Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sometimes we miss the point until they've gone beyond it

She received an IllusStory for her birthday, which is the perfect gift for a kid who wants to write (and publish) her first book before she's forced to blow out an even 10 candles on her cake ...

No. ... Wait. ...

That was me ... (never mind).

Although she has told me she wants to be a writer, she hasn't revealed any timetable that's breathing down her neck. I envy her calm.

Where was I?


This is essentially a writing kit that helps kids formulate an outline and create a book in a series of pages you then mail off to some place that prints it, binds it and mails it back.

Amazing times, huh?


Ittybit unearths this creative gem from her pile of presents that she's been slowly savoring since December, and decides she'd like to make it a biography, which happens to be the first suggestion on the instruction sheet.

Being in the news business, I wonder aloud if she might want to interview one of her grandparents and write her book based on those interviews. First-person interviews, I think, will be easier to teach than footnotes, and wondering aloud makes it seem as if I'm not married to the idea. If I play it cool she just might take my suggestion as her own.

For a second, as I waited for her answer, I had this flash: She would ask all the questions people wish they'd asked a grandparent but never got the chance ...

She shook her head. And that second ended. Nope. She'd decided. She wanted to write her biography about Martin Luther King Jr.

Now, I can't say I wasn't surprised. I would have guessed she'd have chosen someone in pop culture -- a Justin Bieber or a Taylor Swift -- but I knew Martin Luther King Jr. had been a topic of study in preparation for the celebration of his birth in January and Black HIstory Month in February. She'd been asking questions about him, too.

So I asked her how I could help.

"You can help me find interesting facts about him," she said pointing to the computer as she sharpened a pencil.

As I Googled, she came and sat on my lap to look at the computer screen.

"When was he born?"

"Where was he born?"

"Who were his parents?"

"Where did he go to school?"

"What's his most important accomplishment?"

We talked about what we found. We looked at a map. She was interested that he was originally named Michael, and that his father changed it to honor Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation.

We discussed what the word assassinated means.

I don't know how to explain the courage it takes to stand up against a wrong that had been so widely accepted and so fervently protected.

But I try. His legacy, I say, is everwhere we look.

We were both silent for a while.

She uncapped her markers and went to work drawing his likeness for the cover.

She asked me to write the words so they'd be neat, and got to work on designing the first page, a picture of a family in a living room - a mother holding an infant and a father looking down at the child from his seat next to them on the sofa.

She took her time and drew carefully.

It wasn't until after I'd convinced her two pages was enough for the first day's work and was rummaging through her book bag for homework that I found the stapled booklet of coloring papers she'd brought home from school: "He Had a Dream."

I held it up: "Hey ... maybe we could use this to research your biography."

She looked at me in horror, like I'd lost my mind.

"No! That book doesn't say anything about Martin Luther King Jr. other than his name in the beginning, it's all about people he brought together.

"He needs his own book."

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