Pure Potential!

When the words came to me, I was peering into a bluebird nest at four sky-blue marble-sized ovals nestled in pine straw. Pure potential. The female had flown away in search of an insect morsel, and the male regarded me from an oak branch. I instantly counted one-two-three-four holding those tiny beating hearts.

It’s impossible to go walking without being aware of the words.

 

 

 

 

I think them when young birds fledge, or a seed breaks soil and sprouts, when newly hatched turtles make their first precarious scramble toward the sea, and especially when I see the joy of discovery on a child’s face. Pure potential.

Imagine the influence and possibilities our words create in the hungry brains of our children. We can expose them to books and music in all the choices available to us in this 21st century. They will sample the array and take the best from it, re-invent it, and create it anew.

We can offer choices, take time to read with them, discuss and draw what they think about stories, act out the stories, and encourage them to write their own stories. It’s summer and time to see all the pure potential in our lives!

 

National Haiku Day

You aren’t the only one! I have to admit I have just learned that today, April 17, is National Haiku Day. I can’t let it slip past without posting some of my favorite musings in this classical Asian literary form. It’s only natural that I would favor haiku poetry since it’s a written reflection of the moments I’m always capturing with my camera. Haiku are excellent practice for children’s authors. They contain only the most evocative images in words clear as glass. Like children’s picture books which are anything but simple in conception or creation if they are to be fresh and memorable, haiku are flashes of realization. They should be lightbulbs of recognition and identification, or provide new ways of seeing. It’s scary to write one because of the danger of falling short of the ancient masters. Still, writers seek to join the tradition because of the zen which haiku creation brings. Here are some of mine which follow the three-line, five-seven-five syllable structure:

A green leaf withers             

Gobbled in mindless frenzy

Soon, a butterfly

 

 

Bumpy wrinkled thing

Some say you have no beauty

But your song is strong

 

You have gone away

I watch a small wren working

and find great comfort

 

 

 

Full skirts shield shy eyes

like fish among pond lilies

Youth and spring repeat

 

Cold and mist unite

trailing veils of winter white

snow is rain’s soft bride

 

Small bird sends his thoughts

speaking worlds in two bright eyes

before the singing

 

 

Sharing National Poetry Month

April is special for many reasons – a bird nest in every one of the nestboxes painted by our daughter, four in bushes, roses filling the trellises and blowing petals everywhere, Easter eggs still in the fridge, extra reading and exploring time during Spring Break, and it’s National Poetry Month!

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry, like music and art, speaks to the soul. We identify, smile, feel comforted by various forms of word patterns. Whether realistic, abstract, colorful, inspiring, funny, solemn, reverent or irreverent, there are poems for every time in life. For me, it isn’t always necessary for a poem to provide an answer or a definite conclusion. Sometimes I’d rather interpret the words my own way. The main joy in discovering a poem is that it evokes emotion.

I have far too many favorites to list. Some follow strict literary form, some are free verse; I love haiku and tanka, and limericks. My journal is full of all kinds of poetry, and our fridge sports poems which change from time to time.

Here are a couple that I have written for children’s magazines and for the children in my life. I get grins and lots of funny comments which makes writing worthwhile. Sometimes the words come first, and other times I capture a photo which gives me the words. I’m rarely without my camera, paper, and pen. Here they are:

Best Friends

I have a little puppy                            

I love her very much.

She rolls with tummy uppy

when she first feels my touch.

I scratch her chin to belly

and hold her in my lap.

Her legs go soft as jelly

and she stays to take a nap.

I see my best friend’s sleeping head

resting on my knee.

What does she see with her eyes

when she looks at me?

The Magician

I sat on the porch by a plant in a pot                               

Watching an ant cross a big waterspot.

Then out of the leaves popped a sleepy-eyed head

Like the color of clay or a strange rusty-red.

It turned this way and that and looked sort of mean                                       While I watched it turn into a bright shade of green!             

I wanted to ask how the heck it did that, but

Before I could speak it leaped onto my hat.

I waved my hands wildly all over the top

But the thing disappeared in the leaves with a PLOP!

Here’s one by Wendell Berry for the adults in our children’s lives:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me                  

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought        

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Happy reading and writing during Poetry Month, and every month of the year.

