Try Everything?

I’m currently obsessed with the movie Zootopia. Now that it’s on DVD/blu-ray, I’ve seen it at least six or seven times.

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I even have the theme song, “Try Everything” by Shakira, on my phone. I love the message and the way it relates to the journey of the main character—Judy Hopps.

If you have an extra three minutes, you might check out the song (though be warned; it has scenes from the movie that are slight spoilers):

My sister-in-law is someone who embodies the message of this song. Last week, she went to boot camp, not because she enlisted in the military but because she wanted to test herself—to see if she could make it through boot camp. She had the same attitude about the half marathon one year. Six months before the event, she organized a group of her friends to train for the half marathon. Never mind the fact that they’d never done the half-marathon before. They met the qualifying time and did well in the event.

“Try Everything” also reminds me of a conversation I overheard last week while on the train. A woman was talking to a friend about her upcoming birthday celebration.

“We’re going skydiving!” she declared. I couldn’t tell if she was about to try skydiving for the first time or not. All I know is that she was excited to go.

For me “try everything” usually only comes up in regard to an all-you-can-eat buffet. (Talk about a “full” life.) But lately, I’ve worried that I’ve been missing out. Is fear of failing holding me back from “trying everything”? Have I truly tried to be all that I could be? Did I miss out because I didn’t go to boot camp with my sister-in-law?

So I had a heart-to-heart talk with Barbie today. I grabbed a cup of joe while she made herself comfortable on a napkin. Since she’s the Made to Move variety, I was certain she would have good insight.

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“The way I see it,” she said, “is this: you admire your sister-in-law for trying new things. But did you really want to go to boot camp?”

“Um . . . not really.”

“Well, let’s talk about some things you tried that were out of your comfort zone. What about the time you wrote a screenplay?”

“How’d you know about that?”

“This is an imaginary conversation, so of course I would know. Did you like doing that?”

“I enjoyed trying a form of writing I hadn’t tried before.”

“What about when your advisor challenged you to write poetry every day and you decided to also write song lyrics. What did you learn about yourself?”

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“That writing any kind of poetry is difficult. Poets like Andy Murray make it look easy, because of the high quality of their work. Still, I enjoyed the challenge.”

And that was the key. Some people enjoy mountain climbing, skydiving, and other activities that challenge them physically, because that’s what they enjoy. And I enjoy some aspects of a physical challenge. But I love anything that challenges me creatively.

What about you? Are you the kind of person who tries everything? In what way(s) do you like to challenge yourself?

For more info on Made to Move Barbies, click here.

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Zootopia movie poster from film-book.com.

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Cute Collectibles: Making a Heart Connection

Are you the kind of person who goes wild over collectible figures? About four years ago, I used to buy Squinkies for my second and third grade students as rewards. They loved Squinkies! What are Squinkies? Tiny collectible figures by Blip Toys based on themes (like the ocean; aliens and space; animals). But one day the stores stopped selling them. My students used to ask about Squinkies, but I had no idea why they disappeared. Was that the end of their story? Read on.

In the last couple of years Shopkins have racked up mega sales in the toy section. What are Shopkins? Tiny collectible figures by Moose Toys. I’ve shown a photo of some of them on this blog before. There are hundreds to collect, in categories like common, rare, ultra rare, and limited edition (quite difficult to find).

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Shopkins

So is it any wonder that this year, Squinkies are back with a reboot and categories very similar to the Shopkins categories? Success breeds competition in the battle for the attention of children (and the shrinking wallets of their parents)! I don’t own any of the new Squinkies, but you can click here to find out more information if you’re curious.

If you’re a parent/grandparent/aunt/uncle, maybe you’re cringing right now, as you imagine your child/grandchild/niece/nephew demanding toys like this. Or perhaps you remember a painful moment when you accidentally stepped on something like this—tiny but made of hard plastic—in the middle of the night. If so, you might wish to skip to the end, where I talk about writing. (There. There. It will be okay.)

Squinkies and Shopkins aren’t the only small collectible figures in town. There are also Num Noms by MGA.

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Each of these (with the exception of the pink motorized one under the brown choco swirl on the right) is a little over an inch tall.

I’m not exactly sure what they are, besides small collectible figures. They’re scented though. One smells like chocolate cherry, while others smells like caramel and strawberry.

And then there are the erasers by Iwako. A friend sent a bunch to me from Amazon.com. These are just a few:

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These also are a little over an inch tall.

And there is the queen of small collectible figures: Hello Kitty by Sanrio.

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She’s about a quarter of an inch taller than the Iwako erasers.

And then there are these: My Mini MixieQ’s by Mattel, which debuted this year at the Toy Fair in New York. So far, the only comment I’ve heard about them is a consistent one: “Awwwww. They’re so cuuuuuuute.”

