#61. Read a number of books by the same author

IDEA #61. Read a number of books by the same author. Start with Mary Pope Osborne or J. K. Rowling or Rick Riordan—or Toni Morrison, Avi, Emily Dickinson, Gary Paulsen, Tamora Pierce, or Shakespeare

The youngster may be a reader and already inclined to inhale the entire oeuvres of many authors, mowing down whole library shelves like an avenging angel of literacy. But if the inclination to read is modest, or if the young reader has difficulty finding books of interest, this activity might be one way to discover a passion.

The hard part, of course, is finding an author enough of whose output is appealing enough to make pleasing the prospect of reading even more. It might be that the work of an author enjoyed while much younger—even the illustrated “read-to” books of early childhood—might serve as a starting point; one thinks of Blueberries for Sal, whose author, Robert McCloskey, wrote and illustrated many books, not all of which are as familiar as Sal or Make Way for Ducklings. Many authors of children’s books have also written for older readers, and so the reader who loved A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle might find a foray into her Crosswicks Journal Trilogy of some interest.

Poetry, because the “units of production” are shorter and less intimidating, might also be worth exploring. Some “children’s poets,” like Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, are quite prolific and endlessly entertaining, while older readers may want to take on the likes of Dickinson or Robert Frost or the very accessible Billy Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate.

Series books are another way into this project, and the literary quality of the works does not have to matter. Any number of accomplished intellects have cut their teeth on the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or the Boxcar Children. We want our children to know that between the covers of books we can find satisfaction and pleasure and examples of people solving problems with optimism and confidence, and series characters do the latter book-in, book-out. Not Shakespeare, perhaps, but entertainment for the mind and medicine for the soul nonetheless.

And here’s the thing: Authors write to be read and enjoyed, and most do not write just so that scholars and schoolchildren can spend endless hours in detailed analysis. The point of this suggestion is not just to develop breadth and skill as a reader but also to sharpen taste—to learn what one likes to read. The focus should be kept on the doing and not on the debriefing.

#60. Create a scaled-up version of some simple object—say, a six-foot lollipop

IDEA #60. Create a scaled-up version of some simple object—say, a six-foot lollipop. Find a place to display your giant something. Keep a blog or journal of the creation and the experience of people’s response.

In the 1960s outscale representations of everyday objects became a particularly entertaining sub-genre of the Pop Art movement; Claes Oldenburg’s giant sculpture, “Lipstick on a Caterpillar Track,” was part of the vista from the author’s college dormitory room. More recently a student at the school where I work constructed a giant pencil, realistically broken, that occupied the margin of our baseball field; we don’t know what our opponents thought of it, but the combination of whimsical imagination and solid craftsmanship always pleased us.

The design challenge is of course the scaling-up, a fine mathematical exercise involving accurate measurement and an understanding of proportion. Any object will do, of course, the more unexpected the better.

Masonite or other relatively workable building materials can be formed around wooden frames to produce most non-curvilinear forms, and fiberglass and other plastics are almost infinitely shape-able. The greatest challenge in the end might be to find a suitable, and secure, place to display the work. Municipal public spaces or schoolyards might do, or perhaps a local arts organization has a spot available. Although we hesitate even to mention it, there is a fine and lively tradition of “guerrilla” public art, with pieces suddenly turning up in the most unexpected and amusing places—if a work is neither offensive nor dangerous, perhaps the young artist could quietly arrange for an unveiling in a place calculated to surprise—and to entertain, safely. However, there may be unforeseen consequences, so proceed with extreme caution and circumspection. It would probably be best to start by asking permission of those in charge of likely display venues.

The response is the thing. A large and unexpected object will raise a smile on most people’s faces, and the young artist should take pride and pleasure in observing how viewers react. If there is indeed an art teacher somewhere in the young artist’s life, that person will very much enjoy hearing all the details—food for further discussion about the creative process and the nature of art, as well.

#59. Plan and then take an imaginary tour around the world

IDEA #59. Plan and then take an imaginary tour around the world. Discover or imagine places you would like to visit, and then, using the internet or resources found in a library or perhaps at a travel agency, plan out the details of a trip that would take you there. Make a detailed itinerary and a record of the things you want to “see;” you could even make a budget that included travel, lodging, and food.

A virtual or fantasy trip can liberate the young spirit to imagine what it might be like to be somewhere else as well as encouraging speculation along the lines of “The ten places I would like most to visit are … because ….” It doesn’t matter what the draw of each destination might be—historical, cultural, culinary, sheer curiosity—what matters is that the child has picked it out.

Many schools assign students to plan a trip of this sort and combine it with mathematical and geographical instruction by giving students a budget and by requiring the development of a detailed itinerary and estimate of expenses. This might be a bit more than most children would see as fun, but the idea of adding to the child’s level of reflection and engagement by suggesting that the young traveler keep a journal or even illustrate and write (to him or herself or to a friend) seems within reason. Some time with a pile of National Geographic magazines might be a good source of ideas for this virtual adventure.

Although travel agencies are undergoing a transition in the age of on-line reservation systems, their offices are still good places to find brochures and posters to excite the traveler. Travel offices may also have the Official Airline Guide, which contains schedules for most airlines across the world. (Of course, most of this information is available freely on the Internet.) A friendly agent might even be a good resource in setting up a globe-trotting itinerary.

And who knows but what a particularly well-designed trip plan might become inspiration for later travel, like a circumnavigating gap year between high school and college; such odysseys are the norm among university-bound students in many European countries, and many colleges smile on and even encourage gap year travel or service.

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