Sidney and Norman–A Brief Review



It’s not hard to find children’s stories with good morals. The great majority, in fact, are quite moral, demonstrating that loyalty, helpfulness, thriftiness, persistence, tolerance or some other positive character trait is rewarded in the end. I am not opposed to good morals in children’s picture books. On the other hand, I’m not especially excited by them either.
Much more exciting are children’s books that help children grasp the idea of grace–or, rather, grasp at the idea of grace. A favorite in our house is Phil Vischer’s book, Sidney & Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs. The book is illustrated by the brilliant Justin Gerard of Portland Studios in Greenville, SC.

Sidney and Norman are next-door neighbors, though they don’t really know each other. Sidney is an unusually messy pig. He can’t seem to get it together. He’s perpetually late; he can’t keep his tie straight. He lives in a state of constant shame. Norman, on the other hand, has always had it together. He always follows the rules and has enjoyed the kind of success in his life that makes him believe he must be doing something right.

On the same day both Sidney and Norman receive invitations to meet with God. Sidney is terrified. He thinks back to the times he was called into the principal’s office and he shudders. Norman, on the other hand, is thrilled. He assumes he must be getting some award.

I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it is beautiful and that I’ve never seen a better picture of God’s grace in a picture book. Sidney and Norman strikes a blow against self-righteousness in a way that a merely moral book never can. Phil Vischer, by the way is the creator of Veggie Tales. This book has been around since 2006. I wish more families knew about it.

What are some other children’s books that depict grace?

Feechie of the Week: Turtle Man

The Turtle Man of Kentucky. We may never again see such a perfect FotW.
Editor’s Note: At five and a half minutes, the Turtle Man video is a little long. I know, dear reader, that you’re a busy person. If you watch the first 45 seconds or so, you’re pretty much got the Turtle Man. On the other hand, this little movie has its rewards all the way through to the end.

In Which I Am Brought Back to Earth



On Dogbite Friday yesterday, Patrick told about a time he was attacked by a very persistent wasp. It brought to mind my own recent encounter with a a member of that cruel tribe. I was at the neighborhood pool, and a friend asked me what was happening with my new book. I launched into a very involved monologue about The Charlatan’s Boy‘s place in American literary history when a wasp climbed through the hole at the instep of my right sandal. There were a very unsettled two seconds when I was bringing home some point about Twain and Hawthorne and me, but I also realized there was a wasp in my shoe. I knew I was about to get lit up, but I was so close to completing my thought. And besides, what could I do about the wasp anyway? If I tried to whip off my shoe, the wasp would surely sting me anyway. No, I thought, the best thing would be to maintain my composure. Herman Melville wouldn’t panic in this situation. For a second there I decided maybe it wasn’t a wasp after all; then I realized it coudn’t be anything else. Then I lost my train of thought and trailed off into a distracted silence while my interlocutor gave me a perplexed look. About that time the wasp had gotten himself situated, and he let me have it, and I switched from “man of letters” mode to “jumping and shrieking” mode. I couldn’t believe how bad it hurt. I hopped around for I don’t know how long and had a swollen foot for days. The wasp got completely away.

Audience Participation Friday: Dogbite

When I taught writing at Vanderbilt, I had a secret method for teaching narrative. I asked students if they had ever been bitten by a dog. It’s a great question for drawing out stories. There’s always a story when someone has been dogbit. And those people who have never been dogbit usually start their response as follows: “I’ve never been bitten by a dog, but…” And those are some of the best stories. “I’ve never been bitten by a dog, but I once got chased by kangaroos…” or “I’ve never been bitten by a dog, but this possum got in our trash can and…”
Just today a lawyer friend said, “I’m interviewing law students today. Do you have any good questions to ask?” I answered, “Why, yes, I do. Ask them if they’ve ever been bitten by a dog. A lawyer needs to be able to tell a story.”

And so should blog readers. So I ask you, dear reader: Have you ever been bitten by a dog?

Feechie of the Week: Aaron Roughton’s Dad

It’s a big day for I’m proud to present the first reader-submitted Feechie of the Week. Aaron Roughton, a regular around here, tells the story of his father’s capture of an alligator…with his bare hands. It’s a chilling tale. Don’t be put off by the fact that the story begins with an eighth-grade choir trip. Young Mr. Roughton soon proves his feechie bona fides.
Do you have a friend or loved one who has behaved in a feechiefied manner? Tell the story using the contact form to the right. He or she could be Feechie of the Week.