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These figures are about three-quarters of an inch tall.

And there are dozens more. But I know what you’re thinking: These seem awfully girl-centric (though I know some boys who like Shopkins and some girls who hate this sort of thing). What about stuff for boys? Well, there are Star Wars Micro Machines and tons of other Star Wars figures (Hasbro), Five Nights at Freddy’s figures (Funko), Hot Wheels (Mattel), DC and Marvel action figures (Mattel and Hasbro respectively), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Playmates Toys), Minecraft (Mattel), and dozens of other collectible figures. (Girls like these too.)

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So what does this have to do with writing? Well, I’ll tell you my reason for paying attention to toy trends (besides liking them). Toy manufacturers know what appeals to the soul of a kid; for example, the desire to nurture or to be on an adventure. I once held up one of the Shopkins while talking to someone and soon had several people (kids and adults) crowded around me with sparkling eyes. This is the kind of rapt attention you want if you’re writing for kids, teens, or adults—the kind of attention that means you’ve made a heart connection.

Granted, translating this connection to the printed page is a challenge. Yet authors like J. K. Rowling and Rick Riordan have met the challenge. (So it is possible.) But they connected to what was in their own hearts first, instead of attempting to guess what might appeal to a kid. For example, Riordan loved his son and wanted to write about a kid with dyslexia and ADHD like his son. He was also a fan of Greek and Roman mythology, having taught these stories to middle schoolers for years. Thus, Percy Jackson and other series were born. Rowling’s mom died. Writing Harry Potter was her way of dealing with her own grief. She also loved The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which combines fantasy and reality as does the Harry Potter series.

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What do you love? How does that translate to what you’re writing now?

Book covers from Goodreads. Minecraft toy from minecrafttoy.com. Star Wars Micro Machine blind bags from action figuren24.de.

User or Preserver?

Book fans, I will return to author interviews and book giveaways at some point in the near future. Sorry. I’ve been a bit frazzled lately, and haven’t yet reached out to the many people I know whose books have debuted in recent months. I will though! For now, I’ll continue to unspool my mental floss.

Were you that prescient kind of kid (or adult) who kept your Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the old ones), He-Man, Transformers, or Strawberry Shortcake figures in their original boxes, or your comic books hermetically sealed, knowing that someday you would sell them? If so, good for you! A friend of mine has a Boba Fett action figure from back in the day, still in its original box. (Off to eBay he goes!)

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The new Strawberry Shortcake. Just sayin’.

Unfortunately, I was not that kind of kid. And yes, I have had moments of regret about that.

See this?

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And this?

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And these?

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I’m totally dating myself by revealing some of my comic book stash. (All of my Archie comic books and other non-superhero comic books have disappeared for some reason.) But surely you noticed that they’re not in great condition. Some (like the Avengers issue above) are better than others.

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Well, not this one. This represents my sad attempt at preservation many years after purchase.

Take a look at these. I couldn’t even tell you where the cover for the one on the right might be. It also is a Superboy comic book.

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Yes, Superboy, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen comic books existed at one point. And that was back when Lois Lane, the intrepid reporter, was mostly known as Superman’s girlfriend (or girl friend as you can see below), as well as someone constantly in need of a rescue.

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Wait. Not much has changed in that department. 😦 (Now there’s a blog post waiting to be written.) But the point is, I enjoyed reading these comic books back in the day, never once thinking that someday I could sell them. (I used to spend my allowance money on them.)

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This is old, but it is younger than the others in this post.

I also was not much for taking photos to preserve life’s special moments, though I used to own a good Nikon camera. Unfortunately, I’m no Dorothea Lange or Ansel Adams. Invariably, I would either cut off someone’s head or I would take a “red-eye” photo, where everyone looked like an alien from another galaxy. (Maybe that’s why I write fantasy and sci-fi novels.)

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As for other ways of capturing the moments, I was faithful for a short while at preserving my thoughts and angsty poetry in journals. Ha ha. I quit doing that too.

I’m more of a user than a preserver. That sounds negative, doesn’t it? In a different context, it would. But you see, I played with the toys that were given to me. Like this tiger I’ve had since I was eleven years old.

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I enjoyed reading comic books in the backyard with my bare feet on warm green grass, while occasionally admiring the fleecy clouds swirl by overhead. Sounds like a photo op, right? But those pictures are memories in my head, rather than in a scrapbook.

I take more photos now than I used to, mainly because of this blog. But when I’m outside enjoying a silky breeze or watching the war between the robins and grackles for supremacy in the yard, sometimes I forget to capture the moment on my phone. Rest assured, though. Those moments are preserved where they need to be—in my heart.

