Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Birth of a Book

~Gran'ma, where do books come from?~

~Well, my child, sit down and I'll tell you. First, the spark of an idea is conceived long, long before the book can be held in your hand. It could take months, years or even decades for the idea to germinate, incubate and grow. The idea might spring from a feeling in the air, a random memory sparked by the fragrance of wisteria or night-blooming jasmine, a child's giggle as he somersaults through a bed of spearmint, a random comment overheard in the grocery check-out line--or an old photograph such as these.~

Dear fellow writers, from whence come your ideas? Have you ever looked into the face of someone in an old photo and been inspired to write about that person, known or unknown? Please leave a comment describing that time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hot Bookish Summers

"No more pencils! No more books! No more teacher's dirty looks!"

We all chanted it as we erupted out of the school building, final grades clutched in our sweaty hands, and into the sunshine on the last day of school. Summer spread before us like an unsullied sheet of Goldenrod paper, an adventure story yet to be written. But reading, writing, and Goldenrod paper were far from our minds as we escaped the building.

I spent most of my elementary school days living in a cramped three-room apartment on the third floor of an old building at the corner of Broad and Fourteenth streets--one of the two main intersections of my hometown. The nearest other child lived two blocks away. We never had a telephone, and I was in fifth grade before we got a television set, a boxy Philco console--used, of course.

Hey, don't feel sorry for me. Two blocks from that little flat was the New Castle-Henry County Public Library. And I had my very own borrower's card. The library opened at 8 a.m., so at 7:45 on the first full day of summer vacation I showed up, waiting impatiently under the mulberry tree
 for that click that would indicate the unlocking of the door.

"I want to join the book club," I said to Miz Catherine Day, the children's librarian.

"Of course, you do, Sharon. Do you think you can read 20 books this summer?" She struggled to keep her round face from splitting into a grin. "That's how many segments are on the bookworm."

I think I rolled my eyes. Discreetly. Of course.

In those simpler days, they didn't have "summer reading programs" with lots of prizes, refreshments, jugglers, and face painting. No fancy themes, either. They had books, and that was enough. Miz Day handed me a sheet of paper on which was printed a smiling, cheesy-looking bookworm.

"Every time you read a book at or above your grade level, you get to lick and stick on a segment of the worm."

"I know."

"I know you know." She smiled ever so slightly. "Be sure you read them, because I'll question you about them."

"I know."

"I know you know. I just have to tell everyone that."

By week's end, scores of papers just like mine were displayed behind the circulation desk. Apparently there were a lot of kids from all over Henry County, Indiana, who liked to read. I was a competitive little cuss, so I kept a close eye on the other bookworms.

At least once a day throughout the summer, I went to the library, lugging towers of books--orange Bobbs-Merrill biographies, Andrew Lang's color fairytale books, The Black Stallion and its sequels, the Bobbsey Twins series, books about different countries and cultures, and more. I completed my bookworm quickly.

One summer, Miz Day departed from the bookworm idea. We collected author cards, instead. I liked that better than the larvae because once I had all the cards, I could play the game. Further, I learned about some of my favorite writers.

Miz Day has been in the presence of the Lord for many years now. (I hope she's not trying to categorize the glories of Heaven according to Dewey.) Those hot bookish summer days live as sweet memories to this writer and raconteur.

How I would love it if one of these days some child would walk up to a children's librarian somewhere and say, "I read Up the Rutted Road. Can I put a sticker on my sheet?"

I would hope that the librarian would ask some questions:

"Who is the author?"

"Sharon Kirk Clifton."

"Good. What terrible thing happens to the girl in the book that causes her to run off into the mountains?"

"Oh, that's easy. Her--" Shhhhhh, child. Don't give it away.

[Gentle reader, what are your memories about summer reading? What whetted your appetite for books? What were some of your favorites from childhood? How have the books you read then influenced your life now? Please click on "Comments" and share your answers.]