A note from William
If you had ever wondered what it would be like to be part of an event that will be in the history books for hundreds of years—well, now we know. Not much fun. We are starting 2021 the way we ended 2020: in our houses, being careful. Because of the vaccines, we are also entering 2021 with a sense there is “a light at the end of the tunnel.”
This tunnel expression is one that most of us know and use. It was an experience on a train a few years ago that gave me a visceral understanding of what this expression means. I would like to share that with you today.
A few years ago, I took a tourist in my community from downtown Santa Cruz, California, where I live, into the town of Felton in the mountains a few miles away. As the train leaves the downtown, it goes through a tunnel. The tunnel is reasonably long, and the train goes slowly. There are a couple cars with seats—old train cars from the 1930s—but most passengers ride in open cars to see the view as the train goes into the mountains. There are no lights on the train. There are no lights in the tunnel. It is dark. It was the darkest dark I had ever experienced. It is a darkness that is the absolute absence of light. I can’t explain it, but it is darker than any darkness I have experienced before or since. It is a darkness that is so absolutely dark that it envelopes you in an embrace of nothingness. It is unpleasant. It soon becomes frightening. When will we get out of this darkness? When? And then, way way way in the distance, a speck of light. It is still dark, but one immediately feels better: the journey will soon give way to a brilliant day.
The dawn of 2021 breaks with a speck of light in the distance. Like the train in the tunnel, the path is sure. We are going to make it to back to the light. And then. Then what? We party!
January issue: Because of COVID-19, our printer was late printing the January issue of Stone Soup. It shipped a few days ago from our mailing house in Bellingham, Washington. They normally ship the issues the middle of the month prior to publication. If the mail system is cleared of holiday mail, you should expect your January issue within a couple weeks. Those of us on the West Coast will get them first. Our apologies, but this was something outside of our control.
Writing Workshop: The Saturday Writing Workshop will resume on Saturday, January 23. Registration will go out soon. We are limiting the class to 45 students; existing class members will be given the opportunity to re-enroll, and then we will open it up to everyone else.
Saturday Writing Project: Please look at the photograph A Glimpse of Winter by Hannah Parker. Firstly, notice that there are really only two planes—a foreground and a background. If you were to think of this image set up on a stage, then you have a bird feeder up near the audience and then at the back of the stage a backdrop painting of falling snow. You would also have a front curtain with an oval opening so that you only see the bird feeder and the snowy curtain behind it, and nothing else, not even the stage floor.
Hannah framed her bird feeder in an oval. In photography, this is called a vignette. Portraits, for instance, are often framed as vignettes. The next time you go to a store that sells frames, you are likely to find some that have mats that are cut as an oval. Photographic vignettes focus our eyes onto the single most important image—in Hannah’s photograph, the bird feeder, but usually a person’s face and upper body.
While I want to use this photograph as a prompt for this Saturday’s writing project, as a bonus project you can also use it as inspiration for a photograph of your own. Take your phone or camera for a walk around your house, yard, or neighborhood looking for things to photograph that are organized in the way the bird feeder and backdrop of snow is organized: foreground,
For the writing project, I want you to think of the bird feeder as a character, the falling snow the backdrop. This holiday, I have been watching lots of anime with my daughter. In one of the shows, they often show the face of a character in the foreground, like where the bird feeder is, and then behind that character, where the snow is, there is an image of, for example, bursting stars. The background of bursting stars conveys the character’s inner state: Wow! Surprise!
Many of you will have read a book in which a character is feeling very emotional while at the same time there is a storm outside. It is a common literary device to link a character’s inner state, the way the character is feeing, with the external world: A happy person, a happy day. A tumultuous event, a thunderstorm.
I would like you to write a short short story. For today, let’s say under 125 words—so like half a typed page. This gives you space to create a character whose inner state is either reflected in what is happening outside—happy person, sunny day—or the opposite—the sun is shining, but her heart is breaking!
Lastly, “Cafe Terrace at Night”: This is a great, great story. I hope all of you will click through to read the entirety of what Aoife O’Connell has written. For an extra project to close out this holiday break, please focus on the first paragraph: Isn’t that brilliant? Sound! What a strong way to begin a story. Rather than first describing a place—which is the more normal way to introduce a scene—Aoife describes what you hear, and in so doing instantly brings us onto the streets of Paris and into the experience of living on the street. Keep this idea of starting with a soundscape for a story of your own.
Highlights from the past week online
Don't miss the latest content from our Book Reviewers and Young Bloggers at Stonesoup.com!
Sita, one of our book reviewers, reviewed Angie Thomas’s bestseller, The Hate U Give. Read why Sita thinks the book inspires readers to “always speak up when your words have the power to inspire change.”
Maggie, 11, reviewed Kid Normal and the Shadow Machine by Greg James and Chris Smith, which she says is “sweet and suspenseful.”
Prisha, one of our bloggers, wrote a short poem about a snow globe.
We published two lovely art pieces by Asha, 11. Take a look at the work and read Asha’s explanations about what they represent.
From Stone Soup
By Aoife O'Connell, 11
The only noise that night in Paris was the soft tapping of my flats against the cobblestones. It got louder at some parts of the road and softer at others. Sometimes it was fast: a short, discreet sound; other times, slow, like a grandfather clock ticking away the hours.
My hair flew out behind me like a blonde sail, as did my frayed white dress. It wasn’t quite white, though. Years of living on the streets of Paris had turned it a light, caramel-colored brown. My hands, smeared with soot and sweat, clutched a handful of stolen coins. I ran my fingers over the words and pictures, reading them without seeing them. Faster and faster I ran, with no real destination in mind. I was feral, desperate, untamable.
Stone Soup is published by Children’s Art Foundation-Stone Soup Inc., a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization registered
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Stone Soup's Advisors: Abby Austin, Mike Axelrod, Annabelle Baird, Jem Burch, Evelyn Chen, Juliet Fraser, Zoe Hall, Montanna Harling, Alicia & Joe Havilland, Lara Katz, Rebecca Kilroy, Christine Leishman, Julie Minnis, Jessica Opolko, Tara Prakash, Denise Prata, Logan Roberts, Emily Tarco, Rebecca Ramos Velasquez, Susan Wilky.