The Book of Story Beginnings
by Kristin Kladstrup
About the book:
In June, 1914, Oscar Martin discovers a book that has magical powers. It can bring the beginning of a story that’s written within its pages to life. So, Oscar rows out into the sea it created around his Iowa farm and isn’t heard of again. Almost a century later, Lucy Martin, Oscar’s great niece, comes to live at the farm and hopes to discover what happened to her lost relative. She finds The Book of Story Beginnings and other clues that take her on an adventure to Cat’n’berd Island and a quest to save her father with her Great Uncle as her guide.
1. What was the original inspiration for the book?
I tend to have lots of fragmented story ideas that accumulate in my head over time: a girl who moves to Iowa and finds a rowboat in an old shed, an ocean in Iowa, a king who loves cats and queen who loves birds. I’m like Oscar in that I usually have nothing more than ideas, so a book that turns ideas into stories was very appealing to me!
2. In the book you make several references to other children’s classics. Are these the books that influenced you most as a reader and writer? What other books inspire you?
I read all the time when I was young. Luckily I was very tall and had long arms to carry tall stacks of books out of the library! E. Nesbit, Eleanor Estes, Elizabeth Enright, and C.S. Lewis were some of the writers I loved. Like Lucy, I have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe many times. And Treasure Island, which is also mentioned inThe Book of Story Beginnings, seemed like an adventure story that Oscar would love, which is why it’s the inspiration for him to write his fateful story beginning.
3. What have you learned about writing (and maybe about yourself) while completing this project? What advice would you give young writers?
One surprising thing I learned was that I don’t need to know exactly where a story will go when I start writing it. Another thing I learned was the importance of forging ahead. I like to revise better than I like to write, so it’s always tempting to fix up what I’ve already written instead of writing the next chapter. My advice to young writers is to trust your ideas and write them down. You may be able to turn them into a story if you push yourself.
4. Lucy’s father says, “…the imagination has a potential for bringing about a transformation. And that potential is capable of being activated by language.” (p. 70) Do you think this is true in our everyday lives? How did you develop such an active imagination?
I don’t know whether what Lucy’s father says is true in everyday life, but I think it is true about stories. My own imagination isn’t particularly active unless I’m trying to use words to transform my vague ideas into a scene for a story. Even a rough draft has the power to make me imagine the scene. And the scene becomes even more vivid when I come back and revise. It’s remarkable to me that the words I organize into a story can also activate a reader’s imagination.
5. Your readers will be clamoring for another book from you! What are you working on next? Can you share enough to hold us over?
I’m writing a sequel to The Book of Story Beginnings, partly because I want to write more about Lucy and Oscar and partly because several new characters have been kicking about in my mind. Also, I really want to find out more about the magic Book of Story Beginnings. Where did it come from? What happens to the stories it invents after the stories are finished? What about all of those blank pages that are still waiting for more stories?
1. The Book of Story Beginnings is a fantasy novel. How is reading a fantasy different from reading an historical fiction book? How can you avoid confusion?
2. What do you think the title means? How do stories begin? What elements do all stories have in common?
- Compare and contrast The Brick to Lucy’s life back east in a city apartment. How does she describe her old home? What excites her about the new one? Which place would you rather live? Why?
- At what point in time does the novel open? Why? In chapter one the time period switches. How do you know? What specific clues did you use to make this connection? Why are both settings critical to explain Lucy’s story?
- Describe Cat’n’berd Island. Who are the inhabitants? What are they like? Why is this island an important setting in the book?
- How is time different on Cat’n’berd island than at The Brick? What could that mean to Oscar, Lucy and her father? How do they realize that time runs differently?
- How has time been unfair to Oscar? What do you think would be the most fascinating aspect of living in the future? What amazes Oscar? What do you think life will be like a century from now? What historical events do you think will have transpired?
- Even though Aunt Lavonne has already died at the opening of the book, she is an important character in the story. Describe Aunt Lavonne and her quest for knowledge. How did this inspire both Lucy and her father? What do you think she would say about what they learned?
- Compare the three different families in the novel- Oscar’s, Lucy’s and the King and Queen on the island. What things do they have in common? How are they different? How do things ultimately turn out for each of them?
- Lucy thinks that Oscar sounds like a hero. Why? What characteristics make someone a hero in a story? What about in real life? How is Oscar a hero? Does Lucy also share these qualities?
- This fantasy novel is packed with a unique cast of minor characters including The King of Cats, The Queen of Birds, Captain Mack, the pirate ship of Orphans (including Millie), and the King’s familiar, Tom. Describe each of these characters and how they are important to the story. What role do they play in the rescue or hindrance of Lucy’s father?
- What six adjectives would you use to describe Lucy? What actions make you choose these descriptors? What does Lucy learn through her adventure? How has she changed by the end of the novel?
- “It’s just a story, [Lucy] reminded herself. A story with characters who could surprise you, who could catch you off guard. Anything can happen in a story.” (p. 299) Which characters surprised you most in this story? What caught you off guard? How do readers get to know the characters of a story?
- Discuss the element of magic in the story. What magical objects make the story possible? Would you rather have the transformation potion or the traveling talisman? Why? Where would you go? What would you do with this magic?
- Why does Lucy decide to follow the path the moon makes on the sea? What must she do? Would you be willing to risk your life and be stuck in another form or time for a member of your family? Who? Is Lucy, then, a hero too?
- “When you put certain books back on the shelf, don’t you feel as if the people inside are going on with their lives after the story is over?”(p. 358) Why do some books have this effect while others do not? How do authors make stories that are so memorable they live on like this? Which books do you still think about? Will you be thinking about Lucy and Oscar?
- Where do you think The Book of Story Beginnings came from? What do you think its future will be? How did it change everything?
- Lucy says to Oscar “The happiest endings-I think they’re endings that feel like beginnings.” What does she mean by this? What beginning is at the ending of this book? Predict what you think Oscar and Lucy will be like when they are grown up. What makes you think this?
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Projects: Need an after-school activity? Baseball practice rained out? Try one of these projects based on the book just for fun. After you’re done you might share it with a friend, librarian, teacher, or your book club.
Imagine that you found The Book of Story Beginnings. Like Oscar and Lucy begin your own tale. Will it be a fairy tale? An adventure story? Set in a different time? You make the choices! See what happens… maybe yours will come to life too.
Using recyclable materials, create a three dimensional piece of art based on one of the settings from the book. There are many to choose from but here are a few: Lucy’s city neighborhood, The Brick, Cat’n’berd Island, the pirate ship of orphans.
Time moves differently on Cat’n’berd Island than it does in Iowa. Can you calculate the age of Oscar and Lucy if they get stuck there for different amounts of time? Can you create a chart or graph that explains how time works on the island compared to home?