Tag Archives: reading

Magic Spell

I have a new book out called Magic Spell.

Magic Spell is a book about spelling in all senses: the spelling of words, the spells of magicians, and the spells that people cast over each other.

I have always liked puzzles and wordplay. With a flick of your pen a word can change meaning completely – night becomes light,  a toy turns into a boy, a ball becomes a bell.

In 2012 I drew the character Aziz – a magician who was a mighty speller.

I wrote a story where Aziz performed prodigious feats of spelling. But it wasn’t enough. He needed an assistant. And the story needed a plot. Along came Zaza.

The story became about their relationship and their struggle.

In the beginning Aziz is the star, the main attraction.

He has all of the power and his beautiful assistant doesn’t even have a name. She does all of the dirty work – such as picking up fish, wrestling with a hose that had been a rose, or putting out a fire.

She goes along with this until he turns her wig into a pig. That is too much.

She lets him know her name, Zaza, and tells him that she can spell too. They fight over the wand.

A series of spelling battles ensue.

Aziz turns a bug to a rug to a rat to a cat.

Zaza turns his coat to a boat to a boot to a book to a rook.

They cast spells back and forth. The argument escalates and things get bad.  Beads become beans become bears.

Aziz and Zaza must learn to work together pronto.

And they do. TADA! A new show is born.

If a magic spell is done well it seems effortless. The same is true of a book. But with both (with everything) there is usually a lot of work behind the scenes. I rewrote Magic Spell many, many times in an effort to strengthen the story and to make the word transitions smooth. Before it was accepted for publication my critique group helped,  Linda Pratt gave advice and encouragement and Andrea Spooner gave helpful editorial feedback. After it was accepted by Simon and Schuster, Kristin Ostby and Liz Kossnar were wonderful editors. Art director Laurent Lynn added his magic touch including SPARKLES. Katie Johnson consulted to make sure that the spelling changes and word choices were appropriate for learning readers. Many people waved their wands and – voila – five years after Aziz fell out of my pen a book was born.

You can buy Magic Spell at your local bookstore or click here to buy it from Secret Garden Books in Seattle. I hope you will enjoy it.

Every syllable spelled out a spark

The Young Reader by Miguel Mackinlay

The Young Reader by Miguel Mackinlay

Judy Blume was in town last week and I, along with a group of children’s writer buddies, went to hear her speak. She talked about her books, her writing process and a little about growing up in the 1950s, but one thing that stuck in my mind is what she said about reading.

“My parents gave me a great gift. The idea that reading is great. They were proud that I was a good reader.”

It had never hit to me quite so clearly that such an attitude was not universal. I grew up knowing that, of course, being a good reader was a good thing. Of course, you learned to read and to read well. I mean, yes, some kids struggled to read, but surely reading was a valued thing.

But then I remembered homes that oddly didn’t seem to have books in them.  Parents who I never saw reading. Families who didn’t go the library every week. Friends who marveled that our father read aloud to us every Sunday.

I think I was a bit like Harper Lee who said, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

reading is sharing.1

Until Blume made her comment, it never occurred to me that to have people around you who valued reading wasn’t simply a given. Or to put it better, it hadn’t occurred to me that to have such people around you was a gift in itself.

Do you remember when you learned to read? I remember the exact moment.

I’m sitting in the first grade. It’s probably the second or third week of school and we’re learning the alphabet. On the wall is a picture of a clown holding balloons. He has a red balloon, a blue balloon, a green balloon and a yellow one. There are letters of the alphabet on the balloons. And suddenly I realize something amazing. The letters on the red balloon, R-E-D, meant “red.” They are the same thing—the color I’m seeing with my eyes and the letters are telling my brain the same thing.

It was a code and my mind raced with the realization. All the things in the room had a code that meant it—desk, pencil, teacher, floor. What an incredible thing.

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark,” said Victor Hugo

Pawel Kuczynski

Pawel Kuczynski

After that, reading came quickly for me. Of course, I was motivated to learn this magic thing. You didn’t need an apple for someone to tell you: apple. You didn’t have to be in the same room or live in the same town or the same country or the same century for someone to tell you, “apple.” For someone to tell you anything.

As George R.R. Martin has one of his character’s say, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

And I wanted to live every life, real and imagined, that I could get my hands on. At that stage, I wasn’t thinking about what I could tell others with my magic code. I just wanted to know what was out there; what others knew; what they could tell me.

Later I began to dream about telling my own stories, casting my own spell with this magic code. But like Blume, I belatedly realize that it began with what I took for granted: being surrounded and supported by those who honored reading.

Kuniyoshi

Kuniyoshi

Women and Reading

As a writer and lover of books, I collect images of books in art. I have perhaps 500 images and without a doubt the dominant image is of a woman reading–alone. There are whole books about it.

The New Yorker ran an  interesting article about the history of women reading a few years ago.  It’s a history of taboos and strictures, but ever growing literacy for women.

But I find myself drawn to these images aside from their political or social implications. The women in the art come from all walks of life. They are at different ages and stages:

Illustration by Caitlin Shearer.

Art by Caitlin Shearer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist Thomas Hart Benton

Art by Thomas Hart Benton

 

 

 

 

 

 

       They are from different cultures:

Illustration by Jillian Ditner

Illustration by Jillian Ditner

 

Illustration by LaShun Beal

Art by LaShun Beal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They come from different stations in life:

Illustrator C. Cole Phillips

Art by C. Cole Phillips

Oil painting by Hillary Coddington Lewis

Art by Hillary Coddington Lewis

 

 

 

From a different knowing about life:

Art by Georgy Kurasov

Art by Georgy Kurasov

Art by Gwen John

Art by Gwen John

They are strong:

Art by Kenton Nelson

Art by Kenton Nelson

 

 

 

And they are trapped:

Art by AJ Frena

Art by AJ Frena

 

 

But they all share their engrossment, their engagement, their interiority. What are they reading? Where has the story taken them? What life experiences and what questions do they bring to the book? Will they find the answers?

The result is as unknowable and mysterious as the content of their books.

Art by Leonid Balaklav

Art by Leonid Balaklav