LEST WE FORGET 4: Children are honest judges.
“Level with your child by being honest. Nobody spots a phony quicker than a child.”
“Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses them.”
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Children are honest judges. Their judgment may be harsh sometimes, but it comes from an honest heart, unscripted. So, if a children’s writer is looking for an authentic and honest review of his/her stories, who can do it better than the children? Granted the review may not be formal and may not even be in writing! I had one such judgment, unsolicited but authentic and relevant.
A few months back, a friend of mine invited me to his nine-year old grandson’s birthday party. I obliged. At an appropriate time, my friend asked me to tell the children some of my children’s stories. I did, including my favorite: “Mr. Moon Leaves Home” which is about how the moon got his phases.
In this story, which was published in Skipping Stones Magazine (Vol.22, No.1 Jan. – Feb. 2010), the moon is married to three wives and must stay at the home of each wife for a specified period as required by tradition.
The first wife is beautiful and charming but stingy and lazy. She doesn’t give her husband food claiming it’s not ready, lekani vipyenge –“let it be thoroughly cooked.” The moon is starved, he grows thin. That’s why the moon looks like the letter, ”C” in the first phase; thin and gaunt. Frustrated, the moon decides to leave his first wife because she is Navipyenge, stingy.
The second wife is kind and resourceful but has limited food supplies. When her husband arrives, she quickly puts together a meal of leftovers, explaining that she hasn’t got much food but the moon is happy to have something to eat. AS days go by he gains some weight, and develops a potbelly. That’s why the moon looks like the letter “D” in the second phase. But his days are up and must leave Natulang’anya, The scrounger, for his third wife.
The third wife is homely, overweight and spends her time lying down on a reed mat next to the fire place where a pot of fresh stew is brewing. When the moon arrives, he is told to “dish out the stew for yourself.”
“Is it ready?” he asks.
Zubulaninge waka, “Just dish out,” she says. “And eat whether cooked or not; the stomach will know what to do with it.”
For the duration of his stay at his third wife’s home, Mr. Moon eats well, gains his full weight and is happy. That’s why the moon looks like the letter “O” in the third phase and the bright star by the moon’s side is Zubulaninge – The generous one –, his third and favorite wife!
At the end of my stories, the children laughed and capped. Some fidgeted. And others volunteered to tell their own stories
End of the first episode.
On December 31, 2013, my friend and grandfather of the boy whose birthday party I attended sent me a text message: “A week or so ago we were driving and observing the FULL MOON and our grandson shouted ‘Grandpa look he’s with his third wife.’ Wow see your legacy…?”
“I am most humbled. This is authentic, unscripted true evidence the message reached him! He is my true reviewer. Hug him for me,” I said returning his text message.
Then on January 3, 2014 the same friend sent me another text message: “I can’t believe my ears our Grandson just spotted the crescent moon and screamed ‘Gpa now (the) he’s with old mean first wife again poor man.’ Hope you can see moon there too…”
I saw the message about an hour after it was sent and by that time the moon had already gone down!
You be the judges. But for me, this shows the kid loved the story, believed and sympathized with the main character, and was thus able to apply it to real life situations; unsolicited.
LEST WE FORGET 3:
THE PATH TO THE PUBLISHER’S VILLAGE IS FRAUGHT WITH THORNY BUSHES!
Literature on publishing is overflowing with tips and advice: how to search and find the right publisher, avoid predator publishers, and much more. But it all sounds academic until the budding writer experiences the REAL thing in REAL time. Such was the case for me when I launched into my attempt to publish my maiden picture book.
I was a published academic before I turned freelance: I wrote articles and contributed chapters in text books for my profession. The path to publication was tough but clear; there were no thorny bushes or fallen tree trunks to be cleared. I wrote my drafts (in long hand), a secretary did the typing. When the manuscript was ready, I submitted it the magazine editor or the book’s author, and sat back: I had done my part, and left the rest to the trusted editors and publishers.
That was then.
Publishing was a “gentleman’s business”; author and publishers trusted each other and the business was conducted like a relay race; the writer did his/her part and handed the button to the publisher who took care of everything until the book was published and was on shelves in book stores. When I turned freelance, I had this picture of a relationship of trust between the writer and the publisher in mind.
