Monthly Archives: June 2014

Whose story is it anyway?

Nor and Bec reading

Children love stories.

They love being read stories and beg for them to be read, over and over again.

Equally as much, if not more, they love being told stories, especially stories of their own lives. They beg for them to be told over and over, listening attentively and with wonder as their own stories (her story and his story) are being revealed. They commit these tales to memory so that eventually it is difficult to distinguish the genuine experiential memory from the telling. Even as adults they seem to not tire of hearing tales of the cute things they did when they were little, or of shared experiences.

They also love being told stories of their parents’ lives. These are the stories that help define them and their existence: how they came to be. The stories tell of times gone by, and of how things used to be. They marvel that their parents were once children and try to imagine how that might have been.

My daughter would often ask for stories about herself, her brother, myself or other family members. One day when she was about six, she asked again, ‘Tell me a story about when you were a little girl.’ Before I could respond she jumped in with, ‘What were the dinosaurs like?’ She was teasing, of course, and her comedic timing was perfect. A story was created, one that has been shared many times.

History is a story, though at school I never saw it as such. Had it been a story of lives, as its name implies, I may have been interested. But history at school was a list of wars and dates, and kings and queens to be memorised and regurgitated for a test at the end of the term. There was no story, no human emotion, no semblance to any narrative that may have lured me in.

I hope that today’s students of history are not required to commit sterile lists of facts to memory without the stories that would give them meaning and significance, some human element to help the information stick.

History, as a subject, had always been relegated to high school. It was not a discrete part of the primary school curriculum, though aspects were explored in other subject areas such as ‘Social Studies’ when I was at school, or more recently ‘Studies of Society and Environment’. With the introduction of the new Australian Curriculum, History is now a stand-alone subject.

As an early childhood teacher I was a bit terrified that young children would be required to memorise lists of seemingly random facts and dates. I’m pleased to say that, for the early years anyway, this is not so. Children in the early years start by exploring their own history and the history of their family, considering similarities and differences between their lives, the lives of their parents, and of their friends.

I applaud this as an excellent starting point. I believe, when working with children, connections must always be made with their lives and what they know. What better starting point than investigating the traditions of their own family and culture.

In Australia, as I am sure it is in many other places, a great diversity of cultures is represented in each classroom. Encouraging children to share similarities and differences of traditions with their classmates helps to develop understanding of each other’s traditions and beliefs, which in turn fosters respect and empathy. For this purpose, I developed some materials to make it easy for children to share their traditions. These are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Whoever you areMem Fox has written a beautiful picture book Whoever you are that I love to share with children when discussing their cultures and traditions. It explains in a simple and beautiful way that although children around the world may live in different houses, wear different clothes, eat different foods, for example ‘inside, their hearts are just like yours.’ Mem Fox explains the story on her website.

I also like to sing I am Freedom’s Child by Bill Martin Jr.; and in Australia we have a great song that tells about our different beginnings, I am, you are, we are Australian by Bruce Woodley.

Heal the World by Michael Jackson is another great one for appreciating diversity and fostering inclusivity.

What got me thinking about history in particular for this post is the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Charli’s challenge is to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or far.

 

This is my contribution:

washing 1949

Washing day

Her freckled, calloused hands were red and chaffed as they gripped the wooden stick and stirred Monday’s sheets in the large copper pot heating over burning blocks of wood.

The children played in the dirt nearby, scratching like chickens, hopeful of an interesting find.

The dirt embedded under her torn and splitting fingernails began to ease away in the warm sudsy water as she heaved the sodden sheets and plopped them onto the wooden mangles.

The children fought to turn the handle, smearing dirty handprints on the sheets.

She sighed, and hung them over the line. One chore done.

 

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece.

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to my wonderful students, and their lovely Mum who made this for me!

3 Inspiring educators

Like every other teacher, I want to make a difference in the world.

The thought that I could make a positive difference to the life of another is both empowering and inspiring.

To do so, I seek out others making a positive difference and pay it forward, hoping that the ripple effect will carry it far and wide.

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Three inspiring educators who have positively influenced me are:

Brian Cambourne

Brian is an amazing literacy educator from whom I had the extreme good fortune of learning many years ago. I have written about him before here and here.

