Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Banana Festival Returns!

Fans of our story But That Wasn't The Best Part may recall that the 30th and last Festival was held in Fulton, KY, and South Fulton, TN, in September of 1992, The two communities used other themes in following years, but none were as popular as the Banana Festival. The theme has been revived and this year is the 50th anniversary of the very first Banana Festival. 

Fulton and South Fulton served as a railroad distribution point for bananas for many years. Shipment would arrive from Gulf ports and be sent off in different directions throughout the country. 

I heard about the festival on National Public Radio in 1991 and vowed to attend the following year. In 1992 Susan and I and our son Michael drove to Fulton to see the big parade and taste the giant banana pudding. We had a great time (and the pudding was good!). 

The parade was longer and more fun than we expected. It inspired me to write and illustrate But That Wasn't The Best Part a couple of years later. After a few impatient submissions to children's book publishers, I published the story on Meddybemps.com. Since then, I added a Spanish-language version and worked with Toni and Jacob Rhodes to create apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch and the iPad.

The story has been read and enjoyed by countless children around the world since it first appeared online in 1995. It's simple and fun. Young children enjoy reciting the refrain as each parade entrant passes by, eager for the one-ton banana pudding to arrive for all to share. It's a good story for beginning readers.

This year's festival events began last Friday and conclude with the famous parade and a concert Saturday, September 29. For more information, see the Banana Festival website at www.thebananafestival.com/home. Check the site in coming months to learn the dates for next year's festival. You should go.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Young Writers Workshop Publishes 100th Work

In 2004, Susan heard well-known early childhood guru Bev Boz urge teachers to encourage children to tell stories. It would be great for their language development and fun, too. Susan returned to her classroom, anticipating joyful creative exercises, but when she asked one of her three-year-old students to tell her a story, tears welled up in the little girl’s eyes.

“I don’t know any stories,” she cried. This wasn’t going to be as easy as Susan expected.

She told me about the incident. I offered to create a few illustrations and accompany them with an unfinished sentence or two that could serve as a “story starter”. I made several and Susan tried them in her classroom. The children liked them. They gained confidence in their ability to dictate stories. Their parents were pleased to learn that their children were authors. Our simple tool worked well.

I created more story starters and added them to the Meddybemps website in 2005 on a page titled Young Writers Workshop. They were free for people to print and use with young children. Children who were too young to physically write the stories could dictate them to someone who could. 

I invited parents and teachers to mail their children’s stories to us. We would pick one or two each month, publish them on the site for others to see, and send those young writers a T-shirt proclaiming the wearer to be a “Published Author.”

In Oct, 2005, we selected and published the first work, a story by Isabella, from Bradenton, Florida. Since then, we have published a total of 100 stories and poems. Most authors used our story starters. Some wrote and illustrated from scratch. All composed delightful tales. 

Submissions have come from around the world. 18 of the 100 published works came from outside the United States. Teachers have submitted envelopes full of stories from their entire class. Sometimes parents have sent stories written by two or three children of  different ages. Of course, many people use our Story Starters without submitting stories to us. Story Starters are also useful for ESL language classes (English as a Second Language). 

We tried to represent different ages and skill levels in our selections. Sometimes we chose a story because of a child’s sense of humor or the timeliness of the topic. We picked some works because the writer was clearly talented and others because the writer simply made a great effort. Several times, we chose multi-page stories from older children who provided their own illustrations.

Three-, four-, and some five-year-olds will dictate stories. Five-, six-, and seven-year-olds will write using our illustrations and text prompts. Older children are likely to write and illustrate their own stories. Links to all 100 published works appear on our site on the Young Writers Workshop page (www.meddybemps.com/9.700.html). They are grouped according to the authors’ ages.

Forty-eight free Story Starters appear on our site. Another 101 are available for purchase on a CD-ROM through our online store (www.meddybemps.com/Store.html). 96 of those have recently been grouped into four sets of 24 which may be purchased and immediately downloaded.

Our Young Writers Workshop page is one of the most popular pages on the site, often viewed 10,000 or more times per month. A Google search for Chateau Meddybemps Young Writers Workshop reveals more than 3,000 links to our page. What started as a simple aid in Susan’s classroom has become an effective and popular tool for teachers and parents. We are proud of our Story Starters and our “Published Authors”, and pleased to have published our 100th work this September, Jamie Bakes A Cake, written and illustrated by eight-year-old Lucy G.