Children’s Literature: From Instruction to Entertainment

Last Monday, I was fortunate enough to see part of the children’s literature collection at the Lilly Library here in Bloomington. The Lilly has an amazing collection of rare books, and it’s always fun to see the treasures they bring out for various events. This particular session was all about the evolution of literature for children who were seen as tiny adults needing life instruction to children who wanted to be entertained.

The earliest examples laid out for us were horn books with the alphabet on one side and key words like doghousehorse on the other. One mother even made instructional flash cards about the dangers of life.

As we got into the later examples of the literature—moving from straight instruction to entertainment—we were shown books like this Newberry edition of Mother Goose and this tiny boxed library set of stories.

My favorites, however, were seeing items like Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit.

And the absolute best was seeing the original manuscript for Peter Pan. What a treat!

If you ever find yourself in Bloomington, Indiana, definitely stop by the Lilly! Not only will they be able to show you amazing gems from their collection, but you’ll learn a lot too.

And Then the Murders Began

Yesterday, on Facebook, we posted a link to an article from the Hook about replacing the second sentence of any piece of writing with “And then the murders began.” It’s genius and works with nearly everything. It’s our new favorite game.

Still life with a skull and medical book. Oil painting by an Italian painter, 1766. Iconographic Collections via


A Wrinkle In Time: “It was a dark and stormy night. And then the murders began.”

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. And then the murders began.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’ And then the murders began.”

Go Tell It on the Mountain: “Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. And then the murders began.”

Madeline: “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. And then the murders began.”

It even works with nonfiction:

The Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. And then the murders began.”

“Trump Tells G.O.P. It’s Now or Never, Demanding House Vote on Health Bill” (New York Times): “President Trump issued an ultimatum on Thursday to recalcitrant Republicans to fall in line behind a broad health insurance overhaul or see their opportunity to repeal the Affordable Care Act vanish, demanding a Friday vote on a bill that appeared to lack a majority to pass. And then the murders began.”

The Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then the murders began.”

How does this game work with your favorite books? Share them with us!

Women of Words

As a women-owned small business, we at Inkblot consider International Women’s Day important. Yesterday, on Facebook, we posted a link about an Ohio bookstore that turned around all fiction written by males. The visual was stunning. The bookstore’s owner, Harriett Logan, told Heat Street that the display was “a metaphor of silencing the male voice—at least for this month.”

Women writers have shaped both of us here at Inkblot. One of my first posts on this blog was about Madeleine L’Engle. She changed how I approached both fiction and nonfiction, voice, structure—everything about writing. For Lesley, it is Harriette Arnow, the author of The Dollmaker. She was the first writer to show Lesley that you can transport your reader into a world completely foreign to her and capture her heart, soul, and mind.

Today, we metaphorically join the Ohio bookstore in highlighting ten of our favorite women writers. How many authors from this far-from-complete list have you checked out?

To all you women writers out there who have been silenced in one way or another: Keep writing, keep speaking, keep making a difference. We believe in you.

Here are some resources specifically for women writers:

Literary grants for women from Women Arts

Summer resources for women writers from Writing Women’s Lives Academy

Publishing opportunities for women from VIDA, Women in Literary Arts

Happy International Women’s Day!

Vacation Reading

Over Christmas, my husband and I joined my parents in South Carolina for a holiday vacation. Of course the top item on my to-do list prior to leaving was picking out a suitable book to read. I settled on an old favorite: A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt.

This may not seem like a laid-back beach read; after all, it’s about a seven-year-old boy whose mother abandons him. Yet, this book opens itself up and invites you into the story—pain and all—for a grounded experience that’s hard to walk away from. This is a book you choose when you have the time to read all day.

It is a solid novel with a wide range of emotions and deep characters, some of whom you’ll like, some of whom you won’t, and most of whom you’ll change your mind about. If you like the Tillerman family from other books in this series, you’ll be happy to see them reappear in this title as well.

One thing I didn’t consider when choosing this book was the setting. I read about Jeff waiting on his mother to pick him up from the Charleston airport while waiting on my mother to pick us up from the Charleston airport. I read about his island of safe space, with its crabs and herons, while sitting on a beach I’ve grown up visiting. I could literally taste the salt on the South Carolina breeze as I read the words.

For all the deliberation in front of my bookshelf the night before our flight, I picked right.

What did you read over the holiday?

Stay tuned this week for the first Inkblot writing challenge of 2017! It’s one we’re really excited about!


Thank You, Veterans!

Today, the United States remembers and thanks all veterans who have served this country. For those of us who have not served, memoirs are stirring and sobering first-person accounts of war. We’ve selected a few titles as recommended reading.

Though not a memoir, this collection of accounts is just as important, as it has been a neglected subject:

As we head into this weekend after a hard week, try to see the stories within the strangers around you.

