Beth Fine

Educational Fiction Author – Serious Thinker – Child at Heart

Protests Nothing New for Ima Purple

The recent radical protesters at UC, Berkeley and town halls made me realize how often hypocrisy leads a mob from an original complaint to denying freedom of speech to others with differing opinions. That refusal often morphs from uncivil into criminal behaviors.

In the following excerpt from the pre-published manuscript of IMASODE X: From Piraeus to Paris to the Pyrenees, Ima Purple stands before young 1969 Greek protesters touting communism. Risking embarrassment or being shouted down, she seizes the moment to express her opinion.

Ima walked a few blocks and boarded a bus with a marquee showing “Base Shuttle.” Full of American student and military personnel, the bus crossed through Athens. She relaxed as the passengers inside chattered, and the shoppers outside bustled along the sidewalks. The scene mimicked most large cities until on most turns, she could see the Acropolis poking out prominently in the cityscape, reminding her where she actually was.

Halfway to the base, the driver stopped at a red light. Protesters carrying signs rushed up and began to rock the bus. Fearful for the children on board, she felt the rocking motion grow intense in an obvious attempt to terrify foreign passengers. The protesters waved their signs repeating old dry mottos: “Workers Unite Against the Oppressor: Down with Capitalists & Imperialists.” But this time, they had added a new parade ending: “Americans Go Home!”

Ima thought, “Oh no. It’s déjà vu – a repeat of her 1965 Athens visit. She figured these college kids did not understand that the Greek government had invited the U.S to help protect Greece from the same communist encroachment that plagued other nations on the Balkan peninsula. Although only young adults, they maybe had not studied that nations belonging to NATO held an obligation to protect each other.

Screwing up her courage, Ima went up front and asked the driver to open the door. Just then, several protesters yelling “Americans go home,” grabbed at open windows and clung to the sides while others continued to rock the huge vehicle. When the traffic light turned green, the driver stayed put, fearing that if he dragged a protester into the intersection, newspapers would blow it into an international incident.

“Please don’t antagonize them,” said the bus driver, a sergeant from the base.
“Well, their signs and shouts have antagonized me,” declared Ima.
“Ahh-hh, Miss. Don’t mind them. They’re always protesting something. They protested the king for years; and now that he’s gone, they don’t want him back… but fear the current coups might prove worse. It’s all in the newspapers, but it’s like they don’t know how to read or listen or—”

“That’s a red herring. Something else is going on here,” Ima surmised.
“Don’t get involved. Let the Athens police handled this,” the driver advised.
“Please don’t get involved,” said a few passengers.

Seeing that these student protesters obviously wanted change, Ima refused to turn back. Surely she could reason with them. Surely with getting all their knowledge, they had gotten some understanding of how the world worked. Surely, they knew that change must come slowly or else revolution would take over at the high price of public pain and concomitant chaos.

This scene either afforded a chance to conduct themselves as responsible adults or to overflow with immature frustration at a conundrum that will not bring an easy satisfying answer.

Ima wanted to persuade them kindly but logically – to focus on some issues needing improvement instead of destroying everything which would inadvertently include all they still loved about Greek society. She pondered what to do or say…searching for some way to redirect their angst and anger…forming alternatives to prevent their youthful discouragement turning into violence?

Standing at the front of the bus, Ima had a quick flashback to her Hyde Park speech in London. This time would be different. With a quick prayer to push down her critical nature and to invoke critical thought, not provoke the crowd by adding fuel to a rising fire, she motioned to the driver to open the door. Shaking his head, he reluctantly complied.

Ima went down to the bottom step and looked out at the noisy, disgruntled group. Searching for sympathetic eyes but unable to command anyone’s attention, she brought a finger to her mouth in a teacher’s gesture and whispered, “Shhhh!”

