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Put ego in check and learn to be creative with your child

March 14, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

There was once a lad named Tony Pepperoni ... Who had it up to here with all the cheese and macaroni.

"For rice cakes, what's the deal?" he cried! "Sameness every meal?" he sighed.

So he marched into the kitchen with his belly button itchin' ..."

* * *

So starts "'Oh, Brother!' said the Mother of Tony Pepperoni," by John Galligan and his family.

The story - a tale of a boy who becomes tired of boring dinners - began to take form as the family made pizza one evening.

They created a face out of the ingredients and gave the pizza a name, "Tony Pepperoni." It turned into a story about a boy who wouldn't eat anything unless it rhymed. (Jam and Ham, Custard with Mustard, A Glass of Bass, Nectarines with Jelly Beans ... well, you get the picture.)

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The family talked about their story in the car, on camping trips, at bedtime.

"It kept coming back to us because we enjoyed it," says Galligan, who teaches literature, creative writing and composition at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis.

They decided to put their story in a homemade book, complete with illustrations, for holiday presents to relatives and friends.

Little did Galligan know it would be published.

All four family members - Galligan, his wife, Jinko Naganuma, and their children, Osamu "Sam" who's 5 and Joe, 8 - contributed.

The story came first. Then they sketched each page in miniature on a storyboard and decided where text would be placed.

"It was deeply bonding in a way that all real challenges and experiences are," Galligan says.

He says entering the creative process with a child can be difficult because adults often don't want to let go of their control of a situation. But sometimes that's necessary for creativity to happen.

At times Galligan's boys would have an idea that he knew wouldn't work. He had to hold back his opinion, let them explore it and come to their own conclusions.

"The goal was to do something enjoyable, healthy and creative with my children," Galligan says. "It's really critical for the parent to put his ego in check.

"If kids aren't central in the vision, they're not going to get anywhere."

He says parents who think they couldn't write a book with their children may be surprised if they make the commitment to try it.

"I deal all the time with adults who are traumatized about their ability to write," Galligan says. "They equate writing with punctuation or using correct grammar."

Galligan teaches that writing is much more than that: It is about developing a character who has to overcome obstacles that are in the way of his goal.

Worried you'll spell a word wrong? Look it up later.

Concentrate on being creative. Brainstorm, play with ideas without being rigid or critical. (Sometimes the most off-base idea is used as a stepping stone to the idea you really want.) Narrow those down and come up with a vision and goal.

Feel that you don't have time? If you really want to be creative with your children, you'll make time.

Galligan says his family works on writing projects after dinner. How do they do it? No TV or video games.

To keep on track, they focus on enjoying the process.

"I'd like parents to, No. 1, be realistic," Galligan says. "The fact that we got this book published, there was a lot of luck involved."

The family's next project is, "Cows in the Campground," a story about a child trying to tell adults that there are cows in the campground, but the parents are too self-absorbed to listen.




"'Oh, Brother!' said the Mother of Tony Pepperoni," is available from James Street Press, www.jamesstreetpress.com.




Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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