In preparation for our discussion of today’s book, we went upstairs and played Snowball Fight in August, a game that combines silly fun with character and plot development. After writing an (anonymous) description of ourselves on a piece of paper, we scrunched up the paper (into a “snowball”) and threw them at each other. Everyone picked up a snowball, unscrunched it and read the description as the group tried to guess who was being described. Then we had to imagine a description of ourselves by someone who is the opposite of us, followed by possible conflicts between ourself and our opposite. Mindblowing and fun!
Equipped with lots of potential story ideas, we headed downstairs to meet Delia Sherman, author of The Freedom Maze. This fascinating novel combines history, fiction, and fantasy, as it brings to vivid life the nightmare of slavery. Delia read a passage from the book and then answered questions ranging from the post-book fate of a certain character to how she, Delia, started writing in the first place. She told us that as a child she suffered from asthma and was often bed-ridden. To counter boredom, she made up stories. But the idea for The Freedom Maze came from a dream she had that she couldn’t shake. So she wrote the book to discover what the dream was trying to tell her. Of course, she also had to do LOADS of research, including going to a decrepit plantation.
We also discovered that Delia knows a lot about obscure but fascinating things! For example, why do we know something about a character named “Draco Malfoy,” just from his name? Because, cher ami, William the Conqueror conquered England where, until 1066, the Anglo Saxons had nice plain names like Harry Potter, (which also tells us the occupation of his ancestors.) But the aristocratic Norman conquerors from Normandy, France had French or Latin names, like Draco Malfoy, conjuring up instant images of dragons and snootiness.
We ended our morning visit with Delia by responding to questions she asks herself when she is developing a story, such as: Is our hero human or non-human, male or female, what are they good at, bad at, afraid of, and more. These questions prompted some story beginnings that sounded extremely promising and we hope to hear more.
We got our books signed and had a quiet lunch of reading and chatting in the park before leaving for the American Folk Art Museum to see the exhibit “Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum”. In small groups – it’s a VERY small museum – we moved around to five different works, each related in some way to The Freedom Maze. In front of each, which included a big pottery jug , several very different quilts, and a strange painting, we drew the object, and then answered three questions: How was the object made? How does it relate to history? How does it connect to the The Freedom Maze? By drawing the object, which forced us to look at it carefully, as well as reading the information card, we discovered clues and connections to key issues in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The day ended with some free time: quiet reading and writing in the camp room; chatting and playing games in the theatre. Tomorrow is another very full day with a guest author in both the morning (Todd Strasser,) and the afternoon (Chip Kidd)!