November, of course, brings Americans to think about the Thanksgiving holiday and its meaning beyond elaborate turkey dinners (or for those of us who do not eat meat, elaborate tofu-turkey dinners).
A poem I wrote that was recently published in the literary magazine Stinkwaves Magazine is not directly related to Thanksgiving, but it does relate to the theme of giving thanks, and also has relevance to writing for children.
So I thought I’d share the poem and make this column about how these seemingly diverse topics intertwine.
A Children’s Thanksgiving Poem
Gruesome goblins, creepy crawlers, and flapping bat wings
Monsters that hide in closets tend to jump out at night
Things unseen can seem evil when there is no light
But some parts of darkness are not spooky or frightful
The sunset that brings darkness is truly delightful
Darkness helps us fall asleep and get the sleep we need
It tells night animals to wake up and start to feed
Without darkness, we could not see stars up in the sky
We would miss comets and shooting stars whizzing by
Nighttime opens our world to the universe beyond
So find the bright side when darkness taps its magic wand!
How This Relates To Writing
Stinkwaves Magazine is PG-rated, for all age groups, so I knew that children, adults, and everyone in-between might be reading “Nighttime Magic.”
Thus, I crafted “layers” of comprehension directed at the cognitive capabilities of both children and adults.
Indeed, although authors who write for different age groups usually tailor their manuscripts to a specific age category, it is possible to include layers of meaning that apply to a wider range of readers.
In fact, this is especially prevalent in children’s picture books.
Guess who usually reads picture books to kids?
And guess who decides whether or not to buy a particular book?
An adult, usually a parent or grandparent.
So, since many kids insist on having a favorite picture book read to them dozens or even hundreds of times, it’s important that the text appeals on some level to the adults doing the reading.
This is why many picture books contain humor and allusions to adult-type matters that go right over a child’s head, but make his or her parents chuckle and leads them to become fond of the book (or simply less averse to reading it hundreds of times).
Many beloved classics, in fact, have achieved notoriety and longevity because they include layers of meaning that make them attractive and meaningful for everyone.
One author who is notorious for this is Dr. Seuss.
In fact, the layers of meaning in his books are thinly-disguised – for instance, in The Lorax, children focus on Truffula trees and brown barbaloots, while the environmental message that warns of habitat destruction and species extinctions speaks loudly to more mature readers.
One of my personal favorites with layered meanings is William Stieg’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, which conveys messages about happiness and being careful what one wishes for through a delightful donkey named Sylvester.
Nighttime Magic and Thanksgiving
In “Nighttime Magic”, one key line that is intended to give adults something philosophical to think about is “Without darkness, we could not see stars up in the sky.”
This line is also the key to how my strange brain relates this poem to Thanksgiving.
Without the less-than-happy experiences like manuscript rejections, computer meltdowns, and illnesses that sap our strength, we would be much less capable of truly appreciating the “stars up in the sky” – the beauty and wonder of everyday things like watching raindrops quiver on rosebuds, or enjoying the privilege of cooking huge Thanksgiving dinners for family and friends.
These stars in the sky can vanish in a split second, and this is why I choose to focus on and give thanks every single day for the blessings in my life (though Thanksgiving is a good time to renew this commitment).
And routinely practicing gratitude also relates directly to the core principles that motivate me and many other children’s authors to keep inventing new ways of entertaining and making learning fun for kids.
First of all, people who write for children have the power to transmit positive values and methods of coping to the kids in our audience, even when writing stories or nonfiction that seemingly have nothing to do with these concepts.
So even though it is never a good idea to preach, an author’s mindset and attitude do creep into his or her writing.
For instance, the way I present information can motivate readers to either enjoy reading or to yawn and pick up a video game.
If I think it’s really cool that thresher sharks can whip their tails at 80 miles per hour to kill their prey with cavitation bubbles, and if I convey this sense of wow to my readers, chances are good that they will also find the information interesting.
And if I include material that engenders hope and empowerment in books I write for teenagers about important, but scary topics (like the horrific ways in which online predators prey on people), hopefully it will lead readers to recognize that they can personally do things to diminish the scope of these problems and to counteract the forces of evil.
I think the line “Nighttime opens our world to the universe beyond” from “Nighttime Magic” applies here.
In fact, in my recent release, Online Predators (ReferencePoint Press), I included several sections in which law enforcement and cybersecurity experts reminded teenagers that the Internet and digital devices, like other technologies, are not inherently evil, and that each individual who chooses to use these technologies for good can help counteract the many criminals who use them for nefarious purposes.
Despite all the ugliness in the world, as a children’s author, I never doubt that I can and do make a tiny bit of a positive difference in childrens’ lives.
Thus, practicing positive lifestyle choices like focusing on gratitude helps me make the type of difference I want to achieve.
Wishing you all a joyful and blessed Thanksgiving that is filled with twinkling stars in the sky.
About Melissa Abramovitz
Melissa Abramovitz is an award-winning author/freelance writer who specializes in writing educational nonfiction books and magazine articles for all age groups, from preschoolers through adults. She also writes short stories, poems, and picture books, and is the author of the book for writers, A Treasure Trove of Opportunity: How to Write and Sell Articles for Children’s Magazines. Melissa graduated summa cum laude from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in psychology and is also a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature. She is a member of SCBWI and The Working Writer’s Club. Visit her website at www.melissaabramovitz.com