The Number One Spot

Time management has never been more important to me than now. I have a new e-book, on-going work on two more, marketing plans, a terrific husband – and our daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This is a perfect example of “Life happens while you’re making plans.” All the plans get rearranged and re-prioritized, with the family always landing in the number one spot.

Thanksgiving, 2011, found me, as usual, preparing for a festive family day. The day before Thanksgiving, I had finally completed the edits for my first e-book, and returned the manuscript for final formatting and publication. All my treasured heirloom recipes from both grandmothers and Mother had been retrieved from their files, ingredients assembled, kitchen appliances utilized to the max. My husband, Jim, was busily chopping and often asking, “What next?” We are a finely-honed team in the culinary/entertaining department.

Thanksgiving Day was full of good food and thanks, just as we had planned. Our daughter spent the day with her husband’s family, but we had a full table at our house. The next day brought a shocking answer to Jim’s “What next?” in one of those time-stopping moments. It came in a phone call, while Jim chopped more vegetables and I wrestled a turkey carcass into a huge soup pot.

“Ring, ring.” I grabbed a kitchen towel and remarked that this was a heck of a time for the phone to ring. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Mom.” That one word, in that one tone, put me on instant alert. All parents know what I mean. “Can you put me on speaker so Dad can hear?” That’s how we learned that our daughter, Jeannette, has cancer. We looked at each other with the same parent thoughts speeding our heartbeats. In an instant, all our “what next’s” changed.

Now, four months later, we are immersed in wound care, chemo schedules, blood tests, nutrition and hydration, blood pressure and temperature monitoring, battles with fatigue. Yes, there was the surgery, the waiting, the staging, the lymph node involvement, the complications and setbacks. Months of this will give way to radiation, and then probably two more surgeries.

“How is she?” everyone wants to know. If I had to tell you in one sentence, it would be, “She is a brave soldier.” She gave her long, silky hair early because she said, “Somewhere a child is waiting for this.” (Jeannette has donated her long hair twice before, while she was in peak health, so that a child with hair loss might benefit.)

My “Day by Day” blogs may not be as often as I’d like, but know that every experience we have is stored away until the moment it is needed to take its perfect place in a written thought. This website began as a road of discovery through reading and writing for children. It is just exactly that as we read, write, and discover along this road we walk with our daughter.

This is an illustration from www.tracybishop.com which is such an inspiration for all the rainy days in our lives. It’s full of bright hope and determination as we paddle our boats through the raindrops. Tracy graciously gave me permission to post it here.

A Gift for Teachers and Librarians

I’m very happy to tell teachers and librarians that Apple has allowed me to offer a code for a free copy of LEMON TREES AND BUMBLEBEES until April 20! The book is available through the Apple bookstore, iBooks, and can be viewed on Apple devices which include the iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone.

To purchase (or download free using a code), you may go to iTunes on a Mac computer, and click “iTunes Store” and then “Books.” Type the book title into the search bar to get a purchase page. At the bottom of the page you can click “Redeem” to enter your code and download the book free of charge. After April 20, the book may be purchased for $5.99. If you wish to purchase or download on your iPad, just click the iBooks icon on the iPad screen, and type the book into the search bar.

Please leave a comment here on the site, and e-mail me your private, public, or homeschool affiliation so that I can send your code. After you see the book, I’d love to hear how you are using it in your teaching, and what your students are saying. With permission, I’ll print some of the kids’ comments (the good ones)! Some “classics” have already come to me regarding the audio/video clip, and the bumblebee recipe; and I have been excited about how young children are using the glossary words, such as “entomologist.”

This is a one-time promotion for authors from Apple; so let me hear from you, and I’ll be looking forward to sending your code!

 

 

Every Acorn Holds a Tree

Sometimes inspiration hides out in the wide, wide open of life. Ideas can move to the front of the thought line at any time, whether I’m kicking acorns or folding egg whites into batter. The more I engage in any aspect of life, the more it seems that my mind is another person rich with new insights to share. Thought patterns and words can be as elusive as firefly light, but when the right ones strike, I’m thrown into a frantic search for paper and pen. My notepaper reflects whatever activity that engaged me when the inspiration visited. Sometimes the pages are smeared with garden dirt, splotched with water drops from hastily washed hands, or tinted with just a guilty little chocolate smudge, but who cares as long as the “just right” words get captured?

