This past week I finished two beautiful books. Two different reading experiences.
Lauren Wolk’s, Beyond the Bright Sea, touched me as a reader and a teacher of writing. The plot, the characters, and Wolk’s message of discovery moved me to write about it in my notebook. But what I cherish about this book as a writer is Wolk’s craft moves. My copy is filled with post its that showcase her seemingly simple and beautiful writing.
The way she takes readers “bit-by-bit” through Crow’s daily routine is perfection. The life of Crow, so far removed from ours, is made real. We can practically feel the salt of sea rinse off her face.
When I got home again, wet to my waist, I stripped off all my clothes, pegged them on the line, and spent a moment at one of the rainwater sinks in the near rocks, splashing myself clean for bed.
I dried myself with a towel off the line, so stiff it could have stood up in a breeze. Then I unpegged a fresh nightshirt and shook the stiff out of it and slipped it on.
Later, Mouse the cat welcomes Crow home. How many times has my cat done the same? Such a simple move pulls me into the story and makes me acutely aware of how important those little things are for readers.
I sat at the table and patted my knee until Mouse jumped up and told me about her day, turning and turning until she’d settled into my lap.
Before I hand this book off to my students, who are begging for it, have to remove my post its. But before I lose those noteworthy pages, I captured a few lines in my notebook and saved the rest as pictures in a Google doc titled Narrative Craft moves.
I’ve had The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill in my to read stack since it won the Newbery, but it was buried. It wasn’t until I heard this Brains On podcast on how reading affects the brain and featured Barnhill reading a part of her award-winning book, did I find the need to dig it out. And oh how glad I am that I did
Barnhill’s story starts in the Protectorate, a gray world controlled by fear of the world coming to an end and sorrow over their annual sacrifice of the village’s youngest baby to an evil witch in the forest. The stories told about the witch keep people captive in a system devised to destroy their hope and keep the powerful in control. An age old story that keeps repeating itself. And here lies the gift of fantasy: good, eventually, conquers evil and gives us hope.
The journeys of a newborn baby who accidentally is en-magicked, a young man who is willing to risk his life to save his family, a madwoman who believes her sacrificed child is still alive, and a kind witch who heals sorrows are intertwined. Add to this, humor and wisdom supplied by a swamp monster who falls in love and a tiny dragon who believes he is simply enormous and you have the recipe for a great fantasy read.
I’ll pass this story on to my students tomorrow. I’m sure they’ll devour it.