Two days in a row? Inconceivable!

No story today. I just thought I should explain why I have so much trouble with kids’ stories. I love kids’ stories, but they were something I discovered as an adult. Kind of.

My mother read to me all the time when I was little, but she liked the Berenstain Bears. So that’s what she read – that and Dr. Seuss, but I’m pretty sure it’s child abuse not to read Dr. Seuss. I had a favorite book, but she hated it and only let me check it out from the library a couple times. I don’t remember much about it except that it was a mystery. It involved a stolen family recipe. The grandmother is certain she knows who took it, but her granddaughter proves it’s someone else. I don’t know why my mother didn’t like it, but she didn’t. I however, adored it. It was my first introduction into the mystery genre. A genre that still makes up 90% of my reading list.

By the time I finished kindergarten, I finished with children’s books. Oh, I would still read to my little cousins, but I was too big to read them to myself. And definitely too big to be read to. (Side note, my dad read the Chronicles of Narnia to me when I was seven, but I let that pass since they weren’t for little kids)

Mom still wouldn’t let me check out my favorite book so I moved on to a book I had found at home. It was called Two Minute Mysteries by Donald Sobol. These were just the right length for first grader (though I certainly took longer than two minutes to read them). I spent the next two years devouring these books – there must have been ten of them, or maybe four. I don’t remember. What I do remember is that when I was in second grade, my seventh grade cousin said he’d solved several of them without looking up the solution. I was bitterly jealous. I felt stupid – I had never been able to solve one, how had he? I realize now that he might have been lying, or he might have been taking advantage of the five year difference and actually solving them. But either way, I became determined to solve the mysteries for myself.

I finished all the Two Minute Mysteries and discovered that Donald Sobol also wrote detective stories for kids. I read all the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries in third grade. Fortunately, I had a really good memory and Donald Sobol reused plots from the Two Minute Mysteries. But still, my eight year old mind felt that I had finally cracked the code. I had these mysteries all figured out. Time for bigger games. (Fun fact: I wrote my first fan fiction in third grade about the detective from Two Minute Mysteries. It was a total Mary Sue, but I think we all start there. I still have it if anybody wants to read it. It’s hilariously bad)

I tried Nancy Drew but preferred the Hardy Boys. At the same time I discovered the Baby Sitters’ Club and my love for mysteries finally had some competition. By ten I switched to Sherlock Holmes and at twelve, Agatha Christie’s Poirot. And yes, I did read the whole Holmes canon. I thought I’d read all the Poirot stories, but the library didn’t have the whole set.

In high school I desperately searched for a new mystery writer. But a lifetime of mystery stories had left me jaded. I couldn’t find an author who could fool me. At least not more than once. Somewhere along the line I had learned to find the author’s tells. I knew what didn’t belong. And if it didn’t belong it had to be a clue…or a red herring. And if the author fooled me with those, then I read another one of his or her books. Unfortunately, once was all it took. I know that sounds like bragging, and maybe it is a little, but it’s mostly a complaint. I really want to find a new mystery writer. (So while this is supposed to be a blog about kids’ stories, if anybody has any recommendations on mystery novels I’d love to hear them.)

But actually, the whole point of this long rambling story (I really need to stop blogging at three in the morning), is that I want to try something different. I quit reading children’s stories because of the lack of mysteries. I’ve been hunting for children’s mysteries and have found a few, but they seem to rely mostly on pictures. As I seriously can’t draw, I’m going to have trouble with that.

My niece, who’s in kindergarten, has gotten the reading thing pretty much down. She read the word delicious with only a slight stumble and no help. I think that’s a pretty good sign she might be ready for chapter books. Probably not my Two Minute Mysteries, but maybe something like Junie B. Jones. (Did anybody read that? That was another late discovery for me, but I think they’re adorable)

So, my next post will probably be about figuring out children’s mysteries. This one is about my lack of knowledge when it comes to children’s books in general. And about bragging on my niece. But mostly making excuses for the coming change in stories. They’re going to be longer and more involved. They will still be for children (and, Julie, I’m still gonna need you to do the illustrations) but if my niece is anything like me, and she sure seems to be, she’s going to be ready for longer books.

So thanks, anybody that actually read through this post, and if you have any recommendations on mysteries for children or chapter books for early readers let me know. I need to do some more research and I need to figure out what’s out there already.

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Um. I’m back?

Wow. Word Press says it’s been two months since I last posted. That can’t be right.