Brian’s work focused on the conditions necessary for literacy development. His influence has spread beyond the classroom with the application of the conditions to learning in the workforce demonstrated.

Tony Ryan

Tony is an amazing educator who does his best to be the change he wants to see in the world. He talks about future-proofing and using innovative thinking to solve problems of both local and global importance.

Anyone who believes ‘that education is the most important profession on the planet’ and does everything in his power to support teachers to be outstanding, as does Tony; must be pretty good in my books.

One of Tony’s books The Ripple Effect is particularly apt for mention in this post. Tony says,

“you must believe in your personal power to create ripples that spread out and change the world. In fact, if it is not you who is going to do it, then who else do you think is likely to make the effort? Remember that every change on this planet begins with a human being somewhere, somehow. It may as well be you.”

This year Tony has started a new project called The Earth Movers Foundation which ‘helps young teenagers to create solutions to local and global issues. And they get to choose their own project. No adults will be telling them what project to do. They decide for themselves.’ Sounds pretty good to me.

Ken Robinson

Ken is another amazing educator. I fell in love with his ideas when I listened to his TED talk Do schools kill creativity? which I have also shared before here.

The statement on his website declares that

“Imagination is the source of all human achievement”.

I could not argue with that.

Ken introduces this short video The writing spirit which presents quotes from artists, thinkers, writers, innovators and snippets of interviews with writers. Just incidentally, and exciting for me, Richard Bach is included. Richard is the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, one of my favourite books for its inspirational message.

It is more than likely that these educators have no idea how they have influenced my life (and others as a result).

How wonderful might it be to know of the positive influence you have had on someone, and to have the opportunity of letting others know that they have positively impacted your life?

This is the purpose of The Butterfly Light Award which was bestowed upon me my Lisa Reiter, a lovely lady who is herself inspirational for her courage and her positive attitude which she shares with others through her blog Sharing the story. Thank you, Lisa. I am honoured and accept with pleasure.

As with any award, it comes with conditions:

  1. You should write an acceptance post, making sure you link back to the blogger who awarded you and thank them. You MAY NOT lump this award in with a batch of other awards.

Thank you Lisa Reiter!

  1. You must individually name and re-award to a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 9999999 bloggers. You must let them know either personally with a comment on their blog OR a pingback.

As I have been writing about educators, I am going to stick with that theme. A quick visit to these blogs will explain why I have selected them.

Ruth Mancini

The Nerdy Book Club

Two Writing Teachers

Raising a literate human

3.  You should link back to Belinda’s blog either to http://idiotwriting.wordpress.com/about/ or http://idiotwriting.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/i-love-charismatic-geeks/

Done!

  1. You must write a short paragraph entitled either “How I’m Spreading Light” OR “How I’m A Positive Influence” (what Lisa calls ‘the squirmy bit’).

Done! See beginning of article.

5. Display Belinda’s lovely “Butterfly Light Award” badge on your blog.

Thank you, Belinda. It’s a pleasure! We can never have too many butterflies!

butterfly-light-award

Note: The beautiful framed quote, pictured at the top of this post, was made for me by a wonderful lady, the mother of two of my students. They all share my love of butterflies! I thank them for sharing their appreciation of my positive influence.

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article.

What do you have in mind?

This week Two Writing Teachers posted a wonderful article by Stacey Shubitz (one of the Two Writing Teachers) about A Picture Book that Pushes the Growth Mindset.

This post coincided beautifully with the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Charli’s challenge is to:

 In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about getting stronger.

This is a perfect prompt for a teacher as a major focus of our work is in developing children’s strengths:

Strengths as in abilities; strength as in self-esteem and self-confidence; strength as in willingness to face setbacks and try, try again; strength as in keeping on going even when the going gets tough.

The picture book discussed in the article by Stacey Shubitz is The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. Stacey suggests that the book is a great opener for discussions with children about the importance of a growth mindset.

According to Stacey, an understanding of ‘the power of having a growth mindset’ has been enabled by the work of Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist. It is grounded in a belief that

Someone can accomplish a lot more through hard work and dedication, rather than by relying on their smarts alone.

