“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s condo we go,” the children sang as they did indeed cross a river and drive through a wooded section to get to my lakeside condo. Two sisters and their cousin often enjoyed Friday night slumber parties with me. To entertain the girls, and to preserve some of their thinking at ages seven, eight and nine, I began writing a book using them as the characters. (They are now 11, 12, and 13.) Soon they wanted to be included in the writing of ‘their’ story.
As a grandmother of nine, actively involved in all their lives, I stay busy, even though I’ve been retired for a 33 years from public-school teaching. I took writing courses, attended workshops, subscribed to Writer’s Digest (for more than 15 years) and bought probably fifty or more books on writing that I read and marked with highlighter. But, I’m a people person, and ended up spending so much time with people that I haven’t done that much writing — though I did sell a few articles in the 80’s. However, my most enjoyable writing accomplishment has been the children’s book I wrote with my three granddaughters.
During the writing process, I did most of the actual writing, but used a lot of their creativity. When one was nine and two were seven, we’d have overnight slumber parties and brainstorm, coming up with new ideas for the story. I also used some of their ‘real life’ experiences in the story, like when my 7 year old granddaughter, hand on hips, walked up to a man I was dating, looked him straight in the eye and said, “I want you to marry my grandmother!” I could have gone through the floor as I wasn’t interested in marrying him.
He was sharp, and just asked, “Why?”
She said, ‘because I’ve never been a flower girl and I want to be a flower girl”. When we were working on the story, I explained to them that for it to be a story, everything couldn’t be perfect. There must be problems to work out. The characters could neither be all good, nor all bad, and they must have different personalities. There must be a main character with other supporting characters. It was decided Rachel would be the main character since she was the oldest. (Actually fictitious Aunt Bebe is the main character, but Rachel has the main part of the three girls.) Holly insisted there must be at least two sequels so she and her cousin Rebecca could each be the main character in one.
Rachel said she would be the bossy one because she liked to take charge. Holly said she’d be the smart mouth, because…she was a smart mouth. (I assured her she was a sweet girl.) Rebecca wanted to be ‘sweet’ in the story, in keeping with her own personality.
When brainstorming, ideas often came so fast that I would get out the tape recorder and record their ideas. As the story progressed, the girls would often call each other and discuss what had been written, what they thought should be changed, and how they would word it. After several slumber parties, many phone conversations, and several readings, the book was finally completed!
You’d be amazed what children can come up with when given creative encouragement!
Aunt Bebe Goes Camping is the story of a delightful though eccentric old-maid aunt who, because of a lingering childhood illness, did not get to go to school and experienced little in life. Now up in years, she has a chance to have a little vacation when her brother’s friends offer to let her stay in their RV for a week at a local campsite.
Aunt Bebe gets a lot of things mixed up, is very irresponsible, and doesn’t think things through. But she likes everyone and enjoys everything. Though she knows nothing about children, she invites her young great-nieces, ages 10, 11, and 12, to spend the week with her at a nearby campground where the motor home is parked. The parents decide it will be safe as they can check on the girls every day.
Aunt Bebe delights in each new experience. She finds it fun sitting around the campfire that first evening, listening to other campers talk. The girls quickly tire of this and go inside the RV to make their own fun, which they share in the story. Falling asleep before she comes inside, Rachel awakens to find the motor home moving, being driven by a man she’d seen at the campfire. What should she do? Where are they going? Are they being kidnapped? Does he mean them harm? Pretending to still be asleep, she decides Aunt Bebe seems happy about the whole situation, so she remains silent, listening.
After the girls decide they are ‘safe’ and that the driver had only been trying to do Aunt Bebe a favor by driving them to a nicer campground, they then decide they want to stay there. An internal struggle evolves whether to tell the parents the truth, or just to call home and say everything is fine without mentioning the move.
The next night at the campfire, Holly surprises everyone by bluntly asking Vince if he’ll marry Aunt Bebe. She takes his stunned silence of not saying ‘no’ to mean ‘yes’. She then tells her cousins and they begin planning Aunt Bebe’s wedding. They plot to slip money from her purse, ride the shuttle to the mall and buy her a wedding dress, shoes, a new purse, and even a ring for Vince to give her, as they think he wouldn’t buy one nice enough. They even write the vows, from a child’s perspective, adding humor to the zany happenings.
Throughout the story there is one misunderstanding after another. The girls later decide they don’t like Vince anymore, though Aunt Bebe does, and they pull all kinds of tricks on him. (The girls really enjoyed thinking up tricks and weaving them into the story!) They are in trouble with their parents when they are finally located and in double trouble over taking the money from Aunt Bebe’s purse. Things are eventually worked out to a satisfying conclusion.
Our book ended with 65 typewritten pages. And you can bet there was never a lack of plot twists with enthusiastic children deciding the fate of each character and situation!
There are various ways children’s work can be printed out and bound, and with today’s technology, pictures can be added for a special touch. And now, not only does each child have a copy of their own, more importantly they’ll have the memories in their heart for a lifetime.
Barbara Holland is a freelance writer from Georgia; a retired public school teacher; mother and grandmother, who enjoys reading, writing, photography, and travel, as well as church and family activities.