Writing Into Wonderland

One of the best parts of being an author is receiving handcrafted stories from the youngest Otis Goes to School fans, learning to fashion their very own tales.  As a mother, it’s that much more special to hold my very own children’s crumpled up, notebook-papered accounts of vacations and childhood shenanigans, and interpretations of “what if?” The subject of creative writing has, thus, become a platform for me as I visit schools and spend time with young folks, and it is my hope to nurture their love for literature and its composition, in honoring the ones who did so for me.  To that end, I share with you my thoughts on writing with our own children: 

“Mommy, I see a puppy! He has a ball! Oh, wait… now he’s a sailboat! And there’s a train! Do you see it? Mommy, look! It’s a window! Do you think the train is gonna choo-choo through the window? I do, and… oh! Look at that castle! I’d like to see that castle up close. I wonder if I look small from there. Do you see, Mommy? What do you see…?”

Have you heard your little one rambling in such a fashion? Did you slam on the brakes for the puppy that was not, in fact, chasing a ball down the road? A sailboat and a train? No, we are not at the beach, and nowhere near the tracks. Yes the car has windows, and what castle? Ahhh… it’s the view from Wonderland–the world where children don’t need glasses and near-sightedness often blurs the reasonable, busily practical adult’s vision.

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Children do have their heads in the clouds. At least, that’s where they start. That’s the leaping point… the endless possibilities of soaring have everything to do with seeds of encouragement and droplets of inspiration (or the lack thereof), and then the patience of time in all its unfolding, surprising power.

And as adorable, cloud-gazing moments march further into the realm of smile-worthy old memories, words and phrases that could only have come from the mouths of your own babes will fade, and we will not recall the specifics. Of course, you’ll likely have old photographs that cover your walls, fill your albums, decorate your desks and dressers and deplete the memory space available on your phones and tablets and computers, and without a doubt, they are to be ever cherished.

What, though, of the fleeting words that go with them? What of the uncatchable moment that passed from the back seat of silly cumulus concoctions? What of the rip-roaring playground adventures of braving a tightrope walk above the lava, from swing to swing, without daring to touch a toe to the ground of sure doom? What of the cops-and-robbers escapade that played out in the backyard while you cooked supper? What of the Matchbox car chase through Barbie’s Dreamhouse and My Little Pony’s stables? Their preservation is, no doubt, in your smile, your laugh lines, yours happy dreams, the locked vaults of your heart… and theirs.

If I said there is a way to harness a just a bit of those effervescent clouds, that disappearing castle, the childish adventures and observations that we chalk up to the earliest parts of all our lives… if you knew that the passion for avoiding the dangerous playground lava and always catching the bad guy could be lassoed and bottled… if you could see that puppy chase the ball right into a sailboat transformation from your child’s perspective, would you lean in? How about if you knew that such a capturing could spark your child’s interest in reading, give them a foundation of confidence in schoolwork challenges, hone fine motor skills, provide an outlet for emotion and creativity, and a hobby that requires no plugs, wires, or noise?

You’ll need a pencil and paper. Actually, your child will.

It is not humanly possible to hook the whole view from Wonderland, so there is no need for mommy-guilt, kid comparisons or one more line item to add to your super-mom CV. Your maternal role, in this opportunity, is quite simple after securing the pencil and paper: to encourage, and to give your child the time and wiggle-room to do the rest… on their own personal level.

Let them write. Tell them to write. Believe that they can. Forget proper spelling, punctuation and capitalization for the moment. This is not about syntax and grammar. This is about that leaping point, from the edge of that crazy-shaped cloud they think looks like a butterfly with tennis shoes and a unicorn’s horn… write that down, child.

Is the sky blue? What kind of blue? Like an island’s ocean? Your sister’s eyes? Your favorite crayon? Put it into your beautifully childish words and sound them out right onto the paper waiting to come alive by the shape of your squarely printed letters, your curly-q swirls, and the meaning and sentiments behind it all.