I was naïve.
I wasn’t aware the publishing industry had been infiltrated by individuals or companies who behaved like street hawkers selling tomatoes. They were determined to make a fast buck off the backs of newbies. They promised the unsuspecting new writer they would do everything: publish the book, market it, do the promotion, and sell the book. They also promised (in writing) a hefty royalty percentage. None of this happened and in the end they told me the book wasn’t selling (how could it sell without promotion?), it would be dropped but they held on to the contract that gave them the right to be the sole distributor for a specified period.
And then they cut off communication with me. All my e-mails, snail mail, phones and faxes went unanswered. I was devastated. I was left in a latch. I was down but I not beaten. I was determined to rescue my book but I had to wait for the contract to expire and then started my relentless fight. I flooded them with all means of communication. Realizing that I wouldn’t give up, they responded, in writing, and confirmed that with the expiration of the faulted contract, they had nothing to do with the book anymore.
I won the battle. I republished the book. But it was a costly victory. The struggle had taken five years out of my time for doing what I love most: writing stories for children; I had gone through periods of extreme anger, frustration and exhaustion. Plus the publishing industry had changed drastically in response to technological
Advances and putting the book back into the new publishing environment cost money. I learned a bitter lesson. I came out of the experience with deep scars, a warning to wannabe authors.
The path to the publisher’s village is fraught with thorny bushes!
In May, this year, I will clock 75 years, God willing. But I still remember, with pride, my childhood pleasures growing up in a caring community where everybody knew everybody else and adults regarded all children as their own. In our local language, there is an instructive phrase: mwana wamunyako, ngwako, meaning, “Your neighbor’s child is your child.” This is a loaded instruction which gave all adults the responsibility and obligation to render assistance to any child in need and power to discipline any child who misbehaved. Indeed, it took the whole village to raise the children; us. All adults took the responsibility to help the children grow up into adults according to the dictates of our culture, each adult, male or female, according to their means: the storytellers told stories in the evenings under a moon-lit sky; musicians taught songs; dancers showed off their skill by performing the dances; builders taught how to construct a hut as they built new huts; men taught boys how to hunt or trap little birds; and crafts men and women taught crafts such as basket making and making pots and dolls with soil from the anthills. It was a busy time for all. In the process children acquired new skills while being entertained.
I grew up in this warm and supportive environment. I cherished growing up knowing I was loved by all and learned to return this love to all – my peers and adults.
I remember all this because the experience of growing up in our type of community etched a deep and indelible impression on me. But time is the thief of memory. So, I remember only those experiences that were dramatic and bitter to the taste, or entertaining. Fortunately, watching my grandchildren growing I am able to recover some of the lost memory.
I have had a unique experience and close association with one of my grandchildren. My grandson. I met him the day he was born and brought home. My wife and I immediately became his nunies so his mother could complete her medical school program and graduate. He is now 5 years old. I have watched him transform from a wriggly little bundle into someone I can send to fetch me a soda from the fridge and an independent buddy I can share jokes with. As we interact I am reminded of what I went through as I grew up.
Through this close association with my grandson, I am reminded that children learn or acquire social skills through observation and immitation; they resist instruction but are comfortable trying, on their own, what they see happening around them. This sounds obvious but few adults can resist the temptation to instruct a child. Children learn how to talk, walk, chew and swallow food, etc, by imitation; they are not sat down in a class room fashion and taught. As a former university lecturer I had forgotten this fact and couldn’t understand why children didn’t take instructions, didn’t they hear or see? They simply wanted to learn by trying, by discovering for themselves. As it is often said, “there are none so deaf as those who do not want to hear; and none so blind as those who do not want to see.”
When I look back 75 years ago, I, too, learned to be who I was and, therefore, who I am today, through observing and copying. I too, wanted to be left alone, and so did my peers. Together we learned to be the future adults of our community by observing what the adults did and this is what the current children yearn for.
I remember this because my grandson “shows” it, demonstrates it through his actions and body language without lecturing to me.