Christmas is for Children

It has become a tradition for me to write a gentler article here at this time of year.

I can use the word tradition because the first post was a decade ago, on October 27th, 2008. I had just finished The India Road and inadvertently started a parallel career as a writer. Three further books since then, with another at the fifty percent mark, and I wonder what took me so long. As for the blog, ten years means well over five hundred posts—at six hundred words each, that’s three hundred thousand words, the equivalent of a further three books.

One of these days I’m going to try for a ‘best of’, which I’ve tentatively called ‘Air and Thought’, due to my penchant for puns. The problem is the selection process—will this new book be cross-thematic, time-based, or focused on one subject such as travel or politics?

The magical appearance of a granddaughter last year changed my writing plans—six months before the birth I put The Hourglass on hold and began working on a children’s book.

I’ve always been very fond of kids—that’s dangerous language in politically correct times, when Santa Claus himself is in the cross-hairs, billed as an older man who breaks into houses at the dead of night to give presents to small children who he doesn’t know. And a serial intruder at that.

But nevertheless my statement holds true—kids’ imagination is uncontaminated by adult ‘education’, and in a small child’s eyes there is the belief that anything is possible.

I think the best children’s stories are those that fire the imagination, so that’s what I tried to do. And kids the world over love animals, as they should. Animals become, well… animated, and they take on human roles—they chat, they are opinionated, they drive vehicles—they become anthropomorphic.

I wrote a book with seven stories—short ones, because kids like to stick to the point—and called it Folk Tales for Future Dreamers.

There’s one story for each day of the week. The first tale is about a greedy rabbit, and provides a cautionary message about overeating. The rabbit is numerate, familiar with the use of currency, wise to the wily ways of supermarket sellers, and yet he is still a rabbit.

I first created the Rabbit Story when my own daughter was small, and she never once worried about the paradox of a rabbit with banking skills—that’s the wonder small children hold.

The book then rollicks through six more stories, all of which were conceived and developed last year.

A lemon tree talks to a small dog who has ambitions as a circus performer. There’s a little girl who wonders what happens to her milk teeth and goes on a journey of exploration. Jack and the Beanstalk become Yak and the Beansprout, a wholly unrelated narrative designed to impress values of racial tolerance and respect.

Hector the donkey, an apple-loving, hard-working character in The Old Music Box.

There’s a message for children about how life once was, many years ago—the message is delivered by a couple who live inside an old music box that hangs on the side of a baby cot—all children will find this eminently believable.

The next story is a life-lesson in making the best of what you’ve got, and the final tale is called The Shining Star. I’m going to leave you with an excerpt from that one, but before I do, I want to speak about illustrations.

The young lady who drew the cover art and all the other illustrations is called Sarah, and she is brimming with talent. I can’t conceive of a children’s book without images, because they too fire the imagination. It was my first foray into words and pictures, and it was a wonderful experience.

My first children’s book is best enjoyed in analog—no one has figured out a good way to combine text and pics in digital, largely because of the different page formats—the concept of page only makes sense in analog.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and I want to bring back the child within you, as you imagine yourself in an alien spaceship, about to travel through time at an impossibly (for a grown up) high speed.

“My real name is…” Maria heard a strange, high-pitched whistle. It fluttered like a flute, then ended with a small growl.

“Oh my, that’s very complicated.” Maria thought that sounded good—it was what her granny said whenever she worked the internet.

A bright blue eye flashed in the middle of the creature’s forehead.

“In that case, call me Zodir.”

Maria couldn’t believe her eyes. Eight green fingers, each like an asparagus, with a white tip on the end, and no nails. And now a blue flash whenever Zodir smiled.

She looked at the rest of his body. He had narrow shoulders, and around his neck was a small red bell. Well, it wasn’t really round his neck, because nothing seemed to be holding it there, but it was definitely a bell.

Zodir’s blue light flashed and the bell gave a little tinkle.

“Now then, shall we go? We haven’t much time.” He held out three fingers to her, while he used the other five to make a strange humming sound.

Suddenly a big blue disk was on the lawn beside them.

Maria got up and found she was hovering just above the grass. That’s when she noticed Zodir’s feet—well, foot, really, because her new friend had no legs at all. Below his waist, his body just went on, and then spread out into a large foot, like a mermaid’s fin.

The bright green foot was also suspended in mid-air; now it bent upward like an airplane flap, and Zodir leaned forward, his fingers still lightly touching her little hand.

The two of them darted into the disk, as if pushed by an invisible hand, and settled into long seats, lying flat on their backs and looking up at the stars.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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