September 23, 2020

Mentored by Irresistible Words by Joylene M Bailey

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay 

I’m pretty sure Dr. Seuss taught me to read. 


In other primary readers, while John and Janet were getting new skates …

“Look, Mother,” said John.

“I have some skates.

Janet and Anne have some skates.”

“I can help Anne,” said Janet.

“John and I can help Anne.

Come on, Anne.

We can help you skate.”


… Dr. Seuss’s characters were hopping on Pop, Thing One and Thing Two were getting into trouble and the Fiffer-Feffer-Feff was sporting four fluffy feathers. Dr. Seuss’s rollicking rhymes and winsome words hooked me from the beginning and helped me to understand how joyful words could be.


Later, I learned that lighthearted tales, silly or not, often spoke truth:

“You couldn’t say “Skat!” ‘cause that wouldn’t be right.

You couldn’t shout “Scram!” ‘cause that isn’t polite.

A host has to put up with all kinds of pests,

For a host, above all, must be nice to his guests.” 

       - Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose -


Dr. Seuss taught me to love words.



Like many others this month, I loved Lucy Maud Montgomery from my adolescence on. While I enjoyed Anne’s story, I was more captivated by the characters, and the joy of nature, and the comfort of place and belonging. The way LMM could take me right into the moment with her words, where I saw the sunset over the harbour, inspired me. 

Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.

- Anne of Green Gables -

Many years later I was able to verify with my own eyes, just how accurate her descriptions of her beloved island were when I vacationed on Prince Edward Island. 


LM Montgomery taught me to paint pictures with words. 



More than any other shadow mentor though, the one who inspires me most is Patricia MacLachlan. Though she writes for children, her books seem to cross age boundaries, as with her Newbery Medal winning book, Sarah, Plain and Tall

I love how she weaves together stories of the young and the old. Mostly I marvel at her gift of saying so much with so few words. As one reviewer has said, she “has become known for creating an intense emotional experience for the reader using very few words.”


They had come for her in a wagon and taken her away to be buried. And then the cousins and aunts and uncles had come and tried to fill up the house. But they couldn’t.

- Sarah, Plain and Tall -


Her gift for few words captivates me in my all-time favourite book, All the Places to Love. In this beautiful picture book, what is not said is just as important as what is said.  


Today we wait, him sitting on a wooden-slat chair

And me on the hay,

Until, much later, my grandmother holds up a small bundle

in the open window,

Wrapped in a blanket made from the wool of her sheep,

And my grandfather cries.

- All the Places to Love -


There are stories upon stories upon stories in that one sentence. Enchanting!


Her work kindled in me the need, the desire, to keep my words few but compelling. Because of her writing, I took poetry classes in order to learn how to write with no wasted words. 


Patricia MacLachlan taught me to create an experience with words and the spaces around the words.


These three writers, in their turn, have inspired in me a desire to use irresistible words to invoke an experience of joy and beauty in my readers. I'm not there yet, but every word gets me closer. 

 Scraps of Joy



  1. Joy, your words already invoke an experience of joy and beauty in readers and most certainly in this reader. I delighted in this peek into who were the shapers by their words of your own young life: Dr. Seuss for giving you a love for the sounds of words, LMM for showing you how to paint pictures with words, and Patricia for letting you actually feel the impact that a few carefully chosen words can have on a mind and heart. We recognize their influence when we read your work. Lovely!

    1. Thank you, dear Brenda for that wonderful encouragement.

  2. Hi Joy, I loved the line, "but every word gets me closer." May the tug that we feel as writers continue to pull us nearer to the words we need to select. I too enjoy studying poetry and the succinct way it wraps words into beautiful images.

    1. So true, not all of us are poets but studying poems makes us better writers. Amen, may the tug that we feel as writers continue to pull us nearer to the words. Love that.

  3. Yes! I can feel the influence and appreciation and I like how you ended each section with a statement of how each writer impacted you.

    1. I could have chosen a few more shadow mentors I think, but these three really stuck out to me and it was a good exercise to figure out why they inspired me.

  4. Dr. Seusse sure had a way with words. I was at a party and we were taking turns reading aloud, "Now Is Your Tongue Numb? We actually read it better as the wine took effect.

    1. That's pretty funny, Bruce. Dr. Seuss is fun in any company.

  5. Thank you for your post, Joy. How you write calms me and gives me the desire to write more and more. Sounds like I can learn a lot about writing poetry from you. You are a writing mentor, my friend. :)

    1. Thanks, Alan, I don't think I'd call myself a poet although I do like to write rhyme. :) I'm very pleased that the way I write calms you. Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  6. Yes to all the authors/shadow mentors above, dear Joy. My delight in them was doubled when my daughter also read many of those books. Thank you for reminding me why I loved Ann of Green Gables. As a nature lover, I could relate to her character the most.
    Blessings as you continue to write ~ Wendy Mac

  7. Thank you Wendy. I love reading Dr. Seuss to my grandkiddos.

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  9. I can identify with being mentored by many of the authors I've read and enjoyed over the years, beginning with the earliest. I too loved Dr. Seuss and LMM. I'm not as familiar with Patricia MacLachlan, but based on your recommendation, I will seek her out. Those who are most sparing with words often manage to have the most powerful effect on the reader (Hemingway comes to mind). Poetry writing is a great way to learn that skill.

  10. Delightful, Joylene. I too was mentored by your “irresistible words” and even the economy of your words. Thank you.

  11. Thanks for sharing writers from your childhood and how they shaped your own writing. This statement particularly caught my attention: "These three writers, in their turn, have inspired in me a desire to use irresistible words to invoke an experience of joy and beauty in my readers. I'm not there yet, but every word gets me closer." I pray we would all do the same.


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