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  1. 1. Company for the Curious A Collection of Writings by Sarah Fischer LL ED 597 Fall 2011 1
  2. 2. © 2011 by Sarah Fischer.All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or byany means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior writtenpermission by Sarah Fischer. 2
  3. 3. This collection is lovingly dedicated to my father, for introducing me to story,and to my husband, for seeing who I am made to be. 3
  4. 4. Table of Contents Part One Poetry “Stones and Sticks” 6 The Story Behind “Stones and Sticks” 8 “Tall and Sturdy Tree” 9 The Story Behind “Tall and Sturdy Tree” 10 Short Stories “A Day at Marvel Creek” 11The Story Behind “A Day at Marvel Creek” 13 “Donald Donaldson” 14 The Story Behind “Donald Donaldson” 16 Novel Untitled Novel Summary 17 Untitled Historical Fiction Novel Excerpt 18 The Story Behind the Untitled Novel 24 Part Two Giving Critiques Writing Workshop 9.6, Lindsay Bayer 26 Writing Workshop 10.3, Laura Daveta 27 Receiving Critiques Writing Workshop 4.7, Katie Hoeg 28 Writing Workshop 7.6, Laura Daveta 29 Philosophy of Children’s Literature Evolving Philosophy 30 Part Three A Note from the Author 32 About the Author 33 What Do Others Have to Say? 34 4
  5. 5. Part One 5
  6. 6. Stones and SticksNobody had known I’d found the treasureand nobody would ever know.I remember first spotting the hiding placein the bottom of the old stone wallwhen Adam and I were riding our bikes down the brick driveway.I remember my mind working on a plotto come back when I was aloneand hide it there.I remember relying on my knees and forearmsto steady myselfas I brushed away the red leaves and uncovered the small cave.I remember the mouthbeing the same shape and sizeas the wish bone from a well-dressed holiday bird.I remember working hastily,pulling out some old twigstaking up the space where my cache would perch.I remember placing my prize insideand restoring the spotto its “untouched” appearance.I remember walking away from the spotand catching a glimpseof my little brother hurrying away from behind a tree nearby.Had I been too careless?I remember walking outsideone crisp Saturday morningand seeing him excavating the treasure’s tiny lair.I remember, as I ran up to stop him,I heard him quietly say to himself,“There’s nothing here.”Had somebody gotten to it before him? 6
  7. 7. I remember panic.I remember the image of him walking awaybecoming blurred as I knelt down,expectant of a miniature empty trove.But, I remember the smooth river stone,shaped perfectly like a dove,was still there,just as I had left it.I remember thanksgivingfilling my insides,relief, more blurred images, and thencuriosity.I remember thinking back to the week beforewhen I had first worked hastily,pulling out some old twigstaking up the space where my cache would perch.I remember hearing the front door closeas my brother retreatedand asking myself,Hadnt they just been a few old twigs? 7
  8. 8. The Story behind “Stones and Sticks” “Stones and Sticks” is an “I remember” poem based on a secret hiding place I had as achild. I spent a lot of my playtime imagining that old trinkets or odd bits of nature were valuableplunder. Soon after I discovered the small hole in the stone wall, my father gave my brother andme each an old electrical box that he called “secret treasure boxes” and the hole was forgotten.The intended audience is upper elementary school readers. The plot is the strongest element of this poem and brings the theme to the forefront. Theclimax comes when I see my brother disrupting my sacred treasure. This tension is immediatelyfollowed by an element of surprise. His disappointment in a seemingly treasureless trove impliesthat he was looking for more than just a chance to steal one of his sister’s guarded belongings.Perhaps, he was looking for a treasure of his own. 8
  9. 9. Tall and Sturdy TreeTall and sturdy tree,tired of standingabove all the others,commanding the sunshine,taking all the rain.Prefers, instead,to lie down softlyon the forest floor,but roots are still anchored deep.Raccoons and opossums scurry overwithout notice.Bark loosened and wornfrom a winter storm.Yet—inside,life is abundant.Ants take care of details.Squirrel prepares for the next storm,making a nestand gathering nutsenough to sharewith the others who havent.The salamandersenses a cleansing rains saturationin the rotting wood,and clings to the fallen treefor life. 9
  10. 10. The Story behind “Tall and Sturdy Tree” Metaphorically speaking, “Tall and Sturdy Tree” is a poem about my brother, Adam, whois four years my junior and my only sibling. Although he is now almost twenty-two years old andgraduating college, I still feel a responsibility to protect and care for him. He has always beendifficult to understand, even for me. He is quiet and complicated, and kind and compassionate.He lets people walk all over him to avoid confrontation, but sticks up for those who cant defendthemselves. He is a better friend to me than I am to him. I tried to put all of this into my poem.Because of the representation of the evolving relationship between siblings, the intendedaudience for this poem would be the upper elementary through high school reader. The symbolism presented in “Tall and Sturdy Tree” is its greatest strength and makes itavailable to a wide range of readers. Without being aware that this poem is really about a personand not a tree, a young reader can enjoy its rhythm and descriptive detail. In contrast, an olderreader would take pleasure in unveiling the personifying attributes of the tree. 10
