Fifteen years ago my ten year old daughter came home with a story.
“Mom, “ she said, “today I figured out that “miscellaneous” is NOT a person.”
“I thought she was that woman on the green spaghetti box…”
I saved her gift-of-a-mistake in my little journal and ended up unwrapping it in a lonely hotel room in southern Wisconsin after a particularly miserable book signing of three people. I was also licking my wounds from a failed grant attempt of huge proportions, so the book signing had only added insult to injury. I stayed in my little hotel room that night and to escape my own life I opened my journal and started to play with miscellaneous = Miss Alaineus.
I did make my daughter’s gift into a story and only fierce determination by my editor at Harcourt at the time, (Allyn Johnston, now with her own imprint, Beach Lane Books, at S&S), did it get published despite being deemed: “too long, too smart, to weirdly illustrated.” Fifteen years and over 150,000 copies later it remains in print and has inspired what may be my proudest contribution to elementary schools:
In the story our vocabulary-smart heroine mistakes the word miscellaneous, for Miss Alaineus, and great embarrassment ensues. But! Like a lot of mistakes and wayward paths, it sparks a creative leap and she enters the annual Vocabulary Parade as Miss Alaineus, winning the gold award — and proving her mother right:
There is gold in every mistake.
To my astonishment the Vocabulary Parade is now replicated in schools all over the world. I nudged this along with support materials in the back matter of the book and at my website. Take a look at the slew of ingenious costumes for words like PARALLEL, or PHASES, or VOLUMINOUS. When I enter a school as the classrooms are preparing for a Vocabulary Parade I still get goose bumps and teary-eyed. Creativity literally bursts around me like fireworks and the energy in the school lifts the roof ever so slightly off its rafters. Parents come and line the halls to watch the parade of costumed words, (or like Cedar Lake School, sit in lawn chairs surrounding the school’s outdoor walkway, 400+ parents strong after six consecutive annual events). Kids talk about their costumes and words for weeks before. Photos keep the words alive in the air for weeks after. It is a miraculous vocabulary enrichment event disguised as an art project: the BEST kind of learning!
Remember: all this grew out of a series of mistakes! This is my living proof that it is not “the event” but how we handle the event that matters. My daughter could have buried her mistake instead of laughing with me, I could have drowned my sorrows that night in Wisconsin instead of writing my sighs away, my editor could have joined the doubters…on and on.
Fall brings costumed events around the United States. Celebrate a Vocabulary Parade in your community and see exactly what I mean: the contagious creativity in students and families will delight and inspire you. Send me a picture of any costumes that makes you smile — that’s the gold I collect, year after year.