Story for Two
Was Pixar’s Monster University for the kids—or their thirty-something parents, nostalgic for their college days? I know I enjoyed it… and I think my daughter did. I know my nephews did (not in small part because they liked watching their dad roll around on the floor in hysterics), even though they didn’t understand all of the background.
My wife and I read a lot with our kids. Even to our toddler before bed (when immobilized with a bottle—don’t tell our pediatrician). At some point we got into a rhythm of reading three books a night. This isn’t so bad when the picture books are short, but when we advanced to chapter books and novels…? So we went to three chapters. About a half-hour every night.
One bonus of our daughter growing older is the opportunity to read books that are more interesting to us. That half-hour a night is, for the most part, our only time to sit and read for ourselves, too. Once done, there are dishes to wash, toys to pick up, lunches to make, yada yada. And then we collapse in bed to get a half-decent night’s sleep before having to get up early to prepare for the day. So we want to read something fun and enjoyable for both us and our daughter. Dora the Explorer has its niche, but I don’t want Boots dancing in my dreams at night.
We started searching for good novels to share each night. The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum was one of the first. I was trepidatious initially, recalling dark memories of the movie. Yet the book proved charming and enchanting (with only a few dark bits to gloss over). From there we moved on to others. I soon discovered that the sweet-spot where a book charmed me and my sensitive daughter was very hard to find. Harry Potter and Narnia (The Magician’s Nephew) are too dark and violent still. Also, Narnia had to be translated to contemporary American English for her to understand and even then it was slow going. It was even worse for my wife, who reads books in Spanish (many end up being translations from English).
A disclaimer: my daughter is one of those children who can’t see Disney’s A Little Mermaid because she will have nightmares. We have to be very careful about the movies and books we read. I think this is perfectly okay. Too much material ostensibly for children is too violent and too dark—in my opinion. And these elements aren’t needed to have a good, popular story. Anyone not heard of Frozen?
Aspiring authors are coached to write for a specific, ideal reader. Don’t write to the masses, don’t try to appease differing tastes. No person is truly unique. If Bob likes it, odds are good a few hundred thousand other people will, too. Very well. What about writing for two? As in, for a child and her adult minion? Isn’t that what Pixar does on the big screen to great success?
It should be doable. It seems to me that kids enjoy something more, a story in this case, when their parents or older people, in general, also enjoy the story. So long as it is suitable for them.
This, writing a story for two, was what I set out to accomplish when I started writing the first version of Elf Hills. My daughter was barely four when I started, six and a half when finished. The story grew and changed with her, but I never let go of my initial goal. And she loved it. My wife loved it, too. Certainly they are biased (although my daughter can be brutally honest), but they were my target audience. Success!
I could have just tried harder to find good books to read together. I know there are many. In my own defense, I did. Sheesh, in the time it took me to write one, we read hundreds (counting all types of books). One novel that surprised me (because I thought it might be too mature for my daughter) was Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. It hit the sweet-spot; we both loved it. And so there you go, it is definitely doable.
I cherish story time and, as an author, want to continue to write books—novels—that can be enjoyed by adult and child together. It is fun to talk about the story during the day and imagine what is going to happen next in that night’s reading time. In my experience, young children can and will follow novels that are engaging and relevant for them. They may squirm, but elements of the story will stick in surprising ways.
Elf Hills by S.S. Dudley
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Something strange, something magical, is going on in the dusty hills behind the small town of Villaloma. Yet each time Linda Peters puts on her running shoes and sets out to find the enchanted kingdom she imagines—full of dancing elves, unicorns, and more—something stops her. And with school starting soon, she only has a few more chances to really search the hills.
While Linda’s frustration and doubt grow, her cousin, Nugu, looks for answers in his books and wonders if maybe, just maybe, Linda’s stories are for real.
The day finally arrives when Linda can run far, the day she is sure she will find her magic city. But when she and Nugu feel their goal must lie just beyond the next hill, they only find more hill.
Is it all a figment of an over-active imagination; a wistful fantasy?
Or is there truly something magical in those hills that only the strong of heart—and leg—can discover?
Excerpt from Elf Hills © 2014 by S. S. Dudley
From the Prologue:
This fairy tale, as you might have guessed already, takes place on a hill. Or, rather, on many hills and a mountain or two in Northern California, near what people call the Great Valley. One hill in particular stands out, though, because that is where everything started. It was a nice hill; well rounded, not too high, not too low. It was distinctly a hill, snuggled up against a mountain like a nursing cub to its resting mother. For the most part this hill was well-dressed with dark green oak trees and tall grasses, usually yellowed and dry except for the four or five wet months of the year. Along one side, a seasonal creek slipped out and down into the plain. Here the vegetation—red-stemmed manzanita, prickly blackberry bushes, and other shrubs—was thick and difficult to move through.
From afar, the hill was not remarkable; it had many siblings stretching to the north and south as far as the eye could see. This hill was special, though. For one, a strange—some said magical—copse of trees stood near the base of the hill where the creek emerged. These trees were short, had long, dark-green leaves, and bore bright yellow fruit that, if eaten, were said to imbue a person with the strength of ten men. For another, the hill was haunted. On certain nights of the year a white light would shine from the very top of the hill. It was brighter than the brightest star; brighter even than a full moon, perhaps, and it cast long shadows across the plain. The first people that lived in the area told many stories about that hill, the light, and the spirits that lived there.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
S. S. Dudley grew up in Wyoming, USA, an avid reader and lover of the outdoors. He studied at the University of Wyoming and the University of Illinois. He started his first book (an epic fantasy hand-written in with a blue fountain pen…) when he was 13, but never finished it. At some point (as his mother recently reminded him), he decided that he needed to go do something (like get a job) for a while before he could, or should, write. He did, and spent time in Colombia, Panamá, Antarctica and the dark recesses of large science buildings on college campuses. That done, he now writes, lives and runs in Northern California with his wife and two children. He can be found at http://www.ssdudley.com http://www.facebook.com/author.ssdudley and on twitter at @SS_dudley.
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