  11. 11. A Day at Marvel Creek The cool, cloudy autumn day invited Kyle to try out his new 35 mm camera. As he setout into the woods, he thought about how his mother had saved for many months to buy it for hisbirthday. To show how much he appreciated her many sacrifices, he wanted to frame the perfectpicture for her as an early Christmas present. Ever since her illness required her to stay in bed,she had been mending trousers, and sewing curtains for the neighbors. Kyle wished so much thathe could wrap up a million dollars and put it under the tree. Sometimes when he was alone, heeven wished it out loud as he cried. The thing his mother needed more than anything was moneyto pay the bills and cover her visits from the doctor. Instead, he was on his way to photographtheir favorite spot on their favorite hiking trail- the old stone bridge at Marvel Creek. This time of year, the Scarlett Oaks and Sassafras trees bowed their branches to thestream, offering red and yellow leaves to intensify the water’s reflection. As Kyle approached thespot where the colorful canopy would open to the bridge, he stopped to carefully remove thecamera from the fabric case his mother had made for it. In just a few feet, the dirt path veered tothe left, and when he rounded the corner, he would step out onto the bridge. There, his motherhad once stopped mid-stride and said, “This place is magical. It can’t mend a broken body, but itcan heal an aching soul. And that, Kyle, is much more important.” Distracted with the memory,he let his film canister slip from his gloves and land in a patch of clover on the side of the trail.He picked it up, loaded the film and continued around the corner in anticipation. He pulled his camera up to his eye as his right foot planted itself onto the stone bridge.He aimed it across the structure, making sure to bring the stream into view. Even lookingthrough the tiny glass rectangle, the brilliance of the scene could not be reduced. But, just hisfinger pushed down on the button to take a picture, he blinked. And right in the middle of hisblink, before his eye went all the way closed, he thought he saw something move across theframe. He jerked the camera downward, opening his eyes wider than he ever had. If it hadn’tbeen for his ears, he might have thought his eyes had deceived him. It sounded as if whateverhad been hurrying along the bank on the other side of the stream had slipped in the freshly fallenleaves, tumbled down the slope, and landed in the slow moving water with a splash. Kyle ran tothe middle of the bridge. Its arch measured 10 feet from the highest point down to the shallow 11
  12. 12. water, but there was no wall along either of its edges. This made it easy for Kyle to lie down onhis stomach and try to peer underneath. His gaze did not go far, but he could hear splashing and astrange grumble echo below him. Whatever it was, it was trying to get away without being seen.Kyle turned around as he got up on his hands and knees, and crawled a few feet to look over theother side. It was too late. The splashing had stopped. So had the grumbling. His eyes scannedthe woods all around, but there was no sign of it. Just then, he thought of his camera. What had happened to it in all of the commotion? Hefelt for it in his jeans pocket. The case was tucked safely inside, but the camera was not. Hestood quickly and spun around. His heart sank when he saw it resting awkwardly on the bridgebetween the rough edges of two large sandstones. He could have dropped it there gently when hecrawled the width from one side to the other. His worst fear was that it fell violently from hishands when he sprinted from the trail head to the middle of the bridge. When he bent to pick itup, tears filled his eyes. He mindlessly walked to one edge of the bridge. Still looking down, hepulled the camera to his eye. The lens was not cracked. He tried the zoom. It worked. In fact, itwork so well that he was able to see a tiny glimmer sparkle up from the bottom of the streamfrom where he stood on the bridge. Just when Kyle had thought his day could not get any more curious, it did. He made hisway to the other end of the bridge, scooted carefully down the bank, and waded ankle deep intoMarvel Creek. He reached down through the cool water to the sandy bottom and pulled up ahandful of large gold coins. He stared down at the coins heavy in his hand, and this time, his eyesreally did open up wider than they ever had before. They stayed that way, too, while he ran thedistance home. Kyle was never sure if his mother believed his story, but it didn’t matter. The importantthing was that she no longer had to mend trousers and sew curtains for the neighbors. The twohad enough money to pay the doctor for home visits and to purchase medicine. And onChristmas morning, Kyle had the perfect gift for her. It was not a million dollars. A milliondollars was no longer needed. It was a photograph of their favorite spot on their favorite hikingtrail. It was the only picture Kyle had taken the day he found the coins. It was a picture of the oldstone bridge at Marvel Creek, with the reds and the yellows mirrored in the water. And rightalong the bank, captured in the middle of a blink, was the hint of a rainbow on a rainless, sunlessautumn day. 12
  13. 13. The Story behind “A Day at Marvel Creek” “A Day at Marvel Creek” was inspired by the surrealist stories conjured up by myfavorite children’s author, Chris Van Allsburg. Van Allsburg’s books, generally intended forelementary school readers, are written to teach a moral in the space between reality and fantasy.Adding a touch of magic to the life of a character, not much different from the implied reader,can inspire children to look more closely at the world around them and to continue to be curiousabout life. A Day at Marvel Creek, like many of Van Allsburg’s books, leaves the reader with amorsel of mystery left to ponder once the story has ended. This short story does not contain any dialogue, and therefore, relies heavily on thedevelopment of the main character through the actions in the plot. I attempted to sketch Kyle as acaring, selfless son who is a bit lonely and heavy-laden with his mother’s illness and economicstruggles. Kyle’s stroke of luck may come as a surprise during a first reading, but reading thestory a second time reveals more foreshadowing about Kyle’s good fortune. 13
