Monday, April 20, 2009

More from the Children's Book

Sorry! I am in 3 classes and have two editing jobs and am generally running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to learn how to be an adult and a writer and both of these in this economy. Here's a scene of what I've been working on, my children's book. In the meantime, I have given myself a reading list:

1. Island of the Blue Dolphins
2. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
3. Hatchet
4. A Wrinkle In Time

Any other suggestions??

From the book:

In the fifth grade, it works like this: Mrs. Tropiano’s our main teacher and we sit in her classroom most of the day. It’s decorated with samples of our best cursive penmanship and a few papers that earned gold stars and there are at least three of mine up there. In the back there’s a couch for reading, and if you finish a test before everyone else, you can sit in it and lie back on cushions of worn-out corduroy. But when it comes to special subjects, we’ve got different teachers for that, and we leave Mrs. Tropiano for them and head to the gymnasium, the art room or the music room. Today is Wednesday and that means music.

Dad says don’t use the word hate, so I won’t. Miss Peroski is our music instructor, and she’s a skinny one, she looks like if Olive Oil stepped right out of the television. She’s got long black hair that’s plaited into a thick dark rope that reaches her bottom. Today she’s feeling kooky so she greets us by playing a recorder as we shuffle in and is smiling a big toothy grin. When she sees that I’m last, she says, “Katie Burnett, don’t dilly dally!”. Some kids laugh, and I can’t tell if it’s at me or Miss Peroski because we both have something to be embarrassed about.

“Everybody take your seats please,” Miss Peroski says as she twirls around in a bright Indian skirt and long feathered earrings. She is the only woman I’ve ever seen who dresses like every day is a special holiday and it occurs to me that I wouldn’t mind seeing her on the Fourth of July. Maybe she’d have on a big wedding dress made out of a patchwork of flags, a swirl of red, white and blue and a crown of sparklers. And the sparklers would shoot off her head like rockets and she’d still be dancing around completely unaware, with her guitar strapped to her shoulder and telling all the dogs to go on and scoot, even when the little fires on her head started lighting up the gravel around her.

I laugh at this, and it’s a big mistake.

“Thank you for volunteering first, Miss Burnett,” Miss Peroski waves her recorder like it’s a wand and she summons me to the front of the room.

“Ooooh,” goes the rest of the class, like a chorus. I feel the blush creep into my face and at this moment I wish I could bolt out the door in a flash, fast as Henry.

“Miss Burnett, we’re waiting,” Miss Peroski says and I look at her long braid and am again reminded that I have never had the discipline to grow mine past my ears, and even if I did, it be as fine as a baby’s and could never be braided.

I walk to the front of the green blackboard and there are notes and treble clefs on it in white chalk, but it might as well be Chinese, I can read it but that’s where it ends.

“Miss Burnett, can you tell me what this note is?” She points to the board. I know from memorization that I can decide between “All Cows Eat Grass” for the spaces, meaning the notes are “A, C, E, G” or “Good Boys Don’t Fight Anyone” which means “G, B, D, F, A.” Don’t as me why G and A are on there twice, it’s got something to do with the bass clef versus the treble.

“G,” I say.

“Very good,” Miss Peroski blows the note on her recorder. It sounds like a rush of wind through a drainpipe. She opens her mouth in a little oval and repeats the sound perfectly, “La, la, la.”

She smiles. “Now you try it.”

The back of my neck is itchy and I turn from her and look at the class. Rachel’s looking at me and mouths, go on and do it! and she touches her thumb and finger to create the A-OK sign we make to each other in class when we need a boost. Everyone else is looking around the room, at the glockenspiel and at the African drums, and I’m sure they’re all thinking what I’m thinking, if only we could have our bongo circle today instead of this garbage.

I clear my throat, it’s something that Dad and Henry do, and it makes their voices sound loud and strong once they’re done, but on me it’s more like a squeaky mouse with laryngitis.

“Kathryn are you feeling all right?” Miss Peroski says, and though it’s kind I bristle a little because I don’t like the name Kathryn one bit—Kate or Katie suits me better.

“Pardon me,” I say, and I look at the big ticking clock on the wall above the door, as if it’s pushed forward a whole forty-five minutes and I’m scot-free. No such luck, there’s still a good thirty-eight minutes to go. “My throat’s not feeling up to snuff.”

“Your throat sounds perfectly lovely to me, now go on,” she says and sings once more, “La, la, la!” It sounds like a silver bird.

I shake out my hands, stamp my feet a little, anything to shake a silver bird from my throat, I give it a go, “Lo, lo, lo.”

It’s abominable. Worse than I could even imagine. It was not a joyful noise, as Mom says. My silver bird is a big fat turkey. Some of the kids look like they can’t believe such a sound has come from me.

Miss Peroski looks as though I stole her feather earrings and now am wearing them right in front of her. “I see someone hasn’t been practicing. Keep forging ahead, Kathryn,” and she dismisses me to my seat.

“Miss Peroski, I have too been practicing,” I say, and it comes out of my mouth very high and sharp and it surprises even me.

“I’ve never known you to be a liar, let’s not start now,” she says, and she points to Rachel. “Miss Murphy, you’re next.”

“I’m not a liar, I swear,” I say but Miss Peroski is already asking for Rachel to point out the notes, and she does not point out the right note, but when Miss Peroski plays it on the recorder she sings it back perfectly, and it sounds like an angel would.

And I think, how much has she studied, and that it couldn’t be more than me, and yet here she is, the sound out of her is pure and shiny and it is beautiful and suddenly it comes to me. She has never studied the way I have, and it doesn’t matter at all. She can sing and I cannot, and that’s as complex as it gets.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE Island of the Blue Dolphins!!!

Thank you for reminding me and now I'm going to go buy it and bury myself in bed away from this rain!

PS. Like the book so far!

Anonymous said...

Im so excited to read this. How's your other novel coming along?

Jami Dru said...

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a favorite of mine as well, as is Hatchet!

Of a similar vein, Lord of The Flys, and Giver are both very good reads.

Alsthough, I'd really like to have a go at "the Childrens Book."