How The Grizzly’s Christmas Got Its Name

Cindy Schuricht's book release, this picture shows an actual grizzly bear waving. He seems to be smiling.If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember that I’ve adapted a children’s story, The Grizzly’s Christmas, written by my college anthropology instructor, Malcolm F. Farmer. The book is currently in the hands of the printers. We reviewed the proof Tuesday.

Rita Mailheau, a professional copy writer, suggested doing a series of interviews about the book. Actually, she more than suggested. She allayed my fears, decided on topics for four segments, organized the shoots, and handled all the technical issues. She’s great. You can go to   ritamailheau.com  to find her blog, the most recent on interviewing, and learn about her services.

Before you view the first segment, here’s a short adaptation of a story I heard Jane Yolen tell. A young man searches the world for Truth. He finally finds her. She is an old, old woman with wrinkles, wispy white hair, and bunions. She teaches him for a year. When he is ready to go back into the world, he asks what he can do to thank her. “Tell them,” she said, “that I am young and beautiful.”

My request to you is that when you tell somebody about the video, please mention that I am young and beautiful. Thank you.

Part One: How The Grizzly’s Christmas Got Its Name or Would You Buy a Book from This Woman?

In this segment of a four-part interview series, I share about adapting Malcolm Farmer’s earlier work into our soon-to-be-released version—The Grizzly’s Christmas. It’s about  a treasure hunt.

Since we’re talking adaptations, I’d like to steer you to one of my favorites. There are many versions of The Water of Life, a Grimm’s tale, but I never felt the heart of the story until I read the version by Barbara Roasky, with gorgeous illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, and wisely published by Holiday House in 1986. Maybe I just need things more spelled out than other people do, but finally the test of galloping down the middle of the golden road made perfect sense.

This version of The Water of Life has become a part of my value system and informs my retelling of The Tortoise and the Hare, but that’s a different adaptation for a different day.

You can contact me at grizzlychristmas@gmail.com or through this blog.

Pay Attention to the Bear!

Australian flame tree—did it get your attention?

If you read “No Lions or Tigers, But Bears, Oh My!” posted on 11/29/12, you know

Miranda’s first illustration.

something about my capture by bears. And you may remember that I’ve been working on a children’s book titled THE GRIZZLY’S CHRISTMAS. I’m very excited to tell you Miranda Marks, a local fantastic artist, has nearly completed the illustrations, and the manuscript is now in the book designer’s hands.

Some of you may also remember the original book was written by my college anthropology teacher, Malcolm F. Farmer, who asked me to rework his story. My first thoughts were that it was a cute story in the “Who Pulled Santa’s Sleigh?” category. But Malcolm left hints of deeper meanings underlying the story. The first clue to grab my attention was a passing reference to a “taboo concerning bear names.”

Taboo about bear names? What was that all about? Turning to what my husband calls “the intra-net,” I found that people in many different cultures didn’t use their word for “bear” (which is apparently itself a euphemism for whatever pre-history word originally meant bear.) Since this taboo was found in many varied cultures, there is a long, long list of euphemisms for the word bear.

Over the course of more than a year, I have rewritten the story itself. I’ve used Malcolm’s other writings about bear beliefs along with papers and books by other anthropologists to add notes that explain what some of the old bear beliefs were. I understand why the most popular stuffed animal is the bear and why I have felt such a strong connection to them.

The word “bear” is not used in the story portion of THE GRIZZLY’S CHRISTMAS. And I shouldn’t just leave you wondering how to address a bear if you meet one. While there are lots of possibilities (of course, you’ll find more in the book), “Grandfather,” “Auntie,” and “Good-Tempered Beast” should do for now.

Now, as I read books that star or include bears, I look for evidence of the old beliefs still lurking deeply in many of us.

