Toy Story

After watching The Lego Movie for the third time recently (bet you thought the post title referred to Pixar’s Toy Story, didn’t you?), I watched the behind-the-scenes documentaries. When someone mentioned that the directors (Phil Lord and Chris Miller) are kids at heart, I couldn’t help relating to the notion of being a kid at heart. This led me to take inventory of the games and toys I have at home. Pardon me while I indulge. I’ll totally understand if you run away to seek more grown-up pursuits. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to return. Look for the bold text.

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Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Um, this is not the signal to return.)

I acquired this tiger at a Girl Scout camp when I was 11. Believe it or not, this is not my oldest toy. But I didn’t feel like digging around in my closet for anything older. Say hi. He won’t bite.


I have a lot of Nintendo DS games, for example:


The Sam and Frodo minifigs below were party favors. I’m not sure where Sam’s hair is.


And I’ve got this pair, which totally inspires me, since I’m a fan of knights and of the hero’s journey.


I also have a Scaredy Squirrel hand puppet (a character from books by Mélanie Watt), but I wrote a post on it before.

Okay. It’s safe to return from your grown-up pursuits.

Some might look at the above collection and think, Oh man, you need to grow up, especially if they have strong opinions about what adults should or shouldn’t do. I’m tempted to put a link here to an article that has many people outraged since it disparaged some popular young adult novels adults should be ashamed to read (or so we’re told), but I don’t want to give more publicity to that article or to the author of it. I offer no apology for having this stuff, nor am I ashamed of having it. After all, I mainly write for kids and teens. But I don’t have this stuff in the hopes of getting into the mindset of a kid. I have this stuff, because I never put away a sense of childlike wonder. I hope I never do.

But don’t think that a sense of wonder is only appropriate for books for kids. If you’re writing for adults, your sense of wonder needs to be engaged also, in order to keep a reader hooked.

Now, I need you to think back to when you were a kid. Or, try to remember the last conversation you had with a kid. Maybe he or she asked you “Why?” or “What’s that?” a 100 times in the same conversation. And you had to explain everything to the nth degree. Kids are curious. They wonder about everything.

Guess what. Readers are curious too. They especially wonder about the details you might have forgotten to add. My beta readers always challenge me in that department. “Why does she do that?” “How did he get that ability?” “Why are they like that?” They ask good questions, because they’re curious. They remind me to flesh out my characters and provide a fuller back story for them. They also challenge me to keep asking myself questions about everything as I revise, to make sure I cover all the bases. Even if I don’t mention certain facts in the book, I need to be curious enough about my characters to explore all of the “whys” and “whats” of their lives. To use an analogy from The Lego Movie, I’m hope that the feedback I’ve received, plus my own sense of wonder, will work toward my becoming a “master builder”someone who can fit all of the pieces of a story together to make a pleasing whole.


This is not the pleasing whole to which I refer.

What’s your favorite toy? How does it inspire you? How has your sense of wonder aided you recently?

Phil Lord and Chris Miller photos from Wikipedia.

Hand Puppet Day

My good friend Sandra Nickel posted on Facebook that Squirrel Appreciation Day was January 21. I hope you were kind to a squirrel. I have a Scaredy Squirrel hand puppet, so I pulled it out of hibernation and took pictures of it to show my support of the day. Anything for a cause. But even without the excuse of Squirrel Appreciation Day, the day seemed tailor made for a Hand Puppet Day.


What’s a Hand Puppet Day? It’s a day when I’m feeling trwxhrlw—a word I made up that’s really just a grunt to convey how desperately in need of change I am—a good change though, not like a sudden temperature drop; I’ve had enough of those. (It’s minus one right now.) It’s a day when I’m tired of worrying about whether I measure up or who I might be letting down.

It’s also a social experiment day—a day to shake things up. I do that every now and then. Like the day I roamed around Michigan Avenue in Chicago wearing a Hello Kitty backpack, just to see if anyone would ask me about it. Several kids stared, whether out of envy or confusion, I wasn’t sure. It’s also like the time I went to work a few years ago, wearing a tall Goofy hat from Disney World. As was the case with the Hello Kitty backpack, no one commented.

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So, yes, I’m an adult with a Scaredy Squirrel hand puppet who isn’t afraid to use it. (If you’re not sure who that is, Scaredy Squirrel is a character in this picture book by Mélanie Watt.)


When I was in grad school, I brought a different Scaredy Squirrel picture book to school each semester. Outside of the program (writing for children and young adults), such behavior would probably result in a raised eyebrow or two. But on a day like Hand Puppet Day, even if I got the raised eyebrow, I don’t have to care.

You see, on Hand Puppet Day, it’s okay to embrace your weirdness. It’s okay to let yourself off the hook and silence the voice whispering that you’re not measuring up somehow. On Hand Puppet Day, it’s okay to throw out the measuring stick.

589556-1For some reason, this reminds me of a quote from Moonstruck, the 1987 film written by John Patrick Shanley, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It’s one of my favorite films ever. Unfortunately, I can’t avoid a spoiler, so feel free to skip over this paragraph. One of the characters, Ronny Cammareri (played by Nicolas Cage) is kind of an odd duck. Hand Puppet Days were made for him. One odd day, Ronny falls for his brother’s fiancée, Loretta (played by Cher). Ronny tells Loretta:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

That might seem like an odd quote out of context. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a homewrecking relationship. But it reminds me that the human experience isn’t always neat or cookie cutter or status quo. Life sometimes is a mess. Some days we wake up feeling trwxhrlw. I think of that quote, because on a day like Hand Puppet Day, I realize I’m not “here to make things perfect,” even if I have the delusion that perfection can be achieved. I’m here to live and to brandish a hand puppet every now and then.

Do yourself a favor: declare today a Hand Puppet Day! You don’t have to have a hand puppet. Just embrace who you are—all your wonderful quirks. Hope to see you on Michigan Avenue. I’ll be the one with the Hello Kitty backpack.

In preparation for my ice cream give away, please comment below with the answer to the question, “Where do you get your ice cream/yogurt?” Baskin-Robbins? Culver’s? Dairy Queen? Oberweis Dairy? Other?