Larrabee and I love Pixar movies. And we love writing stories. So we were very excited when Khan Academy released the first lesson in a course called “The Art of Storytelling” taught by Pixar directors and story artists.
It’s part of a series of courses called Pixar in a Box, and it consists of short videos and activities. Larrabee and I went through it in a single sitting, although we only did the exercises verbally.
One of our favorite activities was reframing movies in terms of a “what if” statement. For example, what if an overprotective father had to cross the ocean to save his son?
Another of our favorite activities was mixings characters and worlds from two different movies. Larrabee came up with an intriguing idea with a Death Star and a Terminator.
We’re looking forward to the next lesson on character. In the meantime, we’ll do some brainstorming. What if…?
The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life is the autobiography of Newbery Award-winning author Sid Fleischmann. In addition to writing dozens of books, Fleischman worked as a magician, a journalist, and a screenwriter in a long and eventful life.
The book has a colloquial tone. It’s like being told stories by an older relative who tells really good stories. Fleischman tells about taking his magic show on the road around Lake Tahoe during the Depression in a car bought for $35, avoiding floating mines in the Pacific while serving on a naval destroyer escort during World War II, and setting off the foghorns in the San Francisco Bay with fog machines while filming Blood Alley starring John Wayne and Lauren Bacall.
He also shares a lot of stories about where he got the ideas for his novels. I was particularly interested his tales about his California Gold Rush novel, By the Great Horn Spoon!, which Blaine read and enjoyed in the 4th grade.
I read The Abracadabra Kid aloud to Larrabee, hoping to encourage him to write. While he definitely took note of Fleischman’s writing tips, so far the book has mainly inspired him to pull out his book of coin tricks and practice his French drop. He’s not quite ready to take that show on the road, though.
We both liked the book. Thank you to Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators friend Kristi Wright for the recommendation!
Blaine, Larrabee, and I had a chance to meet Ursula Vernon a couple of years ago at Bookshop Santa Cruz. She is the author and illustrator of the tremendously fun Dragonbreath series.
She told us about how she combines ideas in her books. For example, ninjas are cool. Frogs are also cool. So, ninja frogs would make awesome villains. (See Dragonbreath #2: Attack of the Ninja Frogs).
She also talked about how she plots her books. She said that she puts her main character into some sort of interesting situation (e.g., he falls into a pit or is attacked by ninja frogs). Then she asks herself:
- Why is this happening?
- Who is responsible?
- What happens next?
She proceeded to brainstorm a plot with the kids in attendance. I don’t remember all of the details, but it featured a platypus. Not just an ordinary platypus. A giant platypus. A Platypus-zilla threatening the town of Santa Cruz.
Her presentation made us want to come home and write a story. Or draw a comic book. Or read (or re-read) one of her books. Hopefully, we’ll do all of the above this summer.
Speaking of Ursula Vernon’s books, the boys and I highly recommend Dragonbreath and its sequels. These books are wacky and funny and full of adventure. They’re ideal first chapter books because they’re easy to read, with a mix of text and comic book panels.
There are eleven books in the series to date. Blaine’s personal favorite is Dragonbreath #3: Curse of the Were-wiener (yes, like a hot dog werewolf). Larrabee is just starting the series, but unlike Blaine, he doesn’t believe in reading books in order. He’s partial so far to Dragonbreath #10: Knight-napped.
One of the joys of parenthood for me is sharing stories with my kids. I love curling up on the couch to read aloud. I love making up stories during long car rides. I love helping them find books in the library or bookstore and reading the books they recommend to me. I love family movie nights. I love reading the stories and comic books they create.
I’m working on a children’s book of my own now. And it’s got me thinking about what my kids and I like in a book, what engages our imagination, and what stays with us long after we’ve closed the covers of the book.
This blog is about the imaginary friends that my kids and I find in stories. It’s a place for me to to share book reviews, original stories, and musings on the task of raising readers, writers, and storytellers.