Derwood, Inc. by Jeri Massi. My all-time favorite novel to teach my fifth-graders. For eleven years straight Derwood, Inc. was one component of the literature curriculum in my Christian school.
Now, I am NOT a person who despises change. I thrive on change. If I had to stay with the same text for three years straight, I searched for ways to tweak lesson plans and make them better. Make them more applicable. More fun. NOT BORING. Because everyone knows the old adage,
Derwood never got boring. Jeri Massi’s story is both hilarious and serious, absurd and real. Every year the antics of the Peabody kids were a new thrill for my students and a much-anticipated reading class for me. More than once, as we read chapters out loud, we would literally ROFL. Well, not the teacher.
The book stars Penny and Jack Derwood, the two oldest of a blended family. Together they make a great kid-comedy team rivaling Abbott and Costello. Stir in three more siblings, a gang of bullies, and an international crime ring, and you have a recipe titled, “Don’t Stop. Read the Next Chapter.” By the end of the book, the characters have grown in their Christian faith while the reader never feels captive to a sermon.
You’ll delve into dangerous mysteries to be solved, yet even in the darkest moments a giggle may slip out of you. You’ll listen to Jack’s crazy stories knowing full well they are absolute figments of his imagination – but little brother Freddy doesn’t know that. There are bad guys who are really bad and bad guys who turn into good guys and good guys who maybe aren’t as good as you thought.
From a fifty-ton-mile-long octopus to a near-lethal can of peaches, Jeri Massi keeps you highly entertained and on the edge of your seat. Not only did she write a wonderful work of entertainment, she did it five more times. There are six books in the Peabody Kids series.
Unfortunately, Derwood, Inc. is no longer in print. After a search of several websites, I found editions may be purchased for as little as thirty-nine cents and as much as a thousand dollars! Four to nine dollars seemed the average for a used copy. My own library doesn’t carry the book (shame on them!), and I’d share mine, but it’s so tattered I have to keep taping in the pages!
In addition, BJUPress published a guide which teaches children how to write a good story. It sets up exercises to practice creating characters, using the five senses in descriptive writing, and planning a stair-step approach to build tension in the plot.
Q: You’ve been hunting for a new favorite in middle grade humor?
A: Derwood, Inc. Ready, set, read!
What makes for a well-told story? I’m not asking what makes a story good or bad. It is true a well-told story can mean the difference between a story being liked or disliked, but that isn’t always the case.
The most interesting thing about bad storytelling is that it has never stopped an audience from enjoying a story they liked. The stories that interest us as human beings all share some basic elements whether the media\genre is a newspaper article, novel, short story, TV drama, radio drama, true story, current event, biography, memoir, or historical event . Let me give you an example.
I don’t like opera or light opera, but I love a good story. Here is a story I liked:
As a narratives go, there are definite things going on in this clip. There is so much more going on story-wise underneath and behind that is designed to be transparent to the audience. It is this transparency that often means the difference between getting people to view your work or ignore it. When a storyteller learns to master (just knowing them isn’t enough) these transparent elements, it won’t matter what genre or media you use, people will watch, listen, or read your narratives.
If you were in a face to face class with me, after having watched the video, I would ask, “How many of you found the clip interesting and would at least tune in for the next episode?” Of course there’s always some punk in a one hundred level course that thinks showing any interest in a class topic is uncool, but the bulk of students I have shown this clip do found it interesting.
Now comes the fun part, Did you like this? What makes this something you would follow into the next week to find out what happens or not follow? Please post your answers as replies.
Of course I’m going to share these transparent things, but I want to give you dear audience the opportunity to weigh in. Why? Because learning is always best done together, and I may be the one sharing this, but I never pass up an opportunity to learn something new from others.
I’m thankful for my eyesight, which I’ve come close to losing a number of times. I would’ve learned to read Braille, but how would I have been able to appreciate beautiful fonts and book covers?
Which leads me to being thankful for artists, designers, and photographers who make the presentation enjoyable. And the manufacturers of computers, layout programs, ink, paper, binding materials, printers, and large presses. Plus all the individuals who invented them or use them to produce books.
Although I’m a fan of printed paper, I’m also thankful for electronic devices that allow people to read more books conveniently.
I’m thankful for editors, publishers, and literary agents who never tire of reading others’ work and improving upon it (at least that I’ve seen admitted).
Speaking of improving another’s work, I cannot express enough thankfulness for critique groups. The critique partners I’ve had the honor to share manuscripts with are worth their weight in gold. And I give thanks to beta readers who read pre-published work for the love of reading and who offer their invaluable opinions.
I’m thankful for bookshelves and those who build them (including my loved ones–and you know who you are). And everyone who sells and buys books for bookshelves in schools, stores, and public libraries.
I give thanks for electricity and reading lamps and, on behalf of readers from centuries past as well as those who use them still, gas lamps and candles. Oh, yes, and sunlight. May darkness never hinder our reading.
Most of all, I am thankful for my Creator who guided me to write and for my country, where I am free to think, to write, and to read what I wish.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope it includes reading a good book!
As November arrives and the Thanksgiving/Christmas season of goodwill begins, I will inevitably bump into a grinch who grouses about his or her lack of blessings. The economy is awful, their health is failing, the family is falling apart. Their greatest joy seems to be passing on bad news. I have the feeling I ruin the day further by promising to pray.
In my own seasons of calamity I have learned to be content, and I hope I will honestly be able to say at the end of my earthly life when all seasons come to a close, “I know both how to be abased and how to abound.”