What about you? User or preserver?

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An example of the kind of photo I take. Note the toy dog’s butt sticking up at the bottom of the photo. This is Pupcake, Strawberry Shortcake’s dog. Not his best side.

Ansel Adams from dyslexiahelp.umich.edu. Dorothea Lange from umphotoj.wordpress.com. Other photos by L. Marie. (Sigh.)

Childlike or Childish?

015The gang’s all here on my desk.
I spy with my little eye, Gandalf!

I have a lot of YouTube subscriptions. 😀 Two of my favorite channels are The Toy Genie and CookieSwirlC. These YouTubers talk about the latest toy sets and gadgets, and often demonstrate how to assemble these items.

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In the comment section of one of Toy Genie’s recent videos, one commenter stated (and I’m going by memory here, so I’ll have to paraphrase), “I wish she’d stop being so childish.” That comment is the basis for this post.

Several of Toy Genie’s loyal subscribers immediately chastised the commenter. By the way, many of her loyal subscribers are kids and parents. She has over 860,000 subscribers (as of the writing of this post)—a group larger than the population of the state of Vermont. CookieSwirlC has over two million.

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Childish? Childish like a fox!

The Toy Genie video comment reflects feedback I’ve heard before in regard to adults who read and/or write books for children and teens. I can’t help recalling an article a couple of years back in which the writer took adults to task for reading young adult novels. Perhaps you read it. (Click here for a Washington Post article that boldly refutes that article.)

I have to wonder what the goal is for anyone who utters such negative feedback. To shame someone who doesn’t live up to a certain standard of adult behavior? I don’t know about you, but shame has never motivated me to do anything worthwhile.

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All of the people I know who write books for children and young adults read books for children and young adults. They’re aware of what kids like and the activities in which kids are involved. If they didn’t know anything about what kids care about or were too concerned about looking “childish” in the eyes of someone who didn’t believe that writing books for kids is a worthwhile enterprise, they could never convincingly create the characters who populate their stories.

242144Brain Pickings, a great newsletter to which I subscribe, featured an article by Maria Popova on C. S. Lewis and his approach to writing for children. (You can read the article by clicking here.) Here’s a quote from that article, which is from an essay written by Lewis that can be found in the book, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories.

We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children: differing from our child readers not by any less, or less serious, interest in the things we handle, but by the fact that we have other interests which children would not share with us. The matter of our story should be a part of the habitual furniture of our minds.

A commenter for the Washington Post article used another quote from Lewis’s essay:

Critics who treat “adult” as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. . . . When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

That’s one reason why I enjoy the channels of YouTubers like Toy Genie and CookieSwirlC. They embrace a childlike sensibility, and have a blast making their videos. Their enjoyment inspires me.

Has someone ever tried to shame you about something you enjoyed? How did you respond?

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Toy Genie image from youtube.com. CookieSwirlC logo from dailymotion.com. Woman ashamed from alisonbreen.com. Nick Wilde of the movie Zootopia was found at slashfilm.com.

Hello, Killer

Look at her. You wouldn’t expect her to be a public menace.

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Public enemy number 1?

But recently McDonald’s recalled 2.3 million of the Hello Kitty Happy Meal toys because of one containing a whistle. Turns out it was a choking hazard. Because of reported incidents of choking, thankfully with no loss of life, the recall had to happen. So while the Hello Kitty figure above might seem like a fugitive from justice, she isn’t the one specifically described in the recall notice. You can see that notice here. But she has guilt by association.

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The real culprit

It’s sad, isn’t it, when something meant to bring joy to a child turns out to be harmful. Yet the toy as a harmful device can be found in the world of fiction also. The most effective villain is one you don’t see coming. Who would suspect a toy? Dolls/action figures seem to be the toys of choice when it comes to mayhem. Perhaps this is because some dolls look sort of creepy. Sorry to break this to you if you’re a fan, but I’m simply not a fan of the porcelain dolls so many people collect. They’ve always given me the creeps. Apparently, they scare others also.

I can’t help recalling “Invasion of the Secret Santas,” an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold where an action figure every kid wanted for Christmas turned out to be a tiny robot programmed to steal from the families unfortunate enough to have one. Guess that’s what you would call a ho-ho-heist. (By the way, the Santas below are not the toys I just mentioned. I couldn’t find an image of those toys. But these robot Santas with their cheerful, porcelain faces and hidden bombs caused chaos also.)

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“Joy to the world! Your town is doomed!” Everybody sing! Or perhaps “You better watch out . . . Santa Claus is comin’ to town” is more appropriate.

