My Life With Gracie…Themes And Conflicts And Character Flaws (Oh, My!)

Sometimes The Only Light Is You

My “vacation time” away from posting new stories and illustrations was very helpful. In the evenings, I would sit with my chickens, read one of several how-to-write-a-novel books from the library, and then jot down ideas in a small notebook. (Some of those ideas from the notebook were used in the background of today’s main illustration.) Then in the mornings, I would type away.

One of the easiest suggestions I read was to be sure that there is a central message or theme to the novel. It should be short. It should be a summary of the entire novel. It should make potential readers wonder more about the novel. You can read it in the words for today’s illustration: “Sometimes the only light is you.”

But everything else was not so easy. With a post story, I most often write about cute little chickens doing cute little things to hold a reader’s interest for just a few short minutes. But a novel has a much longer reading time. Cute does not last long in a novel.

A novel usually needs a main character who has a conflict situation (what the external surface plot is about) and a character flaw (what the real internal story is about). There has to be one “What will happen next?” moment after another.

When writing posts, I almost always present my chickens as “living in the best situation ever and being just about the best chickens ever.” Hardly ever any conflicts. Hardly ever any flaws.

One of the most difficult thing about having chickens as main characters is making their lives and problems relevant to readers. (It has to be about more than finding worms.)

Hopefully all of these difficult things have been accomplished in this short excerpt.

Today is the new day my life will begin...

“Today is the day my new wonderful life will begin,” said Pearl, though there were no other chickens nearby to hear her.

It was the day Pearl had been anticipating. It was the day when her life would finally make sense and come together. It was the day when she would be a hen, accepted and loved by all the others at last. It was the day she was going to lay her first egg.

“I can just feel it,” she told me when I brought out their breakfast salad. “Do I look any different yet? I just know I’m going to look different.”

“You look much happier, Pearl. You truly do,” I said.

She felt as if she must surely glow with joy in the early morning sunlight. She had a few bites of chopped apple to fortify herself for her triumph.

“Finally I will fit in, and the others will love me,” she told me as she headed up to the nesting boxes. “I can hardly wait to start soaking up all of that love!”

The others continued eating their favorites from the breakfast salad. Laying eggs was something they did every day. They did not understand what the big fuss was about.

This was nothing new for Pearl. She had never been understood by the other chickens.

“You must fit in. You must not stand out from the flock,” they would tell her. “If you really feel like you need to be yourself, then you need to go somewhere and do it alone, with no one else looking.”

Pearl did not care whether she was understood or not. She only wanted to be loved.

None of the others except for Blanche ever wanted to be around her, not even when it was time to roost at night. She tried to be like the others with all she knew how to do, and then the next minute there would be another chicken calamity. Feathers would get ruffled. Pearl’s head would get pecked.

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

“Why can’t you just be a normal chicken?” is what she would hear every day.

Pearl was an outcast.

Once she laid her first egg, she would be a hen just like the others. She would fit in, and her life would turn around for the better. It was what Pearl believed. It was what I hoped.

But not everything turns out the way we believe and hope.

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

The novel I’m working on is based on two posts from last December titled “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. In the novel, Pearl will be “The Only Light” in The Bottle Cap Lady’s life.

By the way, the title of today’s post is a reference to “Lions And Tigers And Bears! Oh, My!” from the film “The Wizard of Oz” which was used as an example in several how-to books.

Gracie’s Summer Reading List…“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick

This was our “vacation book” while taking time away from adding new stories and illustrations to “My Life With Gracie.” It is a perfect book for a vacation, even if it is only in your own backyard.

At first, my chickens didn’t realize this was a book. They had never seen a book this thick. They thought it was just something to stand on. As you may know, chickens like to stand on things, and the first thing my chickens ever stood on top of was a brick. This book is as thick as a brick. I’m not kidding. It is over two inches thick.

Don’t let the thickness fool you. This is not “War and Peace” or “Ulysses” for children. There are many pages with only pictures, and parts of the story are told only through pictures. Some pages are full of text, but others have only a short paragraph surrounded by white space. These all help with pacing. This is a brilliant combination of several book types: novel, picture book, and animated flip book.

While it is a substantial book, it is also a delightful book to read and to treasure. As you can see on the cover, it won a Caldecott medal which is intended for children’s picture books. This was the first novel to ever win a Caldecott medal because of its delightful pencil illustrations drawn by the author. (You can see part of one on the book jacket’s spine.)

