“OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES…

…COMES ALL MANNER OF THINGS,” says the poet. Well not my babe, because all that comes out of her mouth is half-digested rice cereal or mushed banana. In this case were talking about wisdom and that peculiarly insightful and trenchant wisdom that comes from children. Boy, they sure are great, arent they? Not when theyre telling you early in the morning that you look like a witch; or a shark, which is what my son told me while I was smiling sunnily at him- I guess the fan of wrinkles near my eyes looked like gills to him, or when he told me that my legs were fat and I gently explained through gritted teeth that they were muscular and shapely and that I hike over twenty miles a week so ‘fat was not possible. He spits the truth to other people too. His paternal grandmother is always slightly trepidatious (this may be a made-up word) ever since he remarked at length on her graying hair and wrinkles and announced that he didnt kiss old people- and believe you me, she looks fantastic for her age and probably only a little bit more worn and weary than I do. My own mother takes these little barbs of honesty much more in her stride but she has other teenage grandchildren and five-year olds must seem adorable and cute and refreshing to her.
Anyway as long as youre prepared for a few home-truths which may wound your vanity, its great having a source of unadulterated criticism. I cant put anything past my son. The few times Ive tried to be cute with him, hes caught me out, so I dont do it anymore and in fact, he has the amazing capability to accept, digest and store away anything as long as its served to him straight.
I just narsi-googled myself (that means wasting time on-line chasing after every last mention of your name and/or book title.) I dont do it as much as I used to, maybe once a week. Anyhow, I was excited to see a mention of Feltus in a newsletter put out by a town in the Caribou gold belt- somewhere in western Canada- right next to a recipe for muffins; and another mention on a home-schoolers blog although he didnt get into the book until part two. He found the beginning kind of boring, which is quite mortifying to me. Of course blogging means everyone can air their opinions in sharp black and white text without thinking about it much. I emailed him and thanked him and said I hoped the next book would sizzle with excitement.
Last week I went to tea with some eleven and twelve year olds at a school in New Paltz. It was their idea. Theyd read the book. In fact, theyd studied the book, complete with vocabulary tests and ‘draw a picture of a PoodleRat pages. The vocab lists were lengthy and difficult, and once again I was mortified. What was I trying to do? Dissuade kids from reading altogether? Although I did check, and there was definitely no mention anywhere in “The Curious Misadventures of Feltus Ovalton” of ‘sepulchers so the teacher must have snuck a few thousand dollar words in there to test them.
Anyway after finding the school with some difficulty- MapQuest failing me- I was ushered into a room with four teachers and four boys who were nervous and very polite. They had laid a table for me complete with iced tea, graham crackers and lots of mint- (mint being very important in the book). So there I sat, at the head of the table, surrounded and stared at, munching on those yummy bright green gummy mints in the shape of leaves. I had brought goldfish crackers and gummy worms and Swedish fish and mixed them all together in a bowl. Fish is also v. important in the book. And I was thankful that the boys hadnt attempted anything truly adventurous like Great Aunt Eunidas pickled herring peanut butter parfaits or the chocolate roulade with dried clams.
After theyd watched me eat for a while (and do you know how hard it is to chew and swallow with ten pairs of eyes staring at you?) they asked me questions. One boy hung on my every word. He kept saying, “That sounds very interesting” and then asking me something else, and even though Id written the book, I found myself scrambling to keep up with him. He knew every detail. Hed read it over and over again. He was wonderful and I wanted to take him home with me. I signed books and posed for pictures, which Im hoping to post up here in the near future, and admired the life-size portrait theyd made of the noble Saldemere Og.
Next week Im doing one of my workshops for the local library kids, and I think Ill read some of the new book. The truth when it comes may sting a little- especially un-diluted straight from a childs brain, but its always welcome in the end.
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