Monday, February 18, 2013


     I've gotten (to use an inelegant but useful verb)  a lot of mileage out of "Just Balloons, Please" which has gone through various drafts with various names. I used to claim I had revised it over and over, but I have come to understand that when I changed it--adding one sentence, deleting another, changing a word here and there, or switching the order of paragraphs--I wasn't revising. I was editing, or word-smithing. Call it what you will, I may have been improving it, but I wasn't revising.
     When you revise a manuscript you look at it with new eyes and alter it in some fundamental way. You need distance for that. In the story's first years, back when it was called "Amanda's Birthday Balloons," or "Too Many Balloons," or something similar, I usually sent it out within a week of its most recent rejection. At the same time it was a mainstay of my school visits, where it was unfailingly popular, another story that seemed to inspire students to draw pictures. No distance.
      There must be an optimum time for looking at a manuscript with an eye towards revising. You can't do it when you are still in love with it, but if you wait until too many subsequent stories have claimed your love and your efforts, this one may have calcified in your mind, and it will be almost impossible to find your way back into it.
       To mix metaphors badly, I'm afraid that "Just Balloons Please" is like an old favorite dress. I know it's out of fashion but I won't add it to the clothes destined for the church rummage sale. I'll leave it hanging in the back of the closet to remind me of happy times when I wore it. And who knows, one of these years it may come back into style.
     Thanks for visiting again. Happy reading, Everyone.         

Just Balloons, Please

       by Sally Derby
Every birthday,
every Christmas,
every holiday for six years,
whenever present time came
and anyone asked Abbie
what sort of present she wanted,
Abbie answered,
"I would like balloons, please. Floating balloons from Miss Matilda's Pet and Party Store."
Balloons were the only thing she asked for. Every year. 

          By the time she was six, flocks of balloons floated through Abbie's house. Still, "I need more," she said.  "Fifty or a hundred or maybe even a thousand."
          The week before Abbie's seventh birthday she asked her grandmother for green balloons, her cousin Alice for blue balloons, and her Uncle Fred from Mishawaka for purple.
          "Please bring them to my party. I've invited my whole class, even Dickie Snodgrass, who has an earring and green hair," she said. "And everyone's bringing balloons."

          Abbie's birthday arrived. So did the balloons. Red balloons and purple. Yellow, orange and pink -- even some black balloons that said Over the Hill. ("I know you didn't ask for black," said Dickie Snodgrass, "But black's my favorite color.") 
          Abbie counted the balloons as they came. Soon the living room ceiling was covered. "Three hundred eighty six! Wonderful!" she shouted.

          Her grandmother came with the green balloons.  "Let's take them into the dining room," Abbie said. The balloons bobbled up to the ceiling. "Six hundred ten! Splendid!" she cried.

          Just as Abbie's mother brought out the birthday cake, Cousin Alice arrived with the blue balloons. Abbie took them into the kitchen where they bounced and bumped against the balloons already there. "Eight hundred eighty eight. I'm almost to a thousand. Stupendous!" shouted Abbie.         

Abbie had forgotten about Uncle Fred from Mishawaka. Uncle Fred was tired of buying balloons. "This year I'll buy Abbie so many balloons she'll never want another," he decided.

          Pin the Tail on the Donkey was about to begin when Uncle Fred drove up.....
          In a school bus full of purple balloons!

          The birthday guests ran to help. By bundles, by bunches, by sixes and sevens and tens and twelves, in came purple balloons. Abbie stood in the door counting. She got to nine hundred ninety nine.  And still the balloons kept coming.

          Nudging one another gently, the balloons floated up the stairs--into the bedrooms, into the bathroom, into the closets--then up, up, up into the attic.

          The minute the balloons reached the attic, a strange thing happened. The house began to wobble. It tilted. It shook a long shake. With a giant slurping noise it pulled away from its foundation and rose into the air, leaving Abbie's mother and the rest of the grown-ups standing by the bus.
          "We're flying! Way cool!" yelled Dickie Snodgrass.

          And fly they did. The house soared up over trees and telephone poles, over rooftops and bridges, while all the children ran to the windows to wave good-bye to parents arriving to take them home from the party.
          "Good-bye," called the children.
          "Good-bye," called the parents.  "Don't get too close to the windows!"

          For six hours Abbie's house floated in the sky, while Abbie's friends played games and sang songs and ate birthday cake. They wrote reassuring notes telling their parents not to worry. They folded the notes into paper airplanes they sent flying from the windows.

          A crowd collected below. Newspaper and television reporters came to take pictures. Everyone on the ground tried to think of a way to get the house down. Mayor Heckendorn got a bullhorn and told the boys and girls to sit on the floor so that all the weight in the house would be at the bottom. That didn't work. A visiting cowboy thought he could lasso the chimney and pull the house down, but his aim was bad. Miss Matilda suggested tying ladders end on end for the children to climb down, but some of the mothers said that would be too dangerous.

          In the floating house, at first everyone had a lovely time, but after a while the birthday cake was all gone and everyone grew tired of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, especially since Dickie Snodgrass kept winning. (Abbie found out later he was peeking from under the blindfold.)

