Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Unlikely tutors

If you're a writer who consistently struggles to find the apt comparison or the surprising, yet just-right phrase, you need to hang out with kids more often. Children, who are free of the censor that sometimes plagues adult writers, can toss off just what you're looking for without even thinking about it.

I'm lucky enough to have grandchildren, so I have a built-in writers' workshop. And when the kids talk, I listen, and I often write it down. Here are a few I especially like.

Several years ago, I was driving the oldest grandboy, then 3, home from Vacation Bible School. In his hands he held two polished rocks that he rubbed together until they squeaked. "Listen," he said. "That's how frogs sound when they laugh." First of all, I was unaware of frog humor, and second, I'd never considered the sound they might make as they giggled among the lily pads. But he knew, and I was so glad he shared his knowledge with me.

Later that week, this same child told me that when Jesus died, he was buried in a petunia in a garden. "I think you mean in a tomb," I said. He looked at me earnestly and said, "Oh, no, Gigi, it was a petunia. That's what grows in gardens." I have to say, the image appeals to me.

My youngest grandson, who's 4, now has the title of resident wordsmith. Over the years, he's told me that:

  • Crescent-shaped ice cubes are "moons of water."
  • A tiny spit bubble is a "mouth tear."
  • A mustache is, naturally, "a nose beard."
  • Kix are "Cheerios with no holes."
And one of my particular favorites, when describing his mommy's eyebrows; "They're just like rainbows except they're black and they don't have any colors."

They see it. They say it. And sometimes it's brilliant. Grown-up writers could take a lesson.

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