A STORY FOR BEAR, written by Dennis Haseley, illustrated by Jim LaMarche, and published by Harcourt, Inc. in 2002, is a gentle, loving story that falls into the category of books I wish I’d written. The beautiful illustrations fit the story so well. The woman in the story doesn’t know the taboo about calling a bear “bear”, but the bear in the story doesn’t mind. Many ancient people thought that bears were the animals closest to people and that although animals could no longer speak, bears could still understand. The love in the story reminded me of the fox sitting in the wheat field in THE LITTLE PRINCE. A STORY FOR BEAR is worth a search and will delight a bear and/or book lover.

See the post of 12/20/13 for a review of Red Sled, written and illustrated by Lita Judge and published by Atheneum in 2011. This wordless picture book has a bear as the most “human” of the animals in the story.

Also back on 11/29/13, we looked at Seekers: The Quest Begins, written by Erin Hunter and published by Harper Trophy in 2008 – 2010. This series is geared for older elementary students and apparently me too. Because I’m hooked and now have five in the series. On the first page of the first book, a mother tells her child an old tale of the bear constellation Ursa Major. Only this is a polar bear version.

As I’ve continued to read in the series, I’ve found more instances of bear beliefs. Before I would have read some of these things as an example of the writer’s individual imagination.* Now see I connections to beliefs that are thousands of years old. The only hint I’ll dangle right now is there is a character who brings to mind one of the Navajo names for bear—”Turning into Anything.”

And, lucky for me, there is at least one more book in the series.

Did you have a teddy bear when you were a kid? What did that bear mean to you? And, do you still have it?

*Did you know that Erin Hunter is more than one person?

Ah, Sweet Procrastination

Example NOT to follow:

Every morning this week I’ve awakened with my mind juggling subjects, wondering which I should pick this week. And this morning, as soon as I finished breakfast and exercise, I cleaned out my roll-top desk—first time in years. Since I didn’t take a before picture, you would not be impressed with the after picture. It’s better though, trust me.

Waterfall by the zoo administration building

Sun bear living up to his name

Then my husband and I went to the zoo, which is actually justifiable since I’m working on a book about bears. My husband, who wishes to be known on-line only as Johnny Danger, graciously took photos of the bears. You’re probably able to detect the sharper focus with his steady hand.

Sloth bear, also living up to his name

Now I’m going to take a short break to make a quilt block.

Speaking of quilts, neither my sister nor I felt that the true ugliness of the fabric for our ugly quilt contest was apparent in the first photo posted 10/18/12. So here goes the second attempt to establish the depth of the challenge, which is still ahead of us rather than behind. See title.

 

 

The green fabric is the basis for our ugly quilt contest.

Same fabric against different background

Ditto

Almost done with the block–a block for a wedding quilt—not the ugly quilt contest. Back in a couple minutes.

Block for the wedding quilt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can pro . . . crasti . . . nate no longer.

 

Three non-fiction books about bullying:

Last week, I told you about the Olweus program to prevent bullying and the book NOBODY KNEW WHAT TO DO. I showed three covers of the books I was able to find at the library, but hadn’t yet read.

For primary children, LEARNING HOW TO STAY SAFE AT SCHOOL, written by Susan Kent and published by PowerKids Press in 2001, is a useful read aloud for the youngest  school children and helpful for independent readers. Various topics, like bullying, peer pressure, or avoiding trouble, are covered in one page with clear advice for children including when to ask for an adult’s help. This is a book I would have read to my first graders an issue at a time so the tips could sink in.

BULLYING, part of the Introducing Issues with Opposing Viewpoints series, published in 2008 by Gale, Cengage Learning is for middle school students and older. The three chapters address specific questions: What Causes Bullying? How Can Parents and Others Combat Bullying? and How Can Bullying Be Reduced?

Each chapter is made up of 4 – 6, sometimes conflicting, responses to the question. The Olweus Program is contrasted with Izzy Kalman and his Bullies to Buddies program which asserts that victims need to do the standing up for themselves or they will continue to be victims.

The book is good for overviews of differing perspectives, which often offer solutions that fit different situations or could be used in combination. Students can find options. Adults can get an introduction to bullying issues.

