I have been laboring at building the text of my daughter Scarlet’s book, “Scarlet’s Superpower.” This past week I shared the first couple of pages of text with Scarlet… with mixed reviews.
First of all, she balked at the idea of including details that did not actually happen. I reminded her that this was fiction, albeit realistic. I don’t think she liked the idea of napping in the “infant room” of the daycare. We can change that to suit her feelings and maintain the message of the book.
She also gave me a hard time for making up a name for the director of the daycare. I confessed that I did not remember the exact name, and I explained that it was common to replace actual names with surrogates.
A criticism that I took more seriously came when Scarlet did not understand part of the text that I had written. There is a part of the story where I (Dad) show up to get Scarlet. It’s the end of the day, and Scarlet is playing outside with her friends. First, I use a vocabulary word from my 3rd grade curriculum to describe the audio of the scene: din. And then, I use some heavy figurative language when I share the experience of calling her to me. Scarlet hated it.
I was driving when Scarlet was reading the text from my phone. I had written it into a Google doc that morning. As she complained and fumbled with this portion of the story, I was tempted to pull over to explain the meaning. Then I thought to myself, if I need to put on the brakes and pull apart the clauses of this sentence to explain it to the actual main character of the book, it is probably not a good idea to include it.
I really liked the ideas from this sentence, though. I thought that there was a lot of teaching potential. If I were presenting this to my Polite Pirates (3rd grade students), I would go to town! We would draw pictures showing the figurative language. The students would be required to make up their own mirror sentences. It would turn into a week-long lesson of metaphor, mixed with alliteration and hyperbole!
“No, Dad,” was the vibe I was getting in my truck on the way home. Scarlet did not have to make a case for omitting the text. Her confusion and the disdain in her voice told me that this was not a battle to be fought and won. The teacher in me, trying to forge educational material, must bow to the author writing an entertaining children’s book. The text will still teach plenty of lessons. The theme alone packs a powerful punch. Why weaken the message by causing readers to stumble over fancy figurative language?
And, now I come to the purpose of this blog! Rather than include cumbersome text in “Scarlet’s Superpower,” I can write about what I won’t write, why I wanted to include it, and why it didn’t work. This will save the script from being weighed down with all that superfluous verbiage.
Okay, so here is the sentence that Scarlet hated:
His call is a siren telling me safety has arrived, and I better get over to him quickly.
Even if I explained to Scarlet what a “siren” was, it would take additional explanation to communicate the metaphor. By the end of all that cognitive wrestling, the text would be all turned around and the storyline would be lost. A teacher would spend so much time showing students the pretty flowers and important plants in a field that the trail was completely out of sight. “Where is Scarlet, again?” the teacher would have to prompt. “And, what time of day is it?” The teacher would have to field all kinds of wrong answers before honing back in on what is happening in the story! Is that what I want?
An independent reader might completely gloss over this tricky sentence. But, someone else could think that Dad is a merman, sending supernatural signals to his daughter. Why send readers down a rabbit hole of researching “sirens,” risking losing them from finishing the text at all? This whole idea is similar to what actually happens when I pick up Scarlet. Rather than get her quickly from the playground to my truck to go home, she has to show me things in the daycare, tell me stories, talk with friends, and find lost toys! We NEVER quickly get out and get going!
What if I could change the experience of picking up my daughter from daycare? What if I could portal us from the play area directly into my truck, with all of her belongings neatly packed in the back seat… including both gloves, and completed homework? Miracle upon miracle, we could not only get home faster, but avoid frustrations of fruitless searching. Better to omit the cumbersome, albeit creative, sentence.
Even within this blog, I wanted to share too much. As I composed the text, I was tempted to begin writing figuratively about different stories compared to types of journeys; While one book might be a stroll through a park, another is supposed to be a grueling workout. The writer of a mystery sends readers through dense forests with hints around every corner. A thriller might have haunting colors, texture, and sounds seeping out of crevices. The experience of reading will be constructed by a good author, so that a person is different after having read an excellent text.
“Where the Crawdads Sing” comes to mind. By the end of reading that book, I felt like I had met someone; a person I wished to befriend, but I understood that she didn’t actually want to be my friend. Not in a rude sense. Delia Owens protects her character Kya by having Kya avoid people throughout the text. I have to respect Kya’s privacy. After closing the cover of that book, I felt like my pants were stained up to the knees with marsh mud from trudging through Kya’s world. It was a stain that could not be washed out. Her experience was tattooed onto my mind.
I would like the roots of “Scarlet’s Superpower” to borrow deep into readers’ minds. I want them to think deeply about the themes of the book. To help facilitate this, I need to ensure the text is unencumbered with mental obstacles that might cause young readers to have to perform comprehension gymnastics. While I don’t want it to be simplistic, the old adage applies; “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” By keeping the prose pointed, the message will be more powerful.