  14. 14. Donald Donaldson Most of the students in Ms. Toulsky’s third grade class had survived the first half of theschool year. Sure, no one had actually come up missing. Of course, none had gone unaccountedfor. There was, though, quiet Karen who in the first week of school had found the sum of 2+3to be 6, instead of 5. The very next day, her desk was gone and she was seen mixed into a line ofkindergartners, crying for her mommy like the rest of them. Frederick Philips made it ten weeks in Ms. Toulsky’s class. But when he failed to crosshis cursive t for the second time, Ms. Toulsky had him sent to Catholic school where he wouldhave to stare at crosses all day. Ms. Toulsky didn’t care that Frederick Philips was Jewish. “Hewill learn one way or the other,” someone heard her say. The parents or principal wouldn’t dare object to her inhuman methods of instruction, orshocking teaching strategies. Ms. Toulsky had been a teacher for sixty-five years, and they hadhad Ms. Toulsky, too. When Ms. Toulsky would phone with the awful news, they would haveno chance to argue before she would say, “They will learn one way or the other.” The last forty minutes of the day were the most terrifying for Ms. Toulsky’s third-graders. That was history. Everybody knew Ms. Toulsky loved history more than any othersubject, and she definitely took it seriously. Her motto, “They will learn one way or the other,”was often heard by teachers passing by at this time of day. I once saw a boy crying in the bathroom right before school let out. He managed to tellme that he had witnessed something horrific in Ms. Toulsky’s room when he passed by the doorat that time of day. He was too hysterical to tell me what it was, but nothing could be as ghastlyas what happened to Donald Donaldson. No one could believe that know-it-all Donald Donaldson had lasted so long in Ms.Toulsky’s class. On the bus, when the second-graders would talk about how they’d rather repeatsecond grade for the rest of their lives than be assigned to Ms. Toulsky’s class, Donald wouldscoff and laugh. He was unaffected by Ms. Toulsky’s petrifying ways. But, last Wednesday, thatall changed. Ms. Toulsky slapped her wooden pointer on the podium in the front of her classroom andordered the class to have their history books on their desks in five seconds. The kids shuffled 14
  15. 15. through papers and folders like lightening. Luckily, everyone made it in time. Everyone exceptDonald Donaldson. One girl said later that he didn’t even open up his desk. He had simply had enough ofhistory. Ms. Toulsky looked up from her book to find Donald Donaldson seated at an emptydesk, with his stuffy nose high in the air. Erik Arison said her lips were pursier and her eyes weresquintier than they ever had been. The secretary in the office heard what she said next. “DONALD DONALDSON! Why do you refuse to make this transition?”He looked her straight in the eyes and said quite matter of factly, “History is a waste of time.” Next, the secretary heard, “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” erupt from Ms. Toulsky’sdiaphragm. Laura Lavina reported that Ms. Toulsky began to tremble with rage when Donald repliedin an announcement to the class. “It is completely useless to learn about people that have beendead for hundreds of years, who have done things that don’t matter to us now, and lived in placesthat don’t even exist anymore.” One kid said it seemed like a raving lunatic was taking over Ms. Toulsky’s body. Shegrabbed her history book from the podium and marched to Donald Donaldson’s desk, slowly atfirst then picking up speed. Laughing wildly, she slammed the book onto his desk, ripped it opento a page on the Civil War, and tapped her finger on an illustration of the Battle of Gettysburg. Most of the third-graders closed their eyes at this point and winced at every sound. But,Joanie Johnson saw Ms. Toulsky pick Donald Donaldson right up over her head. He kicked andscreamed as she held him up there with her long gangly arms. In an instant, she brought himdown toward the book. Even Joanie had to look away before the impact. But, it never came. Thestudents opened their eyes and Donald Donaldson was gone. He had just disappeared. Then, Ms. Toulsky did something very peculiar. She smiled. Then, she did something even more peculiar. She began the lesson as if nothing had happened. “Open your books to page 12.” In fact, she got back into the routine so quickly, that a lot of those kids said they began tothink they’d imagined it. But, they hadn’t. There on page 12, in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg, was DonaldDonaldson holding the Union flag, and they said he didn’t look too happy. He would have to learn one way or the other. 15
  16. 16. The Story behind “Donald Donaldson” “Donald Donaldson” is a humorous short story that plays with the phenomenon of mythcreation and exaggeration. As a teacher, I often overhear my students passing on terrifying talesabout the teachers they may have for the next school year. Their stories are most often completefabrications, told to them by older brothers and sisters wanting to scare them silly. The spinningof tales occurs in many places in my school- on the bus, in the cafeteria, and on the playground.The story of “Donald Donaldson” is one my elementary students would enjoy. The most effective element of this story is humor. Ms. Toulsky is an exaggerated versionof myself, which made it easy for me to characterize her in a humorous way. I do expect mystudents to “learn one way or the other,” especially when it comes to history. Like Ms. Toulsky,history is my favorite subject! Donald Donaldson, was inspired by my husband, Donald, acreative and strong-willed spirit who doesn’t like being told what to do. This personal connectionwith the characters made adding humor to the story both fun and natural. 16