Now for Aaron’s story…Read More

The Mole



When my mother-in-law was a young girl, a traveling ballet troupe came to her small town in Georgia. Sitting in the hard seats of the auditorium, she and her friends marveled at the grace and the beauty of the dancers. In Newnan, Georgia in the 1950s, a ballet dancer was as exotic as a gazelle or an elephant. The women moved like angels. The men, so strong and lithe, were a revelation.
In an especially moving pas de deux, a male dancer took a ballerina in his arms and lifted her right up off the floor and turned around, slowly, slowly. As he turned his back to the audience, a huge mole asserted itself through the seat of his white tights, straining against the stretchy fabric as if it wanted to get out and walk amongst the audience. The way my mother-in-law remembers it, it was about the size of a halved new potato. The little girls spent the rest of the performance watching for the mole to rotate back into view, and stifling their laughter when it did.

That was nearly sixty years ago. My mother-in-law still remembers that first ballet she ever saw. But mostly she remembers the mole. There’s more than one way to get exposed to culture.

First Two Chapters of THE CHARLATAN’S BOY

The Charlatan’s Boy comes out in just over a month. In the meanwhile, you can read the first two chapters at These are images of the pages as they appear in the book, so you can see the interior design–the fonts, the chapter headings, the illustrations, etc. There’s even a map of Corenwald. Oh, and sorry about the ads. They can’t be helped.
Again, here’s that link. I hope you’ll have a look and tell me what you think.

In Which My Cousin Is Mistaken for a Sniper



My cousin Jason worked for an heating and air conditioning company when he was in high school. They took care of the huge air conditioning units that sat atop the local mall. The mall had pigeons. Looking up through the skylights, a shopper could see them bobbing and strutting on the roof. They were picturesque, but when they took up residence in the air conditioning units, they played havoc with the interior climate of the mall.
Jason, the youngest (and, presumably, the least skilled) of the company’s employees, was assigned the task of discouraging the pigeons. So one summer morning he carried a BB gun to the mall and climbed through the roof hatch with it.

Jason was popping away on the roof of the mall when a shopper looked up and screamed at the sight of a young man aiming and shooting a gun.

It hadn’t been two weeks earlier that a man in Florida–Jacksonville, I think it was–had climbed on top of a building and started shooting people. That episode weighed on the woman’s mind as looked for the security guard. Once he was good and awake, he seemed to agree that a copycat crime could be in the works.

Over the next few minutes, the mall was encircled by every police car in town, news trucks from all three Macon TV stations, photographers from both the Daily Sun and the Telegraph, a SWAT team, and agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Jason, for his part, heard the sirens and wondered what was afoot, but he soon turned back to the matter at hand. Pigeons were flapping and feathers were flying, and there was a flurry of activity on Jason’s side of the AC units, which blocked his view of the SWAT team positioning themselves around the parking lot. He blithely went about his business while Middle Georgia’s media and law enforcement personnel went about theirs.

It being a hot day, Jason put down his BB gun and headed down the roof hatch to get a drink of water and cool off in the mall. As he came down the ladder, he was met by a surge of policemen coming up. A red-faced lieutenant grabbed him by the back of the shirt and pulled him down. “Boy, are you crazy?” he shouted. “Get down here! There’s a sniper on the roof!”

Jason’s heart jumped into his throat. “A sniper?” he gasped. He felt weak through the knees. “I didn’t see any sniper.”

“There’s a man with a gun,” the police officer said. “You’re lucky you didn’t get hurt–or worse.”

“The only person up there with a gun was me,” Jason said, and he immediately realized he had said the wrong thing.

The policemen frog-marched Jason to the mall management office, where they asked him some pointed questions. It didn’t take too long for them to sort everything out. The mall manager had known that somebody was coming to service the AC units; he just didn’t realize that the service call would involve the shooting of pigeons. Jason’s boss came to the mall and corroborated his story.

The SWAT team packed their gear and climbed back into their van. The news reporters went away sad. And life in Warner Robins, Georgia mostly returned to normal.

Feechie of the Week: Ray Cason

Okay, this is awesome. This week’s featured feechie is Ray Cason. To quote Mr. Cason, “I aint never seen so many gators in my life.” I bet you aint either.
What would a proper feechie do in the midst of so many alligators? Easy: “I just eased through ’em and went fishing.”

The Charlatan’s Boy: Table of Contents

The Charlatan’s Boy releases five weeks from today, on October 5. By way of foretaste, I offer up the chapter titles for the first half of the book. They should give you an idea of what you can expect. So might the illustration to the left. It is the frontispiece, done by the exceedingly talented Abe Goolsby. Here’s something you probably didn’t know about Abe: he taught himself Latin, which he speaks with an Italian accent. And why shouldn’t Latin be spoken in an Italian accent? If you’re a publisher, you need to know Abe. He does great work.
Now, for those chapter titles…

Chapter 1:
In which I jump out of a box and play the Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp

Chapter 2:
In which we get out of the feechie trade and I begin my formal education

Chapter 3:
In which I take up a new trade and get flabbergasted

Read More

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