To Teach, or To Entertain? What is the Purpose of the Text?

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? 

Another idea/word to omit is “deduce.” What 11 year old would say of their dad, “He deduced…”? What world am I living in? Bring it down, Matt!

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. 

Wrestling With the Beginning

When preparing to bring the original “Scarlet’s Superpower” from 13 pages to 26, I was thinking of ways to beef-up the story. While I liked the simple story line, the text needed a little more meat to it. Should I develop characters more? Could we include additional ways that her superpower was utilized? My favorite idea was to show ways in which Scarlet’s ability to shut out noise by removing her coils could benefit her. 

One morning, several years ago, I was driving Scarlet to her before school daycare when an idea hit me: What if Scarlet used her superpower to avoid hearing bullies belittling her? We could begin the book with her wanting to take a nap. She could query about sleeping on a mat in the infant room of her daycare, at the end of the first day of school. Older kids; kids Scarlet’s age; could see and hear this, and they would tease, “Look at Scarlet. What a baby.” 

Scarlet would NOT hear this teasing, though. She would have already removed her coils. She can’t hear anything–nothing–when she takes her coils off of her head. So, exhausted Scarlet lies down, innocent and thankful for peace and quiet. 

The teacher, on the other hand, hears these older kids teasing Scarlet. Because the facility has a “Zero Tolerance” (no teasing) policy, the teacher reports the miscreants to the person in charge of the daycare. They get in trouble. 

I’m not sure if Scarlet finds out about the bullying behavior or not, but by the end of the book she helps these kids, using her superpower. They admire both her ability to forgive and the power to NOT hear. 

Here are a couple of the problems with this beginning.

Scarlet’s mom and I looked at tons of daycare facilities to determine which would be best for our only child. In addition to staffing, cleanliness, and the usual concerns, we had to consider how noisy the place was. Luckily, our area had many to choose from.

While I like using more than one setting for the story, having Scarlet attend a daycare could paint her as privileged; Her family is wealthy enough to send her there. 

I could explain that Mommy and Daddy make just barely enough money to have her attend, and need her to, so that they can work the jobs that pay for her attendance, basically breaking even. This circumstance would explain away the idea of private child care being a symbol of wealth; It is a shackle (Fetters, 2020). A surprising 57% of the working population of America pay more than $10,000 a year for child care (30+ Essential US Child Care Statistics [2022]: Availability, Costs, and Trends – Zippia, n.d.). 

Additionally, Scarlet attending a daycare categorizes her as lucky. According to 30+ Essential US Child Care Statistics [2022]: Availability, Costs, and Trends – Zippia, “51% of Americans live in communities classified as child care deserts“ (n.d.). I do not want someone to come across “Scarlet’s Superpower,” and think to themselves, what an entitled, lucky, rich brat

Obviously, I am totally overthinking the situation. Some kids go to daycare. Some don’t. The kids who don’t go to daycare know about others who do. Is the situation relatable? That is the question. Can readers visualize kids making fun of Scarlet for wanting to take a nap? I think so.

Sources:

30+ Essential US Child Care Statistics [2022]: Availability, Costs, And Trends – Zippia. (n.d.). 30+ Essential US Child Care Statistics [2022]: Availability, Costs, and Trends – Zippia. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://www.zippia.com/advice/us-child-care-availability-statistics/

Fetters, A. (2020, January 18). The Working-to-Afford-Child-Care Conundrum. Working to Afford Child Care so You Can Work – the Atlantic. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/01/working-afford-child-care-so-you-can-work/605206/

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Early Childhood Program Participation: 2019 (NCES 2020-075REV), Table 1.

Blog of Intent

My daughter Scarlet is in 5th grade. When she was in 1st grade, the two of us worked on a book together. The book, “Scarlet’s Superpower,” is about my daughter’s deafness. Because Scarlet has bilateral cochlear implants, she can “hear” from both “ears.” However, she has the unique ability to remove the magnetically attached head pieces that connect her cochlear implants to a microphone. This instantly renders her completely deaf. The ability to switch from hearing to 100% non-hearing is what Scarlet and I devised as her “superpower.” 

My aim was to preempt any negativity Scarlet may experience, being different. I wanted to meet this head on; “Yes, I’m different, and it is awesome!” was the attitude (mantra) I hoped to instill in my daughter. It was a powerful and cute idea. Together, we came up with some ways that her “power” of NOT being able to hear might be advantageous. 

Scarlet and I were dabbling with the idea of turning our stories into a book, when one day I saw a tweet that ignited the fire that I needed to fuel our project. A principal from California was asking the Twitter community to recommend books about superheroes to share with his school. I told him that my daughter and I were working on a book about her being a superhero! 

