Dysfunctional Family Desired for Story Premise

Vintage reads

Remember those good old TV shows from the Fifties? Andy Griffith, Leave It to Beaver, The Lone Ranger, and a host of others. Today’s viewers say, “Boring. No conflict. Not enough action.”

 
Excuse me? While superheroes didn’t bounce out of the sky and smash a city to individual cinder blocks, the characters in those programs faced real problems and taught children how to solve them. In many family comedies, Dads led their wives and children through a jungle of moral decisions. The parents, as a team, guided their children toward wisdom, unlike many of the buffoons in today’s sitcoms.

 
Take Eddie Haskell, a problem that never stopped. Wally and the Beaver didn’t like him, but they treated him with grace. Their parents told them to, they obeyed, and further conflict was averted. At least, until Eddie tried something else, and the cycle repeated.

 
Or Opie Taylor, Andy Griffith’s son. I remember an episode where he had to choose: prepare to fight the bully for what was right or join the crowd to do wrong. Thanks to his father’s consistent example, Opie chose to stand for righteousness.

 

 

Dennis_the_Menace_North_Anderson_Henry_1959
Dennis the Menace entertained us with his inept efforts to be helpful, and his generous heart taught children like me to love our neighbors. His parents were often at a loss as to how to handle what Dennis might get into next, but they always explained to their son how he might have done things differently with less disastrous results.

 
Even westerns taught Judeo Christian morality. In The Rifleman, a father taught his son right and wrong and to use violence as a last resort to save other lives. The Lone Ranger never looked for credit for his good deeds. The rescued asked, “Who was that masked man?” as he rode into the sunset. Lessons in humility.

 
I want the same lessons of goodness in the books I read where characters solve problems in an honorable manner. It’s why I prefer the classics, books that contain intact families who love each other and face conflicts together. I get so tired of the dysfunctional families and missing parents in today’s literature. As an experiment, I went through the archives of The Scriblerians and checked the family situations in each of the books I’ve reviewed. I was dismayed by the results:

 
Dysfunctional Family/Missing Parent Intact, Loving Family
//// //// //// //// // //// //// /

 
Even if I discount the handful of books written past 1990, I found that authors use the lack of a good parent as an integral part of the conflict for the child protagonist. As much as I love each one of these stories, I’m saddened by that reality.

 

 

Sswans_s-1-
Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars is a case in point. Thirteen-year-old Sara lives with her snarky teenage sister, her little brother Charlie, and their aunt. Their mother died; their dad split. Charlie has unnamed developmental disabilities. Today we might say he’s on the autism spectrum. Sara loves Charlie; she hates his neediness. She hates herself as many young adolescents do. The novel is beautiful and character-driven with a flawed protagonist who finally realizes she loves her family as it is.

 
Most of the events in the plot could have been accomplished with a mom and dad still around. Two parents could have struggled together in dealing with Charlie’s eccentricities, and teens in their struggle for independence get in grand funks even when they grow up in wonderful, loving homes.

 
Strong families are not exempt from ongoing crises. I’m currently writing a fictionalized memoir covering the first five years of my little sister’s life. Our parents enjoyed a solid marriage, and they had to cope with the uncertainties of raising a profoundly deaf child. Heartbreaking events occurred, and comical episodes still made life fun. We were strong. We were together.

 
This is what I feel called to do in my writing, to glorify God with stories of family who strive together to overcome the obstacles in their path as they journey through life, pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land.

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How Could I Have Forgotten the Forgotten Door?

Vintage reads

What if people were always kind, not selfish? What if they were generous, never greedy? What if animals could sense the goodness in those people? Having no fear, they would approach the humans and enjoy their company. Even better, what if the animals and the people could communicate by signaling and receiving each other’s thoughts? All these what-ifs are the basis of the children’s science fiction novel, The Forgotten Door.

