Encourage a Young Writer Day

Tomorrow, April 10, is Encourage a Young Writer Day. People – especially educators – are encouraged to support the minds of young writers. While I know things are a little different right now, we can still encourage young people around us to tap into their creativity and write.

I was blessed by an educator at an early age who encouraged me to write. Not just once a year, but throughtout our class-year together. Mrs. Rosemary Mitchell encouraged all of us to use our imaginations to their fullest each week in a course she called Imagery, and it was what I looked forward to the most each week. The lights would be turned off, we would put our heads on our desks, and she would walk us through scenes and scenarios to picture in our minds. Once her prompt story was told, we would write.

At the end of that school year when it came time to present our class awards, I was given the Longfellow Award, for my poetry and stories. I was also given the lasting encourgement to keep writing, which I still do to this day. It is my strongest passion. I love sitting down with a pend and paper, or screen and keyboard, and putting words to the stories I can make play in my mind. I don’t have Mrs. Mitchell talking me through it anymore, but the lessons on conjuring up those imaginary worlds stuck, and I still use her methods today.

Putting thoughts and feelings to paper can be a scary thing, especially for young writers, which is why it’s so important we encourage them to share their words. Not only is it often an emotional release for the writer, it is so often greatly rewarding for the reader as well. Who hasn’t experienced the pull of heart strings when written tragedy strikes, or the soaring pride over a favorite character’s success? Who doesn’t have a favorite line of prose or a song lyric (song writers!) they can pull from memory? Those emotional attachments we make to imaginary people and places and things are because someone encouraged a writer to write.

You don’t have to be an educator to encourage a writer. Give a writer in your life a journal. A blank journal is like giving them a whole book of opening lines and new characters for them to create. Another great way is through prompts. Prompts, like Mrs. Mitchell’s imagery stories, are the first spark in a story. There are countless sites online with free prompts. Add them to lunches, tape them to bathroom mirrors, send them in a text, and then wait to see what your young writer can do with a simple opening line!

To get everyone started I’m going to share a few original prompts by me starting tomorrow and for the next six days on my Facebook page. So follow me there at Natalie Dumas-Heidt Books. Let me know if you or a young writer in your life uses them! I will be!

My Many Colored Days: Celebrating Dr. Seuss

Every March 2nd we celebrate Read Across America Day, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss Day. Theodor Seuss Geisel was born March 2, 1904 and went on to become one of the most beloved children’s authors of our time. His stories are known for their quirkiness and whimsy, and the distint cartoonish style in which he brought his characters to life.

His professional career, under the pen-name of Dr. Seuss, took off in 1927. Originally, he worked as an illustrator, and political cartoonist, before publishing his first children’s book. That first title, published in 1937, was And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The book’s Seuss-ian rythm was inspired by the rocking of a cruise ship during a trip to Europe with his first wife, Helen. Though it was eventually picked up by Vanguard Press, with help from a connection with an old Dartmouth classmate, Dr. Seuss suffered the typical rejection that most authors face. And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street was initially rejected by over 20 publishers!

You might not have realized it but Dr. Seuss created the idea of “Beginner Readers” books. In 1954, Life Magazine reported that children were not learning to read in school. Some believed it was because there wasn’t anything out there kids wanted to read. School books were boring. A publisher of children’s text books challenged Dr. Seuss to write something kids wouldn’t want to put down. They gave him a list of 250 words they thought were most important for first graders to learn and told him to use only words from that list. The Cat in the Hat was the result of that challenge! Dr. Seuss used 238 of the 250 required words. Next came Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and a whole new world of children’s literature was created.

One book that didn’t make it to that stack initially was a manuscript Dr. Seuss completed and submitted with special instructions. Although he’d done the illustrations for his other books, he didn’t think his art could stand up to this one. He set out on a quest to find an artist who could make what he called “the first book ever to be based on beautiful illustrations and sensational color.” He wanted to find an illustrator who wouldn’t be dominated by him, and whose art would carry the story. Dr. Seuss didn’t find the artist he was looking for and the story stayed in the dark for more than twenty years.

After his death in 1991, Audrey Geisel picked up the quest for finding the right artist for the story her husband hid away. She found a husband and wife team and she knew instantly these two were the artists her husband had been looking for. Under he skills of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher the long-hidden manuscript was brought to life. In August 1996 it was published as My Many Colored Days. The prose and rythm in My Many Colored Days is unlike anything else written by Dr. Seuss. It’s a story of emotions, assigning each feeling to colors, creatures, and sounds.

The book combines these colors and creatures in what is argubly one of the most beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated children’s books published. From the happy, jumping Pink Days, to the lonely Puprle Days, the book moves through each emotion in a way a child can recognize as part of themselves. “Then come my black days. Mad. And Loud. I howl. I growl at every cloud.” shares the page with a howling black wolf. Red is equated with energy, and green days are slow days. There are yellow days and blue days, and at the end of the book there is a mixed-up day with all the emotions scrambled together in confusion. The moreal of the sotry is loud and clear on the last pages.

This book, with the stunning art from Johnson and Fancher, is a beautiful tool for teaching young children about feelings and the normalcy of having different emotions. Just as he was challenged in 1954, Dr. Seuss wrote another book that kids can’t put down to teach them something important. I think he would have been thrilled with the strength of the artists who eventually found their way to the story. Celebrate today by checking out My Many Colored Days, and say a little thank you to Dr. Seuss.

