Free Association Exercise

What do you think of when you see the following words or phrases?

  • Vietnam
  • So you think you know the Arab world?
  • War of 1812
  • The Manhattan Project
  • Rivers: The Foundation of Civilizations

Where did I come up with such a list?  From Carus Publishing’s new magazine theme lists.  Carus publishes many magazines for children, and four of them are devoted to social studies.  Calliope focuses on world history, Cobblestone on US history, Faces on world cultures, and Appleseeds on general social studies for second through fourth grades (the other three are aimed at the middle-grade reader, grades four through eight).

Each issue has a theme, and it’s up to prospective writers to come up with articles, short stories, poems, or activities that relate to this theme in some way.  I think of it as a free association exercise that I do every August when the theme lists are released.  My one published article in this set of magazines is about the Dutch Resistance Movement during World War II.  The theme for that issue of Faces was simply “The Netherlands,” but that’s the free association my brain made while reading that list.

There’s a fine line, of course, between steering clear of the obvious associations (the Vietnam War for the issue on Vietnam) and not going too far off the deep end (an in-depth look at Napoleon because he did have something to do with the War of 1812).  But even though my rejections for these magazines have far outweighed my acceptances at this point, this free association is something I look forward to.  It’s fun to dig into a subject you thought you knew, only to discover new things and then try to pare it down into 600 words.  And you never know when your random thought will become an editor’s “ah-hah!” and you’ll be able to share your insights with kids across the country.

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