Everyone Has a Story to Tell

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Everyone is tattooed!

Ok, maybe not “everyone,” but it seems like the majority of people I know, or see, or meet, have at least one tattoo. Age, profession, social class…it doesn’t matter. There are octogenarians getting their first ink; doctors with half-sleeves; Kindergarten teachers with their ribs done. Tattoos are not just for pirates, bikers, rebels, or criminals any more (in truth, tattoos existed as social, religious, and cultural marks long before they became the mark of the rogue or outsider, but that is another story).

I went to the indoor water park the other day and couldn’t help but notice the amount of ink walking around; older men and women, younger men and women, moms, dads, artsy looking folk, or conservative slant…it didn’t matter. There was a lot of ink. As a writer, I observe and record, keeping an eye out for potential story and/or character material. I like to watch and listen for details. So, I pay special attention to what I see. In this instance, people’s tattoos.

Names, and dates, and portraits, and entire scenes; characters and symbols and song lyrics. Each tattoo was unique to that person. I was in getting some of my own work done last week and I askedtattoo one of the guys if anyone still pulled “flash” (pre-drawn pieces of art available as tattoos) off the wall. Not many people do anymore. It’s just like some unspoken tattoo parlor code that you simply must display flash for customers or else your ink dries up and your tattoo machines stop working. But most people come in with custom ideas, or art, and work with the tattoo artist to create ink unique to them. Maybe it’s their grandmother’s picture, or a tribute to a friend who has died. Maybe it’s a passage from a book, or a symbol of what drives them (like a whisk for a chef or something). Whatever it is, it’s meaningful to them; it says something. Because they have something to say and they want to display it on their body, FOREVER, to let the world know/see.

They have a story to tell and they want to share it. Like writers, they have something important enough to say that they are willing to put it out there, to expose themselves, to make a permanent mark.

Writing is the same. Our stories are our ink. Our books are our bodies. Once you publish, post, send, distribute, or share your work, it’s out there; you are exposing yourself. You are displaying something, by choice; something you feel is important enough to share with the world.

We all have stories to tell. As writers, we shouldn’t just be pulling “flash” off the wall. Make it meaningful. Make it count. Make it your own.

We all have stories to tell. What is yours?

Musing on the Magic of Middle-Graders

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Having three young boys, I am often reminded of the magic that exists at that age; how their minds process the world. It is a unique blend of awe and curiosity, coupled with slow-drying beliefs based on experience and exposure (like a blob of Elmer’s glue drying on the page, it can still be smeared if pressed upon before drying). It is an age where innocence balances on the border of maturity and imagination still has a healthy part in looking at the world and then looking beyond it, to places that exist in story or dreams; to see things busy adults, or practical minds are either incapable of seeing or simply dismiss. Middle-grade is that wonderful age where children begin to develop independence, while craving adventure; they don’t need the constant security and protection that a younger child requires, and they have not fallen into that hormonal whirlwind of adolescence.

If this age were an era, it might be termed the Age of Discovery.

Summer is almost upon us and middle-graders far and wide will be home, removed from the classroom and homework, lessons and teachers. There will be baseball games, and fireflies, trees to climb, dares, and tag, and hide and go seek, and forts, and bicycles, skateboards, ramps, and races. There might be clubs, and codes, and rock collections.

photo (6)As I write this, there is a fort in my living room, made out of blankets and dining room chairs. There is a jar of tadpoles that the boys came home with yesterday. They (the boys, not the tadpoles) have magic wands they carved themselves out of sticks they found in the woods. They’ve turned the old swing set into a fort and perch in it, hatching plans, while our one-eyed puppy sits up there with them, watching for eavesdroppers. The other night we toasted marshmallows and made S’mores and as the night crept in, the boys danced around in the dark, finding wood for the fire and challenging each other as to who could make the “perfect” S’more. And in the dark, there might be monsters, or fairies and the flames might belch forth jets of dragonfire.

As a father, I encourage these moments of inventiveness and exploration. As an adult, I secretly revel in them, drinking them in like an elixir of youthfulness. As a children’s writer, I record them, adding to the vault of story material and middle-aged relevance.

So take this as a reminder, whether you have children of your own or not, to be mindful of the magic that middle-graders will create, experience, discover, and revel in. Be mindful of it. Let it fuel your inner child. Let it fuel your stories.

And maybe…maybe build a fort of your own. Really, who says that we have to grow up?

where Writing meets Storytelling meets Playtime

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IMG_2238I love writing. LOVE it.