Fairy Tales

I wrote this last year as a blog post for a crisis center I used to volunteer for. You can find the original, unedited version at www.imalive.com, and a good resource for mental health crisis as well. For this little blog, I cleaned it up slightly to celebrate that tomorrow, February 26th, is National Fairy Tale Day. I love me a good fairy tale. Stella and her Djinn are characters I want to play with more, but for now I encourage you all to write a little fairy tale of your own and celebrate tomorrow. (Apologies for the formatting. The preview does not look like the published version no matter what I do!)

Happiness for Stella
By Natalie Dumas-Heidt

The frosty drizzle coming from the grey blanket above me was fitting for the day I was having. Once upon a time life had been good but that life had been ruined. Today started with a broken shoelace and that was followed by spilling my much-needed, extra large latte. Yesterday my cat watched a mouse run across our counter and then went back to his own breakfast like it wasn’t his job to be concerned. Tuesday was the kicker though. Chris left on Tuesday. Packed up and moved out with barely a goodbye, and now he’s in the Bahama’s sitting on the beach with his chiropractor’s receptionist.
A cold wind pushed my umbrella inside out and the drizzle turned to penetrating rain. I ducked into the first shop on my right, my broken umbrella dripping on the tile floor. I stared at it and the growing puddle, lost.
“Trade ya?” A young man with kohl black hair smiled at me, holding out a clear vinyl umbrella with a shiny pink handle. My hesitation made him chuckle. “Free of charge. You look like you need it more than I do.”
“Um…thanks,” I stammered. I took in the look of the young man in front of me. He was tall, probably over six feet. Definitely taller than Chris. His dark hair was long enough to hang in his eyes, and his grin was punctuated by two dimples. I would guess he was in his twenties, but his purple silk paisley shirt screamed ‘I rocked this in the seventies.’ I swapped him for the new umbrella and followed him to a cashier’s counter where he ceremoniously dropped my old one into a trash can too small to adequately hold it.
“Take a look around.” He brushed his dark hair off his forehead. “We might have something else that strikes your fancy.” He smiled and I was drawn into the warmth of it. His eyes flashed in the most enchanting shade of green I’d ever seen. “The umbrella is still on the house though.”
Knick-knacks, vintage clothes, and boxes of vinyl records were stacked throughout the small shop without much order. It was exactly the kind of shop that Chris would have hated. ‘Other people’s garbage’ he would have called it. I loved it. Each gob of rhinestones with a pin back, every porcelain cat, had a story. I ran my fingers across baubles stacked amongst teacups as I walked, stopping when my hand landed on a bejeweled teapot sitting on a collection of old VHS tapes. A surge of electricity jumped through my fingertips. At the same moment the shopkeeper was at my side.
“I thought it might be you.” He grinned and his green eyes lit up again.
“Me? What might be me?”
“My lamp tends to call people in on occasion. They always find it when they need it.”
I laughed nervously, unsure if this was his attempt at a pick-up line. Who tries to woo a girl with a lamp covered in plastic gems? “I thought it was my broken umbrella that brought me in?”
“Nope. It was the lamp. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories – three wishes, no more than three, and your wishes can’t be wishes for more wishes.”
“Don’t I have to rub it first and wait for the Genie to pop out?”
“I’m already out. Haven’t lived in there in a long time. Found myself a bigger place with rent control.”
“You? You’re a Genie?” I couldn’t help but match his grin. His playfulness was catching.
“Ah, well…Genie, Djinn, tomato, potato. It’s all close enough. The rules are the same. You found the lamp, you touched the lamp, now I get to give you three wishes.”
Thoughts raced through my mind like wild butterflies and the prospects of this being real. Was he flirting or could he really grant me wishes? At a minimum could playing along get newly single me at least a coffee date? With that smile, those eyes, I’d take a coffee date. “Alright, I’ll play. I only have one wish.”
“Just one?” He cocked an eyebrow, disbelieving.
“Yep. I want to be happy. Always. No sadness, no depression, just happy.”
“All rainbows and dragonflies, huh? That’s the best you’ve got? C’mon! I can make you famous. I can make you rich. I can make chocolate a health food. Let’s hear it.”
“Happy. That’s what I want. I’m tired of broken hearts. I’m tired of being sad. I just want to be happy. All happy, all the time.”
His electric green eyes swept over my face. I felt like he was looking into the core of my being. Uncomfortable with the concern, I shifted out from under his gaze. “How will you know?” he asked finally.
“How will I know?”
“It’s a simple question.”
“Right now I’m sad. Yesterday, I was sad. I don’t need sad; I just want to be happy.”
“But what does that mean; to be happy?”
I laughed at the ridiculousness of his question, and his eyes crinkled in the corners as he smiled back at me. “Happy is the opposite of what I am right now. Happy is not being dumped by the boyfriend who promised to take you to Paris this summer. Happy is not looking at the prospect of going to your best friend’s wedding in two weeks without the Plus One you RSPV’d for.”
“Alright, but how would you know? If you’ve never been anything else how will you know happy? And what level of happy do you want to be set at? Perfect coffee happy? Ecstatically happy? Room full of puppies happy? Great sex happy? There are flowers and rainbows because there are dark skies and rainstorms. The world would be flat and grey otherwise.”
“I thought you were a Genie…”
“Djinn,” he corrected.
“Potato,” I returned. “It’s my wishes, right?”
“Just think about it first, is all I’m asking.” He was so sincere, his green eyes almost pleading, that I stopped. I took in all that he’d said and let it tumble around in my brain. Was I asking for the right thing? Was he right? Would I lose knowing the difference between good coffee and holding a Goldendoodle? Would it be worth the risk if it meant not knowing heartache?
“You can make chocolate healthy, huh?”