|(c) 2013 Ruth Ohi|
The Book: Nicholas at the Library (Annick Press 1990, illustrations by Ruth Ohi, picture book ages 4 - 7)
The Writing Tip: The strength of any story comes from emotion, honestly portrayed. But emotion very often has hidden layers.
In the published story, Nicholas and the librarian jump in and out of books (with the help of the "librarian's emergency ring") to return a lost chimpanzee to its story-book home. It's a great romp - but the mission is important. And to get that little bit just right, I unconsciously drew on something deeper, something that had happened when I was a child myself.
I was eight years old and sitting in the truck watching helplessly as Dad walked the brushy area where a cow had recently given birth. The cow was visibly upset. But nowhere could Dad find the newly born calf.
"The coyotes must have got it," he said, shaking his head sadly as he came back to the truck.
This loss mattered to him in a way I'd never seen before. A cattle herd is part of the livelihood of a farm but, even more important, farmers see themselves as protectors of their animals. And then my eight-year-old brain did a lovely jump backward to earlier in the morning when I'd been helping him move cattle from one field to another.
"Dad, do you remember that one little calf who didn't want to cross the road?" I asked hopefully. "The one I really had to chase?"
Suddenly my dad was smiling again. And off we went to the rescue!
A story-chimpanzee returned safely to its book; a newly-born calf returned to its mother. They were the same story, although I didn't realize it at the time. It was only years later, while looking through early drafts of the story, that I found a small hint of connective tissue that only myself (or someone who has been around animals at birthing time) had would recognize.
And the writing tip from all this? Even as a writer needs to be aware of the basics and absorb all the information available (here and elsewhere!) about plot, character, dialogue, pacing, theme, etc. -- please also be aware that to find a story's true potential sometimes you just have to trust your instinct and follow the magic of "story" itself.
Nicholas at the Library became part of two lovely literary celebrations!
- In 1999 it was given to Grade One students across Canada with the sponsorship of The Canadian Book Manufacturers' Association for Canada Book Day.
- In 2000 it was given to a whole new cohort as the first TD Bank Financial Group (and now annual) "Grade One Give Away during Book Week with The Canadian Children's Book Centre
The Canadian Chidlren's Book Centre is an excellent resource for writers, teachers, librarians, parents, caregivers and lovers of great books for kids. Visit them at http://www.bookcentre.ca/
(c) All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins.