Hello everyone and WELCOME TO SUMMER SPARKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Kelly Halls is kicking off our writing challenge by blogging about non-fiction. What better way to celebrate? So dig in and get those creative juices going…
IN CELEBRATION OF SUMMER MAGIC
by Kelly Halls
People often ask me why I write the strange books I write. And my answer should be, “Summer magic.” Because growing up in suburban 1960s Houston, magic was all around me. It was not the fictional kind that transformed Harry Potter, but it was magic none the less. And summer brought that magic to life.
Every morning, June to August, I’d fill my belly with cereal and set out to explore with my best friend Craig. At school, I was confined to little girl dresses and the lady-like expectations that went with them. But in the summer, I was truly free. In t-shirts, jeans and sneakers, I’d hike with Craig deep into the woods to build a fort — shade against the relentless heat of the summer tropics.
The quest for the perfect hiding place, revealed creatures looking for the same thing; animals I considered kindred spirits. There were frogs, toads, lizards, salamanders and garter snakes we could touch; there were coral, copperhead cottonmouth and rattle snakes we could not. But accidents happened.
At seven, I slipped my hand into a four inch hole. Deeper and deeper I reached, until my body was flat on the ground, my cheek firmly pressed against the warm dirt. That’s when I felt it — the cool, smooth skin of a living thing at the bottom of the hole. Far too smooth. “Where are the bumps,” I remember wondering, as I gently pulled the creature to the surface. The answer was soon chillingly clear. The bumps — the whole toad was inside the smooth, cool body of the venomous copperhead snake. And I was lucky to be alive. But there was magic in danger averted, too.
Once we found the perfect place, Craig and I made the fort our own. A sun baked cow scull marked its secret entrance. Tiny discarded bottles dangled from scraps of fishing line on branches bent by hurricane gales. A broken shard of ancient pottery became a priceless treasure and the corner stone of our make-shift wilderness kitchen. Flat stones became shovels to dig deep, damp holes in the ground — secret spaces in which to hide our rations; peanuts and animal crackers highjacked from home in brown paper lunch bags.
As we dug the subterranean pantries, we discovered beetles and earwigs, pillbugs and millepedes, juicy wriggling worms. We never felt the need to dispatch the creatures of the woods, poisonous or not. For us, they were not enemies, they were soulmates — proof of balance in our natural world.
Each day ended when we heard our fathers whistle — two fingered trumpeting that flew through the air to remind us it was time for dinner. Craig would run his way and I would run mine. Then we’d meet after dinner to play four square in the driveway or kickball in the neighbor’s giant front yard. As the light sunk behind the trees, we’d spin, circles in place, eyes turned skyward until we collapsed to watch the dizzy swirl of stars above us.
Once the stars stilled, lightning bugs appeared with bioluminescent beacons. They’d float and turn, rise and fall, each in search of a mate Fueled by the ache to continue their species, they’d herald their enchantment with shimmering green light. And we’d run barefoot, chasing the glow to feign the hope to capture. It was fun to pretend, but trial and error had taught us — fireflies were fragile and far to delicate to contain. The beauty only survived if they did.
None of my explorations were about the hunt. They were the physical manifestations of joy, and kinship with the natural world. They were the celebration of my magical world.
I live far from Texas now. Fireflies don’t visit Spokane, Washington. The winters are too cold to sustain them, even in hibernation. But the memories are as clear today as they have ever been. They are just as clear as the reason I now write the books I do. I loved learning to explore, but I am afraid today’s kids might not know how.
Are today’s kids celebrating discoveries of their own? Or are they lost in a world too busy, too technologically focused, and too far removed from the concept of wilderness to spark the inspiration to explore?
I am afraid of the answer to that question, but I do not surrender. I call instead to people prepared to write nonfiction for young readers. I ask them to remember the magic that inspired their curiosities, and to consider passing it on.
I want kids to know there are rocks to raise, forts to build and secrets to unearth even if the wilderness I once knew has been beat back by urban growth. I want them to know magic is alive and well in their natural world, if they are willing to search for it. We as nonfiction writers can spark the flame. We can build a bridge from the past to the future. We can inspire new questions and the passionate search for answers unknown.
We can keep the magic alive, but only if we celebrate its wonder. So I’m hoping, how I’m hoping, that you will. Long live the magic of our natural world. And long live the writers willing to share it.
Kelly Halls is a nonfiction writer for young readers. And it all started in elementary school.
“When my third-grade teacher in Friendswood, Texas, told me I was a good writer, I didn’t really understand what she meant — that I should be a professional writer.
I’d always been the weird kid – the kid who asked too many questions, the kid who couldn’t stop talking to her neighbors, the kid who couldn’t find a book she wanted to read. But the thought of being a writer at first drew a complete blank.
High school in California brought my third-grade teacher’s words back to me, thanks to the high school newspaper. Journalism was a forum for questions and conversation, and it turned out that elementary-school teacher was right. I could write.
Writing for adults didn’t really work for me. I got bored, plus I didn’t have that “killer” instinct to go for the BIG stories, even if people got hurt. Writing for kids was ideal. Weird topics. No mean stuff. So I started with magazines and newspapers.
Within five years, I’d been paid to write more than 1,500 bylined articles and reviews for publications including Highlights for Children, Ask!,Dig, Teen PEOPLE, Guidepost for Kids,Guideposts for Teens, the Chicago Tribune KidNews, the Atlanta Journal Constitution News for Kids, the Denver Post, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Washington Post, Writers Digest,Booklist, Book Links, The Book Reporter Network, and dozens of others all over the country.
When editor Tanya Dean Anderson leftGuidepost for Teens to help create a publishing house expressly for reluctant readers, a new phase of my career was born. Together, we created six critically acclaimed nonfiction picture books that made being “weird” really cool.
Kids respond, and I know it–thanks to school visits all over the country. I’m living my dream. I’m not just writing fun books, I’m helping kids know it’s okay to be whoever they turn out to be.
Weird is no longer a bad word once we share a day together. Weird is a destination we share. Weird is a really fun state of mind.
FIND KELLY HALLS:
Think back to your childhood. What was some of the things you enjoyed doing? Did you have any interesting hobbies? Do anything different from the rest of your friends? Write down a list or a paragraph of these things and see if any sparks begin to fly.
Kelly will be giving away one copy of …
IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH
to those of you who PRE-REGISTERED, COMMENT on this post, and COMPLETE the challenge.
Go to this RAFFLECOPTER LINK TO ENTER into the drawing to win under Kelly’s post!
~~~JOIN THE SUMMER SPARKS FB GROUP TO CONTINUE THE DISCUSSION~~~
Missed a SUMMER SPARK? Don’t worry, you can find them here:
Day 1: In Celebration of Summer Magic by Kelly Milner Halls
Day 2: The Power of Doodling by Alison K. Hertz
Day 3: Cause & Effect by Alayne Kay Christian
Day 4: How to be a Marketing Ninja by Corey Rosen Schwartz
Day 5: A Visual Writing Prompt: Begin at the End by Julie Gribble
Day 6: The Final Word by Jodi Moore
Day 7: Inspiration Station by Susanna Hill
Day 8: Voice and Word Choice in Picture Books by Tara Lazar
Day 9: Platform Building Can You Build It? Yes, You Can! by Tracey M. Cox
Day 10: 5 Ways to Hook Your Reader with Your Very First Line by Kirsti Call
Day 11: Burning Down the House aka Revision by Donna Earnhardt
Day 12: Persistence by Donna M. McDine
Day 13: Writing Your Way to a Spark by Kris Dinnison
Day 14: Hope In Your Heart by Carol Gordon Ekster
BONUS: What Songs Rock Your World? by Claire Rudolf Murphy
THAT’S A WRAP!
Follow-up #1: TIPS
Follow-up #2: 9 Ways to Tighten Your Story
Prize Announcement: Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!