When I first took up writing, half of my endeavors as a penman were spent setting up my writing sessions. Things had to be fairly perfect: I had to have been reading the right kind of stuff so that my mind was in the right place (poetic short stories were the best); I had to be hungry (not usually a problem in my younger days) but not starving; I had to be awake enough to not be sleepy; I had to feel comfortable but not too; it had to be quiet. Well, quiet-ish. Too quiet wasn’t perfect, either.
I didn’t get a lot of good writing done back then.
Then I got a family, and I had less time to write. This had the unexpected effect of doing wonders for my production. Mainly, it made me stop being so picky about the conditions I needed to produce. But having kids around—especially young kids—did something else to me. It made me appreciate silence. The silence that came when they went to sleep, or found something to busy themselves with, be it a coloring book or toy or movie, or whether it was because they were still empty of the many, many words that would come.
* Sound—especially the pleasing type, often available in the best music—can be a wonderful thing. For effect, sometimes I would play music in the college writing classrooms I used to teach in during journal time. I’d turn on some Beethoven or Mozart and watch the reactions. Many students made faces. Some even covered their ears. What is this stuff? Hey, I can’t think! How old is this? Can you put on something with a beat? But some of the students wrote better with a little music to drown out the nagging interferences inside or outside of their heads. And, like Pavlov’s dogs, almost all of them got used to it after three or four sessions. I’d play the music; they’d take up their pens without me saying a word.
* Reading is a different activity than writing. Almost universally, it takes some semblance of quiet to pull the required concentration. This quietude, as inferred previously, isn’t always something that a child is interested in cultivating. Everyone knows that reading to young children does wonders, but how should one help them learn to read to themselves, especially when…um…they can’t read yet?
I think reading posture is a big deal. Getting children used to sitting still is the first step. Ha! say the countless masses. My kid’s got a lightning bolt for a spine. Okay, okay. It might not be easy. But it takes patience to teach patience. Sitting still for one minute can be stretched to five minutes eventually. And five minutes can be stretched to ten, fifteen, twenty. This “stillening” is all made easier these days by the proliferation of wordless books.
One of the better-known wordless books out there is Tuesday by David Wiesner. Winner of the 1992 Caldecott Medal, Tuesday is a story about floating frogs on a nighttime adventure. Wiesner has other wordless titles, too, that have won critical appreciation, including Flotsam, a wonderful book about marine life seen through the lens of an underwater camera, that my daughter recently brought home from the school library. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, and Journey by Aaron Becker also astound in their wordlessness.
Capstone’s recent addition to the wordless genre is entitled Here I Am. Authored by Patti Kim and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez, it is the story of a young boy recently arrived in a new—and strange, and wordless—home. Capstone’s own Krissy Mohn edited the book, which has been getting great reviews across the board. Mohn had to think outside the box in order to give editorial direction for a wordless book. “Wordless picture books,” said Mohn, “are a wonderful bridge for non-readers, non-English speakers, and anyone who wants the fun of experiencing a story completely visually. You can't speed read a wordless picture book. You have to study the art, and ‘listen’ closely to what the pictures are saying.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t personally recommend this book, and the wordless genre of books for young readers in general.
-Nate LeBoutillier, Editor