BlogShare

BlogShare: E-readers for children in developing countries

E-Readers Mark A New Chapter In The

Developing World

December 02, 2013 4:09 PM

Students at Ntimigom School in Kilgoris, Kenya, show off their e-readers. Worldreader now operates in 27 schools and two libraries in Kenya. (Jon McCormack)

A former Amazon executive who helped Jeff Bezos turn shopping into a digital experience has set out to end illiteracy. David Risher is now the head of Worldreader, a nonprofit organization that brings e-books to kids in developing countries through Kindles and cellphones.

Risher was traveling around the world with his family when he got the idea for Worldreader. They were doing volunteer work at an orphanage in Ecuador when he saw a building with a big padlock on the door. He asked a woman who worked there what was inside, and she said, “It’s the library.”

Deborah, a participant in Worldreader’s iREAD project in Ghana, reads her favorite e-book with her mother. Worldreader has delivered more than 700,000 e-books via its e-reader programs. (Worldreader)

“I asked, ‘Why is it locked up?’ And she said it took too long for books to get there,” says Risher. “[The books] came by boat and by the time they got there, they were uninteresting to the kids. And I said, ‘Well, can we take a look inside? I’d like to see this.’ And she said, ‘I think I’ve lost the key.’ ”

This, Risher thought, can be fixed. If it’s so hard to give kids access to physical books, why not give them e-books and the digital devices they would need to read them? Risher had joined Amazon at its beginning, helping it grow into the dominant online retailer it is today. He felt he could apply some of the lessons he had learned at Amazon to the problem of illiteracy.

“We were really trying to change people’s behavior, but once that started to happen, of course it took off because it was convenient and because the prices were lower,” says Risher. “In a way, we are trying to do something very similar here. … Here’s a culture where reading has never really gotten a chance to take off because the access to books is so limited. So we make it easy for people to get access to books and we try to put books on the e-readers that are appealing to kids and interesting to teachers so that we can, over time, help people shift a little in their behavior and their mindset.”

Working through schools and local governments, Worldreader launched its first program in Ghana and is now in nine African countries. As of last month, Worldreader says, it has put more than 700,000 e-books in the hands of some 12,000 children.

Donations from corporate partners and individuals help pay for the Kindles. E-books are donated by authors and publishers in both Western countries and the countries where the schools are located. Risher says it may seem counterintuitive to use e-readers in schools in poor, developing countries, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

A student at Ntimigom School in Kilgoris, Kenya, uses his e-reader. (Jon McCormack)

“[E-readers] turn out to be remarkably well-adapted to the developing world, in part because they don’t take very much power, they are very portable. It’s almost like having an entire library in your hand and, like all technology, they get less and less expensive over time,” Risher says.

A study of the Worldreaders pilot program in Ghana was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tony Bloome, a senior education technology specialist with USAID, says the initial results were mostly positive.

“We definitely found that it provided more access to materials. That wasn’t surprising at all,” says Bloome. “I think kids’ appreciation and use of technology is somewhat universal in terms of the excitement — so much so [that] the kids would sit on their devices because they were concerned they would be stolen. And that led to one of the challenges we had in terms of breakage.”

Worldreader has responded to the breakage problem with tougher e-readers and training for students and teachers in how to handle them. Even with the breakage problem, though, the USAID study found the program to be cost effective. It also found that kids who had never used a computer before learned to use e-readers quickly and it didn’t take them long to find games and music. But Bloome says that their excitement was contagious.

“Especially with the group that was able to take the e-readers home, basically the young people became rock stars in regards to being able to introduce their parents or other kids in the community to e-readers,” he says. “But really focused on content, which is really exciting. It’s about the provision of reading materials.”

Bloome says USAID is still assessing how the access to books is affecting learning in primary grades. In the meantime, Worldreader is moving on to smaller devices with a program that created an e-reader app for cellphones used in developing countries. Risher says the potential for getting access to books on cellphones is huge.

“It really is the best way to get books into people’s hands where the physical infrastructure isn’t very good, the roads are bad, gas costs too much … but you can beam books through the cellphone network just like you can make a phone call — and that’s really the thing that changes kids’ lives.”

Risher says he knows Worldreader alone won’t solve illiteracy, but he hopes it can be a catalyst for change.

