Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Then He Weared The Whale As His Hat"

I worked as a writer for many more years than I have as a teacher. One of the most important lessons I've learned about writing is that if your objective is to communicate and compel, you can never write alone. Your reader must be sitting there across from you at all times. The moment you forget about that reader, is the moment you sink into flatness, flabbiness, and self-indulgence.

When I'm carrying a clipboard around class room, it's a signal to the children that I'm collecting stories to be read at circle time. (For details about how we go about doing this, click here.) When we started this storytelling project it was with the idea of providing the kids an outlet more in the nature of journaling than writing: a way for these pre-readers to have their thoughts, ideas and feelings spun out onto a page. The fact that I would later read these stories at circle time was almost an afterthought.

And that may have held true for the first few storytelling sessions undertaken nearly a decade ago, but as it's evolved, it is now exceedingly rare for a child to tell a story without at least a tip of the hat to her intended audience. Since every story we tell at Woodland Park is destined to be read in front of the class, our writers put a great deal of energy into telling stories that will elicit a response, laughter being the most highly prized.

As you read this latest collection of stories, you'll see the obvious attempts at silliness, but what you should also know is that that the parts that read like violence are intended as slapstick. And judging by the wild audience response, they know their "readers."
A baby runs on his head. He bumped into a pair of pants. He bumped into a Easter egg. Then he broke a pot. Then he ran to his head because his head fell off his body. Then his head jumped behind the chair and his body ran past the chair with the head behind it. Then he ran to a wheel and bonked his self on the head. Then he rowed himself in the boat and bumped his self on a fish. And then he weared the whale as his hat. --Luna
It's about why the truck got stuck in a monster truck. The Monster Truck even driving on the rails and then he crashed on a oil can. And then he slipped. And then boomed out of flying out of mission. And then he crashed down in the street. Then he went in the city and crashed into people. And the baby went in the Monster Truck and crashed itself. And he crashed into a train with a house. And he crashed in a house and the ghost went off the cliff and found the baby. And the baby run away and then he said, "Bleh!" --Finn P.
The bunny cuts his ear. And he said, "Wah!" And he said, "Hello!" And he said, "Could I go to the store please." And he bump into somebody's head. And he bumped into a manor. And he bumped his bottom on the wall. And that's the end of my story. --Marcus
A dinosaur one. Then a fence and a soccer ball. And I saw a bucket and there was donkeys. Then knock in the tree. Then a bonked in a door. And then a bonked in . . . I saw a dinosaur! --Charlie B.
It's about a dark, dark night. And then there was a frog and he banged into a door. And then he banged into the tree. And then fell down. --Orlando 
Whoa! I fell over. I fell over again. --Dennis
The cat bump! --Ariya

Katherine, our oldest kid, also gets in on the act, but at the same time she appears to be conflicted about the violent side of her slapstick. I think she wants her audience to know that no animals were hurt in the making of her stories because her squirrels just won't stay dead!

The little puppy goes and had some food. And why he did that he ate the paint brush at the same time he had his food. Then he goes outside, chased a squirrel and ate it. And then the squirrel was still alive and ran away. --Katherine
It's about a little puppy. The puppy ate his food. At the same time he ate glasses. Then he goed outside, chased a squirrel and then it got dead. Then it was still alive and it ran away. Then while it was running away he was surrounded by lots and lots of foxes. And then lots and lots of foxes ate the squirrel for their lunch. But then the squirrel was moving in their tummies. Then it ran out of their mouths. --Katherine

Another sure-fire way to get the audience laughing is to make-up words. I've needed to put limits on the use of made-up words, however, because without them we wind up with stories full of nothing but gibberish. The main rule is that you must also define your made-up words.
The goo goo la la la (a deer). It went to the store and got his rose with bug eyes on it. And then the door snapped the wheel with the peddles on it. And the raindeer tripped on the boots and fell on the hair. He tripped over the pants. And then the letters tripped over the boot, then tripped over the shoelaces and the ear. --Ella
A gaa gaa goo goo goo (a man) and a rail come and knocked the man over. And it was a rolling pin man. And a bonked into a letter outside. And then a hole comed into the store. And then the bonked into another rail. And then it bonked into a flowers. And it bumped into pants. Gaa gaa goo said, "Boo!" --Lachlan
Goo goo gaa gaa (I hide). Big one head. Fell. Giant. Water. Goo goo gaa gaa (I hide). Puppy. All done. --Alex 

Yet another way to appeal to your readers is to start with characters or personalities with whom your readers are already familiar:
Once upon a time there was a girl named Dora and she was a really good explorer. And she had a really good friend named Boots and he was a monkey. And then there was 2 brothers playing a ball game. Whoever gets it in the hoop wins. And they got 5 players. And then he got to go through the crocodile lake. And then go through the star-y forest. And that's how we get to the ball game. And then the team was the story of Dora and Boots won. --Jack
Once there was a little boy named Gretel. And he was rowing on the boat. And he went to his grandma's house. And Little Red Riding Hood came to see his grandma. And he went to the store to buy food. --Marcus

Of course, when in doubt, pure silliness works just fine:

The paint brush fell to dog. Then the video said, "Why am I not in the mailbox?" The video said, "Why don't you just push the bottom out of the way of my diagram?" Then the paint brushes walked to the dog. Then the dog walked the dog. Then the dog ate the paint brush. The dog ate the cow. And then the poodle toots. He ate the paint brush. They drank some just . . . Then whatever thing-a-ma-bobber it ate the whatever video camera. Stop watching TV! The monster truck. --Thomas

And when silliness is combined with a surprise ending, you've really got something.

The bunny rabbit flipped over and popped his head. Then the bucket said nothing. And then the bucket spilled up all over the place. Milk. And the Busy did everything so fast and slow. Then Busy knocked on Slug's door. And then he didn't even wake up at all. And then a flowers came. And then a bamboo came. Just like the same tree like that one. Then more flowers came. Boo! --Anjali
The flower popped on no body. Then the tent came and it bonked on its head. and then the sand box came. And then it just bonked on the watch. And then another tent came. And then the merry-go-round. And then boo! --Anjali
Tricycle. Chair. Umbrella. House. Plants. Face. Wheel. Boo! --Ella

And sometimes all you need is the surprise ending:

It's only one thing. Boo! --Sarah
Boo! --Max
If you want to read more of the kid's stories, here they are in order of appearance:

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Anonymous said...

I do something similar, but I then type up the stories and put them on an author wall. The kids think it is great fun to see their stories in print and it gives them the idea of the publication process!

Betsy said...

Priceless! Thanks for sharing these stories.

Liz said...

Wow Tom, I don't know what to say ... I'm speechless! Actually I don't think there are any words left for me to use ... I think you children have used them ALL up!

Thanks for starting my day off with a giggle.
Donna :) :)

BarbaraZab said...

We do something similar except that our kids can ask anytime to write a story. The stories, rather than being read at the end of the day, are acted out by the kids while one of the teachers reads the story aloud. We use a blanket on the floor for a stage and everyone sits around the blanket except for the author who gets to choose which part to play. All the other parts are assigned by the teacher.

Love your posts, Tom.

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