Forgotten Door

Written by Alexander Key and published in 1965, the United States and the Soviet Union stood nose to nose in the Cold War while every other nation held its collective breath waiting to see if we teetered into a full-fledged World War III. Man’s inhumanity to man had become all too obvious after two global wars in less than thirty years. Key uses this as background undergirding the immediate setting.

The Forgotten Door. I remember the title. I’m sure I read it at a young age, so it must have been shortly after its debut. Pieces of memory flash excitement; this was a good book. And my only other association with the familiar title was a sense of wistfulness…if only…

So I reread all 140 pages of it last week. How could I have forgotten The Forgotten Door? A boy who is stargazing in his world takes a step back, falls through a hidden door long forgotten by his people, and lands in our world.

starry night-sky-1469156_640Suffering from bruises and a concussion, Jon finds himself on a mountainside on Earth. A doe and her fawn lead him to a nearby road. He doesn’t understand the ugly attitudes in most of the humans he meets. His intelligence is light years above ours. He hears people’s thoughts and can communicate with animals. With help from one kind family and a ferocious dog, he tries to figure out how to get home. Except, as events progress, the family will need his help in order to survive. The story is filled with what-ifs, conflicts, and a happy ending—everything any fiction reader would desire.

Perhaps best known for Escape to Witch Mountain, Alexander Key (1904-1979) touches the core of the human heart. Most of Key’s books follow a similar format: the world may be evil, but there are good people who will help those in need. The grandson of a Methodist minister, Alexander Key apparently did not have a Christian faith. Others who write about him believe he was part of the Freethinker movement, a philosophy based on human reason and kindness. Yet he hints at a world created by intelligent design.

deer-76005_640

Since I’m a devout Christian, why would I recommend a book written by a freethinker? Because of Romans 1:20. All humans recognize good and evil. God put that knowledge in them whether they acknowledge Him or not. The Forgotten Door and Key’s other books show the triumph of good over evil, which is enough of a start for me to share an excellent story with my grandchildren.

Now, I’m on the hunt for the rest of Key’s children’s novels still in print. Are any one of them your favorites?

YOUR Chance To Interview Todd Burpo!

 

Heaven's For Real

Every now and then, a book falls into your hands when you most need it. About five years ago, the book that gave my family hope and renewed our faith was a little book called Heaven Is For Real. For those who haven’t read it or seen the movie, the story recounts the experiences that Colton, a four-year-old boy, relates from visits, which he said he made to heaven during a near-death experience. He came back talking about things about their family, that his parents never told him, and little by little, his pastor father began to realize his little boy’s ramblings were the real thing.

Heaven Is For Real was the only book that my mom (in her 90’s) read voraciously from start to finish in a couple of sittings: a feat that truly spoke of her need for hope.

And here’s why…

Murray

Five years ago, my brother Murray had to stay home from work for a whole week with severe leg and foot pain. (It’s just a bit of plantar fasciitis, he told me) While I was helping him prepare meals, he also complained of difficulty swallowing. I dragged him to his doctor, and wasn’t surprised when Murray was quickly admitted to hospital.

After he endured several days of procedures, I arrived to the hospital one day to find curtains drawn around his bed. Then a doctor backed out, saying, “Sorry. I wish I had better news.”

Dread washed over me. I deflated into a chair by his bed and took Murray’s hand. Seeing his tears instantly made me cry.

Fear and disbelief lined his face. “It’s cancer! They think it started in my esophagus and has spread to my liver. My legs are sore because I have clots in the veins!” He gripped my hand as if it were the only thing keeping him from falling into a chasm.

Anxiety clenched my stomach.

Details of those moments are etched in my memory: the terror in his eyes, the steady beep of his monitor, and tears dripping off his chin making dark spots on his blue hospital gown.

We cried and clung to each other. I prayed for strength for Murray. But we both knew that he didn’t have much more time on earth. However, we weren’t prepared that he would only have about three weeks to live.