The crowd quieted slightly. Then, as if given full attention, Ima tried her hand at the Socratic method or at least her version of it. Before long, it sounded like a mixture of instruction from a Matthew Henry commentary and warning from a Jonathan Edwards sermon. “Come let us reason together:
• Do I rightly perceive you are well-educated young Greeks?
• If so, do you not celebrate Greece as the birthplace of democracy?
• Did Plato not describe how to organize The Republic?
• Did Aristotle not proclaim the beauty of culture in his Poetics?
• Did Socrates not teach you to seek truth by asking questions?
• Would you denounce, even discard your Golden Age philosophers?
• Yet did not your superstitions bring Greece down in ancient times?
• Were you not burdened with a pantheon of demanding pagan gods?
• So confused, you even had a statue to an unknown god?
• Does not history tell how the Apostle Paul explained the unknown God?
• Did your ancestors not embrace Jesus and preach His gospel?
• Are you not proud that the New Testament was first written in Greek?
• If so, for what lost or desired freedom do you now protest?
• Did you forget that whoever is freed by the Lord is free indeed?
• Given Christian freedom, would you revert to slavery of communist dogma?
• Having tasted such freedom, would you accept rules that control you?
• Would you now make statues to new gods of people like Marx and Lenin?
• Would you dignify, even magnify their philosophies as worthy?
• Are you deceived to think damnable goals can result in lofty results?
• Can you approve their goals gained only by killing millions?
• Have you joined those who agree, ‘the ends justify the means’?
• Do you not have eyes to see their goals will reduce your great nation?
• Do you not see what Tito has done to the rest of the Balkans
• Do you not see what the Soviets have done to Eastern Europe?
• Did China free its people by equalizing them e.g.doctors made into orderlies?
• Did a misguided desire for freedom make you protest King Constantine?
• Have you forgotten such kings only have temporal reign over you?
• Or, wanting to be free of monarchy, do you now embrace anarchy?
• Do you prefer being slaves or serfs as your ancestors were most likely?
• Would you so quickly put yourselves under authority that is not Greek?
• Have you forgotten what you once knew?
• Who has bewitched you?”

When Ima stopped, one student approached the steps and spoke for the group. “Lady, we know all that, but we care nothing about the past nor do we worry about the future. When we decided a king was an outdated notion, we got rid of him. Besides, he didn’t care about us or the poor people or even democracy for that matter. We’re neither medieval serfs wanting his protection nor blind men asking for his guidance. And we don’t need you to warn us about Marx or preach to us about God. We know all that too.”

“Miss, you need to get your facts right. You’re fighting an old cause,” said a seemingly articulate Greek man sitting on a bus stop bench off to the side. He closed his newspaper, stood up, and glared at her.

“Then why does that so-called old cause keep showing its ugly head?”
“You don’t understand. History moves quickly here in Greece. The king is gone, and the communists are probably too few to take over parliament. What these protesters actually want is a good thing – to get rid of the military government that rules us now. Don’t you Americans read newspaper?” He shook his finger in her face.

Ima blushed from tip to toe. Maybe she had gone off on a tirade without knowing all the facts. Wanting to disappear from the present humiliation, Ima again let her mind zoom back weeks in time and hundreds of miles in distance…back to the Hyde Park soapbox scene…back to the same question: could she ever stop the habit of being a critic instead of a critical thinker! Still she wrestled on when to analyze and when to stay quiet? Or had she judged correctly?

Chagrined, Ima decided to suffer this disappointment in silence and not bore her gracious hosts at dinner this evening. Nobody need know about today’s failure, if indeed, failure were its proper title. She could admit to needing more up-to-date information but still stubbornly clung to the feeling that her conclusion might approximate the truth


Educational Fiction Fills Knowledge Gaps

Reading is the door to deepening one’s general knowledge or interest in a particular topic. Most citizen, academic, and practical activities depend on an informed membership who reads proficiently. As an educational fictional author, I have developed a way for juveniles and young adults to improve their reading and comprehension skills through my middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. It can concurrently refresh their common knowledge or introduce new information to absorb.

You might consider me an informal/incidental/accidental learning source or simply “a voice crying in the wilderness,” one who has privately attacked the student competency issues often reported in news and journal articles.

The Picaresque provides realistic stories about a young teacher-turned-detective whose adventures take her to diverse geographical places where she meets rascals and rogues determined to thwart her investigations and noble causes. But her adventures hold advantages to enjoy casually or to use as a catch-up method. Designed as educational fiction, the series subtly builds word skills and encourages critical thinking needed to solve mysteries. It offers a choice of reading styles with a motto, Have Fun. Get Smarter.™

With no judgment implied, the motto means readers can either scan the imaginary tales of recent history, vicariously visit new locations depicted on enclosed illustrated maps, or grow exponentially by accessing the Appendices. In educational fiction, enrichment material can be ignored or explored. The Appendices serve as back-of-the-book answers. There awaits a wealth of information beyond the mystery:

  • biographies of main characters to learn about possible, fatal family flaws
  • clichés/idioms/ phrases explanations to see how they add color to sentences
  • lookup suggestions in categories to help recall allusions mentioned  in the story
  • vocabulary words (at PSAT level) to facilitate new ways of expressing ideas.