I love everything about it and I’d better, right? I’m a writer. If I didn’t love it why would I do it? Because we all know how easy it is… [sarcasm: the use of irony to mock]

But I don’t just love writing, no. I love storytelling. I write to tell stories. I don’t write instruction manuals or greeting cards (and no offense to those who do), I write STORIES.

So, two things: writing and stories. Love them. Good, got that, Joe. You love writing and stories. Ok, but hold on..I’m not done. I also love games that foster creativity, develop and depend on imagination, and encourage storytelling – especially when it involves the writing of stories. I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons and more role-playing game systems than I can remember. I’ve traveled thousands of worlds, in thousands of different bodies. I’ve been beyond the farthest reaches of space and journeyed to the center of the Earth. I’ve led armies and faced unspeakable horrors and ridden airships over sand swept arid wastelands where witches on the backs of scorpions hurled hexes at me. I’ve saved kingdoms and crumbled empires and died a thousand times. I have followed my imagination where it has led me and I’ve done so with groups of like-minded folk.

storiumSo, some of you may have seen me Tweeting and screaming about this thing called Storium. This is not a sales pitch…their Kickstarter campaign is over. Storium is an online storytelling game where you and a group of people share in the telling of a story. Any story you can imagine! The only limits are your imagination. This is an excerpt from their site:

Storium is a web-based online game that you play with friends. It works by turning writing into a multiplayer game. With just your computer, tablet, or smart phone, you can choose from a library of imaginary worlds to play in, or build your own. You create your story’s characters and decide what happens to them. You can tell any kind of story with Storium. The only limit is your imagination.

Storium uses familiar game concepts inspired by card games, role-playing games, video games, and more. In each Storium game, one player is the narrator, and everyone else takes on the role of a character in the story. The narrator creates dramatic challenges for the other players to overcome. In doing so, they move the story forward in a new direction. Everyone gets their turn at telling the story.”

As I write this, I am involved in several games: I am Finnur Helgasson, a Skald, in a viking game; I am Garrett Mackenzie, a young gambler in a game where the Old West meets the X-Men; I am Stephen Kimball, a university professor who has lost everything, in a game about worlds colliding and reality warping; I am Dillon Mcafferty, a young werewolf, in an urban supernatural/fantasy game with witches and vampires; I am Sebastian Grimm, a lucid dreamer in a contemporary Wonderland; and I am Zara Grey, an occultist, in a gritty steampunk game. In each one of these games, the collective storytelling and unfolding tale is so inspiring and exciting to be a part of.

See, the thing is…I do all this on MY time. The stories slowly unfold, when people have time to jump in and write a part, or react. There’s no pressure. I’m playing with people from Sweden, and the UK, and Australia, and California. So, there’s time zones, etc. It’s convenient. So, instead of that twitch to distract myself via Twitter or Facebook surfing, I jump on and play my Storium games.

AND THIS HAS FURTHER FUELED MY WRITING! It’s been like drinking a dozen Red Bulls for my writing. I’ve always said that writers need to take their creative muscles to the gym. I teach my students to do writing exercises, or free writes, to warm up. This is like staying constantly limber. And you know what? It’s made me love writing EVEN MORE (like that’s possible). But it is, it’s made me feel like that 12-year-old who wrote stories in his spiral-bound notebook and shared them with his friends at recess.

It invigorates me every day. It’s pushed me to write even more and the more we write, the better we get.

So, I urge you all to check it out. Writers especially, but you don’t have to be a writer. Not everyone using Storium is. There are all kinds of folks, but the one thing they share is the desire to tell a story and I think that we’re all storytellers at heart. This is a place where you can go to play…and still write, still imagine, still swap tales and meet people with equally wonderful imaginations.

But don’t just take my word for it. 6, 676 other people felt the same way. 6, 676 backers believed in this project enough that the Storium team raised $251,362 (1005% of their goal). They will be able to bring Storium to schools and they’ll be able to provide (at the start) 60 worlds to play in that come from professional game designers, industry giants, award-winning novelists, screenwriters, and storytellers.

I’m happy to have backed this project and I’m excited at what it could mean for so many potential young authors, not to mention how it could be used to encourage writing and reading in a youth growing up in a digital world. I’m using it already with my children. And I’m thankful for how it has given me back my youthful vigor and fueled my enthusiasm for writing.

So, check it out for yourself: STORIUM……   I hope to see you and share a story or two soon.

