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.