  17. 17. Untitled Historical Fiction Novel Summary Benjamin Thorton is the son of a wealthy banker living with his family in Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania in the 1880s. Ben’s greatest fear is that he will mature into a man like his father,living a life of greed and purposelessness. An effect of this inner struggle is that Ben suffers fromregular panic attacks which isolate him from the rest of his family. When Ben’s father is invitedto join the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club with Pittsburgh’s industrial giants, Ben makeshis first real friend, Aaron. Aaron lives in Johnstown with his parents and younger brothers andsisters. Aaron helps Ben see how different he is from his father and that his life does havemeaning. As Ben spends more and more time at the clubhouse, though, a new struggle arises.Eavesdropping, Ben learns that the dam at the clubhouse is dangerous and poses a major threat tothe residents in the valley. He tries to convince his father of the threat, but does not accomplishthis in time. The dam breaks, with Ben and his father as witnesses to the destruction. More than2,000 people are killed, including Aaron and his family. Ben blames himself, and fifteen yearslater, he attends an auction at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club in which the remainingpossessions of the clubhouse are to be sold. He buys an old cuckoo clock that reminds him of hislife before the tragedy. When the clock does not bring him closure, he destroys it and goes for awalk through the streets of Johnstown. He stops in a souvenir shop and purchases a piece ofdebris from the flood intended to lure in tourists. He remembers the person he became throughhis friendship with Aaron and has a renewed purpose and vision for his future. 17
  18. 18. Chapter One It was the only reason he had denied his comfort and come, the one material thing left onEarth that he still felt he needed. Heaviness hung in the air, from the amount of people seated inthe room, and from the memories they all carried with them. Lining the once white plaster walls,now dulled from dust and cobwebs, were costly treasures enthroned upon a dozen cheap pineworkmen’s tables. From his middle-of-the-row seat in the back of the room, he nervouslyscanned each one for it, careful not to meet glances with anyone in the crowd. There were fourtables set up along the wall to the left, but they were covered with a display of small silvertrinkets and expensive flatware. He had not attended many of these events, but was sure thebargaining would begin there. The serious buyers intended to leave with those valuables. Theywould not piddle away their spending money on the less desirable items until the contents of thattable had been depleted. He knew money. He understood the minds of the greedy. So he wasconfident he would have little competition when bidding commenced on the old cuckoo clock.But, he still felt anxious for other reasons. The moisture from his skin began to seep through his clothing, but he dared notcomplain, either aloud or in his thoughts. Justice would warrant he endure much more thansimple discomfort for his part in the afflictions of so many. As much as he tried not to think on it,he lived with that truth daily. He looked to the front of the room from beneath his black feltbowler and was glad that he did not recognize the faces of those officiating. He was even morerelieved that none seemed to recognize him when he passed by them on the way to his seat.Fifteen years is more than enough time to disguise a boy behind a man’s face. 18
  19. 19. Trying to scout the collection of small furnishings and large paintings propped up on thefront three tables, he noticed a number of reporters were seated in the front of the room. Whilethis was not the kind of event they would normally attend to conjure a front page news story, noone seemed surprised by their presence. When he had first arrived, he brushed by one of themprepping a camera and attempting to sneak by the stanchions into the restricted parts of thebuilding. No doubt for some exclusive documentation. It angered him, but afraid of callingattention to himself, he quickly found a seat in the back. His fear was real, and so was thepossibility that a confrontation with a reporter would invite an interrogation. Are you a local? Doyou remember what you were doing on May 31, 1889 when you received word of the tragedy?Are you a survivor? The reality was that even though his lungs still had breath and his heartcould still beat, he hadn’t survived that day. Between the heads of the reporters and their boxy Eastman cameras, he saw a fewfamiliar paintings next to the podium. He immediately recognized one of them as hanging in thatvery room over a decade ago. It was an impressionist piece of an east coast shoreline. Glancingover his shoulder to where it once hung, he saw a ghostly white rectangle visible against theaging plaster. He let himself look back to the painting. Two little girls with wide brimmed hatsknelt in the sand, smiling, as they collected sea shells. He lost himself in the scene, allowingmemories to begin to creep in. Behind the girls, a wave could be seen quietly swelling in thedistance. The precious little ones were seemingly unaware of its gathering strength. 19
  20. 20. Suddenly, his heart caught in his throat and he quickly shut his eyes to escape themoment. Ignoring the smell of sweat made bolder with his loss of sight, he breathed through thechill that had unnerved him. He had certainly learned not to let his mind wander too far, butbeing there for the first time in all those years stripped away the liberty to distract himself withother things. The tallest man loitering around the front of the room stepped in front of the podium. Thegentlemen’s pressed grey suit and trim white hair and mustache commanded the audience’schattering into silence before the gavel’s rap had a chance to pierce through the room. There wasno trouble hearing the address from the back of the room. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are aboutready to begin the auction. But, before we do, we would like to remind you that this is not theappropriate time, nor place, to voice political opinions on the capitalist endeavors that have ledus to hold this event today. There are no members of the club present, and therefore, if youchoose to initiate a disturbance, your efforts will be fruitless. May I also mention, that we willhave you arrested.” The man in the back felt his palms begin to sweat as he pulled the bowler a little fartherover his eyes. Just then, the gentlemen seated beside him, Jonas Greer #103, grunted, shuffledout of the row, and exited the building. The man at the podium watched him leave, and showedno reaction. But his lack of surprise was not shared by everyone in the room. If Mr. Greer hadrecognized the nervous man sitting beside him, he would have soon realized that his protestswould not have been fruitless. In fact, the man with the black felt bowler who was now sittingbeside that empty seat got the point. But, as nauseous as he felt from Mr. Greer’s disclosure, hecouldn’t leave. If he made it through the next few hours, he would have the clock and a new life. 20