- j

The “My Writing Process” Blog Tour…

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IMG_2631I am a big proponent of the whole “it takes a village to keep a writer sane” theory. You know, the one that reinforces the fact that we are not alone, that we have a community around us even when we spend innumerable hours with fictional people that we convince ourselves are anything but. Even though we bang keys and stare at a screen for hours. Even though we lock ourselves inside a steamer trunk, inside a shipping container, on board an ocean carrier, until our novel is done, emerging wild-eyed and disheveled with a first draft in hand.

So, when Sheryl Scarborough asked me to continue the “My Writing Process” blog tour, I was like….”no.”

Kidding. Of course, I was willing to be a part of the blog tour. Thank you, Sheryl, for asking me. Let me just add that Sheryl is part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) family (a member of the awesome Dystropian class of Jan. 2013) and as far as writing communities go, you do NOT get much tighter than VCFA. You can check out Sheryl’s answers here, along with Laura Cook‘s, and Ingrid Sundberg‘s and Rachel Lieberman‘s and Peter Langella…all VCFA peeps, all awesome.

That being said, let’s get on with it…

1. What am I working on? I can’t tell you, it’s a secret. Next question? Oh, what? I have to answer that? Ok….I am currently working on a middle-grade novel. While I am not keen about revealing much online about it while it is in the process of being written, I will say that it has magical realism roots, is centered around a fierce science fair and features a geek vs. nerd battle of the ages. There is a tree house, a meteor and a pet wallaroo. There may even be a knitted bow tie. Ok, there is a knitted bow tie. I am also doing revisions on a couple of picture books. I have several other picture books, short stories, screenplays, and novel ideas badgering me, but I have managed to push them into the closet and lock the door for now. They’ll have their time, but focus is essential to finishing this book. My goal is to have the first draft done by the end of June.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genreI think that, ultimately, we’re all different, right? I mean, we each bring our own unique experiences and our own voices to what we write. However, I will say that my work has been described as quirky, humorous, and, at times, rather unorthodox. I’m not sure that this is different, but I write picture books, middle-grade, young adult, screenplays, and graphic novels, and it all seems to gel into one big visually oriented media monster that makes my storytelling vivid and cinematic in its beats and pacing. I’ve also become a big fan of the inserted multi-genre components that A.S. King (think PLEASE EXCUSE VERA DIETZ), Caroline Carlson (MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT), and others do, as well as telling the story from multiple points of view (like A.S. King, Kathi Appelt, Tim Wynne-Jones, and others).

3. Why do I write what I write? I am, simply put, a big kid. I’m living out there in NeverNever Land…holding fiercely to my youth and fanciful flights of imagination. And, as the father of three young boys, I am constantly observant of, and reminded of, the obstacles, events, concerns, and experiences of children. Children, middle-grade aged especially, live in a world where magic exists. There are trolls behind trees and trash can lids are shields. Fallen logs are bridges to distant lands and creeks may have Civil War gold buried in them. The blend of innocence and discovery, mixed with the willingness to believe in, and expect, magic is a canvas open to so many wonderful and creative stories. Middle-aged children want to believe in magic and as a writer, I can give them that, Because the world, as it stands, needs a dash of magic. It needs a sprinkle of “what if?” And that’s what I try to deliver.

4. How does my writing process workWell, first I gather a bucket of toads. Then, I paint the toads with splashes of different colors and then I let them go. Wait..that’s not right. That’s my revision process. Writing process, right. Well, I am a very big proponent of mapping and visual connections. I like to take a big piece of newsprint paper and draw my character in the middle of the page. Then I list some of the key points that define him or her. Then I connect him to the secondary and influencing characters, the setting, significant objects. I’ll use colored pencils to trace out certain paths, or connecting lines. I’ll make circles around groups, or triangulate relationships. I’ll follow dashed lines to important connections, like newly discovered treasures. All of this brainstorming/visual play allows me to better grasp the overall story in a way that a watchmaker might look at the relation of every cog, gear, and flywheel.

I do the same with my picture books, storyboarding the entire thing out on a big sheet of paper before actually writing the complete text of the story.

Once I feel like I have a handle on where these characters want to take me, I jump in and start writing. While I am aware of structure and mile markers and significant plot points, I really like to take Bradbury’s approach and follow my character’s footprints through the snow. But, I don’t worry about chapters and parts and how long this section is over the other. I write in scene by scene snapshots, in moments; self-contained capsules that all float on the surface of the story pond like lily pads. And I like using Scrivener because I can just move these scenes, these lily pads, all around the pond in whatever order I find works best. It’s great because I might write twenty scenes that I thought were the beginning of the book, only to say, “nah…they belong in the second quarter of the book…except these two, I’ll put them after the first five new scenes I am going to write…” So, I guess my process is very fluid, evolving and growing as I continue to write and discover the story by writing my way through it. I like to be surprised.

