Family Photo Friday! (Hier Wache Ich!)

Family Photo Friday

Today’s photo is a wonderful treasure. The sign says “I Guard Here! Enter At Your Own Risk!”

My chickens and I receive this gift last year, shortly after Seasons Of Friendship was published. It came in a large envelope packed with other surprises from one of our most valued readers named Susanne. She lives in Germany and wrote a variety of posts here on WordPress for a time. Her original drawings and cartoons were what attracted me to her site, and I also especially liked her haiku poems and the photographs which she skillfully paired with them.

One of the things I am enjoying most while illustrating How To Explain Christmas To Chickens is being able to create a visual world beyond what the written world describes. For example, in Seasons Of Friendship, I hid a pair of Gracie’s ballet slippers in one of the illustrations. Most readers have missed this when reading through the book and didn’t know there was anything hidden until reading the “Epilogue.” Then they go back and search for them. It was one of the things that many readers enjoyed about the book.

Yesterday’s post shared a sample illustration from How to Explain Christmas To Chickens. So will there be some hidden objects with special meaning in the drawings? You can be sure that’s definitely something I will be working on.  This particular sign may work very well in the chapter titled “The Opossum.”

I will also be considering the inclusion of other not-so-well-hidden items like the one in today’s “Family Photo Friday” when possible. They will be things which remind us of you, our readers here at “My Life With Gracie,” and serve as a kind of secret between us. (One of the things Pearl will receive as a gift at the end of the novel is a secret, something that will not fit into a Christmas present box, but will fit into a heart quite nicely.) 

My chickens and I are truly grateful for receiving this wonderful gift and even more grateful for Susanne’s friendship and encouragement. (My chickens like how this sign helps them get a good night’s sleep too!)

We also want to gratefully thank all of you, our readers, for your friendship and encouragement. So be on the lookout for a drawing of this sign and perhaps other not-so-hidden objects in How To Explain Christmas To Chickens…and of course, a very well-hidden pair of ballet slippers for one very remarkable chicken!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

John’s Reading List For Writers…“Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul

The end of this week will mark the sixth week since submitting “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” to a publisher in England named Chicken House, Ltd. for their “Open Coop” submission day. (The six-week mark is when we will know whether we have been selected or not.) While waiting, I thought it might be good to share a few books which were helpful to me during the writing process. These may be helpful to those of you who are writers hoping to be published.

Although the title may make you think this book is not for you unless you write children’s picture books, there is valuable information here for any writer, regardless of intended audience or preferred genre. Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul taught me a great deal about writing any kind of book. (There is even a section on poetry which Amelia found very helpful and inspiring.)

Her book helped me consider how the elements which make a good picture book also make a good novel. For example, instead of the two-page spread, there is the chapter. The things which make you want to turn the page of a good picture book are the same things which make you want to turn the page of a good novel.

As I was writing, How To Explain Christmas To Chickens, if I couldn’t imagine a chapter as one or more two-page spreads, I knew something was probably wrong with it. If there were big sections which couldn’t be illustrated, I began to question their necessity. This wasn’t because I wanted to write a picture book, but because I wanted to write a book that would “draw” pictures in the minds of my readers and keep them turning the pages.

Writing Picture Books provides many important general keys to writing a story of any kind and for any audience. In fact, when reading many of its passages, it is unlikely you would realize you were reading about writing children’s picture books. This may not be a book to add to your shelf at home, but if you are a writer or an aspiring writer of any type of book, it will likely give you some helpful advice and may be available at your local library.

Never underestimate the power of a picture book! Even as adults, we can find our favorite picture books from childhood sneaking into everyday conversations. I’ll bet you remember The Little Engine That Could and “I think I can, I think I can.” One of my own favorite expressions lately is, “I’m just a Pokey Little Puppy today.” (Of course, even pokey little puppies can have naughty days!)

Wouldn’t it be great to be the author of a book that created such lasting memories for your intended audience? No matter their age? No matter their preferred genre?

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

From “Pearl’s Comedy Coop” To “Freak Show Chickens”

Freak Show Chickens

This draft of a chapter comes a little later than the last one which I shared. Tension builds as The Bottle Cap Lady begins to take a greater part in the story.

“Yeah, I see you got them Freak Show Chickens!” yelled The Bottle Cap Lady from the street. “And you ain’t nothing but a Freak Show Old Man!”

She had been walking back and forth, up and down our little block, from her house on the corner to the dead end turnaround.

Like most days when she did this, she was wearing her waitress apron. It had a lace-trimmed pocket for her order pad and matched her lace-trimmed waitress hat. The hat was her favorite part of her uniform, and she wore it like a diamond-trimmed tiara.

Pearl loved The Bottle Cap Lady’s hat.

It might have looked like she had gotten her old job back, but she still had on her house dress underneath. She missed being a waitress. When she wore her apron and hat, she felt as if she was somebody. The Chicken Place has been a landmark restaurant in our neighborhood for many years. It still has a big statue of a white chicken on the roof which has withstood many hurricanes and nor’easters.