  21. 21. Chapter Two Spring had come and was almost gone, a seasonal change that many in Pittsburghanticipated. The exchange of cool refreshing nights to hot humid ones could be tolerated,because the approaching summer heat had begun to stretch the daylight by minutes. Soon, itwould be hours. In a city noted for its growing industrial fortitude, the months with the shortestnames showed the largest profits in the ledger. It was true that the workers in the mills andfactories worked around the clock all year long, but when the daylight lengthened, the companieswere spending less on electricity. The heightened productivity would not come easily, though.The heat tended to slow down more than just the impending darkness. The foreman needed topush their workers extra hard to keep up their efficiency. Every penny counted for somethingwhen Pittsburgh’s industrial giants were trying to stuff their next million into the bank. That iswhere Ben’s father could help. But, he couldn’t help his son. Benjamin gave in to sleeplessness and resolved to open his eyes. He stared up at themaroon pleated drapery canopying his four poster bed. It would not need to protect him from adraft tonight. Persuaded by a gentle night breeze, leaves whispered softly outside his window.Unfortunately, no gust would accept an invitation into his bedroom. The nighttime melodies,though, traveled farther than the breeze and settled into his ears. It was much quieter tonight thanusual. If it hadn’t been for the crickets’ chorused chirps earlier in the night, he might not haveslept at all. Still unmoving, Ben breathed in deep through his nose, feeling the warm, moist air fillinghis sinuses. It was so heavy, that he was sure little oxygen had actually made it to his lungs. Hetried again, sucking in the air through his mouth this time. Still, it didn’t feel like enough. It was 21
  22. 22. surprising, even to him, that he would still manage to let this happen; that he would be socareless and disarm his vigilance. If he could have seen anything through the blackness, he mighthave counted the hundreds of golden fleur de lis crests embossed on the four walls of redwallpaper enclosing him. Counting helped to distract his mind from itself, but not when hisvision was inhibited. Then, he began to feel suffocation. It would start when he found himself immersed in darkness or deafening quiet. When itwas so quiet, that he was sure his thoughts were loud enough for those outside of his head tohear. It was terrifying enough that his thoughts might be audible to himself. Tonight it was darkand quiet. Most nights, enough moonlight shone through the open window beside his bed tocomfort him to sleep. When a new moon hid itself behind the earth’s shadow, the maid wouldkeep the bedside sconce burning until he safely abandoned his thoughts to sleep. Tonight, shewas away visiting her daughter. He would have to light it and keep it burning himself. Ben’s breaths were getting quicker and shallower, some beginning before others ended. He fought to hold his breath for a few moments and listen. It was a failed final attempt tohear some sound in the distance that might lull him to sleep. There were no noisy trainsscreeching their breaks, sounding their whistles, or spitting steam as they raced the river currentsthat paralleled the tracks. It was the middle of the night. He could not comfort himself bylistening to the sounds of others preparing for bed. The dancing leaves and crickets’ song werenot loud enough once he had allowed his panic to progress this far. The tightness had begun inhis diaphragm and was making its way to his chest. If Ben hadn’t gotten himself into this temporary state of paralysis, he may have musteredup a cry for help. When Miss Ana was away, it was his mother that would come to his aid. Shewould not know what to do either, but at least she would be company for him. 22
  23. 23. The most recent doctor to advise the family on his condition provided Ben’s father withtwo glass bottles of chloroform liniment to be rubbed on his chest during a severe episode. Atthe doctor’s departure, Mr. Thorton supplied one bottle each to Miss Ana and his wife, Ben’smother. Clearly, his father did not want disturbed from sleep in the event of one of Ben’snighttime tirades. The liniment might have helped, but Ben would never know for sure. Hedeclined the treatment after seeing an advertisement for “Chloroform Liniment- A New Relieffor Asthma Symptoms” at the apothecary. Ben knew he was not asthmatic, although he was notsure what was wrong with him. His father was so angered by Ben’s resistance that he refused tohelp his son any further. Recently, Mr. Thorton had begun to vocalize his belief that his son wasan ungrateful thirteen-year-old, but a very gifted performer. Loneliness only worsened Ben’sstruggles, which was another indication that his problem had nothing to do with asthma. He blinked. He sat up, pulling the sweat soaked collar of his nightgown away from hisneck. He was gasping for each breath, his heart was thumping powerfully, and his desperationcould not be satisfied. He knew he had to act quickly, to calm himself, or he might faint andwake up in a worse state. He threw his legs over the side of the bed, and as his feet sunk into thelush fibers of the floral rug below, he realized that the lower part of his body was numb. Hestumbled across the wooden floor and struggled to focus his breathing in and out. His handsreached toward the marble pedestal. Even in his fit, he was careful not to knock the porcelainbasin from its place. His sudden, unsteadied grasp onto the stand caused water to slosh over thesides like a seafaring ship, but it did not fall. Without another thought, his face plummeteddownward into the cool water. He stayed there submerged for ten seconds. Fifteen seconds.Twenty seconds. Twenty-two seconds. And when he came up for air, his breath went deep andwide and filled every part of his exhausted lungs. It was over. 23