So, what’s happened the last two months (apart from my being sick enough with multiple viruses to not register the passing of time)? My grandmother died the end of February in northern Iowa, and I was there – without internet – for two weeks. It did give me a chance to try out one of my stories. Though, even with 600 kids running around aged 1-16, I still had trouble finding listeners. Okay, that’s not quite true, it was about 30 kids, but most of them were boys that were too old or babies that wouldn’t have understood. There were only about four kids that were the right age and they gave me mixed reactions. I’ll explain why after the story.

Nigel

Nigel the monkey loved candy. Chocolate, peppermint, caramels – he loved them all. The zookeeper wouldn’t give Nigel any candy. He said monkeys only eat fruit and nuts and bugs. YUCK! Nigel didn’t eat bugs. He didn’t eat fruit or nuts either, but he especially didn’t eat bugs.

So Nigel had to try other things to get candy. Fortunately, people find monkeys cute. All Nigel had to do was stretch his hand through the bars, make his eyes really big, and wait for a child with candy. Sometimes he would get cotton candy, sometimes caramel popcorn, and once a little girl had even given him her ice cream cone.

The little girl’s parents had been upset and told the zookeeper what Nigel had done. Nigel felt bad. He hadn’t realized the little girl only wanted him to have a taste. He thought she was giving him the whole cone.

The next day the zookeeper brought over a sign. He showed it to Nigel. It said, “Please Do Not Feed the Monkeys.”

Nigel didn’t think that was fair. How was he going to eat if people weren’t allowed to give him candy? He had to figure out a way  to get rid of that sign.

First he tried to pull the sign down. He kicked at it with his feet and pushed at it with sticks, but it was stuck tight. He would have to find a way to cover it up.

Nigel wondered what would be the right size. He wandered around the cage looking for something to use. He realized his blanket was the right size, but didn’t want to risk losing it. Then he remembered his sister had a blanket the same size. She didn’t like candy so she probably wouldn’t let him use it. Buy Nigel had to try.

Flora wasn’t watching when Nigel grabbed her blanket and he managed to collect two lollypops and a taffy before she missed it. Their mother made Nigel apologize and give the blanket back to his sister.

By now it was lunchtime and Nigel was hungry. He watched all the other monkeys eating the fruit the zookeeper brought and had an idea. The sign was red with white lettering and there were two big, bright red strawberries just within reach.

Nigel grabbed up those two strawberries and raced back over to the sign. He smashed first one strawberry and then the other in his hand and reached around the sign. He used that squishy red fruit to cover up the word “Not.” Now the sign read, “Please Do Feed the Monkeys.”

Nigel got more candy that afternoon than he ever had before. Candy bars, ice cream, caramel popcorn, cotton candy, and lots more. Candies he’d never even seen before. Nigel was in sugar heaven. He ate and ate and ate until he couldn’t eat anymore. The zookeeper came over to see why there was such a crowd around the cage. He quickly cleaned off the sign, but it was already too late. Nigel had eaten too much candy.

The zookeeper gathered Nigel up in his arms. Nigel buried his head in the man’s neck. His tummy was hurting and he was beginning to understand why the zookeeper had said no candy. The zookeeper took Nigel to the zoo’s veterinarian. She gave Nigel some icky tasting medicine and said he couldn’t have any more candy. He also had to stay for a few days to make sure all the candy was cleaned out of the cage.

Nigel didn’t mind too much. He did finally try the fruit and it wasn’t too bad. He still wouldn’t touch the bugs, but the zookeeper admitted he thought they were yucky as well. Nigel would miss candy, but not as much as before. He’d stolen a quick bite of the zookeeper’s lunch one day and now had a new favorite food. Now instead of being the monkey who loved candy, Nigel would be the monkey who loved…cheeseburgers.

 

I admit, I changed the ending slightly due to a four year old’s reaction. I wrote this for my nephew, hence the male character, but he was the only child that didn’t like the story. When I reached the part about Nigel being hungry he jumped right in with “and then he tried the fruit and liked it.” Oh. “Um, no,” I said. He frowned a little, but allowed me to continue until Nigel picked up the strawberries. “And then he ate them,” he crowed in triumph. I continued the story with the sinking realization that a four year old had come up with a better ending than I had. When I finished the story (minus the bit about Nigel finally eating the fruit, that’s the part I changed) my nephew glared at me and wanted to know why Nigel never tried the fruit. “It’s good. He’ll like it. Why didn’t his mommy make him take one bite?”