Thanks for reading today’s BlogShare! What do you think about Worldreader?

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BlogShare: Roald Dahl and Matilda from NPR

I have decided to change my reblog name to BlogShare because often what I share is not from a blog post. I hope you enjoy this wonderful interview with Roald Dahl’s daughter Lucy. Did you know he wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or that he adapted Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice for the movie screen?

Roald Dahl Wanted His Magical ‘Matilda’

To Keep Books Alive

by NPR STAFF

November 14, 2013 5:07 PM
Correction Nov. 14, 2013: Previous audio and Web versions of this story incorrectly referred to Roald Dahl as being English. Dahl was Welsh.

Author Roald Dahl stands with his wife, American actress Patricia Neal, and their newborn daughter, Lucy, outside their home in Buckinghamshire, England, in August 1965. Roald Dahl died in 1990. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Every night, author Roald Dahl told his children a story: “Most of them [were] pretty bad,” he admitted in a 1972 BBC4 interview, “but now and again you’d tell one and you see a little spark of interest. And if they ever said the next night, ‘Tell us some more about that one,’ you knew you had something. This went on for quite a long time with a story about a peach that got bigger and bigger and I thought, ‘Well heck, why don’t I write it.’ ”

That bedtime story became Dahl’s first children’s book, James and the Giant Peach.

Lucy Dahl — the youngest of Dahl’s five children with his first wife, American actress Patricia Neal — remembers hearing those stories before she fell asleep. She joins Michele Norris to talk about Matilda, this month’s pick for NPR’s Backseat Book Club. It’s the story of a lonely girl with special powers and neglectful parents. Matilda finds her courage facing off with a bully of a headmistress, named Miss Trunchbull.

The magical narrative of Dahl’s books makes the writing look easy, but there was a lot of toil behind that playful language. Lucy remembers a letter her father wrote to her in December 1986, two years before Matilda was published:

“The reason I haven’t written you for a long time is that I have been giving every moment to getting a new children’s book finished. And now at last I have finished it, and I know jolly well that I am going to have to spend the next three months rewriting the second half. The first half is great, about a small girl who can move things with her eyes and about a terrible headmistress who lifts small children up by their hair and hangs them out of upstairs windows by one ear. But I’ve got now to think of a really decent second half. The present one will all be scrapped. Three months work gone out the window, but that’s the way it is. I must have rewritten Charlie [and the Chocolate Factory] five or six times all through and no one knows it.”


Interview Highlights

On writing Matilda

Matilda was one of the most difficult books for him to write. I think that there was a deep genuine fear within his heart that books were going to go away and he wanted to write about it.

On how he loved writing, but he also approached it as a job

My father was really very much a single dad. My mother was in America working throughout most of our childhood. He wrote for the money — he didn’t hide that. He also wrote screenplays and he hated writing screenplays, but he did it because the money was good. He wrote Chitty [Chitty] Bang Bang. He adapted Ian Fleming’s [James Bond] novel … You Only Live Twice.

On his work ethic

I remember waking up in the night and going to the bathroom and seeing the glow of the light in the little [writing] hut while it was still dark outside. I don’t know what time it was but that was during the days when he was adapting screenplays and the deadlines would kill him. He didn’t like working on deadlines. But he did it because he had to.

Lucy Dahl remembers that her father’s writing hut was “a sacred place.” Even on the days he wasn’t feeling inspired to write, he’d go out there for hours at a time and “put his bottom on the chair.”Click Here To Learn More About “The Story Behind The Storyteller.”

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

On the “hut” in the garden where he did his writing

His hut was a sacred place. … We were all allowed to go in there, but we only disturbed him when we absolutely needed to because he used to say that his hut was his nest. You would walk in and the smells were so familiar — that very old paper from filing cabinets. And he sat in his mother’s old armchair and then put his feet up on an old leather trunk, and then on top of that he would get into an old down sleeping bag that he would put his legs into to keep him warm.