One of those difficult seasons arrived early in life when my sister was born. A victim of the German Measles epidemic in the mid-1960’s, Tricia entered this world with several congenital defects. For her first two years, she was in and out of hospitals as doctors became detectives in discovering what was wrong and what, if anything, medicine could do to help. One of her challenges was cerebral palsy (CP).
So when I was twelve and Tricia was two, my mom handed me a book. Karen. A true story, Marie Killilea wrote about the hardships of raising a daughter (Karen) with CP. Except the hardships were laced with such joyful episodes of the Killilea family loving and supporting each other, how could I feel sorry for them for long? I identified with them. My family was like theirs.
Karen’s parents treated her like all of their other children. While she had a delightful personality, Karen was no angel, and she paid the consequences just as her brother and sisters did. That’s how my parents treated Tricia. Karen’s siblings helped teach her to walk and eat and play like other children. That’s what my brothers and I did with Tricia! They even had a dog who assigned himself the duty of Karen’s guardian. Well, the similarities ended there. Our dog wasn’t that talented.
The book was not a new publication when I first read it. Karen was born in 1940. Most doctors of the era advised Marie and her husband to place Karen in an institution and forget they ever had a daughter with that name. In response, Marie pioneered the founding of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Westchester County which later joined with other local organizations to form Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State (CP of NYS) . With the help of a few willing doctors, they tried highly experimental exercises to help Karen coordinate her muscles. Their success brought new hope to thousands of other families who were struggling with the sorrows of CP.
Marie Killilea also wrote a sequel, With Love From Karen, and a young children’s version of Karen titled Wren.
While Marie passed away several years ago, Karen, now in her mid-seventies, still lives in New York state.
Do you want to know what it’s like to live day by day with a child who requires constant physical care? Read Karen. Do you want to expose your children to situations where people rise up courageously to face circumstances beyond their control? Have them read Karen. Is your family going through its own rough season? Be encouraged. Read Karen.
On Amazon, a one-star rating is “I hate it.” On Goodreads, “Did not like it.”
Let me start by saying I seldom use the word “hate” in any situation, and if I do, it’s usually in anger over something profoundly evil. And books I don’t like are not necessarily evil.
Anyway, I don’t ever give fiction a one-star rating because if I think the work is poorly written or not a story I would like, I don’t read very far into it. And if I don’t read the whole story, I don’t rate it.
I can usually determine from the first few pages, first chapter, or a sneak peek of the middle that I won’t enjoy a particular book, but that doesn’t mean the next person won’t. With excerpts available in so many places online, including author websites and reviewer blogs, I don’t think a reader needs my one-star rating of a novel or novella to decide whether to read it. For me, if an excerpt doesn’t grab me, I don’t buy the book — and probably won’t look for it at the library either.
I’ll often give an author a second chance if I reject the first of his or her novels I pick up (not always the first one written). Most of the time, I’m glad I did.
This brings me to the other rating levels.
On Amazon, two stars mean “I don’t like it.” On Goodreads, “It was okay.” To me, there’s a huge difference between them. I give two stars to a book on Goodreads if I was able to stick with it and read all the way through but it didn’t impress me in any way (therefore, it was okay). On Amazon, “It was okay” would be three stars, whereas three stars on Goodreads is “Liked it.”
The rest of the rating systems for Amazon and Goodreads compare as follows:
4 stars: Amazon – I like it. Goodreads – Really liked it.
5 stars: Amazon – I love it. Goodreads – It was amazing.
If I review a book on one site, I copy and paste the same review on the other, but my star ratings usually differ. For a book I “liked” on Goodreads (three stars), I “like it” (four stars) on Amazon. For a book I enjoy a lot, if I “Really liked it” on Goodreads (four stars), it’s probable “I love it” on Amazon (five stars).
Good books are like my friends. If I “really like” you, you can assume that I love you too (in a nonromantic way).
Do you rate books on either site? What are your personal rating criteria? Do you ever stop reading a book because you don’t like it, or force yourself to read one, and then give it a low rating?
Several years ago, the fad of WWJD bracelets made the rounds of Christian schools and spread through surrounding neighborhoods. The whole thing irked me. Yes, IRKED me, as in annoyed, irritated, bothered me.
If you’re too young to remember the fad, WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?”
“How could such a reminder irk you?” you might ask.
Well, (big sigh), I watched my students at school and the teens in the youth group and anyone sporting a WWJD bracelet. I’m sorry to say I saw no difference in their behaviors or their general outlook on life.
What’s more, I had used the phrase, “what would Jesus do?” as one of the major themes in my Christian walk, long before WWJD became a popular acronym. And I meant it. I got in the habit of asking myself that question, really a form of prayer, for hundreds of decisions that I needed to make, big and small. Those four words changed my worldview and my heart.
Do you know where I first learned of the phrase? From the book, In His Steps, by Charles M. Sheldon.
Written over a hundred years ago, Sheldon created a fictional town where one pastor and a few members of his church pledge to spend a year doing only what they think Jesus would do. The editor of the local paper has to decide what Jesus would want in the news. A wealthy young woman must consider if she is in the same position as the rich young man who met with Jesus. All who participate have some tough decisions to make as they endeavor to help the needy, serve their fellow man, and most of all, please their Savior.
Of course, their decisions affect everyone in town.Some neighbors, even fellow church folk, are not pleased at all, which makes for great conflict, and great conflict makes a great story.
While Sheldon originally wrote the book for adults, Helen Haidle has written a version for children. Either works well for read-aloud if you want to make this part of a family story time. If you’ve never read In His Steps, I urge you to add it to your list. Like me, you may never be the same again.