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Keeping an Open Mind to Re-Write for Kids Struggling in Current Times

Newland Kyoshi used to say, “Karate means empty hand, and that signifies an open mind.” I try to keep an open mind, and that means being open to change. Even if that means changing directions after you’ve made progress on your path. That happened with my work-in-progress when I was suddenly struck with the plight of kids struggling in these times.

I had finished the first draft of my 5th Dojo Kun Character Book. A critique team gave it decent feedback. Shortly after finishing that, there was a school shooting in Texas where an 18-year old seemed to lose it. I decided to search for a psychologist to look over my book’s manuscript, to see if there were ways to tweak it, and to make it more relevant, powerful and helpful to future child readers.

After that, at Desert Foothills Book Fair, a fellow author gave input for an idea for my Dojo Kun Character Books. He didn’t know anything about my 5th book, and said he thought a good character-building subject would be dealing with anger. He mentioned dealing with it especially as anger pertains to getting along with others who might have differing opinions from your own. He wants to heal the rift in our society, and to help kids struggling due to that rift.

A Final Sign that the Story Must be Revised for Kids Struggling

Walking the dogs a couple weeks later, I heard some indistinct talking going on at a neighbor’s. A child and at least one adult talked in regular tones. Suddenly, I heard what sounded like a teen girl, yelling loudly, clearly and dramatically, “I ‘[BLEEP]’-ING HATE YOU!”

The realization hit me that these kiddos are dealing with some major issues. Anger is having a heyday with that. I also realized that draft one of my work-in-progress wasn’t powerful enough. It had too much “tell” and not enough “show,” not enough drama. I needed to incorporate more of my storytelling skills into it.

The plight of kids struggling, unfortunately, is nothing new. I struggled in young days too. Like me, kids today have very busy parents. A good majority of them come from broken homes like I did. They don’t have a home base of their own to give a basic need of a regular returning-to spot that is consistent and safe. (I didn’t even realize that I lacked that basic need until I, as an adult, finally and thankfully had it available to me.)

Socially, politics and agendas are tearing our kids’ country apart. Some push to control even speech and thoughts. Those things affect people of all ages. And on a personal social note, today’s kids struggle just to make a human connection. How are they to ever feel safe and secure? How are they to learn to control their own anger when it, justifiably, rears its ugly head?

How can a Picture Book Author Help Kids Struggling?

For my little part as a picture book author-illustrator, I devised a plan to do a major revision of my fifth book to better connect with readers. The aim is to give kids lifelong tools for recognizing and dealing with anger. When I question my own expertise, I often look to the advice and teachings of karate masters. Perhaps the wisdom from our martial arts heritage can help.

In considering which ancient Ryukyu secret to apply to this issue, I decided on one that addresses anger. The moral of the Hakugin-do legend is, “When your hand goes out, keep your anger in; when your anger goes out, keep your hand in.”

Now back to re-write, revise and edit. Just “keep going, step by step, use perseverance…” as in the third Dojo Kun Character Book, The Follow Through Karate Kids.

-Jenifer Tull-Gauger

Jenifer Tull-Gauger Kyoshi

Children's picture book author/illustrator. Traditional karate teacher and practitioner. Loves drawing and all kinds of art. Also into animals, plants and Mother Nature.

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