I’m always mining the hiding places of inspiration. Once, unable to sleep because a thorny descriptive passage wouldn’t read like music, I walked out onto the front porch just as soft light signaled dawn. There, with a clear view of the eastern sky, I could hear the needed words.

“What if?” is a magical question which has helped develop my own writing voice, my writing “fingerprint” which is really just a reflection of how I view the world. Questions I sometimes get are “How did you think of that? What made you come up with that idea?” Answers and solutions which seem logical to me come in ways which are simple and natural. Several people have asked for the paint color of our blue-gray-green front porch floor. It’s custom paint mixed to match a pile of leaves, in stages of development, which I dumped on the paint store counter. Ray, the owner, knows me by now. He threw up his hands and pointed me to the back where he let me mix my own color. It was easier for both of us this way. I’m just saying that answers are everywhere in life and in writing. You just have to think, “What if…?”

Another unexpected way to give special flavor to my expression has come through the study of other languages. To be truly fluent, to capture the nuances that natives of a country use, we have to “think” in the other language rather than translate verbatim. This requires study, but yields thrilling results when you start to dream in French or Spanish, for instance, or effortlessly punctuate your native language with words and expressions from another.

To be a writer is to be a dreamer – and a brave one at that. Write the world as you see it, as it thrills you, as it breaks your heart. Write what you want your children to know; season your words with the sweet and savory of your life; help them know that there is a tall tree waiting within every acorn.

Acorn Sketch from my Journal

 

 

Crossing the Bridge

Welcome to the launch of The Reading Road website! Actually, my real reading road was launched long ago. There may have been detours and sinkholes, but there have been bridges to rare adventures, too. The Reading Road and the writing life are like fraternal twins; so it often happens that I cross a bridge from one to the other.

One thing always leads to another. Days spent observing and photographing bees led to a seed of an idea for a children’s book. Dale Carnegie’s words, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” came to me. Life in the form of a lemon tree literally gave me lemons; so I decided to tweak the famous quote’s meaning and write about the connection between pollination and that delicious tart/sweet summer drink. Then there was the leap to a USDA lab; but I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe you would like to follow the progression, winding and circuitous as it has been, to the first digital book I have compiled from endless curiosity and countless hours learning new science and technology. This is the sharing of an experience – of a light-bulb moment which affects us all in a fundamental way. We all love to eat, and eat to live; and this is how my book began.

It happened again this past spring when I left the laundry, the phone, the correspondence on my desk, and other urgencies to heed the siren call of our courtyard. Out there in the lushness, the wings of my imagination unfurl. Some satellite beams connections, and I start to write in my head. Why there? It’s because the air constantly telegraphs sounds and scents. New sights, new colors appear like the turns of a kaleidoscope, and I rush to capture them somehow. The whip of a tail, the snap of a jaw, and a satisfied chameleon has rid my roses of another thrip. I practically trip over a regiment of ants working in sync, like ancient Egyptian slaves hoisting stones to their destination.  Only, their burden is actually an expired chameleon, not so lucky as the one a moment ago. All this life circling and circling, mindless of me, focused, driven, accepting of their lot! And then I hear the buzzing, and I’m drawn to it.

It’s early morning when the white and pale lavender of mint and basil blooms are still dripping dew. Bumblebees, like fuzzy, fat dirigibles, bump into one another, zooming in and among the herb pots with a drone that can be heard above the bubbling fountain. Our blooming lemon tree sports an undulating wreath of bees. They often collide, quickly maneuver backward before re-directing flight, then alight to take long sips of nectar, dipping into each bloom head along each stalk. All this crawling and positioning, right-side up, upside-down, frantically buzzing and drinking as though this might be their last meal, gets me running for my camera. As I’m there on the ground, recording this rhythm, the title and first lines of my book, Lemon Trees and Bumblebees, write themselves. These little buzzers are just being greedy in slurping up nectar to feed themselves and their colony, but they’re really doing us a huge favor. This seems magical, the more I think about it. I remember the excitement of our grandson, Brock, who at three couldn’t wait to tell us, “I have discovered the best food in the world! It’s honey! Have you ever tasted it?” I really need to explain this miracle of pollination for children.