By simply sharing this news, my intent was made public and real. I both decided and committed Scarlet and I to doing this. We would share our story via book, one way or another! 

On April 28th, which happens to be National Superhero Day (I didn’t actually know that at the time:), I made “Scarlet’s Superpower” available publicly. That is to say Scarlet and I completed a version of our book that was good enough to be viewed publicly and I figured out a way to get it into a free Apple book version that could be accessed with Apple devices. Within a day or two I would get it onto Amazon, but people would have to pay around $3. 

The book got some positive attention. It seemed like it had potential. People inquired about a physical copy of the book; It was only available in digital format. After looking into some self-publishing companies, I settled on using Lulu. I purchased a package that would provide several hard copies of the book, as well as a website and more. 

While the original book was only 13 pages, Lulu’s publishing package would provide 26 full color pages. This seemed good at the time, but meant that I had several additional pages to fill. This pressure proved paralyzing. I have not worked on the book since. 

It’s time to make it happen. This blog is meant to not only inspire (breathe life into) me, but act as a contract of commitment. It is a “Blog of Intent.” I am binding myself to finishing this publishing project this year. 

Along the way I intend to write blogs, sharing the process of making the book. Part of my problem is that I have too many ideas for an illustrated kids’ book. I will parse some of them here. 

Finally, if ever the book ends up amounting to anything important, this blog will serve as a collection of behind the scenes information. There is a lot that goes into making a book. The writing process involves tons of revising and editing. And then, there’s the marketing. 

There is also a lot that doesn’t make it into a book. This is one of the things that is holding me up right now. I have tons of ideas that I want to use, but I’m struggling to weave it all in. I know that I’ll have to let go of a lot. By writing blogs about my thoughts, I hope to release the fireflies to brighten their own skies, and I can fine-tune the book to be published. 

The word intent is related to the Latin intendere meaning “stretch out, lean toward, strain,” and I feel like I’ll have to do all three of those actions to make it. But, I intend to make this happen. So, with this “Blog of Intent” I contract myself to wrap this up. “Scarlet’s Super Power” will be empowered by getting published.

A. (2019, February 8). Court Holds that a Letter of Intent is a Binding Contract When It Contains All the Material Terms of An Agreement. Freiberger Haber LLP. Retrieved January 3, 2023, from https://fhnylaw.com/court-holds-letter-intent-binding-contract-contains-material-terms-agreement/

intent | Etymology, origin and meaning of intent by etymonline. (2015, December 13). Intent | Etymology, Origin and Meaning of Intent by Etymonline. Retrieved January 3, 2023, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/intent

“That’s Okay, I have a Superpower!”

Three of Scarlet’s cousins came to visit this past weekend (July, 2019). We experienced all of the classic summer stuff: swimming in the pool, playgrounds, and s’mores. It was a blast; Especially the swimming. 

IMG_4867Scarlet’s mommy insisted that Scarlet be lathered in a strong sunblock before getting into the pool. That is normal, and all of the kids had to forego the inevitable wait period of letting the lotion dry a little before getting into the pool; Collective “Ugh!”

Additionally, Scarlet needed to have her cochlear implant (CI) equipment changed to waterproof wires and coils. We recently received new pool appropriate boxes to put the CI processor inside to keep it safe from water damage. It takes a while to get all of this situated. 

While everyone was patient enough, no one wants to wait even one extra second when a beautiful refreshing pool is calling your name on a hot summer day! They all waited for Scarlet to finish getting ready before diving in, though, which I thought was very classy.

It was also friendly and kind for Scarlet’s cousins to help her realize that one of her coils was not on her head, but dangling in the pool. This happened constantly throughout the day. Everyone was very patient, another classy trait.

At the end of the day, Scarlet’s mommy Sonia read “Scarlet’s Superpower” to the cousins. Afterward, we discussed the superpower of not being able to hear. Sonia relayed a cute and funny story to me.

This past week Scarlet had a dentist appointment. When the technician was preparing to clean Scarlet’s teeth, he apologized for the loud noise that the air pump was about to make. “A child recently tampered with it, and it broke,” he explained.

Without skipping a beat, Scarlet reached up to her head, and while removing her coils, exclaimed, “That’s alright, I have a Superpower.” I loved the story and was proud of my daughter for taking charge of the situation. Not only was she perfectly comfortable with the fact that she wears CI equipment in order to hear, but Scarlet was proud to display its functionality. How many kids -and adults- are embarrassed of equipment that helps them with a disability? 

This is the message of “Scarlet’s Superpower”: Try to take negative situations and turn them into positive opportunities.

