It was storytime. Specifically, it was storytime for toddlers. I had a room full of curious, energetic 18-16 months-old children with their care givers, approximately 60 total. The music of Laurie Berkner was playing to get them in the mood for stories about cats. “The cat came back/We thought he was a goner….” Sounds morbid, but it’s actually quite fun, a remix that invites dancing and silliness. There’s a lot of silliness at my storytimes, and today would be no exception with my French-speaking cat puppet named Sapphire, a bag full of big cat stuffed animals for them to guess, and action rhymes that got us all licking our paws, chasing our tails, and pouncing on imaginary mice. To say nothing of the fun of “Goin’ On a Lion Hunt,” when we all swam through a lake, climbed a tree, and tiptoed into a lion’s cave. Of course, there were books, too, including I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein, which gave me the opportunity to use many different voices, and Mama Cat Has Three Kittens by Denise Fleming, which gave them the opportunity to “read” along with me the repeating phrase, “Boris naps.”
My blog today, though, is not about the storytime itself, but about something significant that happened before storytime. While I was arranging my books, felt board characters and rhyme sheets, one of the attendees came up to my chair and handed me what you see in the photo above. “This is for you,” she said as she placed it into my hands. “I made it.” I do get wonderful gifts from time to time. Squished dandelions, overly decorated cookies, thank you cards with unidentifiable scribblings by the toddler. I love them all, and keep many of them (except the cookies) in my when-the-day-is-going-downhill-fast file. One look through those treasures and I have no trouble remembering why being a librarian who gets to do storytime for kids is one of the best jobs in the world. Maybe THE best job.
I held the object carefully in my hands and said with great joy, “It’s an airplane!”
Without missing a beat she said, “No, it’s a butterfly.” And then she proceeded to explain the color pattern–“See, it’s blue, green, blue, green. I colored it.” I thanked her profusely, she returned to her mother, and I carefully placed the butterfly on my table. What I wanted to do was smack my brain for having forgotten the proverbial response when a very young child hands you a piece of her artwork. “Thank you for sharing it with me. Please tell me all about it.” But I didn’t say that and she kindly corrected me, highlighting all the details that made this butterfly so beautiful in her eyes.
When my daughter was three one of her favorite words was, “venture,” as in, “I’m going on a ‘venture.” I believe this came from how her grandmother and I would introduce a day’s outing. It might be to search for sand dollars on the coast, or hike the Painted Hills of Oregon, or get a new beta fish at the pet store. She caught on to the excitement of the idea, and began to create ‘ventures of her own. She would sit in her orange car and scoot herself around the back deck, declaring that she was grocery shopping, or visiting a friend, or going to the ocean. When she was four she drew a map of one of those adventures, and I am still intrigued by all the discoveries she imagined along the way.
What a joy to be a child, to create butterflies, correct adults, and go on ‘ventures that lead you to lions or the ocean.
Then we grow up. We are told, “No, that’s not right,” or, “You made a mistake,” or, “Don’t.” We are evaluated at work, declined after job interviews, rejected by soulmates. We aim to please others so often along the way that we can sometimes stop pleasing the hearts of ourselves. I am reminded of this as I struggle to get my first teen novel published. My three published books are educational, focusing on early literacy and storytelling. But now, I’m writing for teens. Two are finished, one of which is making the rounds of being sent to agents that I hope will say, “Oh, it’s a butterfly!” So far all they’ve seen are airplanes. It is disheartening, to say the least. It can lead to a variety of illnesses, such as the headache of writer’s block, or the self medication of chocolate. What is particularly hard is that agents don’t have the time to individually respond to each query. So you either get a form email–“Thank you for sending us your manuscript. Unfortunately…”–or no response at all. This is after an average of waiting for 6-8 weeks, and why many writers turn to self publishing.
I believe in agents and editors, all of whom help the author make the book the absolute best it can be. So if a rejection comes I read the first two sentences, delete, and search out another agent who can see what I see. I can’t quit because someone just wasn’t in the mood that day for historical fantasy, or already contracted with someone else for a book about prejudice. Like selling a house, it only takes one.
A writer is a writer is a writer. So I keep on writing. I recently read an interview with some author whose first novel was being very well reviewed. She said, “People talk about this being my first novel. But I have eleven others in a drawer, all the victims of rejection.” Well, I have two in the drawer. And a third one that’s just been born, working its way out of my head and onto paper.
That’s my ‘venture.