He then had a board that he made that he would rest on the arms of the armchair as a desk table and on top of that he had cut some billiard felt that was glued on top of it, and it was slightly carved out for where his tummy was. When he sat down … the first thing he did was get a brush and brush the felt on his lap desk so it was all clean. He always had six pencils with an electric sharpener that he would sharpen at the beginning of each session. His work sessions were very strict — he worked from 10 until 12 every day and then again from 3 until 5 every day. And that was it. Even if there was nothing to write he would still, as he would say, “put his bottom on the chair.”

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Reblog Thursday: Alice in Wonderland by Salvadore Dali

Enjoy, and let me know if you are as surprised as I was to see these illustrations!

Salvador Dalí Illustrates Alice in Wonderland, 1969

by 

What the Mad Hatter has to do with one of the most inspired collaborations in Western culture.

Last week, we marveled at Leonard Weisgard’s stunning illustrations for thefirst color edition of Alice in Wonderland, circa 1949. But it turns out they might not be the most culturally intriguing. As reader Varvn Aryacetas points out on Twitter, exactly two decades later a collaboration of epic proportion took place as the Lewis Carroll classic was illustrated by none other than Salvador Dalí. (And let’s not forget what a soft spot I have for obscure children’s illustration by famous artists.)

Published by New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House in 1969 and distributed as their book of the month, the volume went on to become one of the most sought-after Dalí suites of all time. It contains 12 heliogravures, one for each chapter of the book, and one original signed etching in 4 colors as the frontpiece, all of which the fine folks at the William Bennett Gallery have kindly digitized for your gasping pleasure:

Frontpiece

Down the Rabbit Hole

The Pool of Tears

A Caucus Race and a Long Tale

The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill

Advice From a Caterpillar

Pig and Pepper

Mad Tea Party

The Queen’s Croquet Ground

The Mock Turtle’s Story

The Lobster’s Quadrille

Who Stole the Tarts?

Alice’s Evidence

As you might expect, the book isn’t exactly easy to acquire — Amazon currently spots just a single copy, handsomely priced at $12,900, and there’s even a video tutorial on what to look for when you hunt for this treasure.

But the collaboration brought together two of the most exceptional creators of Western culture, both ticklers or curiosity and architects of the imagination, and who can really put a price tag on that? Besides, if this sucker can rein in $4.3 million, what’s $13K for a Dalí?

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It’s Reblog Thursday with Mark Twain for girls!

Happy New Year and a huge Thank You to Maria Popova for bringing to light this gem from Mark Twain. Enjoy!

Advice to Little Girls: Young Mark Twain’s Little-Known, Lovely 1865 Children’s Book

by 

“Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to ‘sass’ old people unless they ‘sass’ you first.”

In the summer of 2011, I chanced upon a lovely Italian edition of a little-known, playful short story young Mark Twain had written in 1865 at age of 30, with Victorian-scrapbook-inspired artwork by celebrated Russian-born children’s book illustrator Vladimir Radunsky, mischievously encouraging girls to think independently rather than blindly obey rules and social mores. I was instantly in love. So I approached my friend Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Brooklyn’s Enchanted Lion Books, whom I’d befriended through her beautiful books and with whom I’d already begun collaborating on another side project, to see if she’d be willing to take a leap of faith and help bring this gem to life in America. It took a bit of convincing, but we eventually joined forces, pooled our lunch money to pay Vladimir his advance, and found a printer capable of reflecting the mesmerism of the Twain/Radunsky story in the book’s physicality — rich colors, crisp text, thick beautiful paper with a red fabric spine.

I’m enormously delighted to announce that Advice to Little Girls (public library) is officially out this week — a true labor of love nearly two years in the making. (You might recall a sneak peek from my TED Bookstore selections earlier this year.) Grab a copy, enjoy, and share!

While frolicsome in tone and full of wink, the story — like the most timeless of children’s books — is colored with subtle hues of grown-up philosophy on the human condition, exploring all the deft ways in which we creatively rationalize our wrongdoing and reconcile the good and evil we each embody.

Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.

If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.

One can’t help but wonder whether this particular bit may have in part inspired the irreverent 1964 anthology Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls and its mischievous advice on brother-sister relations:

If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud — never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.

If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.

Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to ‘sass’ old people unless they ‘sass’ you first.

There are no words to describe how much Advice to Little Girls makes my heart sing — let’s make a choir.