When the kids were waiting for their sunscreen to dry before getting into the pool, Sonia told everyone that Scarlet still has to “waterproof” her CI equipment. The horrible task of waiting turned into an opportunity to learn about water-damage and how to keep water out of things. It also masked the task of buying time. They would have had to stand around waiting, anyway! 

The next time you are tempted to complain about something, see if there is anything positive that could be gleaned from the situation. We can all possess the superpower of seeing the positive. It takes practice, discipline, and sometimes creativity. Good luck!

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Book Information:

Scarlet’s Superpower is available from the Apple Bookstore in digital form for free: https://books.apple.com/us/book/scarlets-superpower/id1461703800

And, it can be purchased for the Kindle App from Amazon for $2.99: https://www.amazon.com/Scarlets-Superpower-Matthew-Weimann-ebook/dp/B07RLFC26K/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=scarlet%27s+superpower&qid=1563187286&s=gateway&sr=8-2

Scarlet’s Hearing Equipment

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Scarlet draws the “thumbs up” from page 11 of her book. (Notice her shirt says, “Be Yourself”.)

It is natural for kids to be narcissistic, thinking mostly about themselves and their personal situations, until they are tweens (10-12). Scarlet, being only 7 at the time of this writing, doesn’t totally understand how different her hearing situation is from most other people.

One difference that Scarlet is well aware of is her hearing equipment. In her book we mention the great advantage to being able to NOT hear when it comes time to go to bed. This is true… not the monster creeping out of the closet, but everything else. When Scarlet wakes up in the morning, she can’t hear anything until she puts her coils onto her head. This means that Scarlet, a 7 year old, is wandering around the house, completely oblivious to any sounds happening around her.

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[As I type this, at 5AM in May with the windows open, I hear birds singing and traffic zooming on a busy road near our house. Scarlet will never know the experience of waking up to birds chirping.]

Thankfully, it is not difficult to equip Scarlet with the tools for hearing. There are several companies that offer cochlear implant equipment. The one our family went with, Advanced Bionics, has a couple of different devices (at the time of this writing; technology is changing all of the time). One of them allows the processor to be clipped to her clothing. This one has a long cord that reaches from the processor to the coil that sticks to Scarlet’s head. A couple nice things about this equipment is that it is easy and fast to put on. It can clip to anything; Sometimes I clip it to Scarlet’s hair! Another great thing about this device is that it is waterproof. Some drawbacks to this one, though, are that its batteries are hard to get to and need to be changed often. Plus, the long cord gets caught on things and pops the coil off a lot.

The other device that Scarlet has for hearing attaches to the back of her ear with double-sided tape. An earlier version of “Scarlet’s Superpower” had the word tear in it on page 4, when it says, “I reach up and slowly, carefully remove one of my sound processors.” We removed this word because we didn’t want the book to be disturbing. That could diminish the message of the text. The truth of the matter is that every night we DO have

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It is common for Scarlet’s hair to get stuck to the double-sided tape.

to rip the processors off of Scarlet’s ears. And, many times it really hurts her, pulling a hair that is stuck in there. Also, I fear for my daughter’s skin behind her ear. Some advantages of these devices are that they are smaller with shorter cords, lighter in weight, the batteries last longer, and they have the ability to attach an additional device that allows her teacher to use an FM speaker system to broadcast directly to her cochleas. (This last feature may be the subject of a future book; one about her bionic abilities.)

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Here is Scarlet’s teacher Mrs. Brans celebrating with Scarlet the day she signed the National Anthem at a baseball game. This was the same day that “Scarlet’s Superpower” was published. We had to leave the game early, because it began to rain.

A serious drawback of this latter device is that it is NOT waterproof. This is where the subject of this blog comes into play. Scarlet has recently begun complaining a little about not being able to go outside for recess if it is drizzling or if rain seems imminent. Having her equipment break is too risky. One thing I didn’t mention about the equipment, and I won’t expand upon, is that it is a hassle and nuisance to have to get any of it replaced. Thank goodness we can and it is possible, but it is FAR from convenient.

So…

Scarlet’s Superpower, albeit totally awesome, and it truly is, came from a desire to help Scarlet feel good about being different. “I might have to stay inside when it is wet out, but I don’t have to hear the fire alarm.” My aim is to empower Scarlet AND kids like her with this new, SUPER attitude or way of looking at their disabilities or special conditions, a positive outlook.

We are already seeing it play out when we hear from children telling us that they are okay with wearing glasses because they now view it as a superpower. Please, share more of these stories with us. And, share “Scarlet’s Superpower” with others, because this is one of those synergistic powers, in that, rather than being depleted, the more it is shared, the greater it becomes. That will be the topic for another blog.

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Planning for page 8 of “Scarlet’s Superpower”