What is that tickle in your mind? That’s the birth of your imagination. And just where did that butterfly go? The tug from the tip of that pencil will take you there.

My daughter's journal collection... she started with pretending to write words, and now she fills the pages with "...the breathings of her heart."  William Wordsworth would be so proud.

Our daughter’s journal collection… she started with pretending to write words when she could first hold a pen, and now she fills the pages with “…the breathings of her heart.” William Wordsworth would be so proud. Thank you for letting mommy share your thoughts, dear girl!

“Mommy, what should I write? What should I say?” This is where you give them encouragement and time to let them do the exploring. Sometimes it’s hard to allow our children time to figure things out on their own. It’s easy to assist in the story, to give them the words, to entertain them so they are comfortable, to then cross that activity off the list and move on to a movie or video game, something to keep them occupied while you fold laundry in peace (or grab a precious minute or two to catch a well-deserved breath)!

Stretching muscles doesn’t always begin with ease. But let them get bored… it’s their imagination’s cue. Nourishing a child’s independent vision does take patience and inspiration, but once their wheels begin turning, once they see clearly that they are quite able to work out an original thought and transpose it to something on paper, your role slowly changes from “Mommy, Keeper of the Bottomless Activity Grab-Bag,” to “Reader of all things Wonderland-born.” Your child naturally becomes “Preserver of Fairytales and Memories.” And after some time, the words—especially the phonetically (mis)spelled ones–will be treasures that have magically captured those vanishing moments in the ever-evolving experience of parenthood.

Moms always love a sword with double edges… not the kind with a win-lose slicing pattern. No, this saber carves with love and purpose, both ways. Wield the power of writing and imagination, don it like knighthood on the shoulders of those tied to your apron strings, and watch them grow in a developing love for books and reading, with the added bonus of tuning the little muscles in their hands that move the pencil on the paper. While they begin to craft the butterfly’s flight path over the playground lava and through the window of the highest tower of the cloud castle, they are flexing far more than the glorious muscle of imagination.Ella writing.2

Lipscomb Academy Reading Specialist, Suzanne Howell, says “A child’s literacy development will flourish when their reading and writing instruction is woven together. Research shows a natural connection between the two subjects.  The relationship is reciprocal… [like] the chicken and the egg. One cannot exist without the other.  The act of writing words… expands the child’s ability to read.”

And if they really take to writing like a hobby, put a journal in their hands. Let them carry it everywhere they go, and encourage them to stop right in the middle of their hippity-hopping tracks and jot down whatever it is that has made an impression on their hearts. Let them add their own doodles and illustrations if they feel so inclined (ok, so pencil and paper, plus crayons or paints or stickers, etcetera… for the ankle-biters who really run with the opportunity).

Our oldest son's journals, full of his remembrances of family times, hopes and dreams.  Thank you for letting me share, sweet son!

Our oldest son’s journals, full of his remembrances of family times, hopes and dreams. Thank you for letting me share, sweet son!

Writing certainly won’t be every child’s favorite pastime. But think of it this way… every single child has a story to tell, and every single one of those stories is magnificently worthwhile and wonderfully different.  As an author, I’ve visited many schools and classrooms to encourage reading and writing, and I can tell you firsthand… the stories your children can weave are truly moving, drawn from the wells of youth and its endless supply of creativity.

I encourage you to put the pencil between their fingers, guide it to the paper, and prepare to be impressed. Be it about the weekend football game, the tree house stunt, the neighborhood dog who barks every time a car drives by, the lunchroom rumpus, the fairy who flutters in the garden, the Olympic gymnast and her lucky, pink and purple leotard, Bob the frog who lives in the creek or the time spent with Grandma counting cars going by from the front porch swing… there is a story that only your child can tell.