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Reblog Thursday: The Man with the Violin from Shelf-employed

I hope everyone had as fantastic a Thanksgiving as I did! I finished my first book, which will be available shortly (self-published, announcement coming soon!), and then I went to Texas for a week to visit my wonderful family.
I hope you enjoy this lovely review of the wonderful book The Man with the Violin. It was inspired by Joshua Bell, who went busking one day in the Washington, DC metro during morning rush hour. I was in DC when this experiment took place and was sad that very few people paid attention to this gorgeous man singing his heart out through one of the finest violins in the world. Only one person … one person … recognized him. It was suggested that if the experiment had been done during evening rush hour, people would have had time to notice and listen for a few minutes. *sigh*
joshua_bell_web
The illustrations in this lovely book are truly amazing. How can you paint music? How can you show how a child feels about it? Yet Dušan Petričić gracefully shows a child being pulled by the music he hears. The sounds flow all around. I’ve never seen illustrations so descriptive of what goes on in the mind of a character. I hope you take a minute and watch the inspiring book trailer.
Enjoy!
Shelf-employed

The Man with the Violin – a review

Stinson, Kathy. 2013. The Man with the Violin. Toronto: Annick Press.  Ill. by Dušan Petričić.
Kathy Stinson’s story of a boy who is interested in his surroundings and captivated by the music of a performing violinist is perfectly complemented by the illustrations of Dušan Petričić. Targeted use of watercolors highlight the flow of music and joy emanating from the violinist and the spirited observations of the child. Wanting to linger, the boy is instead pulled along, forced to adhere to the busy schedule of his mother who hurries obliviously through the crowd.  In a satisfying conclusion, the mother later finds the time to appreciate and savor the music that so captivated her young son in the transit station.

Sure to be counted among one of 2013’s best picture books, The Man with the Violin is a reminder that the world is often seen and heard best through the eyes and ears of a child.

While this is not actually a nonfiction book, it is based on a true story, an experiment done by the Washington Post.  Read the Washington Post article by Gene Weingarten and watch the actual footage of violin virtuoso Joshua Bell playing in the L’Enfant Metro Station in Washington, DC.  For almost 45 minutes, harried commuters passed by, barely noticing the music of Joshua Bell. There was indeed, a young boy who wanted so badly to watch the performance, but his mother was too pressed for time.  It’s a lesson for us all.

For today’s roundup of children’s nonfiction book reviews, visit Booktalking, where author Anastasia Suen is hosting today’s Nonfiction Monday.
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Reblog Thursday: E.B. White from the fantastic Brain Pickings

Today I am reblogging a wonderful post from one of my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings. I became a supporting subscriber recently and look forward to every issue of Brain Pickings Weekly.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

E. B. White on Why He Wrote Charlotte’s Web, Plus His Rare Illustrated Manuscripts

by Maria Popova

“A book is a sneeze.”

Legendary editor and reconstructionist Ursula Nordstrom, who headed Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, is celebrated as the single most influential champion of innovation in children’s book publishing in the past century. Her vision ushered in a new era of imagination of literature for young readers and brought to life such timeless classics as Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. More than merely an editor, Nordstrom, who famously cultivated the insecure genius of young Maurice Sendak, wore the hats of friend, therapist, confidante, and tireless defender of her young authors. Among her most memorable creative feats, however, is Charlotte’s Web (public library) by E. B. White, published on October 15, 1952.

E. B. White’s second draft for the beginning of Charlotte’s Web, found in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web, 1994.

A few weeks before the book’s release, however, the Harper & Row publicity department expressed unease about White’s choice of protagonist. Worried that a spider might revolt readers and critics, they asked him to explain his choice. On September 29, White sent Nordstrom a short note in response to her concern that the book endpapers are too bright (but not without an endearing Whitean tease: “I’m not sure that anybody thinks about endpaper except publishers, and probably not more than 1800 people in the United States have ever heard the word ‘endpaper’”), then proceeded to address the PR people’s unease in a lengthy explanation of why he wrote a book featuring a spider. The letter, unearthed by Letters of Note, is itself an absolute masterpiece of prose and testament to White’s character, bespeaking at once his elegant command of the written word and his equally famed love of animals. (White’s bemused dismay at the inquiry was sure to fall on an understanding ear, as Nordstrom had her own feisty grievances with publishers’ unimaginative shallowness.)