PLEASE STOP LAUGHING AT US, written by Jodee Blanco and published by BenBella Books, Inc. in 2008, is for young adults and older. It follows her memoir PLEASE STOP LAUGHING AT ME, which told about the severe bullying she endured as a child. The effects of the bullying followed her through adult life. After she wrote the first book, she still sat trembling in the parking lot afraid to go to her 20th high school reunion. It was good that she did.

PLEASE STOP LAUGHING AT US continues her story when she left her successful PR firm to follow her desire to help other bullying victims. This choice extracts a high emotional price as she speaks to students, parents, teachers, and administrators and relives the years of abuse. But her story is ultimately one of hope and forgiveness. I haven’t finished reading this book, but I’m hooked so far.

Take some time to think about the kids who are afraid to go to school, to use the bathrooms, or to walk home. Although none of us individually can solve the problems of bullying or school violence, we can help tip the balance. One simple thing is to teach our children to notice the child who is alone and to invite that child to play.

What else?

No Lions or Tigers, But Bears, Oh My! Bears in Children’s Books

Once before in my life, I was led by a bear that walked into a dream home and sat down on the dream couch. (I need to know you better before I tell you the whole story.) Now, once again, a bear is leading me down paths I did not anticipate. (I’ll tell you that story when I know more about it myself.)

Bear fetishes, the smaller ones in front are made from jaspar

 

 

 

 

Teachers whose words continue to teach long after a class has ended and the grades are in are a real gift. And my college anthropology teacher’s words (see bread crumb #3 of Oct. 4th post) are helping me navigate this bear journey. As he said in one of his papers (his wife Ann recently gave me an over 7 inch stack of his writings about bear beliefs and rituals), some people are captured by bears. When I look around my home, I can see that for me, that captivity started a long time ago.
Books about bears are visually leaping at me in bookstores these days. I’ve been picking them up to see if I can find evidences of the old beliefs. Today I’m just going to write a little about the books and not about connections to research in anthropology.

Necklace with bear track design

On a trip to the San Diego Zoo, I found several picture books by Jon J. Muth (all published by Scholastic). In a video on Amazon, author/illustrator Muth says, “It’s important that children read to become and not just escape.”

Zen Ties (2008), the most recent, is about Stillwater, a panda Zen master, and three human children. Stillwater’s visiting nephew speaks in haiku, the children learn more about a crabby neighbor, and they all find ways to savor their ties to others.

Zen Shorts (2005) won a Caldecott medal. Three Zen folktales are embedded in the overall story as Stillwater guides each of the three children to a different realization in “becoming.”

The Three Questions (2002) is based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. Nikolai has questions about how to be a good person and goes to ask a wise friend, who helps him see he has already answered the questions with his actions.

These are lovely books, both in content and illustrations which are gently humorous.  Of the three picture books, my favorite is The Three Questions, but I don’t want to rush to judgement too soon since there is another Stillwater tale, Zen Ghosts, that I haven’t read yet.

If you look for Muth’s books, you will find other covers and titles that you will probably recognize. Have any of Muth’s books captured you?

Raku fetish by Jeremy Diller

But bears aren’t just picture book subjects.

Seekers: The Quest Begins, written by Erin Hunter and published by Harper Trophy in 2008, introduces this new series by the author of the Warriors books. These bear seekers do not know each other or even inhabit the same part of the world as the story begins. Kallik is a polar bear cub; Lusa is a young black bear who longs for a world bigger than her zoo enclosure: and Toklo is feisty grizzly cub. All three must learn to survive on their own. I will be looking for the next book in this middle grade series.

Touching Spirit Bear, written by Ben Mikaelsen and published by Harper Trophy in 2001, is an affecting book. The main character, fifteen year old Cole, is a bully who thinks he is smarter than anyone he meets, and has full confidence in his abilities to charm, manipulate, or intimidate his way out of anything . . . until he can’t. Most stories about bullies feature the struggle of the victim and how the bully is finally bested. But how does someone come to face his own ugliness, realize he can’t undo what he’s done, and then live with himself? Touching Spirit Bear, winner of the Napra Nautilus Award, is for a more mature young reader. I’d really love to hear your reactions to this book.