Structure of the Series

Italics in the content serve as neurological triggers when the eye hits them, but new words are also supported by ample context clues.  These can enhance a reader’s enjoyment or simply fade into the background, again by choice.

Content maturity and moral supposition grow from book to book. The series also moves from easy to difficult allusions and vocabulary, a style that subtly grooms readers to handle more complex concepts and social issues introduced in later stories. If taken in sequence, these stories allow readers to follow the progression of main characters facing ever more serious topics.

Set up to help build memory of events, a Prologue reminds readers what has transpired in a previous story. An Epilogue serves as a denouement for characters or suggests events in the next Imasode. The books range up to 25 chapters, with story texts from 50,000 to 80,000 words. Many text paragraphs have gone through the Flesch-Kinkaid Grade, Fog, and Ease of Understanding Scales.

The Storyline

Ímagine Purple, a young teacher with a secret desire to be a sleuth, has the chance to pursue her wish after her pilot husband gets assigned to Vietnam. Rather than have a pity party, she assigns herself to see the world from Newfoundland to New Delhi or as long as her money lasts. She especially anticipates an early stop in Manhattan to visit her famous father, a Broadway musical star, and her best old friend Riina Feingold, a budding actress.

However, after spending much of the 1960s on military bases abroad, Ima naïvely steps back into civilian society not full of fun,  family, and friends, but of tumultuous change. Culture has moved men along from marching for civil rights to getting ready to walk on the moon; from wearing pinstriped suits to tie-dyed bell-bottoms; from melodic ballads to heavy metal music.

In some ways Ima feels a bit unprepared, even un-cool because other young people her age are busy protesting everything she thought normal in life. Protests favoring drugs, free love, revolution, and animas toward corporations that employed their parents who could then provide savings for their kids’ education. Even so, the most mystifying outcome of these protests was a revival of Nietsche’s misguided theme that “God is dead.”

She hopes her long trip will afford her opportunity to solidify her detective method which might also help her find her own reason to protest. However, as a new believer, Ima makes typical “do-gooder” mistakes and jumps headlong into “saving the world.” Vacillating between being too judgmental and too lenient with others, she befriends rascals, slips into pitfalls, and ignores her own need for discernment. More like a character from the classics, she gradually gains wisdom and even seeks divine help arranging clues to solve criminal cases as well as life’s mysteries.

Although outwardly a grown young lady, Ima often drifts into daydreaming and introspection, not unlike teenagers. She talks to herself to let readers know about her continued search and stretch to full maturity but dares not share this inner battle with story characters. They need her to remain the glue that holds the picaresque together.

Ima’s Investigation Method

When very young, Ima read lots of mysteries and even created her own crazy investigative technique: find a random detail, turn it upside down, pull it inside out, throw it up against the wall, watch it fall to the floor, stomp on it, and then hope it squirts out a clue or suspicion that leads to a real fact. But now grown and on a new adventure, Ima starts to remold her simple method to resemble how great detectives found their insights.

Sherlock Holmes used deduction often starting with a theory before he had all the facts. Ima felt disappointed that Holmes used cocaine when bored with or blocked on a case. She disrespected this vice as a device to avoid hard work.  In contrast, Detective Hercule Poirot fastidiously collected lots of details, used induction to form a theory, and employed “every little gray cell” in his brain. Jane Marple also used induction, nosing her way into police business and inducing witnesses to reveal more than they intended. Nancy Drew practiced what Ima called drewduction, whereby she commandeered pals to help investigate crimes, visited odd places to search out clues, and mercilessly pestered suspects to tell the truth.

Having studied all these approaches and even taught them to her students, Ima began to develop her own method called reduction, reducing details down to the lowest common denominator like with fractions.  Although a champion observer, detail finder, and list maker, she still often wrestled with putting everything together to solve a pressing mystery.

Why write educational fiction? The rigorous demands of the genre produce little competition.

Having taught fourth graders who easily mastered tasks and then later teaching remedial adults who scored below the 4th grade level in language arts, I saw a storm brewing. Even newspapers are written on a 6th grade level. My heart broke to see adults unable to grasp content designed for them. So lacking the fundamentals to clarify their own meanings, they struggled to express in a coherent manner topics they had chosen and for which they obviously felt strong passion. Their faces showed great failure and frustration, seeming to wonder why they had returned to school. Admittedly, so did I.

