My 3rd grade daughter and I have been reading E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan together before bed.
As a child, two of my favorite books were White’s earlier classics, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. As a father, I have read or listened to recordings of both of those books at least 6 or 8 times, and I (almost) never grow tired of them — they’re such beautifully written books. So it’s strange that this is the first time I’m reading Trumpet of the Swan.
I can remember, when I was in about 3rd grade myself, my elementary school librarian handed me a copy of Trumpet of the Swan and urged me to read it. I think I read the back cover and a couple of pages and formed an opinion that it wasn’t for me. What a mistake.
There’s much to love about it, but one bit that has really made an impression on me is the way that the human hero, Sam Beaver, starting out the book as a hyper-observant 5th grader, keeps a journal and has a brilliant little trick for writing good journal entries. He ends every journal entry with a question. He forces himself to consider what he’s wondering about on a certain day and articulate a simple question — just something he would like to know the answer to, whether about himself or the world around him, whether sparked by something he did that day or more general life questions unrelated to the day’s events.
I wish I’d picked up that tip earlier in my life. It might have helped rescue many a drowning journal entry over the years.
I’m thinking I should bring that strategy into this blog. Maybe not end every post with a question, but once in a while I should stop saying what I think I know and instead highlight what I don’t know and would like to find out.
Following this theme of learning from a child’s wisdom, I’m going to let myself see how it’s done by asking that 3rd grade daughter of mine to show me. She had a holiday from school the other day, so joined me at work. To keep her occupied, I gave her the task of reading some of the artist profiles on this blog (which I thought would be of some interest to her), and then to pose some questions — things she might like to know about what artists do, how they make their work, etc. I wanted to hear what she really wonders about these specific artists or artists in general. Here (in her own words) are some of the things she wondered about:
Does all of Dan Bellow’s clay really come from the mountains?
Are most artists as inspired by nature as Julia Britell seems to be?
Where did Robin O’Herin learn to play the guitar like that?
What are Michael Zelehoski’s favorite materials to use (he must use a million!)?
Does Otha Day play other instruments besides drums and piano (must be hard to become so good at multiple instruments)?
When an artist has kids, do the kids often get to hang out in the studio and help (that would be fun — why aren’t you an artist, dad)?