When Joy Jones was restless as a child growing up in Washington, her father pacified her with bedside stories of his growing up on King's Bend, a rural area near Selma, Ala. He described revivals at a Holiness church deep in the woods, where the sounds of tambourines shook the silence. He told her of his walk home through the thick, eerie darkness, where each crackle of a stick sounded like a lurking monster.
For Morgan Jones, his tales--a mixture of fact and fiction--were a way of satisfying a child with an insatiable appetite for books. He never dreamed he was preparing his daughter for her future career.
"She would want you to read one book after another after another," Morgan Jones, a semi-retired social worker, said of his daughter. "If I tried to leave out part of the story, she'd say, 'No daddy, that's not the way it goes.'
"I decided to make up stories. That way, she didn't know them and she couldn't say if I was telling them wrong."
Years passed, and two more girls were born to the Jones family. Joy Jones grew up, graduated from college with a degree in communications and held a series of jobs, including teaching and working as a trainer in D.C. public schools. But always her life was wrapped around words.
She wrote plays that were professionally produced. She authored a book of poetry, "Between Black Women: Listening With The Third Ear." She began performing in a poetry group called The Spoken Word Ensemble.
Finally, she turned her attention to the stories her father used to tell and out of her recollections, she wrote "Tambourine Moon," a children's book based on the images from Morgan Jones's stories of growing up. The book was published by Simon & Schuster last month, and Joy and her father have appeared together at local readings.
In "Tambourine Moon," Granddaddy is walking in the city with his granddaughter Noni. The moon reminds him of "down home." Granddaddy misses the stars and moon of the Alabama sky, a moon that "works the night shift so that the sun can get some rest."
Together, grandfather and grandchild count the stars. Granddaddy tells Noni of when he was a young man and got lost in the woods. He stumbled upon a church, heard a tambourine and a lovely voice. Later, the woman with that voice walked out of the church with "this big yellow tambourine in her lovely brown hands." And that was how Granddaddy met Grandma.
The tale fluctuates back and forth from Noni and Granddaddy in the city today, to Granddaddy's tales of growing up. Each page is a beautiful splash of color by illustrator Terry Widener.
"I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl. I probably had no choice but to love reading," offered the author. "My mother, who was a teacher, had a ritual, which was to take us to the central library on New York Avenue every Saturday. My father liked writing. He had some poems published when he was in his twenties."
Jones's mom, Marilyn, recalls well the times she took her three girls to the library. "Joy was probably the quickest to love books. The others, once they found a book they truly loved, that love of books spread.
"They could pick any kind of book or books they wanted. The only rule was, 'If you pick it, you read it.' Sometimes they wanted to stay home and play with friends instead of going to the library. But we went down on the streetcar and stayed in the library for an hour or so."
As an adult and author now, Joy Jones took the artistic privilege of changing her father's stories a little. For instance, her parents didn't meet at a country church but when both were students at Howard University.
Jones returned to the stories of her childhood by accident. She was having problems working on a novel and started reading children's books so she could see more clearly the story telling process.
"I rediscovered the magic of children's books," Jones said.
In fact, she fell in love with the books she had read and counted among her favorites: "Bunches of Hunches," by Dr. Seuss, "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs," by Jon Scieska, and "The Third Gift," by Jan Carew.
When dates visited her apartment, she started reading the books to them.
"It was unusual, I know," she said, laughing. "I offered it as an alternative to TV. We sat on the sofa, snuggled up and I read to them.
"Most of us don't get read to as adults. They really enjoyed it."
Jones hopes to spread the practice. In her speeches and lectures on cultural diversity and creative writing, she also encourages adults to read to one another and not just to children.
Meanwhile, Jones, "a recovering hand dancer" who performs with her partner across the country, continues her lifelong work with words. This year, she won first prize in the Promising Playwrights Contest sponsored by Colonial Players of Annapolis.
There may be other children's books in the future.
Morgan Jones said: "I told her a lot of stories. Instead of Peter Rabbit, I had stories about Foxchev and Foxatov."
CAPTION: Joy Jones wrote a book from her recollections of the stories her father, Morgan Jones, told her while she was growing up.
CAPTION: Joy Jones was 6 months old when this photo with her father was taken. "I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl," she says.
CAPTION: Morgan Jones, with his daughter Joy, reads "Tambourine Moon" to his grandson Robert Washington III. Joy Jones's book was published by Simon & Schuster last month. She and her father have appeared together at local readings.