Kim Possible, an old Disney show, had a similar premise in a movie release—So the Drama (2005)—where toys in the kiddie meals were evil robots.

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An episode of Twilight Zone from 1963 called “Living Doll” featured Talky Tina, a persistent doll who turned to murder when she took a dislike to someone.

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Creepy, isn’t she? You don’t want to make her angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. (Hint to those who recognize that last statement. It’s from the old Incredible Hulk series from the late 70s/early 80s.)

You’re probably thinking of the Chucky horror movies right about now, aren’t you? They feature a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer.

Stuffed animals also get their licks in. Let’s not forget the Toy Story movies, which had villainous toys as well as hero toys.

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Lotso the Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear had lots o’ attitude. You don’t want a hug from him.

Childhood fears have such power, don’t they? That’s why a toy as a villain has extra potency. It taps into the fears we remember. Better on screen though, than in real life. No child should have to fear being harmed by a toy.

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He looks safe. . . .

Batman: The Brave and the Bold image from ign.com. Talky Tina from examiner.com. Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear from officialpsds.com. Kim Possible: So the Drama poster from disney.wikia.com.

Open Your Eyes

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First, a brief announcement: I’m hosting two book giveaways this week. If you missed the first interview, click here. Tomorrow you’ll find the next interview and book giveaway. Winners to be announced on Sunday.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you what’s been on my mind lately. My good friend Sharon Van Zandt had this lovely quote on her blog:

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.
E. B. White

If you know Sharon, you know that she deeply believes this.

That quote takes me back to an incident last week. After we watched Ender’s Game (in case you’re curious, I enjoyed it), a friend of mine introduced me to a new toy store in our area. She searched for toys for her toddlers. I went along for the ride.

I’m glad I did.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo of the inside of the store. Picture a wonderland of toys on low shelves (at a kid’s level) or set up in inviting displays. The store featured the kind of toys you might have grown up with: Etch A Sketch, stuffed animals, puzzles, books, dolls, building blocks, train sets, and trucks—all for a new generation.

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We lingered in the store until the salesperson calmly informed us that the store was closing. I admired her restraint. While we browsed, she had remained at the register instead of following us around, forcing a snappy sales pitch on us and other guilt-inducing suggestions for making kids happy. (“Don’t deprive your kids of the new Mega-Block Tower Set. Only $69.99.”) She allowed us time to look and reminisce. Also, she didn’t try to hustle us out of the store. You know that look: the salesperson stands at the door with a key in the lock, giving you strong vibes to get out.

I’m glad we took time to stop and look and play. (I feel sorry for any parent who dares to bring a child to that store. You’ll never be able to convince him or her to leave.)

Sharon’s post and my trip to the toy store reminded me of what I’ve been missing lately. Because I have a goal for NaNoWriMo, word count has been at the forefront of my mind. I lost sight of the goal I had when I first began writing: to write with eyes filled with wonder.

The quote Sharon included was incredibly apt, because E. B. White’s writing, particularly Charlotte’s Web, has always embodied wonder to me. It reminds me to stop and look at life with the unbridled enthusiasm of a child.

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I know. We don’t stay children. We grow up and have jobs and mortgage payments and kids and cars that need repairing. People we love fall ill and we suffer the grief of loss. Others annoy or disappoint us. Wonder is difficult to sustain in a world determined to beat us down. We go through life with our eyes squeezed shut instead of open in wonder.

Iconic books like Charlotte’s Web acknowledge that sad things occasionally happen. But the fact that sad times occur does not negate wonder. Wonder is not a bury-your-head-in-the-sand, rose-colored-glasses feeling. It is countercultural—an intentional response to a jaded mindset or a busy, hurry-it-up lifestyle.

That’s why we have to fight to hang on it, to avoid treating it as if it’s just for kids or the hopelessly naïve. It takes determination to be watchful for those wonder-filled moments where we feel glad to be alive. (Sing it with me: “The hills are aliiiiiive with the sound of music!”) It means being willing to look foolish as you stop and look and play. For me, however, it means being willing to sacrifice my word count goal, if at at the end of the day the answer to the question, “Am I having fun writing?” is no.

When was the last time you felt wonder? Don’t you think it’s time you did? I dare you to open your eyes and embrace the wonder. To help you along the path, I’ve decided to be spontaneous and send one person a print copy of Charlotte’s Web. (I didn’t see an eBook listed.) If you’ve never read it, comment below and I’ll enter your name in the drawing. If you’ve read it, feel free to tell me what you thought about it. Or, share a moment where you were filled with wonder.

Have a wonder-filled day!

Etch A Sketch from cotradeco.com. Charlotte’s Web cover from Goodreads. Kid looking amazed from parentdish.co.uk.