An Elephant in the Garden, Book Give-Away, Kaspar the Titanic Cat, Michael Morpurgo, Narration, One for the Murphys, Sacramento Book Review, SCBWI, War Horse, Writing Conferences, writing for children

Tell Me a Story — Narration in Today’s Writing. Book Reviews and a Give-Away

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First of all, for my writer friends, two great links. The first is to remind you why it’s probably a really bad idea to ask for advice on your writing:
If I posted this before, forgive me. I look at it now and then just ‘cause it makes me laugh out loud.
I know the SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference is coming up very soon her in the Sacramento area, and I’m sure there are spring conferences all over the place, so here is a blog post with some important reminders:
Second order of business is WINNER, WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER!!  The winner of the drawing for my own ARC of One for the Murphys is SHANNON HITCHCOCK! Yay for Shannon. I am contacting her for a snail mail address and soon she will be reading this wonderful book. We have another give-away today, with TWO winners, so make sure you read to the end.
Today I’d like to talk about the return of narrative. For as long as I have been seriously writing, I have heard and read that we have to show, don’t tell. Dialogue and action reign over all. Narration should be nearly non-existent in our writing. Actually, I think it’s pretty good advice a lot of the time, but great writing sometimes happens when a story is told – narrated – just like stories have been told for thousands of years.
A few months ago, I reviewed a book for the Sacramento Book Review that really stuck with me. I thought about it a lot and was amazed that it was published in the publishing environment that exists today, because it is almost totally narration. That book is An Elephant inthe Garden by Michael Morpurgo. You can see my review by clicking HERE. It is a wonderful story based on a true happening from Europe in World War II. Morpurgo strays far from the original happening, but good historical fiction often does.
What is amazing to me is how Morpurgo structured the story. It begins with a woman who works as a nurse at a home for elderly people. The woman has to bring her young son Karl along one Saturday when she is working because she doesn’t have anyone to leave him with. She pretty much tells us (narration) her part of the story. While there, Karl wanders into the room of Lizzie, one of the patients. Karl protests when his mother drags him out that Lizzie was about to tell him the story of the elephant. His mother tells him there is no elephant, just the imaginings of an old woman. Lizzie asks about Karl and Karl comes to see her again. She begins to tell (narration) the story of an elephant in her garden, many years ago during World War II when she was a child in Germany and how that elephant helped her family escape from both the Nazis and the Russians at the end of the war. It is an incredible adventure and a love story all wrapped up together. Lizzie tells (narration) Karl and his mother this story over a couple of visits and there is narration by the nurse between visits to break Lizzie’s long narration.
I loved the story and the writing. It was a real treat to lose myself in the idea of simple, old-fashioned storytelling. Come on. We all love to have a good story told to us, so why is there so much writing angst about narration? Clearly, Michael Morpurgo isn’t suffering from that angst. He has tons of books published. (No. Seriously. I mean TONS. Look at his website books page by clicking where it says “books page.” He has written wonderful, popular books like this one and War Horse, which I haven’t read yet, but I will. Today I read another of his books – Kaspar the Titanic Cat – and, guess what? It is TOTAL narration. I liked it every bit as much as An Elephant in the Garden. What can I say? I just love having a story told to me. I’m a kid at heart. And since Morpurgo writes books for kids, he just might be on to something.
Kaspar the Titanic Cat is a lovely story of an orphan boy who finds himself, true friendship, and a family because of a prince of a cat. It’s fanciful, but totally believable. Johnny Trott works as a bell-boy at the Savoy Hotel. He is befriended by an opera singer, Countess Kandinsky, who comes to stay at the hotel for three months with her cat Kaspar. Johnny is chosen to care for the cat, walking him during his breaks and making sure he is fed and cared for when the Countess is away at practices and performances. When the countess is killed in a traffic accident, Johnny tries to take care of Kaspar, but the cat will not eat and hardly even drinks water. He loses weight and his coat dulls. A wealthy American family, the Stantons, comes to stay at the Savoy for a couple of months prior to their up-coming trip on the wonderful, new ocean liner, the Titanic. The Stanton’s young daughter, Lizziebeth, discovers Kaspar and is able to get him to eat again. They become great friends and Lizziebeth becomes friends with Johnny as well. Johnny ends up saving her life and the Stantons reward him. When it is the time for them to leave, Johnny gives Kaspar to Lizziebeth, and the Stantons take Johnny along to the Titanic to help them settle in on the ship. Johnny decides to stow away and go to America. Remember now – this is the Titanic. This entire book is Johnny Trott telling (narration) his story.
Michael Morpurgo
Narration has its place in writing. Few writers would take on this kind of complete or nearly complete narration these days, but when done well, it works. I think Michael Morpurgo does it very well. I’d like to offer two of you the chance to see what you think. I am going to give away my gently-read copies of An Elephant in the Garden and Kaspar the Titanic Cat. You can win one of them. You will get your name in my blog hat (from which my eminently honest granddaughter Gracie will choose two names) if you leave a comment here on the blog, and tell me what you think about narration angst or anything else on your mind and which of the books you would prefer. Because I am trying to drive more traffic to my site, I will put your name in a second time if you put a link to my blog on your blog or even on Facebook and let me know that. The person whose name is chosen first will receive the book of his or her choice. The second name drawn will receive the other book. That drawing will take place next Wednesday – April 11 – so have your comments in by midnight , Tuesday, April 10. These are both wonderful books and I know you will enjoy either. So, please leave a comment and let the games begin!

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