E. B. White’s drawings of the vectors of the web-spinning process, found in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web, 1994.

I have been asked to tell how I came to write “Charlotte’s Web.” Well, I like animals, and it would be odd if I failed to write about them. Animals are a weakness with me, and when I got a place in the country I was quite sure animals would appear, and they did.

A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are murdered by their benefactors. The creatures may live serenely but they end violently, and the odor of doom hangs about them always. I have kept several pigs, starting them in spring as weanlings and carrying trays to them all through summer and fall. The relationship bothered me. Day by day I became better acquainted with my pig, and he with me, and the fact that the whole adventure pointed toward an eventual piece of double-dealing on my part lent an eerie quality to the thing. I do not like to betray a person or a creature, and I tend to agree with Mr. E.M. Forster that in these times the duty of a man, above all else, is to be reliable. It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of “Charlotte’s Web” is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago. Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else — the world is really loaded with them. I do not find them repulsive or revolting, any more than I find anything in nature repulsive or revolting, and I think it is too bad that children are often corrupted by their elders in this hate campaign. Spiders are skilful, amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.

One cold October evening I was lucky enough to see Aranea Cavatica spin her egg sac and deposit her eggs. (I did not know her name at the time, but I admired her, and later Mr. Willis J. Gertsch of the American Museum of Natural History told me her name.) When I saw that she was fixing to become a mother, I got a stepladder and an extension light and had an excellent view of the whole business. A few days later, when it was time to return to New York, not wishing to part with my spider, I took a razor blade, cut the sac adrift from the underside of the shed roof, put spider and sac in a candy box, and carried them to town. I tossed the box on my dresser. Some weeks later I was surprised and pleased to find that Charlotte’s daughters were emerging from the air holes in the cover of the box. They strung tiny lines from my comb to my brush, from my brush to my mirror, and from my mirror to my nail scissors. They were very busy and almost invisible, they were so small. We all lived together happily for a couple of weeks, and then somebody whose duty it was to dust my dresser balked, and I broke up the show.

At the present time, three of Charlotte’s granddaughters are trapping at the foot of the stairs in my barn cellar, where the morning light, coming through the east window, illuminates their embroidery and makes it seem even more wonderful than it is.

I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze.

E. B. White’s notes on web weaving, found in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web, 1994.

White, in fact, had little patience for the objections some critics, librarians, teachers, and parents had to the book’s protagonist and his choice to tackle the subject of death in a children’s book, which he saw as an infringement on his creative vision and integrity as a writer. In an unpublished letter to Nordstrom, cited in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web (public library), White dismisses these concerns with his characteristically concise, sharp-witted satire:

I am working on a new book about a boa constrictor and a litter of hyenas. The boa constrictor swallows the babies one by one, and the mother hyena dies laughing.

Complement with the altogether fantastic Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (public library), which also gave us Nordstrom’s infinitely heartening correspondence with young Sendak.

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Reblog Thursday: Bunnicula from Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac

Happy Bunnicula for Halloween! Anita Silvey’s incredible website, the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, is a great resource for history and thoughtful information about some of the greatest kid lit in the world. Halloween is Katherine Paterson’s birthday, and for Halloween 2012 Anita featured The Great Gilly Hopkins, a book I read only recently. Can I just say that I loved Gilly from the moment I met her? She is as real and lovable as anyone I’ve ever known.
But today we are celebrating a rabbit named Bunnicula. Enjoy and go visit Anita’s Amazing Almanac!
TODAY OCTOBER 28
Illustrated by Alan Daniel
Elementary • Fantasy

A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
OCTOBER 28:

Around this time of year, I prepare myself for Halloween madness. I’ve never enjoyed scary nights or stories. So today my recommendation is for anyone who wants a quasi-horror story that uses the elements of horror but blends them with a lot of humor.

First published in 1979, Deborah and James Howe’s Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery has been captivating young readers ages seven through nine for almost thirty-five years. Julie Roach of the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts recently confirmed that it still never fails to intrigue young readers during book talks. And its current cover, which prominently displays its slightly creepy protagonist, draws independent readers to it instantly.