From the leaping point, give them the chance to soar beyond the puppy dog clouds, and bless them with the time to do it. You’ll find yourself inspired with your own imagination’s answer when they ask you, “Mommy, what do you see?”

I see no limits, sweet child. And the view from Wonderland, through your imagination-painted glasses, is quite spectacular.

Does your child enjoy writing?  If you are a teacher (and thank you for what you do!), do your students enjoy writing?  Share your children’s wordly creations with me, and I’d love to post them on the Otis blog, along with your child’s (or your class) picture!  Email ashleybramlett.author@yahoo.com.

Happy wordsmithing!

 

 

Epiphany

How about an uplifting, encouraging, jump-start-to-gumption word-of-the-day for a Monday? Straight from the Vocabulary of Otis: EPIPHANY.

EPIPHANY: a sudden understanding of something

Chapter 11 of Otis Goes to School is entitled, “Kindergarten.”  On his mission to find out what happens at school all day, Otis peers through a window pane and observes a classroom of these baby students:

“He saw his smiling girl in the bunch of fledgling readers, all focused together, waiting for the teacher’s approval in their discoveries of letter sounds that were turning into words before their very eyes. He was witnessing an epiphany, at the spellbinding hands and wise ways of this gentle lady who cared for his girl everyday at School.”

Of course, as one might expect, these young ones are learning to read.  Some of them will pick it up quickly, as a second-nature sort of hobby (I have one child who loves to lose himself in words unfolding like a magical red carpet across the page, and has since he began to string letter sounds together.).  Some of them might have known how to read before Kindergarten even began.  Some will take their sweet time, a gift enjoyed only by children, and pined after by those of us who have braved the phenomenon of adulthood.  There will also be those who find no interest at all in the reading skill just yet, who would rather build with blocks, win imaginary Matchbox car races, paint or daydream… at least, for a while (Another of my children fit this bill at this tender age.).

Imagine those precious Kindergarten teachers, evaluating and discerning each child’s reading level, taking those darling little hands at the door as Mom or Dad say goodbye for the day, and leading them into a brand new phase of life.  These are days that they will grow exponentially–not always necessarily in body, but in mind.  Given the chance to bloom at their own pace, they all will blossom into gardens unimagined, save by the superior and unmatched, imaginative design of the Creator who knit each of them carefully, with more precision than our human minds could possibly comprehend. (Psalm 139:13)

The way the mind of a child works is magnificent, and to witness the lighting of a flame, the flipping of the switch, the lightbulb going on–to see sheer delight spread from ear to ear when those funny-shaped, quirky letters finally jump in line to make a word–is to observe an epiphany.

My child who has the gift of being in this moment and taking her sweet time, reading to her little brother on the first day of summer.  This was an epiphany on many levels! Brother realizes sister can read; Sister realizes how happy Little Brother is when she reads to him; Mommy enjoys a flash in time she won't forget!

My child (who has the gift of being in this moment and taking her sweet time), reading to her little brother on the first day of summer. This was an epiphany on many levels! Brother realizes sister can read; Sister realizes how happy Little Brother is when she reads to him; Mommy enjoys a flash in time she won’t forget!

That said, let us not neglect the many other epiphanies in our little folks’ lives, and mistakenly deny the joy deserved therefor.  I have seen such happiness on the face of one proud little fellow at figuring out how the lunch line actually works, and getting it right for the first time.  High five, whippersnapper!

I have seen a little girl stand with a bit more confidence, and maybe even a bit taller, when she received an unexpected compliment for her politeness and ability to follow directions and set a fine example.  Keep smiling, my dear!

I have watched some pretty fast legs push the limit of “walking” in the hall, out of the pride that comes with the authority to venture all the way to the library alone, choose a book, check it out, and return to class on time.  Knew you could, bud!

I’ve hugged one little darling whose tears showed her uncertainty about when Mom would arrive for afternoon pick-up, and then her elated heart and wide spread arms when Mom’s familiar car just so happened to be first in line.  So thankful your school day ended with joy, beautiful child!

