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Reader’s Reflect: Sharing Your Own Story

September 27, 2010

“Readers Reflect,” is a weekly post by a guest blogger reflecting on a formative book, character, or reading experience that has been particularly meaningful in their life as a reader. To submit your own “Readers Reflect” essay, please contact us at courtskids@gmail.com. Today we welcome author Amber Keyser, author of wonderful books about science and adventure for children.

When Kiki asked me to blog about a book or reading experience that was important to my life, titles began to swirl around me—books I have loved, read, and re-read.  The characters that made me feel like I wasn’t a freak after all.  The stories that took me beyond my own little world.  After all, I’ve had a life-long love affair with books.  My son, who likes to pose these conundrum questions, asked me recently, “Which would you rather have, Mom, books or a million dollars?”  Well, duh!  If I’m rich but can never read, what would be the point?

Yet in that hurricane of brilliant books by brilliant authors, I found one book in the eye of the storm. An Algonquin Heart Song: Paddle My Own Canoe.  The first book I published.  I’m not making any claim to brilliance, but writing it was transformative.  This book was born in grief.  Let me tell you its story.

In 2000, I was a Ph.D. student in evolutionary biology living with my new husband in a sweet, little brick house surrounded by crepe myrtle and oak-leaf hydrangea.  We were expecting our first child.  Thanks to technology, my husband and I knew it was a girl and named her Esther Rose after our grandmothers. It was an idyllic beginning so we were totally unprepared for tragedy.  She died during labor from an umbilical cord problem.  The months that followed were dark indeed, the memories hazy.  One thing I do remember was thinking that if only I could write a book for her, it help keep her close.  But the idea of writing a book was swept aside in the tumult of the work at hand: grieving, finishing my Ph.D., and trying to have other children.

2005 found me desperate to find work as a scientist, raising my son, Fisher, and my daughter, Beryl, and again grieving.  This time for my grandmother, Esther, who had been the first woman canoe guide in Canada during the 1930s.  I decided to write a poem for her memorial service that would celebrate her amazing life and highlight the values that we shared: love of wilderness and a belief that nature is a source of inspiration and healing.  I wrote from her point-of-view as a young woman.  I wanted readers to feel like they’d embarked on a canoe trip, faced its challenges, and returned transformed by it.

The last stanza reads:

Eventually, I’ll have to go,

Paddle my own canoe.

Back to that other world I know,

Paddle my own canoe.

But even when I leave this place,

I’ll take with me its sacred grace,

I am remade in this wild place,

Paddle my own canoe.

After the memorial service, I spoke with the editor who had published my grandmother’s memoir, Paddling My Own Canoe.  She wanted to publish my poem as a children’s book.  Working from historical pictures of my grandmother and her own knowledge of the natural history of Ontario, artist Dawn Sherman turned my poem into a series of luminous illustrations.  It was published in 2007.  I dedicated the book to my grandmother, my grandfather, and my daughter, Esther Rose.  In that way, I fulfilled that yearning howl of my heart from so many years earlier—to write a book for her.

And in the process, I transformed myself from scientist to children’s book author.  I written four other books since then and many articles for children.  Now when I visit schools and teach writing workshops, I tell the kids how this book, which is not sad, began in sadness.  I share how writing comes from the true voices inside each of us, the voices that cry, exalt, worry, love, and often just muddle through.

Each and every one of us has a story to tell, an important story, a true story.  I believe that sharing our stories is powerful.  We are better people and the world is a better place because of it.

Tell your stories!

You can check out Amber’s work at www.amberkeyser.com

Anatomy of a Pandemic (Capstone Press; 2011)

Our Portland Story (ourportlandstory.com; 2011)

Decoding Genes with Max Axiom (Capstone Press; 2010)

The Basics of Cell Life with Max Axiom (Capstone Press; 2009)

An Algonquin Heart Song: Paddle My Own Canoe (Friends of Algonquin Park; 2007)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 27, 2010 6:44 am

    Wow what a beautiful idea and way to share their memory.

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