Personally, as a slow-learner, high-achiever type, I needed to push myself al through school. Strangely, my adult students seemed at the start, worn out and with “no push” left, if ever they had any. I found them underexposed to history, geography, politics, and literature but overexposed to pop culture which would rarely help them get a job except in show business. There had to be another approach for me to address the emptiness I saw in my class. Although many of my students lacked the funds and freedom to travel, I had grown up having lots of adventures and wondered if moving away from home would help me expand my horizons. Since writers constantly hear the mantra, “write what you know,” I mulled over how to combine my love of travel with the lack of advanced literacy presenting before my eyes.

Culling files at the start of the New Year, I uncovered articles I wrote in 1991 about Texas Academic Skills Program (TASP) aimed at improving college entrance scores but it obvious failure at this goal. Now, nationwide, over 50% of high school graduates must take remediation before matriculating university.

The current cannon of fiction about aliens, demons, fantasy, monsters, vampires, wizards, and zombies often glamorizes death or offers unreal escapes from problems.  And the non-fiction list regularly covers stories of victimization, abuse, or sexual issues which can exhaust the most avid reader. Seeing these offerings, I thought there surely existed room for realistic stories that dealt wholesomely yet openly with subject matter, perhaps stories to stimulate curiosity about recent history or adventures to entertain like only mysteries can. Both of those appealed to me because mysteries can often lure the most jaded or indifferent person.

While living in Newfoundland, I found a great kickoff point for my journey of creating The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. Beginning with several test readers, Isettled on two (a girl, 11 and a boy, 10) who stuck with me through IMASODE IX before they graduated. The girl was African American and influenced me to keep an Atlanta character I had planned to dismiss; the boy, now in Olympic swimming trials, named my episodes, the Imasodes. They both wrote helpful reports and grew with the difficulty in the series.

Conclusion

Although these books target a broad audience of middle-school to young adult readers, especially those reaching for advanced literacy needed for college entrance, the first two books are easy enough for a 10 year-old. Even so, the challenges and entertainment of The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple hold potential for tweens on the verge of losing interest in schoolbooks, for teens hungry to understand unresolved world issues, for adults who want to refresh their readiness for college, or for elders who simply like nostalgic stories. For more information, the website (imaginepurple.com) expounds on the project. To show the range of topics, the first eight are now available in print with sixteen planned:

IMASODE  I:        Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland

IMASODE II:       The Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia

IMASODE III:      Mary Jane of Canton, Maine

IMASODE  IV:     Mayhem in Manhattan

IMASODE V:        Anti-Belle of Antebellum Atlanta

IMASODE VI:      Danger Starts in Detroit

IMASODE VII:    Escapades in Estonia

IMASODE VIII:    Aunt Lottie’s London

IMASODE IX:      Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany (sent to the publisher)

IMASODE X:       From Piraeus to Paris to the Pyrenees  (in draft)

 


Writing Through to the Truth – Serious Subjects Demand

Mid 20th century writing guru Mina Shaughnessy taught a maxim: “Write through to the truth.” Her words not only echo in my head as a published author but also haunt me when I have a serious issue to resolve. Along with her wise advice, I have fixated on another principle both in teaching and now in writing: “Lead the Reader.”

Whoever decides to read your work only gets a glimmer of its content from the headline. So hang in there with me. I want to lead you through my journey, from creating a story to building a concept.

For over 3 years I have been revising IMASODE IX: The Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany, the rudiments of which I started long ago. It has been a tough assignment but a satisfying process as described below.

In the 1960s, I bought a unique sunburst brooch at an Pujabi handcraft shop near where I worked in Manhattan. The piece looked ancient and filled with mystery. I gave it to my mom for Christmas but never forgot about it. When she died, I took it back as a memento. Decades later, I decided to build a story around it.

As my family’s 1999 Christmas gift, I invented an evening mystery with a group of characters to be played by my relatives in Texas. With this ploy, I hoped to work out problems in the plot line. After I handed out character biographies and background materials on the Sovereign’s Sunburst, we gathered again in the spring of 2000.

Everyone came costumed to the hilt! Yet, when I passed out a list of questions to ask other characters and actions to take when finding out details on what I tagged as an ancient artifact, a complete traffic jam occurred. The characters crisscrossed the room asking other characters about any secrets possessed about the curious item, secrets that might provide information to fit this evening’s puzzle.

Painfully they tried to figure out what I meant for them to do. However, their perplexity and confusion actually helped me to see the flaws and possibilities in my construct.

Setting that idea aside, in 2007, I began my middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple and managed the list of adventures to include the Sovereign’s Sunburst plot line as a later offering. Because my books progress in complexity, both in story content and vocabulary used, this one I knew needed to be way down the line as readers matured into the series.

