Friday, October 30, 2009

Nine-part story starting now!

This week has seen the start of "Tommy and the Guttersnipe," an eight-chapter story with a holiday sequel, at the Weekly Storybook. Chapter Two will post Sunday, but if you don't see this until then, it's easy to go back to Chapter One and catch up. The illustrations are by Christopher Baldwin, with whom I have collaborated on a number of serials going back nearly a decade to my first, "The Legend of Perseus," which will be featured on the web site beginning in January.

"Tommy and the Guttersnipe" originally ran in papers throughout New York State two years ago as part of a statewide reading/education initiative by the NY Newspaper Publishers Association. It made such a hit that a sequel, "Anna's Story," will be running this spring. We thought it would be worthwhile to run "Tommy" on line for the benefit of anyone who wanted to read it before the sequel appeared.

The historic fiction is set in New York in 1896 and tells of Tommy McMahon, whose father has disappeared while working out West, and of Tommy's struggles to help support his mother and baby sister without the money his father had been sending home. It is very consciously modeled on the work of Horatio Alger, but involved a fair amount of historical research, including a visit to the Tenement Museum in New York.

When we ran the story in the New York papers, we asked students to write the next chapter in the story, and I was overwhelmed by the passion they put into it. Although the story was set more than a century in the past, the sense of abandonment and helplessness that Tommy and his family experienced was very present for young readers and Christopher and I were asked to produce a holiday sequel to tie up the loose ends. Then, two years later, we were commissioned to produce an entirely new serial story to let kids spend more time with Tommy and Jake.

I hope you will give it a look, and please feel free to comment. As my blogosphere friend Jean notes, that's how we know you were here.


Jean said...

I haven't been reading the Weekly Story Book as I used to - I lost touch during the Greek/Roman stories. The shorter stories(Tanuki, the Nis, the Tulip Garden etc) were ideal for me to narrate to my son at bedtime!

That reminds me, I haven't visited Dana's blog in a long while! Me and my RSS troubles!

BTW, Mike, please check the URL to Weekly Story Book in this post, it is wrong...

Mike said...

Fixed it. Thanks. I'd be interesting in knowing if the Greek and Roman stories felt too familiar or too unfamiliar to you. My illustrator for a story about Ariadne was from Malaysia and I was struck by the fact that, for obvious reasons, she hadn't grown up steeped in those tales the way I had. How universal are they? The folk tales, of course, were purposefully international in tone -- and included one from India.

Jean said...

The characters are familiar - Zeus, Jupiter, Narcissus etc., though all the stories may not be. We have read them in English and there are regional langg translations too.

The reasons why I was not regular at the site were,
- These stories were a bit more complicated than the earlier folk tales. I would have difficulty in explaining deeper things to my son. Even when I attempted Narcissus' tale, I felt I was not doing justice to it. Also the folk stories were shorter, I did not have to wait one more week to know the ending! Every week I could narrate a new story!

- When I was working, my routine included reading blogs every Monday morning. Weekly story book came in automatically. Now in the current circumstances, I have not been regular with that activity!

Mike said...

My first serials were 14 chapters -- so that they could start in September with the beginning of school and end just before the holiday break. But the one-part themed serials, like the Folk Tales, have been popular with teachers for much the same reason you suggest -- if they miss one, they can just jump back in. This continued story, at eight chapters (plus a sequel), is kind of a compromise, providing a deeper story but not demanding so much attention.

On the other hand, your little guy may find it hard to keep up with. It's really geared for 10 and up, but I'm often surprised at how young some of my readers turn out to be.

Mike said...

(As for the culture question, Rina is wonderfully gifted but didn't know what a Greek ship would look like, put more grass on the beach than you would likely find in the Mediterranean and drew bread in the modern American shape rather than flat and round like Greek bread would have been. It was easy enough to send her pics to explain, but it was a reminder not to assume that the entire world shares your cultural icons!)