  24. 24. The Story behind the Historical Fiction Novel The Johnstown Flood resulted from the collapse of a dam at the South Fork Fishing andHunting Club. Over 2,000 people were killed in the flood when it occurred on May 31, 1889.Many people blamed the members of the club for the tragedy, who were a group of industrialgiants from Pittsburgh. They had neglected to properly care for the dam despite experts’warnings that it was a danger to the people of Johnstown and was in need of serious repair. I first heard of the Johnstown Flood of 1889 when I was about seven or eight years old.My parents, knowing that I loved history, took my brother and me to visit the Johnstown FloodMuseum and the National Johnstown Flood Memorial. It was on this day-trip that I firstunderstood the necessity for those of us living in the present to learn from events of the past. Thestories of the victims (and the villains) touched me so deeply that I wanted to go back again andagain to learn more. Once or twice every year throughout my childhood, my family would makethe two hour drive to Johnstown. By request, we even celebrated my tenth birthday by visitingthe museum. The idea for this novel originated last spring, when my husband and I were visiting theNational Memorial. A park ranger briefly commented that she often wonders how the tragedy ofJohnstown affected the children of the clubhouse members. She said that the story of the floodhas never been told from the point of view of the “villains” and that their children were justregular children who suffered as well. I was moved by this realization. When I returned to school on Monday and shared my weekend adventures with mystudents and colleagues, I was surprised to find that none knew anything about this flood thatreceived international attention in 1889. I decided they needed to know and that I would be theone to tell them about it. 24
  25. 25. Part Two 25
  26. 26. Giving Critiques Writing Workshop 9.6, Lindsay BayerLindsay,I think you are really on to something here. What kid hasnt been curious about coffee and been told "Itwill stunt your growth." Such a great idea!There are many strengths to your story. The figurative language you used in your imagery was fantastic!My favorite line was "Then they added cream as shiny as a twinkling Christmas light." Although, Iwonder if sugar might twinkle more like a Christmas light than cream. I also love the way you set Harryup to sneak a sip of coffee. His family leaving the table one by one builds up the moment when he takesthat anticipated drink.The ending of the story doesnt seem to flow with the rest. Im wondering if you could end your story here"It didnt have sugar, or cream, or a cookie, but it was the best thing Harry could ever rememberdrinking."Reworking this last line could make a very strong ending without diminishing your point Ithink.Also, your imagery with the adults stirring their coffee with cookies is brilliant. But, churning butter isnot done slowly. It is actually a quite strenuous activity, so maybe something like cake batter would betterserve your purpose here.Great job! Such a fun idea and one I think my 3rd graders would really enjoy reading!Sarah Reflection In this piece, Lindsay modeled strong use of figurative language. I am not sure if this washer intention, but I wanted to point out how effective this was at adding to her imagery.Personally, I have a difficult time writing beyond my characters’ thoughts and adding descriptivedetail about the setting. I struggle to find comparisons that promote the tone I am after, butanalyzing how Lindsay worked this into her story was helpful in thinking about this. Thesuggestion I gave about her figurative language was useful, because it reminded both of us thatspecificity is helpful to the reader, but can also be a bit risky. As in the case of the “churningbutter” comparison above, it is important to make sure similes are accurate and relatable to thereader. I thought that closure to this scene could have come a few sentences before it actuallydid. The ending was not as intricate or enticing as the rest of the piece, and fixing this might havemade the whole scene stronger. This is an example of a time when an author might need to let goof an idea for the sake of the story. This was a good reminder for me, too, because I tend to dragon my endings as I struggle to find closure. 26