Murray was literally ripped from our lives. We had no time to adapt or comprehend what just happened to our normally boisterous, larger-than-life brother.

We desperately needed to be reminded that we would be seeing him again. And the book Heaven Is For Real was given to me by a friend.

Of course, as a Christian, I knew about heaven and read about it in the bible. But here was a timely and solid example of how God was reminding me that we would indeed see Murray again. My mom was too overwhelmed and confused at 93 to understand completely what Murray had or why he could have gone so quickly. It’s just not right or natural that a mother should be burying a child.

 

images movie

When the Heaven Is For Real movie came out, my mom and I went three times. And she would have gone again, (that little Colton was such a great actor) if she had her way.

About a month ago, I stumbled on the Heaven Is For Real website, and pressed the contact button before I knew it. What could I lose? Imagine my surprise when they got back in touch with me granting me an interview with Todd Burpo, the pastor and author of the book!

So…

I thought I would open it up to you, as to the questions I would ask in the interview. What would you like me to ask Todd about his life, his experiences, his family, how the movie came to be, etc? In my next blog, I will have been able to interview Todd Burpo with your questions (and a few of my own of course).

 

 

Vintage Reads: Summer Queens and Frontier Scenes

Vintage reads

If you’ve been a reader of our blog for long, you’ve probably noticed that each Scriblerian maintains his or her own personality, not only in how they write, but their choice of topic. Maybe you’ve wondered what the unifying factor is. What can you expect to find on this site? Our slogan off to the right says it all: “Writing for Non-Adults of All Ages.” We love YA and children’s literature. We love to write it, love to read it. We’re kids at heart, and we know there are plenty of readers out there who feel the same way.

You’ve heard from Gretchen who will cover healthy lifestyle in body, mind, and soul. If you’ve ever met her, she HAS to run off that energy! She can talk at warp speed and some days literally bounces with youthful enthusiasm.

I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest in this group. I don’t think any other Scriblerians have children closer to forty than thirty! My columns have always been written for the purpose of introducing a younger generation to the wonderful stories from yesteryear. Since any item that’s been around for more than two years is considered obsolete in our instantaneous society, I choose to share books from my childhood, from my sons’ childhoods, and the best of the best from the last ten years. Classic KidLit.

Here is my choice for today, a blessing of our American Heritage.

Alfred Jacob Miller - Fort Laramie - Walters 37194049.jpg

Alfred Jacob Miller – Fort Laramie – Walters 37194049.jpg

As a child, I could read anywhere any time. As an adult too, come to think of it. During the school year, I had to take time out for school and homework, piano and dance lessons, but when summer arrived… FREEDOM!!

Now, most kids celebrated summer with the daily kickball/baseball game or hikes in the woods or a run to the ice cream shop. I dedicated my mornings to reading in bed, reading at the breakfast table, reading on the porch, and in the afternoons, reading at the pool, reading in the shade, read… you get the idea.

I had a health-conscious mom, though. She forced me outside for exercise and vitamin D, so I got my fair share of sports, nature, and ice cream. As the oldest members of our neighborhood crowd, my best friend and I ruled as queens of the pack. We were gracious, beneficent rulers (yes, you may roll your eyes) and allowed input from our subjects as to what games would be played each day.Thanks to all my reading, the neighborhood kids enjoyed some unusual imaginary games, all based on plots from my favorite books. When we played Cowboys and Indians, according to majority rule, the cowboys were always supposed to defeat the evil savages. (Keep in mind this was the early 1960’s).

sillyeaglebooks.com

sillyeaglebooks.com

I thought the status quo was unfair, but I held off from wielding my scepter like a club. Instead, I tried to persuade with logic. The Indians were on American land first. Shouldn’t the colonists have shared the land with them? If somebody took away my home, I would fight, too! The boys were not convinced.

Thus began my burgeoning interest in American history. I discovered the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I must have scampered through each volume two or three times. And THEN I read Caddie Woodlawn.

