Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I've begun writing a series of stories for "middle readers" (the artificial segmentation of kids' reading experience seems silly to me and possibly pernicious, but whatchya gonna do?). They're stories with talking animals, which aren't supposed to interest "middle readers," but I forge mulishly ahead. Here's the beginning of the tale now in progress...

Hannah the Homesick Honu

Like every other green sea turtle she knew, Hannah tried to swim clear of trouble. "Live and let live" had been the Honu way forever, and if trouble seemed to find the Honu more often these days than it had in the past, that gave them all the more reason to love their peace and quiet. Once in a long while, a tiff would break out between two turtles over an especially tender patch of sea grass, but it rarely amounted to more than a nipped flipper and an hour's sulk before everything was right as Hawaiian rain.

Hannah had been hatched knowing that a little distance makes it much easier to be polite. Three feet is good, ten feet even better. Once she found a free spot to lunch, she munched her grass bite by slow bite, enjoying its coarse texture and bright flavor as much as if she had never tasted it before in her life. In fact, she'd been eating the same thing for years, too many years to count. Why bother counting, thought Hannah, when the sun reached through the water and laid its warm hand on her shell? Why count years, or days, or moments, when just now the grass swayed and danced, flickering from gold to green, green to gold, and back again?

A pleasant tingle at the outer edge of her flippers told Hannah to rise from her meal. She swept effortlessly to the surface and popped her head out of the water's embrace, into the thin air. She opened her nostrils and filled her lungs in one great breath. If she'd been counting, she would have known that this took her only a second, but that was enough for her to catch sight of another head bobbing above the water, a head that did not belong to a turtle.

During the course of her uncounted years, Hannah had encountered many of the strange, peeled creatures known as humans. They looked to her like overgrown clams without shells, or octopuses with half the limbs and none of the grace or smarts. Most of them splashed noisily at the surface—Hannah thought they might be trying to swim, but they never got much of anywhere.

In Hannah’s experience, humans did not understand that distance was the better part of good manners. Unlike the Honu, they seemed to love trouble. They chased fish for fun, poked the soft bellies of anemones, and lifted rocks without any thought for the privacy or comfort of the creatures underneath. Worst of all, if Hannah ever let them close, they reached out their long arms with the starlike grabby ends and tried to touch her, sometimes even to hold on to her flipper or shell. Just thinking about it made her panicky.

For all these reasons, Hannah carefully avoided humans, and she didn’t understand at first how this one had surprised her. Then she realized that it was quiet. It didn’t thrash or splash; it dived down through the water almost as easily as she did, but it didn’t swim any closer. She could see its curious eyes peering at her from behind the funny cover it wore over its face.

Hannah felt curious, too. Was this really a human, or a gentler something she’d never met before? Before her fear could stop her, she swam toward it. Not too close—she knew how far those arms could reach—but close enough to admire the tendrils of moss that waved in the water around the creature’s head. It definitely looked like a human, but it didn’t act like one. It made Hannah wonder, and she’d never really wondered before.

When the new human rose back to the surface, Hannah followed it, even though she still had plenty of breath in her lungs. With the moss now slicked flat over its head, the human inhaled sharply through its mouth. It made a series of soft, musical sounds, looking at Hannah all the while. Then, wonderfully, it swam away.

Photo by Hugh, husbandry volunteer at the Aquarium of the Pacific

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