Some days, The Bottle Cap Lady would just keep walking back and forth on our street as if she was looking for something or someone. Occasionally she would step into someone’s yard and look behind their trees or in their shrubbery. It was as if she was playing “Hide And Seek” and looking for someone but never found them.

“What are you doing with them chickens? Teaching them tricks for the circus? You and your Freak Show Chickens! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

“They’re all white like little clowns. Give them some red noses to go with them silly hats and you’re in business. The Freak Show Chicken business!”

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” I said, adjusting my newspaper so The Bottle Cap Lady couldn’t see I was talking. “Just stay calm and quiet. She doesn’t know what she is saying.”

Pearl was particularly troubled. She was the only one who had ever worn a silly hat, and that had been the night of Pearl’s Comedy Coop. Now because of it, she felt she had put the whole flock in danger. She wanted to get out and run away from me, from the other chickens, and even away from Blanche.

“Look at that little one running and hopping around like she don’t got any good sense in her head, her Freak Show Chicken head!”

Pearl could feel the pecks again even though she and Blanche were separated from the others and Blanche had become too weak to peck her.

Peck. “Be.” Peck. “A.” Peck. “Normal.” Peck. “Chicken.”

Pearl heard and felt every bit of it all over again. Only this time instead of the others asking her, she asked herself. “Why can’t I just be a normal chicken?”

Pearl’s face looked troubled. She wanted to run away from herself too, but that is never possible.

“Pearl, there is nothing wrong with you being yourself, even if that means you are different. You are not a Freak Show Chicken, and you never will be.

“I love you, Pearl. We are going to have more shows and more hats and more anything else you want. Just don’t be afraid to be yourself.

“She is as wrong as wrong can be about you.”

Blanche nodded in silent agreement.

By then, The Bottle Cap Lady had move further down the street to another house.

“Why didn’t you go and peck her on the head and tell her to stop?” asked Pearl.

“People don’t do things the way chickens do them.”

“You could have at least told her to stop.”

“But she did stop, didn’t she?”

“Yes, but you didn’t say anything to her.”

“I didn’t have to. Her own conscience told her to stop. A conscience is a powerful thing. It’s when a person doesn’t have a conscience that you have to watch out.”

This big word was new to Blanche and Pearl, just like The Bottle Cap Lady’s behavior was new to them.

They wanted to believe me, especially Pearl. It was easy to believe me when I was right there with them, but they would still be cautious while I was away from home. That was probably a good thing.

When I got home from work the next day, there were a few pieces of corn left scattered around in the old run area. They were white shoepeg kernels, a kind I only rarely give my chickens.

“The Bottle Cap Lady was here again,” is all Pearl would say.

Gracie and the others said the same, but told me more. She only went to the smaller coop beside the driveway. She never went to the large one in the backyard where the others were. She was either too afraid to go any further into our backyard or was only interested in Blanche and Pearl. They looked like the big chicken on top of The Chicken Place.

These visits happened more than once over that season. Sometimes she just stood, leaning over to look more deeply into the wooded brambles, and you would not even know she was there. Other times she was mean and difficult to ignore. After each of those mean times, she would leave Blanche and Pearl a treat the next day.

I was unsure if she had been giving them corn because she felt sorry for her behavior or if she was trying to gain their confidence to take them away. So I asked Pearl to tell me more about what The Bottle Cap Lady did when she came into our yard.

“She is always very quiet when she visits us, and then she gives us something to eat. She goes away with her head down.”

Pearl took a few steps like The Bottle Cap Lady would take to show me how she moved. Then she paused and looked around nervously.

“There was one time that she said something to me.”

“What was it?”

Pearl tried to stand the way The Bottle Cap Lady stood. With a raspy old hen voice she carefully repeated the words exactly as she had heard them.

“Someone as pretty as you should never have to look at someone as ugly as me.”

Then she made a sound someone holding back tears might make.

“What do those words mean?” she asked. “What does that sound mean?”

“I think they mean she is sorry and she can’t help herself.”

Pearl thought all these things over very carefully.

One of the worst and scariest times for us was when The Bottle Cap Lady stood at the edge of our driveway and started yelling more loudly than ever before.

“I’m going to come and get that big fat lazy chicken you got there and take her in to The Chicken Place. They’re going to look at her and give me my job back as a reward. There has never been a bigger chicken and I bet there has never been a juicier chicken either.”

She laughed a deep throaty laugh, “Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

Then she did a little dance in a circle, flapping her arms like they were chicken wings.

“Why don’t you just be a normal old man with normal old smelly chickens?” she called out one last time. Then she tossed her empty beer bottle into my yard and staggered home.

“Blanche isn’t lazy. She is just not feeling well,” said Pearl. “Why can’t she see that?”

Then after a long pause, she added, “And why don’t you just be a normal old man?”

“That’s a fair question, Pearl,” I said. “Because a normal old man would call the police and have her arrested. And that’s not what I want. More importantly, that’s not what she needs.”

“What does she need?” asked Pearl.

“A miracle. Just a simple everyday miracle.”

Pearl had not yet imagined she would be the one to play a part in giving The Bottle Cap Lady that simple everyday miracle.

But she would.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!