“My favorite thing about this book is how the setting is Paris where they dance ballet. There are French words in this book too. All important ballet words are in French. Even though there wasn’t any dancing in this book, I did like the descriptions of the train station and the streets of Paris. My dream is to one day dance in the streets of Paris. This book is mostly about dreams, and it was written for dreamers. You may not know this, but I am a dreamer.” – Gracie

“I felt really sorry for the main character, Hugo. He lived all alone in the walls of a train station and he had no one to take care of him or cook for him. Sometimes he stole croissants to eat. If I knew how to bake croissants, I would make some for him. They do a lot of baking in France. If Gracie and I ever get to visit France, she will study ballet dancing and I will study baking. They do fun things like that in France all the time. I do wish there had been some birds in this story though. Did you know that a chicken, a rooster, is the national bird of France? I do hope we can visit France some day.” – Bessie

“Hugo was very clever, just like me. He collects things and put them together to make clocks and toys. (I collect scraps of fabric and paper and other things. I put them together and make hats.) Hugo even fixed a mechanical man that drew a picture! Most people don’t realize it, but chickens are fascinated by mechanical things. We study them and watch them move and try to figure them out. Isabelle was Hugo’s friend and she liked secrets, just like me. – Pearl

“The wonderful drawings were my favorite part of this book! They helped tell the story and helped me feel like I was right there in the story. I draw with chalk, and I paint with watercolors. The pictures in this book were drawn with pencil on watercolor paper. I will have to try that. This book was also about making movies. I think I might like to see a movie some day. Movies are pictures that move, and they must be quite remarkable if they can do that all by themselves.” – Emily

“Even though this was a book mostly about Hugo, things would have never worked out without Isabelle. She was smart. She was strong too, but also pretty. She read a lot of books. And some books she would read over and over again. I’m not sure I could do that much reading because there are so many real-life adventures I want to have instead, but I do want to read this book again. Anyway, Isabelle is a lot like me, except she reads words and I only read pictures.” – Amelia

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” is suitable for ages 8 to 12 and is available through Barnes and Noble. The regular price is $24.99, however Barnes & Noble is offering it for considerably less. (Currently it is $19.99.) Summertime discount codes offer additional savings.

“Hugo” is the film adaptation of this novel, and like the book, it is also delightful and encourages dreamers of all ages.

Just so you know, “My Life With Gracie” isn’t getting anything from sharing this book with you. We don’t collect anything if you click the link here. Some websites work that way, but for us, it’s about reading. Children (and chickens) need to read and be read to, whether it’s what we write or not!

My Life With Gracie…Time For Vacation!

Time For Vacation!

In the last year, we have posted 150 times! And 100 of those have been story posts! (The others have been just general information and special posts like our “Family Photo Friday” and “Gracie’s Summer Reading List.”) That is a lot of posts!

The girls and I will be taking a short vacation for a week or two. It will be their first vacation ever, and they are all particularly excited. We may end up at the beach, but then again, we may just stay home and play in a backyard wading pool! You seriously will not believe how difficult it is to find inflatable beach toys small enough for chickens! Flip flops are easy. Pool toys, not so easy. Then there is the whole issue of swimsuits for the beach! (That backyard plastic pool is looking a lot easier!)

We will be back from time to time, particularly with “Gracie’s Summer Reading List” posts. Poolside reading while dipping our feet and toes in the water sounds like a perfect kind of vacation.

I will also be working on our next book which I hope will be ready by late fall. It’s an expanded version of “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” The time away on vacation will give me an opportunity to really work on the story and the illustrations.

You may remember how one of the key characters, The Bottle Cap Lady, has a yard full of Christmas decorations which she has collected over the years. We are talking about a lot of Christmas decorations, and that will be a lot of drawing! I really do enjoy drawing Pearl. She lets me use bright and outrageous colors and props and costumes. While she may often be silly, she truly has a heart of gold.

If you’ve started following “My Life With Gracie” after those posts were shared last December, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Pearl will still be the main character along with The Bottle Cap Lady, and you can be sure Pearl will still be her own unique self as she has always been.

Those two posts were two of the most read and most liked from all of last year. At the time, several people had told me, “John, you need to turn this into a book.” It wasn’t until Pearl died in the spring of this year, that things began to come together for this book. Because Pearl felt such great heartbreak, I knew that she would be the only one who would be able to reach The Bottle Cap Lady and help others who have had to deal with tragedy and loss.

Not to give to much of the plot away though, but here is a brief summary of this book which I’m hoping will be an inspiration to many people.

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

Pearl loves being a chicken, and she loves being a comedian. Her natural curiosity leads her to explore her neighborhood. When she secretly visits The Bottle Cap Lady, she learns about Christmas in a most unusual and unforgettable way. Pearl discovers there is a Christmas gift that only she can give, but will she?

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