Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Babe To Teens, Past
A Youth Column
By Beverly Rowe


MEET ROBIN HANSEN
WRITING CONTEST
NEW BOOKS FOR KIDS & TEENS



Robin Hansen talks about her newest picture book, Ice Harbor Mittens. Here is her exciting story.

The thinking behind Ice Harbor Mittens came to me, I think, one day when I was gardening and working on a knitting book that included Fox & Geese Mittens. A local historian active at the Maine Maritime Museum had recently told me a pair of these mittens was found in a old sea chest in an attic in Bath. I had thought of the Fox & Geese mittens as an inland tradition, but there they were in a sea chest, and that got me to thinking. The same pattern is knitted in coastal communitie like Harpswell Maine and Yarmouth Nova Scotia and called Compass Mittens.The thinking behind Ice Harbor Mittens came to me, I think, one day when I was gardening and working on a knitting book that included Fox & Geese Mittens. A local historian active at the Maine Maritime Museum had recently told me a pair of these mittens was found in a old sea chest in an attic in Bath. I had thought of the Fox & Geese mittens as an inland tradition, but there they were in a sea chest, and that got me to thinking. The same pattern is knitted in coastal communitie like Harpswell Maine and Yarmouth Nova Scotia and called Compass Mittens.

A lot of patterns on the coast are called compass or mariners compass— patchwork patterns, weaving patterns, hooking patterns— and knitting patterns. But mittens: they're something intimate that goes with you out onto the water, something you lose at your peril.

I thought of a young fisherman lost in a fog at night, seeing the lines in his compass mittens light up to show north. And they lit up because they were knitted by someone in his community who was taking care of the village fishermen — who else but the village knitter.

I like making up stories for children, particularly stories that sound like folk stories. They're fun to tell and fun to write, because they have some serious thought behind them that you are bringing to children in a digestible form. They're true, but not necessarily real.

When I started to write, about 20 years later, the story grew on its own. Of course, teenagers like something new and fashionable, but maybe new and fashionable doesn't serve the purpose of old, tried and true. Not only did Sam’s handsome inland mittens not get them out of a fog, but they didn't even work as fishermen’s mittens, because wool mittens soaked in cold salt water and dried on a hot engine manifold shrink — a lot, and Sam’s had been made to fit his hand. When they inevitably shrank, they were too small for him.

There’s a lot of research behind the mitten part of the story, but fun research, talking with knitters in their own kitchens or at workshops. After my first article on old-time mittens, letters poured into the publisher, several hundred over a few months, many telling about mittens they remembered from childhood, patterns they knit or their grandmothers knitted, traditions in the family: one family only let the person shoveling snow use their single pair of Maine Mittens; another family stored their mittens over the summer in a cookie jar—I would think they might have gotten moldy, but apparently not. Often mittens have stories associated with how they are made, or how to use them. Many have survival stories connected to them, and the compass mittens showing the way may be one of them. Another time, the survival story was of a group of fishermen in the water overnight who passed their only pair of wool socks (this time, socks) around, sharing them through the night. Another story was of two sailor lost in a fog who spent the night lost on the water, sharing a pair of mittens in the pattern called "Safe Return," made by a wife. They credited the mittens with keeping their spirits up and their minds calm and bringing them home safely.

The language? We've lived on the Coast of Maine for most of our lives, and have been around boats even longer. I grew up partly in Cape May, New Jersey, with a boating grandfather from a seafaring family. Our speech was full of nautical images and old fashioned expressions. I noticed that Maine coastal speech had some of the same turns of speech, and I treasured them. Josie’s hopes “sliding out the scuppers and into the bay” was one of these. "Fetching up” — on the rocks,” say — was another I had always heard. They flowed into the story, available wherever they were needed. They are my native language.

And Josiah and Sam Eldredge, Aunt Agnes—the names. I didn't want to intrude on coastal Maine families in the communities around me, so the names are mostly from my own family. My grandfather was a Sam Eldredge, as was one of my cousins. Eldredge is fairly common New England/South Jersey name, but is my family, and so available to me. Josiah and Sam are the names of two of my grandsons. Aunt Agnes—I never had an Aunt Agnes, so her name was picked from the air, a name of a distant cousin in Bowdoinham, but specifically not the name of any village knitter I know.

The most amazing thing for a writer writing a picture book is just what you would think—the pictures. Jamie Hogan took a story I had set in a make-believe place, something like a combination of West Point and Sebasco villages in Phippsburg Maine, and brought it to life—on Peaks Island, Maine, and peopled it with Peaks Island faces and boats. Quite marvelous! And thereby, it also became much more a make-believe, magical place, which can only be good when you're writing about magic.

The story could as well have begun "Once upon a time in a galaxy far away—” because it happened in a magical, make-believe world in a timeless place but rings true to life in small coastal communities.

You can find out more about Ice Harbor Mittens on my blog, http://robinlynnscott.blog.com.


Hurry...there's still time to enter

The Claudia Ann Seaman Awards for Young Writers

The Claudia Ann Seaman Award for Young Writers was created by the Seaman family in memory of their daughter and sister, a young poet. The CAS Award acknowledges excellence in teen writing in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.

Open to: All students in grades 9–12

http://www.teenreads.com/

What's new for kids?

Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad
by Jacky Davis

Lulu is so excited for the Bug Squad to come over for a playdate, and she has all kinds of things planned for them to do-right down to eating cupcakes. The cupcakes are special because each one has a candle that Lulu thinks everyone should blow out at exactly the same time.

But when things don't go just the way Lulu planned, feelings are hurt and apologies are necessary. Sounds like a job for Ladybug Girl, who knows how to be brave and say she's sorry, even when it isn't easy. Ages 4-8

Here's a bright, exciting new take on an old classic....

The Three Little Pigs
by Paul Galdone

Clear plots, careful prose style, and bright, action-packed illustrations make Paul Galdone's take on a traditional tale move it right to the top of teachers' and librarians' lists. His stories always have an exact picture-to-text match and a thoughtful distribution of text to illustration, making them excellent choices for reading aloud to a group of children. Ages 4-8.

Here is a book about those words kids hear too frequently...

Too Old for This, Too Young for That!: Your Survival Guide for the Middle School Years
by Harriet S. Mosatche Ph.D.

a friendly, reassuring guide to help tweens successfully navigate the often-turbulent middle school years. Readers learn they’re not alone in the challenges they face and find practical tips and tools for all kinds of situations—getting settled in at middle school, making friends, handling peer pressure, setting and reaching goals, and dealing with body changes and getting along better with family and adults

Are Graphic Novels your favorite reading?

Teen Titans: The Hunt for Raven
by Felicia Henderson and Joe Bennett

The Teen Titans are reunited with Static, but can they survive the power of the villainous Holocaust? And will Static stay with the Titans if he survives?

Then the team finds itself divided as it goes on the hunt for their missing teammate, Raven! One side is stranded on a dead planet, the other thousands of leagues below the sea. But both are in serious danger as they head closer to atrap set by the dangerous Wyld! (Dc Comics/Graphic Novels)


2011 Past Columns