And I LOVE revision. Revision is like washing the grime off the rocks you found, you old prospector, you, only to find that you have a hunk of glittering gold underneath.

I write everywhere and everywhen. Usually without music, usually on caffeine. I write every day (usually). I’ve built myself a treadmill desk and that’s great for long writing sessions. But I will write with a fox, and I will write with no socks. In a boat, with a goat. On a plane, in the rain…you get the idea.

So, there you have it. A little insight into my writing process…

Next week, in a continuation of the “My Writing Process” blog tour, R.L. Saunders (one of my uber wunderbar agency mates) and Donna Galanti, author of THE HIDDEN ELEMENT and the upcoming middle-grade series, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, will share their insight. Please make sure to check out what they have to say on Monday, May 5th.

rhonda2R.L. Saunders lives in Key West where she writes, chases iguanas, and sips tropical drinks from coconuts in the company of Gilligan and the Skipper. Her current manuscript is upper middle-grade contemporary fiction, set on Historic Charter Boat Row, where her biological dad worked as a fisherman for 20 years. She is an amazing writer and absolutely hysterical. Although she won’t admit to being funny. I am happy to call her my friend (really, I’m just saying that in case I go to the Keys and maybe I need a place to stay or something. Kidding!). She is represented by Linda Epstein of the Jennifer De Chiara agency.

donnaDonna Galanti is a whirlwind of writing. She writes suspense, young adult and middle-grade. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Society and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. A HIDDEN ELEMENT, her sequel to A HUMAN ELEMENT (Imajin Books) will be released this summer and she recently announced the sale of her middle-grade series JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD to Month9Books (2015). She is an active part of the Pennsylvania writing scene, and very involved in several blogs and writer’s groups. She is represented by Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman. She’s one rad woman.

12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Writer

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“Simple is good.”

              -  Jim Henson

 

I am not a Zen monk. I am not posting this blog from a monastery perched atop a remote, cloud-shrouded mountain. But I recently read an article that shared “12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk” and I thought that these rules translated well to the writing life.

Barefoot and breathing and listening to the sound of one hand clapping, I give you…

 

12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk Writer:

 

1. Write one project at a tizenme. Find your main project and focus on it. It is easy to collect new ideas, to become infatuated with the potential new story. However, a dozen started projects is easily a dozen unfinished projects. For every project you are simultaneously working on, you are slowing down every other project you are trying to juggle. And not only that, each of these other projects takes creative energy and focus that could be better spent fueling your novel-in-progress. Write them down. Record those ideas. File them away and come back to them…but stay focused on one primary project. If you need a creative break, allow yourself a small side project, but keep it as that; a side project.

 

2. Write it with determination and deliberation. Write like a shark. Keep moving forward. Be determined to finish that draft. Be deliberate in your actions, letting every word, every sentence, serve your story. Know your characters, believe in yourself, shrug off doubt, duct tape your internal editor and write your way to your goals.

 

3. Write it completely. DO NOT edit along the way. A well polished first 50 pages is just that…50 pages, not a book. Write through (not necessarily in linear fashion) to the end. Complete the draft, and then ride into the magic of revision on the backs of rainbow unicorns. And while you’re writing your way through the entire draft, be completely IN each scene. Be in that moment…don’t worry about the entire forest. Focus on that one tree you are hugging…and then move on to the next and do the same. Be IN that scene, be on THAT page and eventually you’ll string together a story, page by page, scene by scene. Otherwise it gets pretty darn scary.

 

4. Do less. That’s right. Say “No” to things. What’s that? Nope, can’t mow the lawn. Novel to write. Sister’s wedding? No. Cricket tournament. No. Call of Duty 17 for the Xbox? Nope. Ok, occasionally you are allowed to take a break and get to do something with other humans…but stop watching television every night, or tricking yourself into feeling obligated to attend every social event. But it’s National Canned Peaches Day next Wednesday and everyone is getting together at Sven Jorgenstein’s to make Peach Syrup Margaritas!! Um…..no. Write your novel.