  27. 27. Giving Critiques Writing Workshop 10.3, Laura DavetaHey Laura,In 300 words, you sure did give me a lot to chew on! So, Devlin lost the love of his life to keep her safe.And Galen, Ellies father, decided against sending Ellies mom away. I also learned that the brothersactually have something to "battle." I am to wonder what genre this will turn out to be. It is pure fantasy?or just a little fantasy? or will it turn out to be realistic fiction? I am left wanting more! In a good way :)You do a lot of things well in this excerpt. Your balance of narration and dialogue is fantastic, and youuse both to reveal information slowly without ever revealing too much. You also do a really good job atusing metaphors and unique descriptive language to avoid cliches. This line was AMAZING!! "Devlinstared across the water, stone atop stone."One suggestion I have is to give us more of a clue about why Sarah is so important to Devlin. How theyknown each other long? Were they engaged? I know you were trying to accomplish this in 300 words, butif you were to expand it, knowing more about their relationship would make the reader feel the emotionsDevlin is feeling when saying goodbye.The only other suggestion I can make is that your descriptive language seems to be sometimes minimizedby your punctuation and word choice. Like here for example, "Devlin growled, grinding his fists into hiseyes. “You know why.” Devlins action seems aggressive and angry, but his words dont really conveythat to me.I love Ellies story and I will miss her when the semester is over. I am really happy to have had the chanceto read bits and pieces of your writing. Great job! Reflection One suggestion for Laura’s piece that I thought would give the readers more of anemotional connection to the text was to clue us in on more of the back story. At times, a writercan take details of their own plot for granted, leaving the reader confused. This is something Ihave to remember, also. The reader cannot see into an author’s thoughts and intentions. For thisreason, we must read our own writing as if the rest of the story is not in our own heads, as ifwe’ve never heard it before. I also thought her punctuation made a big difference in how I read and interpreted thisexcerpt. I have really learned about work breaks and punctuation from working on my poetry thissemester, but I thought it was interesting that it made such a big difference for me in this story.In a tense situation, or at the climax of an argument, trading a period for an exclamation or aquestion mark could make all the difference. This piece encouraged me to look at my ownwriting and experiment with the change in tone punctuation can bring. 27
  28. 28. Receiving Critiques Writing Workshop 4.7, Katie HoegHi Sarah,Excellent work in creating a setting for your historical novel. I, too, felt connected with your protagonist,but was unsure of what exactly was happening. Since you said thats your goal, I would say you hit thenail on the head! I seem to understand that Ben is undergoing a panic attack of sorts and that he needs totalk himself through his thoughts.My question with your setting, however, is relatively vague. Is it possible to add more detail (orclarification) to allow your reader into Bens thoughts a bit more? I mean, I understand the need to keepthings "general" and to keep the reader guessing. Yet, Ben obviously knows whats going on. Maybe youcould connect the reader with a past story of Ben and when he has had a similar panic attack. He mightreminisce about the instance and that would provide us with some further information about Ben andwhat we can expect from him. As my protagonist, I want to put my faith in him - but I dont know himquite yet. Know what I mean?Excellent job, Sarah. I am very impressed with your work in the historical fiction genre. :) I lookforward to reading some more!- Katie Hoeg Reflection This critique was extremely helpful in ensuring this introductory scene for my novelhooked the reader. As Katie noted, she felt connected with the protagonist, but implies feelingsome discomfort about not knowing exactly what is going on with him, which is what I wantedto accomplish. She goes on to challenge me, though, to reveal more about the setting and contextin order to create more of a connection to the story. At this point in the semester, I was strugglingto balance temporarily omitting and providing information. I was worried that revealing toomuch about Ben’s condition would leave too little mystery. I decided to take her advice in myrevision and told more about Ben’s track record with panic attacks, while still withholding thereason for them. Katie’s critique helped me find a good balance. 28
  29. 29. Receiving Critiques Writing Workshop 7.6, Laura DavetaI like that you challenged yourself like that. I usually dont have the nerve - or the patience. (Or moreoften than not, the time, as I tend to procrastinate.)I enjoyed this story, and did moreso because you never revealed what the "grumbling" presence was -although we can make assumptions based on the picture having captured a rainbow. I think too often themystery is shattered because it is taken away from us too soon. You avoided that trap - and your story isstronger for it.There are some fantastic moments here: the trees bowing their brances in offering to the stream; Kylesmothers wisdom; that moment of panic when were not sure if the camera was damaged. I found myselfwishing you had lingered a little longer in certain places - what is wrong with Kyles mother, how Kylefelt at having "seen" something so odd ... So I might suggest that you go through and find if there isanything in the story you are willing to give up in trade for spending more time in moments to which youhave a deep attachment.Great job! Reflection I was nervous to stray away from my historical fiction writing and try something new.The critique above was given for my surrealist short story about Kyle and his day at MarvelCreek. I appreciated Laura’s note that I gave just enough information to allow the reader to makeinferences without taking away from the magic. This was a major goal of mine for this piece ofwriting. I do wonder, though, if the piece would have still been effective if I had left out one ortwo clues, or given one or two extra. Laura’s most helpful suggestion was, “So I might suggest that you go through and find ifthere is anything in the story you are willing to give up in trade for spending more time inmoments to which you have a deep attachment.” She was definitely correct about this, andencouraged me to look at my novel in this same light. After reading her critique I began to askmyself question like, Is this necessary information? What would happen if I took this detail awayand added this one? 29