Transferring the story from a casual Texas evening to a formal weekend auction at a castle in Germany proved my first best step. That also gave me the idea to place German words and phrases into the story causing the reader to feel like an ESL student immersed in a new location. As a non-German speaker, I would not focus on grammar or syntax but would simply give the young reader a chance to see peculiarly spelled words sprinkled into the text. Those two decisions set the Imasode’s skeleton:

As a little child with German heritage and vague memories of family reunions, I recall some relatives who stood off, talking in German. When grown, I suspected they had discussed disturbing war issues. Setting my story in Germany caused me to reach so deeply into my uneasy feelings about WWII, I had to face my own weariness about the Nazi era. I became more aware of how WWI led Germany to an unsteady government ripe for a tyrant like Hitler to play savior. I reviewed more of his plans to annihilate Romany (gypsies) along with Jews. Although Hitler had positive ideas like the VW (Kdf car), city-planning, autobahns, and affordable radios, I could not dismiss the human deception of Aryan lies he fed to the Hitler Youth and common folks.

Since a Punjabi prince (introduced in IMASODE V) and his royal family would figure in as guests in the story’s device of a weekend auction, I researched possible Indian roots to the Sovereign’s Sunburst artifact and found a kaleidoscope of eras invading the story.

Since The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is in the educational fiction genre, I thought this expansive storehouse of miscellaneous history could fit serious young fiction readers at this point of series because my two test readers (both home-schooled) had no problem with the difficult topics nor venue changes. In fact the boy test reader thought this book my best yet. I figured the wealth of incidental information in this particular Imasode could fill in gaps that public school revisionists have left out of student history books.

Therefore, set deep into the Palatine Forest full of castles and fairytales, this story lets the reader join the auction attendees as they bathe in research and suppositions on many topics besides German history:
• Mongols and Sultans invading India
• Punjabi Jattis becoming nomads (miscalled gypsies)
• Rome’ and the Middle East cross pollinating cultures
• Innocent III beautifying Rome
• Medieval feudalism lasting centuries
• Crusade soldiers (and serfs) serving as vassals to their lords
• Serfs becoming guilders who built towns
• Guilders forming a new middle class
• Christians following their noble’s beliefs began reform
• Protestant Reformation bringing a split from the Catholic Church
• East India Tea company giving rise to the English Raj
• Queen Victoria reigning in peace as Empress of India
• England giving India its Independence in 1947
• Dividing up Punjabi land & Hindus from Muslims formed Pakistan

You might wonder, how all of these issues can possibly relate to one story? Because writers depend on the imprint of their muse, I found fascinating the juxtaposition of such rich details and wanted to see for myself how my research could merge into a single story. Fiction allows such expanse.

For example, Just as we might be amidst a hurricane, an election, a holiday season, a riot, a war, or a job loss, we might make strong comments on such events or let them flow in and out of our conversations with varying levels of interest. But mostly, we would keep moving on in our lives as life in general whirled around us.

Look for IMASODE IX: The Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany, sometime mid-2017.

 

imamapixpfalzerwaldnew


Writing Workshop for Detroit Middle Schoolers at Elmwood Park Library

On August 18th, Elmwood Park Branch of the Detroit Public Library System held a workshop for young writers aged 10-14 to learn more about “How to Turn Your Adventures into Stories.” Beth Fine, Tennessee author of the middle school mystery series Picaresque of Ímagine Purple, taught the workshop.

Wanting attendees to grasp how observation is a writer’s main tool for capturing details and how details add authenticity to characters and settings, Fine gave a brief autobiography and a summary of a book she wrote in the fourth grade. The kids recognized story details that came from her real life as a Texas tomboy living near a bayou in the woods. Thus they learned a writer’s first rule: “Write what you know!”

Fine used a technique called wagon-wheeling to display the story’s major details and to explore some variations. For instance, when the main character disappeared, the class analyzed how the writer had set a mystery for readers to wonder if the tomboy ran away, escaped to a secret hiding place, got lost, drowned, or was kidnapped.

Then, some kids shared a personal adventure, wagon-wheeled it, and practiced borrowing outside hints to expand their own concept. Fine encouraged the children to resist a stiff, please-others attitude in their writing and to let their imaginations fly freely to release the story within.

Pat Walker, the juvenile/teen librarian, insured a successful workshop by inviting good readers and writers to attend. Knowing how to win over kids, she also provided juice and snacks at the half-time. That really helped because the building air conditioning had broken down. We all did our share of sweating but lost only one kid out of ten.

