Verbal illiteracy

Recently, my daughter showed up in the kitchen with a copy of Norma Charles’s Catching a Star.

“Mommy,” she said, “the satin’s reebels in this book are SO bad!”

“The what?”

“The satin’s reebles.”

“The what reebels?”

By this time, she was getting a little frustrated. It turns out she was talking about the Satan’s Rebels, the motorcycle gang in the book. You’d think, as a Sunday-school attending kid, she’d know how to pronounce “Satan,” but apparently not.

And I couldn’t laugh at her too hard, because I still haven’t lived down a mistake I made when I was about her age. My parents were teasing me about something and I said, “Stop it. You’re hurting my eggo.”

This did not help with the teasing issue.

It’s a problem that all of us insatiable readers face, even as adults — though we know the word, and we know what it means, we don’t always know how to say it. Our literary vocabulary is bigger than our spoken.

If I’m going to read something aloud to an audience, even if it’s something I wrote myself, I always, always practice first. You never know what tricky pronunciations could be hiding in there.

And I’m still awed by people who can throw big words into conversation, without hesitation. My friend Joanna called her brother “recalcitrant” once. And my old boss, Robin, called a co-worker “lugubrious.” How impressive is that?

The Serendipity debrief

You will be happy to know I was dressed appropriately at Serendipity this weekend. Well, mainly because Norma Charles caught me just as I was entering. She suggested that I rearrange my name tag so that my name faced out, and then she untucked my sweater from the back of my pants. (You thought I was joking about my inability to dress myself, didn’t you?)

Because 50 Burning Questions won the Information Book Award (thank you, Roundtables!) I talked about non-fiction for a while at the beginning of the day. And I was very, very happy to have spoken first because the next speakers were so mind-blowingly poignant and funny and wise that I would have been much too intimidated to speak afterwards.

The theme of the day was Year of the Dragon: Asian Themes for Young Canadian Readers. Paul Yee, author of Money Boy (a copy of which is now on my beside table) talked about embracing one’s own personal identity, past and present. Editors Marjorie Coughlan and Corinne Robson talked about Paper Tigers, an amazing website. Allen Say, with a lovely combination of gravity and dry wit, told stories from Drawing from Memory that made everybody cry. In the afternoon, Lisa Yee talked about contemporary fiction in which ethnicity is a factor, not a focus.

Looking for a quiet corner to eat my lunch, I found myself in a side room with Norma Charles, Jacquie Pearce, Ellen Schwartz, Beryl Young, Irene N. Watts, and Deborah Hodge. We had a lovely hour eating sandwiches and talking books, and I felt honoured to be in such company.

Oh. And I learned some Bollywood dancing. Yup. About three minutes after I leaned over to Shannon Ozirny and whispered, “maybe we should move back, in case they ask for volunteers,” we were on the stage. It’s even on video. But I’m not telling where.

Run, Marco, Run!

The first chapter of Norma Charles’s new book Run, Marco, Run! is posted on the Ronsdale Press site and ready for reading.

Norma Charles was one of the first B.C. children’s authors I ever met. (I saw her speak at a panel at UBC’s Booming Ground workshops.) I thought — and still think — she’s the bees knees.

I double dog dare you to read the excerpt without wanting to read the whole book!