  30. 30. Evolving Philosophy of Children’s LiteratureSeptember 2011 I read an article once that quoted C.S. Lewis, saying “… a children’s story which isenjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” I have never forgotten this, because it lendssupport to what I believe about children’s literature. Literature written with the child as impliedreader provides its audience with truths about life and experiences that can teach and nurturegrowth in some way, and should not avoid tough topics. The child-reader has not yet developedthe ability to communicate all that he or she sees, thinks, and experiences through words.Literature can personify these thoughts and make them more tangible for the child to think aboutand apply to life. Children’s literature has the potential to take children into an experience inwhich they feel safe to face questions and fears, even if it is before they experience them in reallife. This type of literature should also embody the newness of childhood experiences, whenordinary things seem mysterious and worthy of exploration. In this way, children’s literaturemust be delivered in a clear and relatable way, through adventure and discovery even, but alsopossess all of the cultural, social, and spiritual complexities present in adult literature. Children’sliterature should be able to grow with a child into adulthood. Reflection Before beginning this course, I would have classified myself as a children’s literatureexpert. “I am receiving my master’s degree from the Pennsylvania State University in children’sliterature,” I would confidently proclaim to any student, colleague, librarian, or Barnes & Noblechildren’s book shopper that came my way. With seven courses under my belt, covering allgenres of text, I was quite surprised when Writing for Children began to shake up my world.This course has taken my linear “outside in” approach to understanding story and given me thetools to peer at it from the inside out, as well. My core beliefs of children’s literature have stood firm throughout the semester, and Ibelieve that my original writing is a direct outpouring of these heartfelt convictions. Literaturefor children need not avoid difficult matters of life, but should speak truth into souls of everyage, young and old. This principle was threaded through my historical fiction novel about theJohnstown Flood. The main character’s search for purpose and identity is made more difficult bypressures from his father and the loss of his best friend. It is also present in “Tall and SturdyTree,” as the reader is reminded of the complexity of individual personalities. Stories for younger readers should also celebrate the newness of life experiences, whileinspiring growth and self-actualization. My short stories, as well as the poem “Stones andSticks,” are anchored by this idea. All three are meant to promote curiosity and encouragereaders of all ages to ask themselves, what might I be missing if I don’t stop and look aroundme? 30
  31. 31. Part Three 31
  32. 32. A Note from the AuthorI am a reader. Of all of the material things I own, I treasure my books the most. Over the years,they have proven to me time and time again that they are worth treasuring. Nestled within themare some of my worst fears, my greatest adventures, and my dearest friends. I have laughed attheir illustrations, shouted at their words, and cried onto their back covers. As a quiet, curiouschild, they were company for my passionate soul. As a serious adult, they are good companywhen my soul is weary or heavy-laden. I love my books, and they never disappoint me. Theyhave always made me feel safe.That is, until I became responsible for creating one!When I registered for this course, I was completely petrified. My inner critic went to work beforethe first day of class. “Are you really going to open up your writing journals and share your mostprized ideas with a real author?” “It’s a good thing that your group members are all over thecountry, because when they laugh at your work you can hide behind your computer!” It didn’ttake long for her to disappear.Working with all of you has been one of the most splendid experiences I have had while workingon this degree. The tone for sharing and critiquing was always so positive and encouraging. Youare all brilliant writers, each with your own voices. You have challenged me and stretched me,and given me the confidence to continue to write and share my stories. Thanks for a greatsemester!Happy writing! 32
  33. 33. About the Author Sarah Fischer teaches 3rd grade in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where she is mistakenlyreferred to as “Mom” once or twice a day. Her favorite subject to teach is history, because ithelps her students more intricately understand themselves and their relationships with others. Shewould love to write books that inspire children to think about the past. Sarah is currentlyapplying to doctoral programs with the hope of studying the censorship of children’s literature. Besides being a teacher and student, Sarah wears many other hats. She loves Ukranianegg decorating, people watching, making greeting cards, volunteering, and reading. Her favoritechildren’s author is Chris Van Allsburg, because he trusts his readers to make inferences. Sarahloves rainy days and coffee. She is a vegetarian, and substitutes meat for chocolate. Her favoritecolor is green, because it represents growth and life. Sarah has been married for 3 ½ years, and has two former farm cats, Kupida and Sundae. 33
  34. 34. What Do Others Have to Say?“Sarah leaves me thinking about her writing, even after the story is over.” Kristin Donofrio Rowley, MA“This collection is creative and diverse! A reader of any age would be able to enjoy one of thesepieces.” Donna Crider Connellsville, PA“Sarah’s stories touch on important issues of life. The reader learns something without evenrealizing it.” Adam Crider State College, PA“The descriptive detail and original plot lines in Sarah’s stories really serve as an example of herdevelopment as a writer.” Donnie Fischer Uniontown, PA“When Sarah asks me to read one of her stories, I always know my day will be a little bit better!” Kara Krivus Connellsville, PA 34