Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: "Silly the Seed"

Sadie loved Silly the Seed the moment she listened
to the story on YouTube, then read it in her hands

BENNINGTON -- It was 1991, I'm pretty sure, at Kenny Handler's apartment on another sunny afternoon in SoCal. Bryan Arum and Scott Sussman were there, too.

Scott asked me why I liked being a sportswriter.

Well, I said, I love sports and it's pretty cool to cover games and then write about them. Having a strong rapport with athletes and coaches was another cool part of the job. That word -- rapport -- jumped out of my mouth and dove straight into Scott's brain. "I like that word," he said. "I think I'm going to teach it to my class."

One thing I've always admired about Scott Sussman are the scales and depth of his patience and tranquility, which makes him the most evenly keeled guy I know. Back then, I remember that Scott was cool no matter the situation, which would benefit him as a young teacher. He was perceptive, too. Here's a guy who hears "rapport" and decides to use it in a vocabulary lesson. I thought it was pretty cool.

Twenty years later the Fountain Valley native and Long Beach State grad introduced me to a book titled "Silly the Seed" whose theme had a familiar look and feel. The bottom of the cover had these words: story and pictures by Scott Sussman. Even cooler.

Silly the Seed is a little Seuss, a little Silverstein, and all Sussman. "I'd say you nailed it," Scott said during a Facebook interview in early July after the book arrived and I read it. "I've always loved Dr. Seuss and still do. 'Oh the Places You'll Go' is one of my favorite books. I'm also a big Silverstein fan. I've learned 6 of his poems by heart, just for fun."

The text of Silly the Seed, Scott said, is "somewhat Dr. Seuss-ish" while the images are "an homage to Silverstein, though Silly is a simplified version of both."

***



SADIE'S 6TH BIRTHDAY was days away. 

Silly the Seed was the perfect gift because she loves to read and the book is right in her wheelhouse. But Sadie was away on a summer tour with her sisters and parents. I could have sent her the book but it might have taken forever to travel overseas, and I wanted it to stay in good shape so that Sadie could relish it into adulthood and then give to her children. 

I kept the book in Bennington till she got home.   

I decided to record myself reading the story of Silly the Seed then send Sadie the YouTube video (above) on her birthday. I had fun reading Silly's special story as only I can, strange voices and all. Her parents said she loved it a thousand times over. 

Here is the picture Sadie's parents took of her watching Silly the Seed:


Sadie would walk the streets of Amsterdam reciting Silly the Seed. 

***

IN THE JULY INTERVIEW, Scott, who lives in Rome with his Italian wife, said he sought to create an "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-type" book where characters inhabit a "fantastic world where anything is possible." 

A beard and a hand turkey were his first two attempts at characters. 

Scott was 20 during the early development of Silly the Seed and had just discovered the mysteries of 3 -- past/present/future and solid/liquid/gas and man/woman/child -- and so he realized he needed another character to join Weird the Beard and Lerky the Handturkey. 

"I was eating pumpkin seeds one day and figured a seed would be a good character," he said. "The story practically wrote itself on the spot." 

He wrote it in 20 minutes. Silly, he said, "sounded and felt right. Silly works as an adjective and it describes kids' amusing manner and how they like to play and have fun." 

Right away we learn that Silly is "special" with his "silly face" and at first I wondered if the book was Scott's way of celebrating special-needs children. 

"Special," Scott answered, "is to encourage readers, more specifically children, to recognize what is special about themselves as individuals. I think it's important to feel special in order to develop a proper sense of self-esteem and confidence. I really think this is the first and most essential step toward developing a strong and stable personality." 

The adventurous Silly encounters a wiggly worm caught under a rock in the park, then a bunuga bug stuck by a knee in the trunk of a tree. The seed shows his kindness by helping both creatures to freedom. But then Silly finds himself in a spot and must rely on nature to set him free. In Silly's case, freedom means transformation, too. 

Silly's journey is simple and sweet, the lessons he learns deep and endearing. 

"What goes around comes around," is at the heart of the theme, Scott said. "If you help others, others will help you. If you're nice to people, more people are inclined to be nice to you. Meanwhile, you are the embodiment of your actions. Every aspect of your behavior and each one of your deeds is a large part of who and what you are. So if you do good deeds, you're grow up to reflect that in your physical and mental make-up. That's why Silly becomes a beautiful flower. His actions and behavior are beautiful, so he is too." 

*** 

SCOTT SHOPPED Silly the Seed to one publisher after another. They laughed him out of their offices. He shopped for an agent who pretty much spit in his face. 

Many rookie authors might have called it quits. 

Scott Sussman is resilient, and this is where being so evenly keeled comes into play: He started Octopus Ink Press and published Silly the Seed. Next year Octopus Ink Press will publish two more children's books. 

Here's an interview he gave in March during Read Across America Day:

 

 ***

SADIE CAME HOME this week.

I couldn't wait to watch her read Silly the Seed. Last night she carried the book to bed and read it to her dad. 

This morning, after breakfast, Sadie and I counted the statistics about Silly the Seed: 21 pages, 18 pictures of the cloud, 5 characters and 5 times Silly has his "silly face". 

Sadie said her favorite character is the wiggly worm caught in the dark.



The only "statistic" that matters is the special rapport I have with Sadie thanks to Silly.

Sussman wants children to enjoy reading books at home
that aren't tied to school reading
To order Silly the Seed click HERE.