And this is why you should know your audience. Sigh. He did draw a picture of Nigel and his mother later, giving Nigel a big pile of candy and Nigel’s mother a big pile of fruit, so I don’t think he hated the story, just didn’t like the ending. Actually, it’s probably more that my nephew really loves his fruit. Grapes are a controlled substance as his house, because the child would eat them all day long if he could.

On the other hand, the little girls – age 3, 4, and 6 thought it was wonderful. They wanted it to continue. They plotted out Nigel escaping from the zoo and going hunting for more cheeseburgers. They wanted him to find a house with a little girl who would make him cheeseburgers. The chapter was supposed to be called The Lonely Little Girl because she lived alone. Now, according to a fellow writer, I have no idea how children’s books work because I questioned my niece as to how a little girl could be living in a house all alone. My niece’s answer was that she lived in a jungle. Which made no sense to me – there are no jungles in America. I guess that really just shows how far I have to go. I thought I was doing well having a monkey liking cheeseburgers. Apparently, you have to give up all logic when you’re writing children’s stories. Either that or quit arguing with a six year old and just write the story as she tells it.

 

 

I knew this was going to be tough

I read somewhere that writing a children’s story is like writing “War and Peace” as a haiku. I don’t remember who said it and if I open a tab to look it up I will take the opportunity to get distracted and “forget” to come back and finish this post. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that someone, sometime, said it.

And yes, it’s an exaggeration, but writing a children’s book is far more difficult than most people think. It may be shorter than a novel, by that only makes it more difficult. Nearly anyone can make up a story to tell a child (except me, apparently, unless given sufficient warning) but it’s the attention the child is enjoying more than the story. I know the stories I’ve told my niece and nephew (henceforth known as Z and C, respectfully, because niece and nephew are too long and I keep trying to spell niece as neice) aren’t very good as you’ll soon see, but they request a new one every time I see them. They like playing games or reading books, but the love and attention that goes into a story created just for them is special – even if the story isn’t great.

I guess what I’m really saying is that I’m not trying to get published. I’m not trying to write the next “Goodnight Moon” or “Guess How Much I Love You.” I just want to give Z and C (and Baby B when he’s a little older) a memory that they can look back on and remember how much their Aunt Stacy loved them.

And now that my excuses are out of the way, here is my first story.

Veronica the Dragon

Veronica wasn’t a very good dragon. She wasn’t green or red or even pink. She was gray. And not a pretty silver gray like her grandmother, but a dull, dirty gray like a rock.  Her spikes weren’t spikes at all, but green lumps that trailed down her back. And her wings – the pride of every dragon – weren’t large enough to lift her off the ground. They were short and stubby and the same dirty, disappointing gray as the rest of her. But none of these were the worst thing. No the worst thing of all was that Veronica couldn’t breathe fire.

It wasn’t that Veronica hadn’t tried. She’d tried every suggestion the other dragons had given her. Her friend Ember had suggested she eat lots of red peppers. So Veronica had eaten 96 red peppers. She eaten until her stomach hurt and tears streamed from her eyes, but when she opened her mouth nothing came out but a big, stinky, peppery burp.

Her grandpapa told her to wrap her neck up in a scarf and sit in the sun until all the breath in her throat got hot enough to catch fire. Veronica wasn’t sure if Grandpapa was teasing or not, but she tried it. All she got for her trouble was a sunburned nose and a sweaty scarf.

Her little brother Arlo suggested she wasn’t warm enough and should drink lots of hot chocolate. Veronica and Arlo drank three gallons of hot chocolate each. It was fun, but Veronica still couldn’t breathe fire.

Her cousin Dante told her to eat a firecracker. Fortunately, Veronica’s mother heard that suggestion and told Dante to stop telling lies. Veronica decided not to ask Dante for anymore advice.

Heartbroken that no one’s advice had worked, Veronica decided to run away. She packed her favorite books and her stuffed lizard and started walking. She didn’t notice the dark clouds covering the sky until the first drops of rain started to fall.

Now, no dragon likes rain. Rain puts out fire. And a dragon trying to figure out how to breathe fire hates rain more than most. By the time Veronica found a cave to hide in the rain was dripping off her wings and her nose and off her lumpy spikes. She shivered in the cave, cold, wet, and miserable and wished she hadn’t run away. When it rained at home her mother made hot chocolate and told Veronica and Arlo dragon stories about strong dragons triumphing over wicked kings and rescuing the princess from the evil knights. And then Veronica and Arlo would play Dragons and Knights and use Veronica’s stuffed lizard as the poor princess the knight was trying to steal back.