Narrated by Harold the dog, the story concerns the strange goings-on in the Monroe household after they bring home a bunny they found abandoned in a movie theater. Since they were watching Dracula on the silver screen, they name their new pet Bunnicula. The entire family scurries around to make him comfortable and to find a cage and food for him—all, that is, except Chester the cat, who remains leery of the new household occupant.

In fact, Chester starts to vary his routine so that he can observe what Bunnicula does after the family goes to bed. For suddenly, the family’s vegetables, start turning white one at a time, all their juices gone. And Chester has a theory: clearly Bunnicula must be a vampire rabbit. So as Harold watches, Chester devises all kinds of schemes, including strewing garlic around the cage. Is he right about Bunnicula? Or is this just a case of sibling rivalry gone awry?

When Bunnicula first appeared, it won ten Children’s Choice Awards, included the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, chosen by children in various states. Now part of a popular series of books, with more than eight million in print, Bunnicula continues to entrance adoring fans. Husband-and-wife team Deborah and James Howe plotted an intriguing story, used situations appropriate for the age group, and kept readers guessing about the outcome in a hundred-page book.

And, of course, the premise is absolutely delightful. To get to it, author James Howe asked himself the question What would be the silliest, least likely vampire possible? The Howe’s first children’s book, Bunnicula, was written while Deborah and James, both out-of-work actors, were spending a lot of time watching old vampire movies on television. Because of their training, they focused naturally on character and dialogue, two of the book’s greatest strengths.

So, Happy Halloween week. I hope yours is not marred by white vegetables, but is full of laughs and joy—and just scary enough for you.

Here’s a passage from Bunnicula:

I jumped on my chair, curled up real quick and kept one eye open, pretending to be asleep. Slowly, the door to the kitchen squeaked open. This little head poked out from around the corner and looked to either side to see if the coast was clear. Then…guess who came bouncing out all by himself, and with that idiotic grin of his plastered all over his face?

“Well…I guess it wasn’t Mr. Monroe,” I said.

“Not unless he wears bunny pajamas and gets very tiny at night.”

Originally posted October 28, 2013.

Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery
Categories: BlogShare, Books we love, Oldie but Goodie, Reblog Thursday | Leave a comment

Reblog Thursday! from Kristen Lamb

I am changing Reblog Friday to Reblog Thursday because I wanted to start participating in Perfect Picture Book Friday last week!

Today I am reblogging a super fun post from Kristen Lamb’s blog. She writes about Star Trek! She made me see my own writing process in a different light, and even though I have not yet reached my goal of publishing a work for children, I do have a short story and several articles for adults published. I saw my two writer halves clearly described in Kristen’s post. My take on “The Spock Brain” she describes is that we writers can cripple ourselves with perfectionism. I consciously coach myself away from perfectionism in the rest of my life because it just takes too long to do everything perfectly, like folding laundry. And frankly, a writer can’t enter the lovely creative state of flow (as described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) when he is trying to be perfect or when his Spock brain is thinking about Strunk and White. I am very grateful to Kristen for shining this light on our creative minds. My Kirk brain wrote the book I am going to self-publish in a couple of months. Right now, my Spock brain is editing it (with some professional help).

I also want to add to the list of geniuses who created masterpieces by working quickly and furiously:

  • Mozart wrote The Marriage of Figaro in 6 weeks, along with the librettist who translated the French play into poetic singable Italian at the same time.
  • Rossini wrote The Barber of Seville in 3 weeks.

You and I, we can do this! *high-five gimpy fin*

___________________________________

Write FAST and Furious! Learning to Outrun “The Spock Brain”

Kirk

Original Image courtesy of David HT Flikr Creative Commons…

Many new authors slog out that first book, editing every word to perfection, revising, reworking, redoing. When I used to be a part of critique groups, it was not at all uncommon to find writers who’d been working on the same book two, five, eight and even ten years. Still see them at conferences, shopping the same book, getting rejected, then rewriting, rewriting…..

Sigh.

Great, maybe Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help took five years and 62 revisions to get her story published. Awesome for her. And yes, her book was a runaway success, but this isn’t the norm. It’s playing Literary Lottery with our careers.

For most writers, it will be hard to have a long-term successful career if our pace is a book or two a decade.