Both authors had been published in the same era, 1935 for Caddie Woodlawn, and 1932-43 for the Little House books. Both stories were based on real people. Carol Ryrie Brink faithfully wrote down the tales of her grandmother, Caddie Woodlawn. Laura Ingalls shared her own story. While several volumes of the Little House series earned the “Honor” status of the Newbery Medal, it was Caddie Woodlawn that won the award in 1936. I think I understand why, now that I’ve reread the books as an adult.

Caddie Woodlawn

Don’t get me wrong. Children will love to read the Little House books for years to come as Laura tells the story of her childhood, painting vivid pictures of family life on the frontier. Caddie Woodlawn goes beyond family and into the contentious issues of the day from a child’s perspective, namely: how do you deal with irresponsible people, and how should pioneers treat the Indians who still roam portions of the land settled by the white man.

Notice, I use the term “Indian.”  “Native American” was a re-label once it became politically incorrect to call the indigent natives a name that made it seem like they were from India. In 1935, the common term was “Indians,” and it wasn’t derogatory in nature. Unless a person’s tone of voice made it so. In Caddie’s case, friendship and peace won the day. Her interactions with Indian John inspired nine-year-old Linda. This was a girl after my own heart!

Her story put history on my side.  The queens of Castle Road decreed there would be no massacres of Indians when we played make-believe. If our brothers insisted on going to war, they could fight the Nazis.

Was there ever a time you used stories from your reading experience to act out or use in a game? It would be fun to learn what you were like as a kid.

 

 

The Giver – And More

The-GiverLois Lowry’s Newbery Medal winner The Giver has been part of the literature curriculum in both Christian schools where I have spent my teaching career. Years ago, I had read the book and found it disturbing, but intriguing. It lacked a true resolution. Even though my natural optimism held high hopes for Jonas and Gabe, I would never know for sure. I hate making up my own ending. I want to know what the author had in mind.
Oh. There’s a Book Two?

Actually, Lowry wrote a quartet.

gathering_blue_cover

themessenger2_copy

-Son_by_Lois_Lowry
Our English teacher graciously loaned me all four books. I started over with The Giver, and then read the next three as though they were one huge volume.
Satisfying. Very satisfying.
Gathering Blue introduces the new main characters of Kira and Matt who seem to have no connection to The Giver until the last three pages. It still leaves us hanging since Kira cannot have her heart’s desire.
Messenger continues with Kira and Matty, and we only get a few clues regarding any connection to the quartet’s original title. While Book Three hints at a better future, it also ends in sorrow, and we know there’s got to be more.
Finally, in the last section of the fourth novel, Son, Jonas and Gabe reappear, nothing hidden, and we can see what Lowry intended all along.

Tapestry - Kinkade

art by Thomas Kinkade

All four tales can be read as stand-alones, but string them together, and the final novel weaves every thread of the previous stories into a tapestry of God’s love. Which is an odd thing to say, because like A Wrinkle in Time, whose message is similar, the word “Jesus” is never mentioned.
For that specific reason, The Giver and its companions are controversial in some Christian circles. Schools use it as a study in types of government since it so closely parallels communist societies. Students in Christian schools are challenged to consider the spiritual insights in the book.

We are free to interpret the series, as well as each individual novel, as we wish. Isn’t that what makes a great book? Like art, classic literature doesn’t dictate; it leaves room for discussion. Do any other classic books for tweens and teens come to mind that lead to lively debates?

 

The Antithesis of POLTERGEIST

 

Tis the season for witches and wizards, ghosts and goblins, slasher movies and celebrating the satanic. Not for me.

grinch

Don’t assume I’m the Grinch who stole Trick or Treat. Dressing up like a princess, a fireman, or a clown and begging the neighbors for candy doesn’t bother me, but our culture’s fascination with the bizarre and the occult drives me to God’s Word where I cling to Philippians 4:8-9. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things… and the God of peace will be with you.