Our lemon tree had given us many dozens of lemons; and what child doesn’t like cold lemonade on a hot summer day? I had my title, as well as the beginning and ending of the story. Back in my study, I pulled books from my shelves; among them, Henry Thoreau’s Faith in a Seed, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Mark Winston’s Nature Wars, Stephen Buchmann’s and Gary Nabhan’s The Forgotten Pollinators, and others. The internet also provided much rich research. Most children really have no idea how they get the foods they love (other than at WalMart, as one little boy said), or how much science is involved in things we take for granted daily. This book HAD to be accurate, with a complex concept introduced to early elementary children in easily understood language, and in a way which might spark lifelong interest in science and nature. Above all, it had to be fun! If it would appeal to the natural curiosity of children and make them ask questions, it would meet my goal.

To verify my practical observations and research behind my writing, it was time to phone a county extension agent to be sure my horticulture references were on track. Then I asked if he had any suggestion for an entomologist who might discuss the lives of bees with me. That’s when he gave me the name of Dr. Blair Sampson, a research scientist with the USDA. Within five minutes of the first phone call, I knew the project was off and running.

Blair listened to my ideas for the book and then “knocked my socks off” when he said, “It just so happens that I’m also an illustrator.” And what an illustrator! But would a scientist/artist who had published and illustrated scientific literature be able to make the leap to entertaining children’s book images? We met over lunch at my house, and he brought me one of his paintings of baby otters, part of his renderings for family and friends. His animals are drawn with great detail in playful activities, with just the happy expressions needed for my book. I soon learned that he had grown up in Nova Scotia and had considered university study in art before deciding upon a scientific career.

Blair has taught me more about many species of bees, their anatomy, their habits, and their origins, than I could have learned in many weeks of reading. His research focuses on long-term bee studies in the wild as well as in controlled laboratories. He has shown me his on-going lab work, patiently and enthusiastically answering my dozens of questions about the intricacies of pollination, and the interaction and interdependency of bees and plants. He is one of those academics who radiates wit and contagious passion for his stewardship and study of a process which is vital to our survival long-term.

Many conversations followed our first meeting, with each of us trading sketches and ideas about how best to interpret my manuscript. For instance, I wanted the first pages to picture the “magic” of something taken for granted by most; so we had some fun with a magic act as well as a pirate bee on his ship, hunting for the “buried treasure” within the lemon trees. Also, I wanted the lemons to “grow” on a branch from page to page to show color and size changes. Blair interpreted my vision as quickly as I expressed it. One page shows an Orange Dog caterpillar (larva of a giant swallowtail butterfly) looking very pleased and proud of himself. Little details in the illustrations ideally tell as much of the story as the words themselves. Images and text in any children’s book should be as symbiotic as the relationship of bees and lemon trees in this story.

My resulting children’s book presents an early introduction to the process of pollination, with Blair’s colorful illustrations which are anatomically correct, except for their irresistible smiles and big bright eyes. From lemon blossoms to lemonade, the ending is one which everyone from kindergarteners to senior citizens will recognize. To encourage talks, there are pages with more about trees and bees, an audio/video clip, a glossary of new words from the story, and recipes for lemonade and edible “bees.” Lemon Trees and Bumblebees is available on the Apple iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble NookColor, and Kobo readers.

Here are a couple of illustrations from the book, developed from the first thumbnail sketches. The black and whites show the initial sketches, and the colored drawings are some of the finished pages waiting for me to place the text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other books, both fiction and non-fiction are in the works. Here with all of you, day by day, I will share their development, as well as inspiration, writing and marketing methods, and resources which have helped me. I welcome writers of all ages to read my struggles and successes in order to navigate your own book ideas and progress. Comment and let the rest of us know; we’re all roving reporters discovering features along the reading (and writing) road.

What are the odds that the connection with Blair would have taken place just as I was polishing my manuscript? I have to think that it was just meant to be. There have been other lucky forks in the reading road which I have taken to chase bears or rescue migrating birds, but these are tales for another day. For now, I am excited to talk about bees who make honey while they are flying, along with other amazing feats – and maybe share a glass of lemonade with some of my readers!