And how about the dreamy little artist-the one who paints watercolors with a little bit of fairy dust, who can fashion a flower uncannily like Monet?  Or, the speedy-footed athlete who can somehow recall more stats than an ESPN commentator on Monday morning?  Or, the shy little elfkin who figured out how to string clovers together without breaking a stem?  No doubt I could share endless examples worthy of such a word-of-the-day.  But you get the picture.  Have you experienced the epiphany…?

Could you figure out the lunch line, the library and the pick-up line, all while being polite, following directions, setting an example, painting, playing, keeping your energetic legs from running in the halls, AND learning to read?  Could you do it all at age 5 or 6?  The fact is, we all had to try, didn’t we?  We’ve all been through what our children are learning at this age, though we might not remember it all.

If we were afforded the chance to BE these children, way back when it was our turn, then we were the lucky ones.  If you are encouraging and celebrating these childish epiphanies with your children, be they of your own household or your classroom, then your children are the lucky ones.  It’s a big deal when they can brush their own teeth.  It’s amazing when they spread butter on their own toast.  It speaks volumes of their character when they summon the confidence to read in front of the class.  And when they learn the joy of showering others with kindness, even before they are asked–well–that epiphany drops seeds that spread like wildfire in the way the Good Lord intended.

It’s a sudden understanding of something.  It’s the “sudden” ingredient that makes it stick.  Let us celebrate in what seems to be “little things” to us wise-ol’ adults, but what are, to our children, brilliant discoveries of the ways their world works.  Let us allow them their epiphanies, and be so very proud of their abilities, personalities and talents.  It is ground that must be broken again and again, to each his own path, in his own time.

Sweet, sweet time… would that we all take it like children… and Otis.

Here’s hoping for beautiful epiphanies in your world today, and may you find joy therein. We hope you’ll stay with us as we see just how far @OtisGoes!

 

Catching the breeze on the way to drop the children off on their first day at school.

Catching the breeze on the way to drop the children off on their first day at school.

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Felts and Robert!

Today is March 25, 2014.  My sweet, supportive, tender-hearted and handsome husband and favorite partner-in-adventure, Robert, celebrates his birthday today.  I could not possibly be more blessed and loved than I am with my heart in his possession.  We’ve had a great morning, hopping around town on a mid-day date, talking about summer plans and Mississippi holes-in-the-wall, enjoying some tasty Martin’s BBQ, and, ironically, watching the snow billow around blizzard-like, and melt away on contact with the ground.

Robert is a fine fellow on many levels, but I believe Otis ranks him as his utmost admired.  When Otis first took up residence in the Bramlett household, he was unsure of this new place called, “home.”  He came to us from a house only one street over… a dwelling hosting a slew of college boys with plans to drop him off at the pound, seeing as how their new apartment-to-be would not allow pets.

So Otis was ours to love.  But his past experiences spoke to him, and he wanted to make sure we were the forever-ones.  So, he made his way back and forth around the neighborhood… three different times, until he decided that he was indeed a part of our family.  Every single time he got loose, Robert was the one who went looking.  And the last time, Robert said, “I’m going to find him.  He’s my dog.”

Robert brought Otis home… home.  And that dog been blessing us ever since.

Robert always has a way of making things work out, just the way they should.  Happy birthday, my Robert.  We all love you.

(Pictured below: Robert with Otis, Tennessee Agricultural Center, 2010.)

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And it’s Mrs. Kay Felts’s birthday, too!

Mrs. Felts is kindergarten-teacher-extraordinaire, beautiful friend, and an all-around-wonderful lady of Christ.  She has loved my oldest two children through their earliest days of school, sharing her gentle advice and caring ways with them as they grew from letter-recognizers into readers.  She puts her arms around a class of children with grace; she shares her heart’s smile with the world; and she quietly builds a firm foundation under the feet of her students, preparing them to take their own steps and hops and leaps into the world of learning that awaits them.  Mrs. Felts calmed our uncertain moments, celebrated our children’s accomplishments, and blessed us with a most beautiful friendship, for which we are so deeply thankful.