Korean War veterans attend a Veterans Day ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial. This year's ceremony was dedicated to America's Nisei, second-generation, U.S.-born Japanese-American soldiers who served during World War II in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, and 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. The ceremony signaled the opening of a special exhibit aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial honoring the service and bravery of America's Nisei soldiers. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan/Released)
Korean War veterans attend a Veterans Day ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial. The 2013 ceremony was dedicated to America’s Nisei, second-generation, U.S.-born Japanese-American soldiers who served during World War II in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, and 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. The ceremony signaled the opening of a special exhibit aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial honoring the service and bravery of America’s Nisei soldiers. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan/Released)

The Sound of Productivity

When working alone at home, in an office, or even in a coffee shop, sometimes you need a little white noise (that you can control the volume of) to help you concentrate.

Researchers Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, and Amar Cheema write in their article “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition” that “a moderate . . . level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks.” I know from experience that while I can’t edit with lyrics on, I also have a hard time focusing if the office is dead quiet. The in-between—the space for creative productivity—is ambient sound or white noise.

via Sound Effects HD Indie Studios
via Sound Effects HD Indie Studios

Here are some of our favorite sources to help you concentrate:

  • Noisli: This site, and the accompanying app, allows you to combine various sounds at different volumes. To work, I use a combination of rain, storm, leaves, and a tiny bit of coffee shop. To sleep, because I use this app nearly every night as well, I use rain, wind, leaves, and river.
  • Listen to Wikipedia: Experience Wikipedia with your ears! For every user added or piece of content edited, you hear a tone. The more users who sign up at once, the bigger the musical swell. The bigger the content edit, the deeper the tone. It’s fascinating and soothing.
  • Hipstersound: Here you hear a variety of coffee shop noises to keep the sound of silence at bay. One awesome option with this site is that you can listen to a Parisian cafe. Working to French mumblings is somehow comforting and energizing.

If you prefer actual music, but lyrics break your concentration, try these playlists on Spotify:

Hopefully these options give you a bit of relaxation and focus during your work!

Muir of the Mountains

John Muir 1902
John Muir ca. 1902 via Wikipedia

Yesterday was the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. Hooray! One of the OG activists for national parks was none other than John Muir. This prolific adventurer wrote hundreds of articles and dozens of books about the natural world. He also cofounded the Sierra Club in 1892. All of this work helped the US recognize the beauty within our borders and the need to preserve it.

To celebrate this centennial, we want to share a few of Muir’s moving words, which literally saved mountains. Continue reading “Muir of the Mountains”

Literary Nonsense


I learned about a new genre today: literary nonsense. And yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. Essentially this genre mixes reality with nonsensical conventions, language, or even reasoning. The immediate example is, of course, “Jabberwocky” and its home, the beloved Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll. In fact, all of the Alice in Wonderland books are literary nonsense.

According to Michael Heyman and Kevin Shortsleeve (what a name!), literary nonsense is an amalgamation of nursery rhymes like “Hey Diddle, Diddle” that were often published in the mid- to late-eighteenth century as “nonsense verses” and the genre of parody and satire. In fact, since the 1600s, the word nonsense changed from meaning “no sense” to the current meaning of “absurd.” Heyman and Shortsleeve say that the most often used term for this genre, literary nonsense, doesn’t quite convey the fullness of the genre. They prefer nonsense literature or, even better, literwordsy absurdifusion. I tend to agree.

Milo and Tock
Milo and Tock

A favorite of mine in this genre is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. This book takes the playfulness of Alice and Wonderland and, following Carroll’s lead, subverts the literal. Once Milo, the main character, drives through the magic tollbooth that appeared in his bedroom, he finds places like the Island of Conclusions (which you can only get to by jumping) and people like Rhyme and Reason. The Guardian even said, “The Phantom Tollbooth is the closest thing we have to a modern Alice in Wonderland.”

The Little Prince
The Little Prince

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is another gem often considered to be part of this nonsense. Its beginning clues us in to not take reality at face value, as the narrator shows us a picture of what grown-ups would consider a hat. To the narrator, however, it is clearly an elephant inside a boa constrictor. (Silly grown-ups.) Shortly thereafter, we meet a prince who lives alone on his small planet with only his rose to keep him company. He travels from planet to planet, each populated by a single person, usually boring adults. It is a lovely, sad tale. And, like the other books I’ve mentioned in this genre, The Little Prince is known for its simple, but poignant illustrations.

Each of these books has a way of capturing the grotesque absurdity of childhood and turning it into a nostalgic masterpiece. Childhood is a scary and wonderful time when everything is new and the rules of the world don’t always apply.

Here’s to a nonsensical Thursday! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!