 

5. Put space between things. Make time to step away from your story. I believe that we have creative batteries and that they are rechargeable. But they need time to recharge. So maybe step away and take a nice walk (while talking to your character in your head. See multitasking?). Or throw a Frisbee with the kids. Or lay on the grass and watch the clouds. Or read a book. But hey! You just said no breaks! No, I said “Don’t go to Sven Jorgenstein’s for Peach Syrup Margaritas.” At least these breaks recharge your creative batteries and don’t end with you suffering a severe fructose syrup hangover.

 

6. Develop writing rituals. Establish routine. Are you a night writer? A morning writer? A coffee shop writer? Do you need to write barefoot or on a unicycle or on a typewriter or with Scandinavian Yodel Quartet music blasting? Find what works for you and make these your rituals. Own your process.

 

7. Designate time for distractions. Facebook, Twitter, checking emails, etc., etc….all those wonderful little interwebs distractions right at our fingertips. Don’t tell yourself “no,” tell yourself “not yet.” Write for 50 minutes and then take 10 for social media. Wash, rinse and repeat. Use them as rewards.

 

8. Devote time to sitting. That’s right: BIC (Butt In Chair). MAKE the time to right. Nobody is going to do it for you. Sure, it’d be easy to just plop down on the couch and make origami penguins. And yes, you’re tired from sitting through classes or a day at work. Sure, there’s laundry and the living room needs to be vacuumed. But you know what? Making origami penguins is hard…and those other things can wait. Maybe until tomorrow. Maybe for an hour. Excuses collect entirely too easy and the next thing you know a week, a month, a year has passed. And you’re no further along in your novel.

 

9. Smile and serve your characters. This means knowing your characters. Follow them through the story. Listen to them. Trust them. Ask them what they want, all of them, from the protagonist to the secondary character in chapter eleven who surprises the heck out of you and reveals a side of your antagonist you never knew existed! What!? Yep. Serve your characters and they’ll serve you.

 

10. Make research and revision become meditation. When it is time to embrace these processes, be mindful of where you are and what you are doing. Do not be afraid to make the tough cuts. Know your purpose in research and what your research goals are, lest you fall into the trap of becoming lost or encumbered. Be mindful and embrace these roles. They are vital pieces of the Zen writing process.

 

11. Think about what is necessary. Does everything in your story serve a purpose? Put nothing in your story for its own sake; not for shock, not as a gimmick, not because it’s cool. It all must move the story forward, it all must have a purpose. If not, it is your job to remove it. Be strong.

 

12. Write simply. Don’t overcomplicate your story. Rita Williams-Garcia, author of P.S. Be ElevenOne Crazy Summer, et. al, once told me that I had “too many things in the lifeboat. Start throwing some of them overboard.” It’s easy to start adding in all kinds of ingredients to the soup, but then you get some kind of convoluted inedible jumbo. No. Keep it simple. Simple, straightforward…a story that your readers can follow. No, that they are eager and anxious to follow. Be a storyteller. Just like Jim Henson said up there at the beginning of this post: “Simple is good.”

 

While I cannot promise you enlightenment, or the path to publication, I can offer you this:

“Listening is the first step and the last step.” - Cantus Fraggle

What a Character!

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photo (4) copyAt the risk of endangering my family and me, I am going to let you in on a little secret…

I live with Captain America. That’s right. Captain. America. THE Captain America. He lives in my house, eats my Lucky Charms, and LOVES Legos. It’s true, Captain America right here, in my house. Don’t tell the bad guys.

Why am I telling you this? Because Captain America is NOT Steve Rogers. Captain America is my youngest son.

But he is not alone. How many households out there have their Batmans and Supermans and Wonder Women? How many other Captain Americas and Thors and Iron Men are tearing up the living room or battling imaginary forces in the back yard? The world is filled with children wearing bath towel capes, post-Halloween costumes, wielding trashcan lid shields, and donning makeshift masks. Why? Because they have fallen in love with these characters. Children idolize these characters, or relate to them, or see a piece of themselves in who these characters are. Or maybe these characters represent traits, virtues, and beliefs that children aspire to have and represent. Or maybe it’s a combination of some or all of these things. The important point here is that it is the character that the child latches onto and loves. The character (or characters) attract and captivate our young readers. The characters become iconic representations of the story. While story and plot and setting are important and valuable aspects of our novels, children are, for the most part, most interested in the characters. And ultimately, characters drive the story. Story is about what happens to our characters. As writers, we need to ask ourselves, am I creating a character that my young readers cannot wait to read about? Am I  creating a character so rich, so dynamic, so interesting, that it’ll compel my readers to want more? To speak like? To think like? To dress up like? Even villains hold this power…I walk around the house speaking like Bane (Batman villain) at least one day a week. I’m doing it now. In what ways can we make our characters leap off the page? Fiction writers don’t have the luxury of the movie screen to bring our characters to life. We have our words, our stories, and through them we need to make our characters leap into the hearts and imaginations of our young readers.

