A Novel Idea

by Michael Kline

Did you take a vacation this summer? If so, where did you go? And whom did you have in tow?

Did you take the kids hiking or backpacking or swimming in a mountain lake? I guess Disney World is a place to go for entertainment, but it leaves very little room for creativity, as all the creativity-ness has been provided for you already. Not a big deal, but if I were the one working the “Mickey Mouse” corner, he would have five large green ears, speak in Haikus, and be sporting a nice pair of Ray Bans. Now that’s creative.

Above all, if you took those munchkins of yours someplace during their educational break, I am hoping that you brought them back. (I always asked my mom if she would take me to the zoo. She replied that if the zoo wanted me, they’d come and get me.)

If you did arrive back at your doorstep with offspring in hand, then you recreated the essential award-winning plot that thousands of authors have used to successfully sell millions of books. Of course, I know you had this in mind when you initially packed the SUV with ample supplies of Handi-Wipes, jerky bits, and SPF 800 sunscreen, but allow me to expand on your sudden enlightenment.

I read Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat when I was probably six or seven years old, and that likely occurred with my mother somewhere in the vicinity. If you’re not familiar with it (shame on you, first of all), it’s the telling of a mischievous feline who brings chaos into the house of two children left unattended by their mother. The release of the creatures Thing One and Thing Two is akin to a bomb going off, and all hope the children have of a fun-filled (read, responsible) day is dashed. But within seconds of the mother’s return, the cat has restored order and control to the dwelling, bringing everything back on an even, undisturbed keel.

What Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) so eloquently put forth for the under 4-foot generation is the key component to a good story: Begin in a safe place, take your audience to a place that is a bit dangerous or unknown, and always bring them back.

Take a look at almost any good novel and you will find this simple but incredibly effective method at play every time. The Hobbit (Bilbo leaves on a long adventure but manages his way back home), Where the Wild Things Are (Max’s imagination carries him to an enchanted land, but he returns safely to find his supper waiting for him), Harry Potter (the young wizard returns each time, though a little battered, but much wiser), and so on. Children’s movies follow a similar tenet, as in Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc.

Now mind you, I would not go so far as to encourage you to send your children away to a school for wizards, or drop them in a jungle with only, say, a paperclip and some Big Red gum, but keep in mind that when you accompany them to a place where they’ve never been, the effect is the same.

That place can be a baseball game, the ballet, a historical park, a different grocery store, the crawl space under your house or the attic of your parent’s house (ooohh!). It doesn’t really matter where it is, as long as you are with them to explain things that (ahem) some adult had to explain to you. What we take for granted and see as rote may seem like a completely different world to our kids.

Be with them. Answer their questions, and ask them questions. Take the opportunity to teach.

Oh, and remember to take them home. :-)

Teach. Learn. Enjoy!

Michael Kline

Michael Kline is the oldest youngster you will ever meet. An artistic contributor to Kids Discover for 20+ years, he is also the illustrator of The Doodles of Sam Dibble (Penguin Young Readers), a raucous account of a consummate third-grade doodler. Michael lives in Wichita, KS with his very understanding wife and feline office managers. He can be found at Dogfoose.com.