          All of a sudden the sound of a loud motor sputtered up from below. The children ran to the windows. In Abbie's yard, Dickie Snodgrass's mother, just home from work, was roaring up on her motorcycle.

          She hopped off the cycle and grabbed Mayor Heckendorn's bullhorn.
          "Dickie," she called, "What are you doing up there? Get down here right now!"
          "How?" Dickie shouted back.
          "You're a smart boy, figure it out," she said.  "But don't keep me waiting!'
          Dickie turned to Abbie. "Would you mind," he asked, "if I borrow a few balloons to take with me?"

          Abbie looked around. Balloons were everywhere. Every time she took a step, a balloon string brushed her face. Fifty balloons had been fine, a hundred had been wonderful, but maybe a thousand was too many. She made up her mind. "Take all you want," she said, "especially black ones. But how are you going to get down?"

          "Just watch!" Dickie grabbed five balloons. "This should do it," he told her.
          With a fistful of balloon strings, he climbed up on the window sill.  "See you later," he said, and jumped.

          All the other children ran to the window and watched him float gently down.  It looked dangerous, it looked exciting, it looked like FUN!

          "Can I do it too?"
          "Me too!"
          "My turn next!"
          One by one, children floated down, holding on to their balloon parachutes.

          As the balloons left, the house began to sink until at last it was only four feet above the street. Everyone on the ground came running -- the television crew and the reporter for the Shady Side Press, Miss Matilda, Mayor Heckendorn, and all the watching neighbors.  They put their hands against the house, steering it into Abbie's yard. There the house sank gently on to its foundation, shook itself into position, and was still.

          Abbie opened the front door.
          "Here's the birthday girl herself!" said a television reporter, running up with a microphone in his hand. "Abbie, what do you think of balloons now? Will you want balloons for your eighth birthday?"
          Abbie didn't need time to decide. "No more balloons ," she said. "I've decided balloons are a bother. Besides, next year I'll be old enough for a bunny, the kind with floppy ears from Miss Matilda's Pet and Party Store."

          "I'll bring you two," said Dickie Snodgrass, hopping on the back of his mother's motorcycle.

Thanks for reading the story. If you would like to leave a comment, I think I've changed the settings to make it easier to do. Let me know!













Monday, February 4, 2013

What More Could a Writer Want?


To celebrate the new look and name of this blog, (and I want to thank +Eunice Charlton Trujillo for helping me improve it) I decided to post another story this morning. I hope you like it.

                           What More Could a Writer Want?

I have read this story to countless children at countless schools, and it's always such fun. As the suspense grows, they become more and more involved, and by the time they hear the word "puppy," they are so sure they know what happens next I'm likely to hear a chorus of sweet "Aw's," almost as if they can see the puppy before them. But then....such disappointment, indignation, incredulity!
    A quick page turn, and the ending brings relief. They laugh, they applaud, they draw pictures to illustrate the story and tell me they can't wait until it's a book. Alas, I fear that's not to be. But maybe there's a child in your life, or a child in you, who would like some story-fun for sunshine on this gray January morning. Happy reading, and thank you again for visiting.

                  Tim the Finder-Keeper

 On Monday Tim found a garter snake
    And brought it home in a bag.

His mother said,
   "Snakes are creepy,
    Snakes are slithery,
    Snakes are always hiding."
 So the snake had to go. 

On Tuesday Tim found a duckling
    And brought it home in a pail.

His mother said,
    "Ducklings are noisy,
    Ducklings are untidy,
    Ducklings are always splashing."
So the duckling had to go. 

On Wednesday Tim found a rabbit
    And brought it home in a box.

His mother said,
    "Rabbits twitch and tremble,
    Rabbits sniff and startle,
    Rabbits are always shedding."
So the rabbit had to go.

 On Thursday Tim found a turtle
    And carried it home on a Frisbee.

His mother said,
    "Turtles are clumsy,
    Turtles are smelly,
    Turtles eat disgusting things
       like worms and flies and moths."
So the turtle had to go. 

On Friday Tim found a kitten
    And brought it home in a basket.

His mother said,
    "Kittens climb curtains,
    Kittens claw couches,
    Kittens pounce and leap."
So the kitten had to go. 

On Saturday Tim found a puppy
    And brought it home in his shirt.

His mother said,
    "Puppies are yappy,
    Puppies have fleas,
    Puppies are always chewing."
So the puppy had to go.

On Sunday Tim found... an Elephant
   And rode home on its back.

 His mother said, "Well,
     An elephant could wash the windows --
     Vacuum the rugs, keep the grass short and tidy.
     An elephant could take us to the grocery,
     and the pharmacy and the dry cleaners, and my hairdresser,
     and the beach...why he could take us everywhere,
         and we could always find him in a parking lot!” 

"You mean I can keep him?" asked Tim.
   “Of course you can,” said his mother.
   "He'll be the perfect pet.
   Now what do you want to name him?
    And what should we make him for lunch?”