Playing With Words

Classic Children's Books

Classic Children’s Books

Many of the best books for children and teens—those that become classics—often possess the same appeal for adults as they do for younger readers. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series have maintained their popularity over years, and even decades. I suspect the number of readers worldwide who first discovered these tales as adults, would rival the accumulated numbers of children and young people who came to them during their preteen and teen years. I remember reading such titles as David Copperfield, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Arabian Nights, and Agatha Christie mysteries when I was around the age of ten or eleven. No one ever told me that one or more of them might be inappropriate for me or beyond my reading level. If I didn’t understand a word right away, I would soon pick up the meaning from the context, as most children will do over time. (I might have had fewer nightmares, though, if I’d stuck with the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series!)

Once upon a poem…

But I digress from the real topic of this post. I would have to say that the phrase “playing with words” has nothing to do with the targeted age of the reader, and everything to do with freeing the creative mind. The makers of magnetic words that can be arranged into a poem on the side of a fridge understood that concept perfectly—and made money from it at the same time.

Years ago, at the first meeting of Inklinks–a writers’ group of which I was once a member–someone mentioned having read a book entitled The Empty Box. She described it as a collection of short stories written by well-known published authors, all of whom had been invited to write on the same subject. It sounded like an intriguing idea for us to adopt, and so we borrowed that title to use as our own personal writing prompt in preparation for getting together again two weeks later.

As any writer will tell you, it’s almost impossible to fall asleep at night after your creative impulse has been sparked in such a way. While lying awake, my thoughts ricocheted from one idea to another: The “empty box” became an “empty shoe box” in my mind, which made me wonder what kind of shoes might have been stored in it. (I immediately visualized a pair of glass slippers, suppressing a giggle so as not to wake my husband.) Glass slippers, of course, led me to think of a “prince” and the possibility of “wedding gifts” in his future, which looped back to not just one empty box, but lots and lots of them! Why were they all empty? I knew I had to get out of bed and jot down an answer before I could get any rest, and so I did. The next day my original fairy tale practically wrote itself. Years later, when I entered it in a national contest, it was long-listed from among close to nine-hundred entries.

This box is too small. But it is perfect for the little crane you taught me how to fold. May I keep it, anyway?

Similarly, our group left another meeting with a “prompt” that consisted of the following ten words that we were to use in a writing exercise: kit, bodega, penny whistle, witless, tuatara, quarter notes, retainer, culinary, cottage pudding, and cilantro–all seemingly unrelated. True, but not for long! I lay awake “mulling” them over until they swam into place for me like synchronized swimmers who knew exactly where they belonged before the performance started, before it—the story—was even choreographed, or written down, as the case may be. As with my first example of wordplay, I ended up with another quirky tale that seemed to flow from my pen without any effort when I sat at my desk to write it the next morning.  Maybe you should give those words a try yourself–have fun!  (You don’t have to come up with a children’s story; they’ll work just in well in adult stories or poetry.)

As many of you know, creative writing can be both exhilarating and painstakingly hard work at the same time. As long as “playing with words” is something that both children and adults enjoy in the process of freeing their imaginations, I believe it’s the perfect heading for this page. Words should leap, tumble, flow, rain down, plod, scatter, tremble or whatever else you would have them do on a page; most of all, they should come alive for your readers and be shared. Click on Print Resources for Writers page on my menu tab above for book recommendations that may serve to inspire your writing. Two of them provide excerpts from well-known and respected writers–both living and deceased–to illustrate each author’s unique approach to her subject.