What better way to end this year’s “children’s theme” blog collection than to combine the enchantment of imagination with the inspiration from poetry, and the magical sprinkle of Christmas charm into my closing blog of this year as a final pitch to bring hope back into our everyday lives. After all, my blogs this past year have ultimately been about hope -and although these blogs are about the craft and passion of writing and reading, it is the human condition in some form or other about which most stories are written.
I began writing poems and stories when I was about eight or nine years old, at a time when I viewed the world from beneath a child’s veil of purity and pixie dust and through starry- eyed, rose- colored glasses. In our young innocence there is always hope, not yet tainted by tragedy and disappointment and the life experiences that eventually reshape us and it is through story that it becomes possible to somehow find the way to hope again.
Finding magic and charm in nearly every situation and experience as a child, from the sound of rain falling against the side of my family’s bi-level home to the silence of the season’s first snow falling gently upon the outstretched boughs of the tree nestled upon our front lawn, to the trailing growl of airplanes in the distance flying across the flawless skies on a warm summer day as I worked in the garden with my father, it wasn’t difficult to find story ideas in ‘everywhere” and ‘everything”. It was easy to find words that could rhyme or sound lyrical, or to create characters capable of bringing fairy tales to life while spinning together happy endings into which I wished I could slip, making my character’s hopeful endings my own.
A writer’s aim is to emit a shiny new light on everyday situations, people and objects in order to mirror the universal human condition or emotion. Some authors do this by breathing life into inanimate objects like misfit toys who hope to be found, little red cabooses who hope to succeed at their tasks or quaint little country cottages who hope to find joy in the city only to later discover they were happiest in the place from which they started. Other writers infuse animated life into animals, like the three bears who come home to find a hopeful little golden haired girl in their beds, or into reindeer who fly through the fog in order to ensure that little boys and girls receive the dream gifts on their Christmas lists.
Regardless of the kind of pixie dust a children’s writer ( or any writer) chooses to sprinkle into her creation, the key is to look at the subject about which she desires to write- from a unique perspective, then to shake her idea around, or turn it upside down, or flip it inside out if necessary- until a brand new story emerges.
Seemingly, most stories are derived from one of several basic plot patterns, some of which include the quest plot, said to be the oldest plot line of all, in which the hero goes into the world to search for something he needs, or the revenge plot in which the protagonist was wronged in some way and seeks to avenge, or an adventure plot line, an allegory plot line, and so forth. Same basic plot line, just different ways to embellish it. Finding a shiny new manner in which to create a unique story that follows one of those familiar ,not so unique basic plot lines- should always be the writer’s goal and the reader’s expectation.
For instance, in Clement C. Moore’s The Night before Christmas, aka A Visit from St. Nicholas and Twas the Night before Christmas, a great big ole elf named St Nick sails across the star speckled night skies in a miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, as he visits the homes of children all over the world;
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled and shouted and called them by name: “ Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen! to the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!
In this incredibly well known poem, published in 1823 and first written in response to a request made by his daughter, Moore enchants children (and adults) of all ages year after year as his Christmas narrative welcomes readers into a magical story that is as warm and cozy as the snug and welcoming house in which Santa and his reindeer visit in his story. Taking an ordinary home, decorated for Christmas, from which an ordinary family dreams in their beds, Moore transforms a basic plot line into a beautiful poetic story as a forever Christmas gift to his readers.
Similarly, Children’s author Chris Raschka brings a lonely little pine tree to life in his picture book; Little Tree. Inspired by the E.E. Cummings inspirational poem Little Tree, Raschka weaves a simple and sweet children’s tale in which a little tree’s dream for identity, recognition and love comes true when he transforms into a beautiful Christmas tree, chosen by and adored by his new family. In his new little home, a little girl and little boy decorate the little tree;
The little tree lifted up his little branches, like little arms, to show off all the little ornaments, ribbons, chains and lights.
As the little tree basks in the light of his new found love and adoration, his dream is realized as he finally finds and accepts himself in a not so little way. Similarly weaved through out thousands of stories lining the shelves of libraries and book stores, this universal and familiar need for love and identity is presented in a unique and imaginative light, through the dream of a pine tree who comes to life for the short span of less than twelve creatively illustrated pages while lasting a lifetime in the minds and hearts of children who read this story. Sparking the connection for which readers desire to find each time they turn a page, this author turns a sweet, little story into a giant lasting lesson of love.
Seemingly, through the spirit and magic of Christmas, traditional tales that have persevered through the test of time continue to entertain readers through lessons of love and hope over and over again. A jolly snowman comes to life with the help of a magician’s hat and the hope of a child, who melts our hearts with his desire to give love rather than merely receive it. A round- headed and disheartened school- age boy named Charlie melts hearts when he buys a skinny, broken little Christmas tree for the cast of the Christmas play he directs and is ridiculed for his hope that he could transform the broken tree into anything special. Of course, in the end, through Charlie’s and his friend Linus’s ability to see something special, and through the gift of love and the miracle of hope, the tree flourishes. Moreover, in Charles Dickens’ allegorical classic story; A Christmas Carol, a cranky and miserable, greedy old man named Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed through the guidance of three Christmas ghosts and the hope they inspire.
To re-discover and preserve hope, we find out who we were always supposed to be and how big a deal love and acceptance is to each of us. Like the story about a nasty and grouchy old green grinch who eventually learns that love doesn’t come in presents under the tree but in the love we give to one another, Raschka’s own little animated pine tree comes to realize the beauty of that gift as well;
little tree had found his own special place in the world, a special little place that was waiting for him all his life.
And in the end, isn’t that what we all want in life for those we love, for the strangers who need our help and for ourselves? A special place in the world, or in someone’s heart where we can cherish the one gift that doesn’t come wrapped with a bow, or bought in a store, where we are free to give and receive love without expecting anything in return. By building memories and creating and passing down traditions and stories of promise -that never die even when we ultimately must, we spread hope.
In a time of instability, unraveling and fading optimism, it is time for each one of us to recapture the innocence of childhood, bring back the magic and true meaning of Christmas and ensure that the spirit of Christmas and childhood purity remains a part of each one of us all year and in all we do.
Once upon a time, a few thousand years ago a child was born who had hope and wanted nothing more than to pass that hope along to the rest of us as a gift from his father. That child would ultimately die for us so that we could live happily ever after even though his own earthly life was brutally and prematurely taken from him. In our faith of his love and his selfless gift to the world, and in our universal desire to give and receive love, and our wish to find our true place in the world, we can find, build or share hope through the magic of story.
Finally, in unearthing hope in its brand new light, like shaking a snow globe in order to rejuvenate and emphasize its beauty while illuminating its message, the writer passes to readers the gift of optimism, promise, faith, rediscovery and possibility, all of which comprise hope. And as that hope changes color or converts into something brand new and spectacular, shining brighter as it expands, it becomes easier and more natural to pass that special gift along to someone else, just as we were always meant to do.
In closing, I want to wish a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday to everyone reading my blogs this year. Regardless of the different holidays or customs you follow, or the politics to which you subscribe, or the religion in which you rest your faith, as Charles Dickens’ beloved and hopeful Tiny Tim would say; “God Bless Us, Everyone”!
Adieu to 2017 as we remember all those we loved and lost this year and over previous years (in dedication to the man who taught me that we truly can find magic and hope in everyday life- my father) , and cheers to 2018 in expectation that it comes with the gift of hope in a brand new light, so that we might all help one another find or re-discover our own special place in the world.