Those who persevered to the end received a detective’s magnifying glass, a Picaresque E-book, and a label of the mystery series motto: Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ Fine also held a drawing and gave away IMASODES I & II* to the winner. The afternoon proved Elmwood Park has kids eager to learn. http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/branch/elmwood-park

IMASODE I: Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland
IMASODE II: Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia

 

 


Reading for Fun – Are you nuts?

KID: Reading for fun, are you kidding? Those words sound mismatched to me. I’d rather have a tooth pulled than read a book for fun.

NEIGHBOR: I hope you brush your teeth a lot so going to the dentist is fun for you.

KID: Not really. But, brushing teeth and going to the dentist are CRAZY things that only parents or teachers talk about, right?

NEIGHBOR: Maybe grownups say such things because we were once kids too and didn’t want cavities.

KID: Yeah, but I mean grownups also talk about such CRAZY ideas like “reading for fun.” They don’t have to deal with schoolyard bullies who’d knock out your teeth for saying that…so you’d end up at the dentist anyway.

NEIGHBOR: Man, the bullies in your school sound worse than when I was a kid. Back then at recess,  I proved the best at doing cartwheels through double ropes. The girls teased me mercilessly, mostly out of jealousy, I think. So, I decided to become the only girl on the boys’ ball team at recess.

KID: Aw, you’re pulling my leg. You didn’t do that?

NEIGHBOR: Sure did. I wouldln’t allow anyone to tell me how the cow ate cabbage because I was plenty good at sports.

KID: Still that’s not the same as saying you liked to “read for fun.” If any kid fessed up to that now,  some bully would beat him up.

NEIGHBOR: Sounds like kids today need more power to squash such trouble-makers. You know that bullies usually run when resisted. Maybe that’s what we discovered when growing up and reading for fun. Treasure Island and Huckleberry Finn challenged our fears so we could win against our enemies. Reading let us take mental vacations… meet new people… visit strange lands…even learn foreign words. Strangely, we began to feel smarter and more powerful…almost like superheroes in comic books. No one would dare stop a superhero from reading for fun…if that’s what he chose to do.

KID: Well, not me. I only read when I have to. Except maybe comic books. I do like those.

NEIGHBOR: Boy, I did too. On vacation, my parents let us buy comic books. Although most kids had boxes of Superman or Captain Marvel under their beds, I wanted to be different, so I always bought Plastic Man because he could stretch his arms around corners.

KID: Boy, I wish could stretch that far.

NEIGHBOR: Well, even if your arms can’t stretch farther than your reach, your brain sure can. Reading for fun can stretch it as far as you can imagine.

KID: Won’t that make my head hurt?

NEIGHBOR: Maybe a little, but what if it made you grow more powerful in class and on the school yard? That’s what the mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is all about. You have a choice: Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ You can simply go along with Ima to solve the mysteries or follow hidden clues in character biographies in the back of the book.

KID: Back of the book! That sounds like school.

NEIGHBOR: Maybe a little, but what if it’s a new way for you to jump ahead and to discover secrets? If so, I figure by “reading for fun,” you can’t keep yourself from learning, either by accident or intention.

The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple by Beth Fine is an Educational Fiction, Middle School Mystery Series with teachable moments. The books are Grade Level and Age-Appropriate.


Summer Reading II – Kids’ Viewpoint

Summer Reading - Kid's Viewpoint

KIDS KORNER | Forced Summer Reading is For The Birds (from kids’ viewpoint)

Hooray, it’s summer. Time to kick off my shoes, wiggle my toes in the grass, go swimming, play outside, stay up late, read comic books, and…glare at a stack of books someone picked out for the dreaded summer reading program. After a school year of having to read two or three books per month, I’ve been told to digest two or three books per week?

Whoever invented the summer reading program idea maybe thought it a good way to keep kids out of trouble. What grown-ups don’t understand is most kids never dream about getting into trouble. We’re too smart for that. We’ve figured out that doing what’s right brings privilege, but doing what’s wrong brings punishment. Who wants to take that bumpy road?

Perhaps long ago, nice librarians and teachers decided to start a summer reading program. They weren’t sadists who hated kids but simply book-buffs who loved to read and hoped kids would also. But, when some tyrant decided to make the summer reading program mandatory, my enthusiasm for summer reading evaporated.

