effort, it was passable.
For no reason I can put my hand on, instead of telling my family that I had written a play, I buried the script under a pile of clothing on a closet shelf and thought my “secret” was safe. Summer came, and I was sent off for eight weeks of sleep-away camp.
What happened next I can only surmise.
I surmise that my mother found the script. I surmise she got in touch with the camp directors or even the drama counselor herself. As I say, though, that is only supposition.
What I know for a fact is that Gert, the drama counselor, asked our bunk if any of us campers had ever written a play. So far as I know, she didn’t ask any of the girls in any of the other bunks. That’s why I suspect my mother’s fine hand in this sequence of events.
At any rate, my hand shot up into the air, waving wildly. “Me! Me! Me!” I called out.
Gert asked for the script. I wrote home and told my mother where it was hidden. My mother sent it to me. The camp office mimeoed copies. And Gert chose campers among my bunkmates for the roles. I was very, very, did I mention very disappointed not to get the lead. As a wannabe actress who usually got the lead in other venues, like the arts foundation program I attended during the winter, I wanted…nay, expected…to get the lead. Gert informed me it was not customary for the playwright to also play the lead. I had to settle for a very minor part.
We rehearsed. We rehearsed again. We rehearsed some more. On the night we finally put the play on, it was well received by my fellow campers, and one of the camp directors called out, “Author! Author!” I proudly took a bow. Several of the counselors had gone up to the tennis courts, where wildflowers grew in abundance, and had fashioned a bouquet, which they now threw “over the footlights”—or where the footlights would have been had the Little Theatre (as the camp’s theatre was called) had any.
It remains one of the proudest moments of my life. (Even if I didn’t get to play the lead.)
Fast-forward. Fast-forward a lot, to a time just a couple of decades or so ago. Again I was seized with the notion to write a play. And again I have absolutely no idea what put that notion into my head. By then I had scads of published books to my name, including one that contained some poems for kids. I had written fiction and nonfiction, for adults and for kids, as well as the aforementioned poems, but the chances of my turning a play into a commercial success were somewhere between nil and zero.
Nonetheless, I wanted to write a play. And I decided that even if the play wouldn’t ever get produced on Broadway or published in a book of plays, and I never made a dime from it, it would still be fun and I would still go ahead and write it. After all, there is no rule that says writing can’t be both a career and a hobby.
But what to write about?
My mind drifted back to my previous play-writing experience, at age 11. The memory of that performance in the camp’s Little Theatre endures, glowing golden in my mind. I decided I would write a children’s play…and, I decided, I would base it on the concept of that play I had written in sixth grade.
This time I knew the difference between a scene and an act. And this time I wouldn’t give it a title that telegraphed the ending.
King Theo-What’s-His-Name and Joey was produced by a local theatre group I was instrumental in starting. (The old dream of acting had never quite gone away.)
But later, it was picked up by a theatre in New York! Not, of course, on Broadway. This was what is classified as an off-off-Broadway theatre (the classification has to do with the size of the “house,” not the proximity to the Great White Way), but it was still New York. The real deal. I flew up to the city to see the opening. (Born and raised in a New York suburb, I had lived in the city itself for over two decades before uprooting myself to move to South Florida.)
It was another proud moment in my life. The play whose idea I had stolen from myself, from that play I had written in sixth grade and seen put on in summer camp, was now actually being produced in New York.
The producers had shortened the title to King Theo, but they hadn’t meddled with the script. Seeing it put on on a New York stage was inarguably a thrill.
But it still couldn’t compare with the night in summer camp when one of the camp directors yelled, “Author! Author!” and some counselors threw a bouquet of wildflowers “over the footlights.”
Are you a writer in search of the “next step” in your process, join us for a day of exploration dedicated in your success as a paid author.
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Did you know that there is a place of magic and wonderment right in your town? A place where your children (and you!) can be transported to far-away lands, where you can explore the world, meet famous people, and learn about almost anything you desire to?
If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about the library.
The typical library of today lends much more than just books. Music, movies, maps, and much more are on offer at your local place of enchantment. There are computers available for use…and the main branch of the county library where I live offers sound mixing software and facilities as well. What does your library offer that’s far removed from simply lending books?
The library of my early childhood was a converted house. In those pre-ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) days, half the books were on the second floor, and there was no elevator, only a staircase, to get upstairs. I would scramble upstairs eagerly, browsing the bookshelves and coming home with my arms loaded down with as many books as I was allowed to borrow at a time. New finds, old faves to re-read—anything was fair game as long as they were books.
At some point the town built a new ediifice to house not only the book collection but now also records (remember vinyl LPs?) as well—and my borrowing increased as I tried to sate my ever-growing love of Broadway show tunes. I treasured my visits to the library, which was some 10 blocks from my home—accessible on foot if my mother wasn’t available to drive me. One way or another I got there—often!
Thanks to your local library, your child can read endlessly, even if buying him/her all the books he/she wants is out of the question. Of course Roundtable/GreatReads hopes you’ll buy lots of books from our site, and speaking personally I hope you’ll buy lots of mine. But if your child is a voracious reader, you can help satisfy her/his appetite for books without going broke. Just see to it that he/she is well acquainted with the “house of magic and wonderment” in your town: the library.