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Outdoor kids

February 21, 2013

By Anne Hawkinson

I know life was different when I was a kid.  I think about those lists that come out periodically, reminding me of all the things that were unheard of when I was growing up (computers, cell phones, email, CD/DVDs).  Conversely, there are lists of things today’s kids will never experience (skate keys, fixing a cassette tape with a pencil, typewriter erasers, a library card catalogue).

I have questions about today’s kids.  Do they go outside and play?  Do they explore and invent games without the aid of some electronic gadget?  Could they keep themselves entertained for a day with a few chunks of rope and some sticks?  The optimist in me says “yes.”  The realist has doubts.

When I was a kid, we played outside after school until supper time (no watches – we played within earshot of home and my mother’s call from the back door).  Summers were spent at our lake cabin.  From mid-June to mid-August I was outside from morning ‘til night unless it rained.  No phone or TV.  I swam, played badminton, and invented games with my sister and next-cabin friends.  I hiked in the woods and waded through the weeds, exploring and discovering along the way.  Winters were spent sledding, skating, and building snowmen until our mittens were saturated and our fingers and toes tingled from the cold.

The middle-grade mystery I’m writing takes place in the present, but the setting is a remote manor house in northern Minnesota.  My characters are living in the “here and now,” but I’m going to take away some of their electronic companions, force them outside, and challenge them to think on their own, without a “Search” button.  I hope they’re up to the task!

When I read at my critique group, I’m frequently questioned about some of the things my characters encounter.  If there’s something my readers don’t know I hope they’ll be interested enough to want to find the answer.  Cue the electronic gadgetry:  Encyclopedia Britannica is now online, or they can Google it.  If my readers know everything about a story, what’s the point?  Spoiler alert:  Bull moose have antlers – females (cows) do not.

I want my readers to learn something new as they turn the pages of my book (electronic or otherwise).  I want to challenge and enlighten as well as entertain.  I know today’s kids can’t go back, but can they come out and play?

photoAnne Hawkinson was born in Duluth, Minnesota. The world’s largest inland port became her “window to the world” when ships from around the globe crossed under the Aerial Bridge and docked in Lake Superior’s harbor. Years later she’d visit the countries that at one time existed only in her imagination. Bedtime stories read by her father were a nighttime ritual – her favorite was “The Teeny Tiny Woman.” Because they lived near the zoo, she often fell asleep to the sound of roaring African lions. Anne graduated from St. Cloud State University with a Master’s degree and has a daughter, a son, and an endless parade of pets that provide unending inspiration for her children’s stories.

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