That’s strange because I used to love to read. I looked forward to Monday nights when the library stayed open for adults to check out books. While my mom looked for the latest best-seller, I went to see if a special bottom shelf in the children’s department sported a new orange biography. Those books had 200 pages divided into short chapters which reported the adventures of great Americans like John Smith, Pocahontas, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Abigail Adams, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Dolly Madison, Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Louisa May Alcott and others.
It surprises me how I still remember their stories. Perhaps that’s because I got to choose the books for my own summer reading program. So, why hasn’t anyone ask me to make a list lately? I would have written down only books I’ve wondered about or that sounded interesting like the new mystery series called The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. If so, I’d be as happy as I was when reading those orange biographies from the bottom shelf.

-Beth Fine

Author of a popular new mysteries series for middle schoolers, The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple http://picaresqueofimaginepurple.com

Reprinted by permission from Nashville Christian Family Magazine.


Icebergs as Metaphor (repost from April 2012)

The Titanic, the biggest, most well-thought-out ship ever to hit the seas, struck an iceberg and sank one hundred years ago, today. Navigators knew icebergs formed a hazard, especially in the spring. But, somehow, even with all the safeguards of the latest technical equipment and the expertise of seasoned seaman, it still went down within hours of the strike. Mere hours. Forgive the pun… but this fact is chilling.

Last year, I drove up to St. Anthony, Newfoundland to see one of the best iceberg years in decades. One looked as a large as a shopping center or a short landing strip. Like a king of the smaller bergs, it edged its way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I had seen chunks floating in Cabot Straits before, but they were truly “chips off the old block.”

That set me to thinking: do contemporary Americans realize that the most blessed and well-thought-out nation ever to set sail is dangerously close to foundering because of the icebergs of group anarchy, corporate renegades, political corruption, and personal apathy?

Ignorance of our Constitution has turned the miracle of America into a shadow of European folly, the folly that began under kings wanting to regulate citizens’ freedom, religion, and enterprise. That very folly is what drove men and women, Protestants and later Catholics, to risk their lives on tiny wooden ships to escape such tyranny in the 1500s.

Together our forefathers formed this nation, a magnificent ship. Captains and crew would change, but each person at the wheel would be charged with guiding the ship safely along her course and using every means available to steer clear of danger. If they engaged in folly, or became lax in their real duty, they would imperil everyone and everything on board. Should they lose focus for only a moment, fail to correct course in time, they not only do irreparable damage but will also go down with the ship!

Contemporary ignorance of our real history and our miraculous Constitution indicts our public-cum-government schools. Ironically, as these schools began ignoring our government’s foundational principles, they began drowning in folly.

These institutions have produced feckless citizens who seem not to have been taught that only here, in America, did men freely submit –themselves– to each other and to the rules they all agreed to follow as a civil society under God. All the documents drafted by early colonists, founding fathers, and state constitutions declared and confirmed that leaders must be men of faith and morals…otherwise this great experiment would not succeed. For, the caveat prevails when men do not heed its warning.
About the author

Beth Fine Beth Fine is educational fiction author. Master’s degrees in humanities and literature complement her undergraduate work focused on theatre, sociology, and education. Beth has long been a writer of plays, music, verses, and stories. Her experience includes teaching fourth graders and adults. She is the author of a history/mystery series: The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple imaginepurple.com. You can find more of Beth’s thoughts here on her blog bethfine.com as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.  You can the Picaresque video trailers on Google+,  or on her Goodreads and Amazon author pages.


A Good Read Drives You to New Locations

A good read comes in different packages depending on a reader’s taste. For a good read, a reader will likely choose his favorite type of book.

A good read may be a beach book, a Harlequin romance, or even a self-help tome for the reader to scan while getting a tan. A good read may swoosh the reader away on a sci-fi trip like in Kurt Vonnegut’s Ice Nine or a fantasy space voyage such as in C.S. Lewis’ Perelanda.

With the recent successful run of horror offerings, a good read might even include Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel Frankenstein. If so, the reader could retrace the origins of the drool-cruel-gruel of the undead genre. But to this author, a mystery is the best and only good read. In fact, to me nothing satisfies more than an Agatha Christie mystery like Murder on the Orient Express.

Maybe you’d even enjoy another old train mystery called The Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland, a candidate for a good read and the first episode (IMASODE) of a new mystery series called The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. It is fun, wholesome, and sneakily educational. In fact, the main character Ima Purple is a teacher-turned-detective who now has seven more mysteries to her name. While taking the reader to different states and countries, the stories build accidental knowledge by gradually introducing more mature conflicts and more difficult vocabulary to use in your next essay. Won’t that surprise your own teacher?