As Veronica thought about her mother and Arlo her nose began to burn. She sniffed a couple times, but it didn’t help. Rubbing it didn’t help either. Instead, her nose began to twitch and her breath came in short gasps.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ahchoo!” Veronica sneezed and then watched in amazement as fire shot from her mouth. She’d done it! She’d finally breathed fire. She ignored the falling rain as she raced home to tell her family.

The rain had stopped as she reached the dragon village and as the sun came back out Veronica noticed that the water on her scales caused them to sparkle in the sun reflecting back a rainbow of color. Not just red or green or pink, but purple and blue and yellow as well. Veronica smiled up at the sun, but she secretly hoped it would rain again soon.

The End?

I’m not overly happy with this story. I couldn’t come up with an ending and I cut out a huge section in which Veronica encountered a princess being held captive in the cave. Originally the princess was wearing a hat with a feather and that was what tickled Veronica’s nose and caused her to sneeze. They were going to escape and discover that when curled up, Veronica looks just like a rock. Then there’s a big scene in which the king believes the dragons have kidnapped the princess and Veronica and the princess have to reach the dragon village before war breaks out between the dragons and the knights. All this was making it a novel length children’s story. Unfortunately, cutting it left me without an ending. I wanted Veronica to be happy with her looks because that was how she was able to save the princess. But left without a princess to I had no way for Veronica’s looks to play an important part.

I may yet have Veronica meet the princess in another story if I can keep it to 1000 words or so. I’m not sure.

Well, let me know? What did you think? Any suggestions on the ending? Would anybody be interested in reading more about Veronica the dragon?

 

Here goes nothing

My first foray into the blog world. To say I’m nervous would be like saying Iceland is cold. No wait, how did that go? Iceland is nice, Greenland’s covered in ice? So Greenland’s cold. (Look at that, I did learn something from Mighty Ducks). And this is not a great way to start. Let me try again.

Hi. I’m Stacy (or am I supposed to use a fake name? Eh, too late now). I’m an active participant in NaNoWriMo, but do almost no writing outside November. Every year I promise to try and every year I fail miserably. Certain members of my family – coughMomcough – have been pressuring me to make more of an effort. This blog is not a reflection of that.

No, this blog is something else entirely. Kind of. I belong to a group of lovely, like-minded people who recently read Julie/Julia. While we mostly hated the book, we were impressed with the concept. One member (possibly hypothetically) asked what we would do as a similar challenge and it took off from there. Eventually it came down to choosing for ourselves or being assigned the bacon cheeseburger challenge.

I spent several days deciding what I wanted to do and searching the internet to see what others had done – simultaneously wanting ideas yet wanting something no one else had done. I actually came really close to choosing the bacon cheeseburgers, but then I remembered my Christmas present.

My niece constantly asks me to tell her stories. I’m just not good at kids’ stories. I have trouble coming up with the spur of the moment ideas. I usually try to stall for time by making my niece and nephew tell me a story first. They’ve caught on to this tactic, and try buttering me up. (“But, Aunt Stacy, I like your stories best.”) It usually ends in a stalemate, unless I prepare something ahead of time.

My niece seems to have figured this out as well. For Christmas the two of them gave me a really nice notebook and a set of pens complete with instructions. “It’s for you to write down your stories so we can read them when you’re here.” Oh. Checkmate. I stalled during the rest of the visit, but I have to have something written by the next one or I will officially be the worst aunt ever. Hence the blog. Maybe this way I’ll have a few built up the next time I see them. Or at least a couple in my notebook for my niece to read.

My goal is one story a week for a year. I’m hoping to write several stories about the same characters and plan to make an amigurumi or stuffy to go along with the books. I have a sister-in-law that draws (Hi, Julie!) and am hoping she will be willing to illustrate any that have promise. Maybe I should have asked her first, but she’s too sweet to refuse even if she wanted to. Not that I would take advantage of that…

Since I struggle with children’s stories I’ll probably be reading quite a few during the year to try and unlock the secret. I might post reviews on those books and any tips I find from the authors in between stories.

Shout out to Marian for the title – Thanks, Marian! And good luck to the rest of the group!