And to top it off, Mrs. Felts loves Otis!  She has welcomed him into her class on more than one occasion, and she is the inspiration for Chapter 11, of Otis Goes to School.  (Click here for the Chapter 11 tribute to Mrs. Felts and excerpt!)

Happy birthday, Mrs. Felts!  You are an absolutely delightful treasure, and we love you!

(Pictured below: Mrs. Felts in 2010 and 2012, with our oldest two children, on their first days of Kindergarten.)

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So, March 25…?  It’s an all-kinds-of-great day.  If today is your birthday, too, then you must surely be someone special.  You are in good company!

Otis Goes to… the Alabama Book Festival!

Otis and his mini-sidekick, Oxford, were enjoying some Spring Break exploring while visiting family in Atlanta, Georgia, and the phone rang.  We looked with sincere curiosity at the Alabama area code and unfamiliar phone number on the caller ID.  Answering with a “Hello?” in a truly who’s-there?-sort of tone, I received the great news that Otis Goes to School was accepted to the 2014 Alabama Book Festival.  We are thrilled at the chance to introduce Otis to a whole new audience, and for the specific invitation to bring the real Otis, in all his smiley-panting, furry-faced glory, to meet and greet the Festival’s guests.

If you are going to be in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saturday, April 19, we would love for you to come to this wonderful event (on the grounds of Old Alabama Town) that promotes literacy and Alabama-rooted authors, and brings book-lovers together for the benefit of all involved.

A huge THANK YOU goes out to the Alabama Book Festival, for including Otis Goes to School in your line-up, and for all that you do for the Camellia state.  We hope to bring you a huge crowd!

OGTS for AL Book Festival

Visit the 2014 Alabama Book Festival website.

Please enjoy a few Excerpts from Otis Goes to School.

Please click here (or at the bottom of the page) to follow Otis on Facebook!

Stamp of Approval

For this author, the next best thing to sharing Otis with young readers, is a teacher’s stamp of approval.  The dual purpose intention of this book is to tell a great story, and, perhaps most importantly, to throw wide open the doors of thought in young children (see previous post, Synopsis: The Sixth Sense of Imagination).  Otis fosters critical thinking, builds impressive vocabulary and invites imaginations to soar with no limits.  When teachers get excited about this book, when they invite me into their schools for readings, when they send me personal notes or share Otis with their students and families, it makes the writer in me grin.  It makes the dreamer in me keep asking, “What if…?”

That is why I was so excited to receive this screen shot of a Facebook photograph, originally taken and uploaded by Mrs. Clohessy, a reading teacher, with thanks to one of her students, who had given her a signed copy of Otis Goes to School.

FBphoto from reading teacher.croppedCool.  Mrs. Clohessy says Otis is “cool!”  I call that a surefire stamp of approval, and I’m excited to meet this wonderful teacher in person, and share Otis Goes to School with her classes at Pearre Creek Elementary, later this spring.

Teachers, my hat is off to all of you.  Thank you for what you do.  You are amazing with your gifts of time and heart, and your ability to tailor your lessons to the vastly different ways that children learn.  You put up with parents from all walks of life, with expectations as varied as the 96 brilliant colors in Crayola’s “Big Box of Crayons.”  You are tireless in reaching every child, and your dedication does not go unnoticed.  I see it daily in the excitement that my own little ones can hardly hold back when they conquer a classroom challenge or discover the worth in their efforts that you inspired.  Your passion is delightful, and unstoppable, and carries forth in the ways you shape the horizons of our children’s ambition.  You.Are.Exceptional.

Mrs. Clohessy, thank you for your stamp of approval, and thank you for what you do.

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