5 Random Words = 2 Remarkable Books

Morning people have an aversion to creative energy occurring after 10:30 PM, and Kimberly Willis Holt is no exception. Kathi Appelt infringed on Kimberly’s bedtime, and maybe her friendship, with a cheerful challenge at that hour to the five members of their writing retreat group, “Say a word.”


“Little Sorrowful”



 – and a sleepy “Possum” from Kimberly

Following Kathi’s instructions to write for ten minutes using those words, Kimberly scratched out a couple of pages before heading for the bed that called to her.

The next morning, she discovered she’d written the beginning of a book, and so had Kathi. This exercise produced two of my favorite books – The Underneath and Part of Me. If you look carefully as you read, you will find many of the words in the books. Kimberly gets four on the first page.

Though I love all of Kimberly’s work, Part of Me is my personal favorite – even above National Book Award winner When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Analyzing this preference, I’ve come to the conclusion that I become Rose as I read the book. After all, she was a McGee! I know Kimberly’s southern and central Louisiana and Texas settings, which she gets right – a biggie with me. More than that, I share Rose’s call to write things down and her love of family from generations-before to generations-after.

Our adult book club that reads children’s books chose Part of Me as our selection for this month after The Underneath last month because of the common five word connection. I’ve read both more than once. I put my paper clip on the family tree page before I read to make it easy to flip back and see how all this family was related. Once again I enjoyed the journey through the years as generations blended one into another and brought Rose a delightful surprise in the end. [I confess that I have not yet read the last chapter without crying, prone as I am to shedding more tears over a good book than any movie I have ever seen – or even the things life throws at me from time to time.]

This makes the writer in me wonder. If I open a dictionary on a random page five times, close my eyes and point at a word, could I come up with five words that would lead to a remarkable book? Or maybe five friends could shoot a word apiece at me.