Imagine a good read without zombies, wizards, or vampires…but with realistic villains who cause real-type dilemmas for real-type good guys that must struggle to escape or suffer real-type consequences. Such a good read mystery builds suspense in the story but requires critical thinking to solve it: a double-decker dilemma full of meaning.

The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is a good read where there are no easy answers and which produces an endless storyline that unfolds like a soap opera with past characters popping up unexpectedly. You never have to wish that the book won’t end because there’s probably another Imasode in the works.

IMASODE   I:  Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland
IMADODE II:  Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia
IMASODE III: Mary Jane of Canton, Maine
IMASODE  IV: Mayhem in Manhattan
IMASODE   V: Anti-Belle of Antebellum Atlanta
IMASODE  VI: Danger Starts in Detroit
IMASODE VII: Escapades in Estonia

IMASODE VIII: Aunt Lottie’s London (Spring 2016)

IMASODE IX: Sovereign’s Sunburst, an Auction in Germany (2016)

IMASODE X: From Piraeus to Paris to the Pyrenees (2016-17)


Why Educational Fiction Offers Stepping Stones to Success

The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is an educational fiction mystery series with Teachable Moments, Grade Level Vocabulary, and Age-Appropriate Topics as the reader matures and progresses through the books.

An attentive reader of novels may prefer fictional stories from a wide range of sub-genres: romance, adventure, historical, fantasy. Although that reader may casually learn age-appropriate lessons from fictional characters placed in pretend-life situations, educational fiction actually aims at learning as a goal. Unlike Seinfeld which was undeniable fun but reveled in the fact that its story was about “nothing,” educational fiction is, on the other hand, about “something,” something “real” that can be fun or serious.

Perhaps more akin to historical fiction, educational fiction explores an imaginary narrative that looks through a particular glass and wrestles with particular dilemmas. Depending on the target audience, educational fiction offers age-appropriate books that explore a wide range of topics. It tackles these topics by guiding a reader through a cleverly designed plot that requires its characters to be curious, to seek answers to questions, and even to follow a mystery to its logical solution. Without forcing connections, its storyline manages a difficult issue by critique, not criticism. Such restraint lets characters freely comment from their own perspectives and lets readers experience their own epiphanies-cum-teachable-moments.

In his article “Education[al] Fiction–A Field Waiting to Be Explored,” George Korankye noted that Geoffrey Chaucer and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle both composed stories around an early understanding of medical science. Whether or not these men unwittingly invented the genre, readers have benefited from such ingenious grace of such literature. Other primary exponents grasped the concept of making a point with a story. Aesop used his fables for teachable moments by ending each tale with a moral. Jesus taught by parable, an instructive story that restricts itself to a single point. The shorter a narrative, the fewer the points can be made: the longer a story, the more items it can investigate and manifest to the reader. That describes the purpose and effect of educational fiction (now tagged “edufic” by some).

Others consciously set rich teachable moments into their educational fiction. Recently, I stumbled on a Grade 2-5 series called The Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man. Kumar Hathy has designed an age-appropriate story laced with common core standards for teachers to emphasize while in the story’s text.

Korankye sees this genre as a future “interdisciplinary” teaching tool that can “embrace a wide range of subjects and themes.” He reported on Gundermann and Mortell’s study that saw the future of educational fiction as a vehicle to change opinions of real people and/or issues when negatively portrayed. Though I liked the gist of Korankye’s ideas, I have reservations of “edufic” becoming the narrative form of docudrama because promoting awareness of a topic can easily turn into indoctrination.

I can honor Korankye’s idea of having a Bibliography only to an extent. In my own educational fiction series of The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple, I have Appendices of Clichés/Idioms, Lookup Suggestions, and Vocabulary mentioned in the story but meant only to give the reader a beginning place to do research on his own. To me, educational fiction is to stimulate further reading rather than to count on every fact as if it came from official documentation.

I disagree with Korankye’s suggestion that educational fiction should make “all its references… verifiable, and all its assumptions plausible in the light of current thought.” That not only could burden an author and restrict his insights, but also such an arbitrary requirement on content could distract the reader and kill the plot, making it subservient to an extraneous fact. For instance, I wrote a fictional play about an historical character living in Roman times. Digesting diverse opinions, I had to mash these together creatively to make possible any cohesive and authentic tone. My ethical stance is not to be slavish to facts but to give readers the flavor in a fictional piece. They can research any facts perceived as mistakes and be smarter for their effort.