Do words get lost?

A while ago I read Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane and was struck by a passage about the disappearance of certain words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary for children.  Many of the words he cited as being dropped were related to the natural world, their empty spaces being filled by words that relate to technology.  It makes sense that dictionaries need to reflect practical and current usage but still, this was depressing news to me.

Illustration by Jackie Morris, taken from  The Lost Words

Illustration by Jackie Morris, taken from The Lost Words

 And yet.  A few weeks ago I read an article about a picture book he recently published called The Lost Words.  The gorgeous illustrations are by Jackie Morris.  It's beautiful, it's captivating, it's original.   Please read it, share it, gift it, because it would seem that yes, words do get lost.  They get lost because they stop being used.  But as this spellbinding book proves, words get lost but they may also be recovered, found and brought back to life.  

A portion of the books proceeds are being donated to Action for Conservation, for more information visit their website.

Badger or Bulbasaur? Have children lost touch with nature? by Robert Macfarlane


Something of a pause

I have not written enough yet to have a reliable sense of pattern within my overall creative process.  But I have written enough to know that 'endings' tend to be no more than a temporary pause.  For now then, I have finished re-visioning my manuscript.  I've done the part that is within my control: I showed up, I did the best that I could do.  

As I shut down my computer for the night, I don't feel relief so much as gratitude.  I'm grateful to my critique partners, to my close friends and family who have patiently helped me reach this temporary end.  But above all, I'm grateful that this is what I get to do with my days: craft a story, imperfect and honest as it may be.  

Children's author interviews

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I was recently searching for some author interviews to share with my 4th Grade Writing Club, specifically ones that talked about the craft of writing in ways that might be accessible and useful to them. Here are our two favourites:

1. Storycraft  Videos  

This website is a wealth of information and resources. It's focused around World Book Day, which will be on 1 March 2018. Our group especially liked the Cressida Cowell interview.

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2.  NBC Writers Speak to Kids

NBC Learn has a page full of interviews with children's authors. We watched and discussed the Jacqueline Woodson clip but they are all interesting and super accessible. It was published some years ago but much of the advice and thinking is timeless.


A book of letters, inspiration, craft and insight

A friend of mine recommended Dear Genius - The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, some time ago, but it was only recently that I had a chance to read it. For anybody writing children's literature, it's a gift.  It's true that much of the content published today is very different to what it was when she was an editor and publisher at Harper & Row (during the 1940s, 50s and 60s) and we now communicate mostly through email, but there remains so much to be gleaned from this book.  


In the introduction to the collection, Marcus writes of a crumpled slip of paper that Nordstrom carried in her purse as a kind of  'professional credo, to be shared with authors and reread to herself' during her most tired and disillusioned moments. On the crumpled slip of paper was advice given to Agnes de Mille, by the legendary choreographer, Martha Graham. It's something I have shared with my critique group and have taped to my own computer today.

Ursula Nordstrom 1969. Photograph by Paul Wilkes

Ursula Nordstrom 1969. Photograph by Paul Wilkes

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique.  And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.  It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open."  

~ As quoted in Dear Genius, from Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham by Agnes de Mille.



The Highlights Foundation

I am just back from my first workshop at The Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania, led by the magical, thoughtful and inspiring Cynthia Leitich Smith, Uma Krishnaswami and Sean Petrie.


The Highlights mission reads: "To improve the quality of children's literature by helping authors and illustrators hone their craft."  Writing can be lonely, so finding ways to connect with and learn from other writers - wherever they may be on their own creative journey - keeps the fire burning. It was a memorable weekend and I learned a great deal, not just from the faculty but my fellow writers too.  I'm always humbled by how much people put into the stories they have to tell, how much there is to learn about the craft and how generous and supportive the children's literature community is. I left full of gratitude. 


Reading right now:

This is not a children's book. But as I continue to scatter seeds for a possible story, this is what I'm exploring for now.  And even if you aren't scattering seeds for a story, this is a fascinating and challenging read. 


Untamed spaces

The clip above has no audio, it's of a live animal market in the east end of London during the 1930s.  There were puppies, kittens, birds, monkeys, mice and apparently lion cubs up for sale.  In researching the opening of a possible new story, I discovered this was not surprising for the time. In fact you could buy anything from tigers and panthers to camels and anteaters on the other side of town, in the luxurious department store, Harrods. How would anyone look after a leopard in a London flat? Why? What happened when owners realised they couldn't possibly take care of them? What happened to all these animals during the war? Was London Zoo ever bombed?


The time before a new story begins to take shape is both daunting and exciting and full of questioning.  I never know where the voice of a character might come from, what the world looked like through their eyes, what they smelled, needed, dreamed about, fought for.  I never know where the story might lead.  This period of loose research feels like the scattering of seeds into wild, untamed spaces.  Perhaps something will come of it, perhaps not.  But I'm in the habit of hoping, the habit of sowing.


For the full collection of photos by Anthony Linch, taken in 1946 for Life magazine, click here