However, October is filled with invitations to witness whatever is false, whatever is gross, whatever is ugly, whatever is evil, and whatever is to be feared. When we think about these things, we do not enjoy peace.

I have seen first-hand the effects of Nightmare on Elm Street upon a young mind. Knowing I would not approve, one of my sons decided to watch this “thriller” at a friend’s house. We spent two days dealing with unexplainable fears and trembling (literally!) until he fessed up. He wasn’t a little guy of five or six years old. He was twelve. Only after the spiritual warfare of prayers and scripture and praise to the Savior did the spirit of fear flee.

Considering the date of this post, I decided to search for the perfect classic children’s book to represent peace and satisfaction to the soul, the antithesis to horror. Here’s what I chose:

Goodnightmoon

Good Night, Moon never mentions God, yet the essence of Philippians 4 flows through every word and illustration. Minimal text conveys the sweet peace and security that we wish for every child in the universe, including ourselves.

When my boys were tiny, Good Night, Moon was their favorite bedtime story. I could whisper the words as we said good night to all that was familiar and safe: clothes, toys, furniture. Then I would tuck them in, knowing they would drop off into slumber safe and secure in their beds, in their home, with their parents, and under the watchful eye of a good and loving God.

child sleeping

What books have you found to be balm to the soul? What have you used for bedtime stories to invite the God of peace to rock your children to sleep?

 

Magic and Mystery: Between Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Disney

Disney Princesses

Disney Princesses

Have you noticed there’s a “princess craze” gripping the entire globe for the last couple of years? My granddaughters have a bin filled with Cinderella, Elsa , Anna, Aurora, and Ariel princess gowns and more. I lose track of all the princess names.

Little girls love to dress up as royalty. Princesses are beautiful, kind, and good. They can sing and dance so gracefully. And everyone knows that good kings adore their daughters and will bless them with all sorts of good things.

Elsa-Anna-Frozen-Dress-Costumes-7

As a little girl, I wanted to be a princess, too. I read the same fairy tales over and over, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and then—

I discovered Shadow Castle.

Shadow Castle

Shadow Castle was almost twenty years old when I first read it, and I lost count of how many times I delved into the book devouring it from cover to cover. Marian Cockrell filled her story with fairy princes and princesses, goblins and witches. Beautiful creatures were good inside and out, ugly creatures were evil.

Like Alice in Wonderland, a little girl (Lucy) follows a dog (instead of a rabbit) into a tunnel (instead of a rabbit hole) and discovers a magical world. She meets a young man named Michael who shows her around his castle. In the top room of the tower, one can sit and watch shadows moving about, shadows that belong to people in the land of the fairies. Michael points out various shadows and tells Lucy their stories.

I was enchanted. Three fairy tales in one. Gossamer gowns, fancy balls, evil villains, courageous heroes. And mystery. When would Shadow Castle return to its rightful place? And why was Michael the only person living in this magical land?

by katiejo911.deviantart.com

by katiejo911.deviantart.com

The book disappeared into that black hole of childhood discarded. When I decided I wanted to read it again and review it, no library near me owned a copy, but it has been reprinted. So I dug into my pockets and bought it. And read it.

Alas, I have grown up. The reviews on Amazon reflected my own disappointment. So many of us had loved the story as children, but as adults? Meh.

First published in 1945, Shadow Castle is written in the style of a fairy tale with some twentieth century language tossed in. Bestselling authors don’t write like that anymore, not for adults, not for children. But if you have a daughter who adores the Disney princess films and accompanying books, she will probably love the stories of Mika and Gloria, Robin and Bluebell, Flame and Foam.

by miracleshappen13.blogspot.com

by miracleshappen13.blogspot.com

Magic and mystery. Good versus evil. Happily ever after. Let our children dream for a little while.

P.S. Can you find the very obscure clue I tucked into this post that is the key to Shadow Castle’s mystery?