And lest you think my earlier examples of iconic super heroes are too limited in scope, I will tell you that this theory holds true even for fairy tale and classic characters. Case in point: When I was in

 

Kindergarten, many, many moons ago, I happened to love Robin Hood. I had a Robin Hood jack-in-the-box that you cranked up and it played “Robin Hood, Robin Hood…he steals from the rich and gives to the poor…” I LOVED Robin Hood. One day, my Mom received a call from the school. Would she please come in? I had taken all of the toys from all of the other kids and I was hoarding them in the corner, protecting them. When asked why, I apparently replied that I was Robin Hood and that “I was taking them from the rich and giving them to the poor.” When asked who the poor

That is actually me as a child. I don't know WHAT is up with the socks.

That is actually me as a child. I don’t know WHAT is up with the socks.

were, I replied, “Me.”

But you see, it’s not just super heroes. And yes, I’ve long since learned to share. Mostly. My point is that children LOVE to be other characters. So think about the characters you are giving them in your stories. I’ve had Percy Jackson running through my back yard lately, and, of course Cap walks through the kitchen with that little two-fingered salute of his. The Doctor (sans TARDIS) was in the living room last week. Indiana Jones used to live here for quite a while.

Who will you create in your stories who will leap off the page? What characters can you conjure that will live on in the hearts and minds of your young readers? Breathe life into them. Make them more than just mere words. Make them alive in living rooms and school yards and on playgrounds everywhere.

Make them count. Make them matter.

Heroes Needed: No Cape Required

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The world is filled with heroes.

It’s true. And if you’re reading this, odds are you’re one of them.

I’m not talking about the tights-wearing, cape-clad, witty banter kind of hero (although what you wear in the comfort of your own home, or while grocery shopping, or when feeding your goats, is entirely your business).

IMG_1548No, I’m talking about the kind of hero that takes the time to share a book with a child. I’m talking about the kind of hero that delights in watching the joyful smiles form on little faces when he or she shares the magic of  a story. You don’t need tights, or a cape, or some super emblem on your chest…not when you sit down to share a story with a child. The book, your voice, your time and interest and genuine commitment to your young audience makes you a hero in their eyes. A shared story, a favorite book, a bedside read…these moments wrap children up in love and affection. These are the moments that can put a smile on a child who has had a bad morning, or comfort a kid who is nervous about his first night without his nightlight. Reading a story to a sick child can help soothe their pain and comfort them in time of need.

Trust me, I know. First hand.

March 25th is always a difficult day for me, and for my family. Eleven years ago, on this day, my youngest brother, Jack, passed away. He was 7-years-old. Jack was born with cerebral palsy. And while he couldn’t walk, or talk, he knew what was going on. Despite his handicaps, he was a very happy boy. Jack loved to hear me read to him. His favorite was Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks. The faster I read it (and I can read it quite quickly), the more he’d laugh and smile. We read many books together, but that was our favorite. So on this day, eleven years ago, as he lay dying at home, comforted by his family and a slow morphine drip, I read to him. I read Fox in Socks and I can still see that smile on his face. Even through the medicine, even through the pain, I know that in that last hour my reading to him helped him when he must have been so scared. While it is not my intent to declare myself a hero, it IS my intent to demonstrate that we can help brighten a child’s life just by reading a story to them.

But it does not have to be as heavy a moment. I read to all three of my boys each night. Arms ladenSawyer

with books, I make the rounds. My 10-year-old and I are reading the Harry Potter books. To my youngest, it’s a picture book, or some of the Chronicles of Narnia. I sit at the bedside of my middle-schooler and read him a couple of pages of the Percy Jackson books he’s devouring. No, he doesn’t need me to read them to him (he tears through the books), but he just likes the experience of hearing my voice; of sharing a few minutes with me. It’s an important moment for all three of my boys. So, I guess, in a way, that makes me a part-time hero in their eyes. Maybe?

But you’re heroes too, or you can be. Make sure you are taking the time to read to your children. If you don’t have children, read to your nieces or nephews, or volunteer to read at your local library’s story hour, or go to a children’s hospital and read to the kids there.

You might be surprised how much of a difference you can make in a child’s life just by reading them a story.

Share a book. Be a hero.