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September 29, 2016

GIVEAWAY! A Squiggly Story, by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery


Before my daughter Harriet went to junior kindergarten, she was determined to never be taught anything—by me, at least. I’d read somewhere that a child entering school should be able to write her name, and so that was a benchmark, but Harriet was having none of it. She didn’t even draw pictures. The only thing she ever had to do with paper was taking a pair of scissors and cutting paper into a million tiny pieces, scattering them across our carpet like cheerios.

She did, however, have a notebook, and this was the only bit of “writing” she was willing to be known for, filling page after page with curly lines, the closest she’ll ever get to cursive.


And then she went to school, and it was there the magic happened. Somehow our girl learned to write and to read, and she reads all the time and everywhere, and she writes all the time too (even if her handwriting is atrocious). She makes comics and stories, and she and her friend have written a book at school that they’ve read to kids in the other grade two classes.

And because of Harriet’s example, and because she’s a different person altogether, Iris has a completely different relationship to text and writing than Harriet did at her age. Iris draws amazing pictures, and sits flipping through page after page in novels, and she’s learning her letters—when she sees an “S”, she will shout, “My Daddy has that one,” as if it were some sort of affliction. She knows her classmate’s initials and becomes indignant when a word beginning with A does not actually spell Alma, as it tends to at school.


Most of all though, Iris is partial to her own letter, which is I, and her sister’s H. That the letters fall side-by-side in the alphabet did certainly occur to me when we named Iris, and I also love that an H is an I sideways. They’re often found together in words as well, and Iris is delighted by all of this, finds it intensely meaningful.


So you can imagine how Iris felt when she saw the above page in Andrew Larsen’s latest picture book, A Squiggly Story, illustrated by Mike Lowery. I is, of course, a letter than is intensely personal to anyone narrating their own experience, but Iris simply took for granted that this was a book that was created just for her.


And in a way it was, a book just for her, among many other readers. It’s about a boy who longs to be as deft with words and letters as his older sister, to write a story, and she tells him there’s no reason why he can’t—even if he doesn’t know how to write words yet. “Every story starts with a single word,” she tells him, “and every word starts with a single letter.” This breaking down into smaller pieces concentrated on one step after the other (and another after that) being the best writing advice I know.

So the boy begins his story, a story with I’s and circles and an upside-down V (i.e. a shark fin! This is not a boring story). Empowered by his own creation, the boy takes his story to school and shares it with his classmates, inspiring them to come up with stories of their own and suggestions for his ending. And coming up with one story, of course, makes him think about what kind of story he’s going to imagine next, and the possibilities are endless—a squiggle can be so many different things.


Andrew Larsen is my friend and we’ve had many good discussions about books and writing, and one topic we keep returning to is our distaste with the idea that the outcome of a narrative should necessarily be a protagonist learns a lesson—it’s such a simple minded approach to the role of story in our lives and our experiences. And I love that Andrew’s work reflects this—his are stories that serve to illuminate rather than preach. But a very cool twist is that within his stories I do always find a worthwhile lesson for me, the grown-up reader, to ponder.

“Remember, you’re the author,” the boy’s sister tells him. “You can do whatever you want.”

Fine advice in the writing of a story, but also in the making of a life.

GIVEAWAY: I have an extra copy of A Squiggly Story that you can have a chance to win. Comment on this post and tell me your favourite punctuation mark, and why you love it, and you will be entered in a draw. Canadian residents only. Giveaway closes October 14.  October 20.

11 thoughts on “GIVEAWAY! A Squiggly Story, by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery”

  1. Joan says:

    I love this post almost as much as I love Harriet and Iris – but not quite. Truly, questions marks are the best because with every question, there is always something new and exciting around the corner. I also like the curly shape, don’t you?????

  2. Susan says:

    I have funny memories about the dash. My mom had taught me what a dash was, and the next day in school, I used dashes – ie., fire-truck….. and my teacher (if my memory is correct, my Kindergarten teacher) asked me kind of harshly what all the little lines were that I had written, and made me erase them. She was a bit mean!
    Anyway. I agree, love the post. For so many reasons.
    My daughter is same age as Harriet I believe, and similar memories of early attempts to teach her to print! Sooo stubborn. And also loves the writing now- on her own terms of course. 😉

  3. Susannah says:

    The wonderful exclamation mark!!! Because it can add so much energy to a sentence!!!! You don’t want to overdo it, of course.

  4. m says:

    I love the em-dash. I use it in my prose far too often, but not nearly enough in my poetry. I like how it’s almost a parenthetical addition, but too important to be hugged off.

  5. Nathalie says:

    The interrobang: ?!

    But don’t enter me for the draw. I just like answering your questions.

  6. Alyssa Annico says:

    Exclamation point!!!

  7. Laura Frey says:

    Oh, this sounds perfect for my kids. My favourite is the semicolon. Not in it’s current incarnation as a symbol for mental illness, though that is fine. I like it because it’s difficult to use properly, but very effective when it is. Plus, winking emoticons 😉

  8. Lisa says:

    An ellipses is my favorite punctuation! I use them far too often…. ?

  9. Laura says:

    Definitely the tilde ~ because it’s one of the few things that I remember from elementary math.

  10. Penny McDougall -Di Giovanni says:

    My daughter just started jk and “writes” with her own alphabet, but in lines and the right direction. My favourite punctuation is the question mark since it is an information seeker.

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