Most authors who’ve made legend status were all talented, yes. But many were (are) also prolific. 

Does Writing Quickly Produce Inferior Work?

I’m a huge fan of Fast Draft. Candy Havens teaches this technique, and it works. Write your novel in two weeks a month, whatever, but write fast and furious. No looking back. Always forward. You can fix stuff later.

I’ve heard some writers criticize this method, believing that writing at this increased pace somehow compromises quality. Many writers are afraid that picking up speed will somehow undermine craftsmanship, yet this isn’t necessarily so.

To prove my point, here are some interesting factoids about writing hard and fast, some taken from James Scott Bell’s WONDERFUL book The Art of War for Writers (pages 79-82):

  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
  • After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear TWICE.
  • Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
  • Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books over the course of his career.
  • Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?

NO.

Meet “Captain Kirk Brain” and “Spock Brain”

Here’s my explanation of why writing faster than we “are comfortable” can produce fiction just as good (if not better) than a work that’s been written slowly and deliberately. And, since all roads lead back to Star Trek…

When we write quickly, we get into The Zone and pass The Wall. We become part of the world we’re creating. Fatigue wears out the cerebral cortex (the “Inner Editor” which I will call our “Spock Brain”). Fatigue diverts us to the Limbic Brain (also known as the Reptilian or Primal Brain, or for today’s purposes—”The Captain Kirk Brain”).

The Captain Kirk Brain is emotional, visceral and has no problem kissing hot, green alien women or cheating the Kobayashi Maru. He out-bluffs Klingons, outruns Romulans, starts brawls and throws the rulebook out the window. He’s pure instinct, raw emotion and all action. In short, Kirk is the stuff of great stories. No one ever got to the end of a book and said, “Wow, that book was riveting. The grammar was PERFECT!”

From original Star Trek

From original Star Trek

Captain Kirk Brain can do its job better—write fiction—when Spock Brain isn’t there saying, “But Captain, you’re being illogical. It clearly states in Strunk & White….”

The BEST line in the new Star Trek movie is when the villain of the story says to Spock, “You can’t even break rules, how can you expect to break bones?” So, I’m going to apply this to writing. Are you breaking enough bones?

Many writers hold back emotionally when writing. Why? They aren’t going fast and hard and so Spock takes over and he wants us to use a seatbelt and our blinkers. He isn’t the guy you want in charge if you’re going for the GUTS and breaking bones.

Kirk is Great for Action and Spock is Better for Rules

Spock Brain is a perfectionist and wants us to take our time, make sure we follow all the rules and put the commas in the right spot. He’s seriously uncomfortable with “suspending disbelief” and he tries to explain everything so others don’t get confused.

Author, you are being illogical.... (Via Star Trek)

Author, you are being illogical…. (Via Star Trek)

The trick is to hop on a cerebral crotch-rocket and outrun Spock. He is seriously uncomfortable with speeding and you can easily lose him in the school zones or the parking lot of Walmart. Don’t worry, Spock will yell at us later….at the appropriate time which is during revisions.

Thing is, Kirk and Spock make the perfect team, whether on The Enterprise or in our head. They balance each other, but they are also antagonists. Kirk wants to put phasers on KILL, and Spock wants to check and see if the rules for the Oxford Comma allows this.

Blogging and Writing Quickly Helps Us Learn to Shut off The Spock Brain

Blogging helps us ship and get comfortable with going FAST. No maybe every piece isn’t the quality of a New Yorker article, but who cares? It’s a BLOG. We aren’t looking to win the Pulitzer. We’re looking to get better riding a Cerebral Ducati and ignoring all of Spock’s protests that “This isn’t safe” and “Where is our helmet?” and “Clearly the speed limit forbids you going this fast.”

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 1.56.37 PM

Image via Star Trek (2009)

When we get the stories out faster, they’re more visceral. We get more practice with more stories since we aren’t letting Spock nit-pick for the next ten years…which he will do if Kirk doesn’t go running the other way despite Spock’s protests.

What are your thoughts? Has your inner Vulcan taken over and edited all the life out of your story? Has Kirk been allowed too much sway and now you’ve got to let Spock whip it into structure shape? Does the idea of going faster scare you?

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