I agree with Stacey that

‘Educators know the benefits of having a growth mindset, rather than having a fixed one. We learn from trial and error. There is value in failure.’

I will not quote Stacey’s article in its entirety, but suggest you pop over and read it for yourself. (If you do, and leave a comment prior to June 27th, you may win yourself a copy of The Most Magnificent Thing, if you live in the USA or Canada.)

Stacey says that “The girl in the story tries over ten times to build something and get it right. Through hard work and some help from her trust sidekick, her pug, she eventually succeeds.” As well as a starting point for discussing the growth mindset, Stacey suggests eight features of the book which are useful for teaching writing. The article also includes a brief, but informative, interview with the author/illustrator Ashley Spires.

In response to Stacey’s question about using The Most Magnificent Thing for discussing a growth mindset, Ashley responds:

‘The character is a perfectly capable girl with a great idea and the skill to make it, but she has to try, try and try again in order to succeed. Most kids (I was one of them) think that if it’s not perfect the first time, then they should move on to something that comes to them more easily. Working hard to succeed is what true success is.”

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/89499612″>The Most Magnificent Thing Book Trailer</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/kidscanpress”>Kids Can Press</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

My flash fiction, told through the jottings of a classroom teacher over time, shows a growth mindset emerging from one that was previously crushed.

Progress

Day one

Timid. Needed help getting things out of bag to put in drawer. Sat towards back of group. Drew knees up under chin. Hunched over. Sucked thumb. Twisted long tangled hair under nose. Rocked.

Day twenty-six

Responded in roll call! Sat with ‘friend’. Legs crossed. Back straight. Smiled – briefly. Someone looked! Screamed, “Stop looking at me!” Dissolved in tears. Again. Retreated under desk. Again.

Day fifty-two

Initiated conversation!! Hair combed!! Nose not running!! Brought toy for show and tell. Responded with one- or two-word answers. Small, dirty, pink unicorn. B laughed. Erupted, but went to desk, not under!

 

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece.

I’m sick! Talking about preventable childhood illnesses

I am grateful that vaccinations against many diseases that were commonplace when I was a child are now readily available in Australia.

I am grateful that these vaccinations protect children from suffering the diseases which were an expected part of growing up when I was young.

Thanks to the scientists who studied the diseases and developed the vaccinations, most children in developed countries should not fear contracting diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, smallpox, tuberculosis, whooping cough and others. I look forward to the day when these diseases are eradicated worldwide.

Unfortunately many parents, who have neither witnessed nor experienced the effects of these diseases (due to the effectiveness of immunisation programs), do not appreciate the seriousness of contracting them and choose to not vaccinate their children. In doing so, these people not only put the health of their own children at risk, but also the health of others in the community. Sadly these people are usually misinformed by purveyors of unscientific ‘evidence’. The numbers, and science, stand strongly on the side of vaccination.

This issue is one that I feel strongly about for evidence shows that an entire community can once again become vulnerable to these diseases if enough people reject immunisation. The risk of disability or death occurring as the result of a preventable disease, in my opinion, is one not worth taking.

At the end of this post I will link to various articles and websites that explain in greater depth and with more scientific and medical support than I am able.

The impetus for sharing my thoughts on this issue came from Lisa Reiter who, on her blog Sharing the Story, invites others to share Bite-size memoirs. This week’s topic is Childhood Illness.

I will begin by sharing 10 things I remember:

I remember rushing to be first into the bath, but instead slipping and falling into the pot of hot water that had been heated on the stovetop in readiness to add warmth to the cold from the tap. I remember being terribly scalded and that I was rushed to the doctor. I remember being dusted with powder while I lay on his high surgery table. I was three at the time, so while I have some images that I am sure are genuine, others may be family lore.

I remember a girl in my class at school who had suffered from polio. Her name was Christine and she lived not far from me. She had one boot that was built up, about 4 inches high; and she had iron cages around both legs. She walked with difficulty and a sway from side to side. Interestingly enough my husband, who grew up on the other side of the world, also had a friend who suffered from polio and had a built up boot.

I remember reading about ‘the girl in the iron lung’ and being terrified of contracting the dreadful disease polio.

I remember feeling very relieved when we were given a tiny pink droplet of vaccine on a white plastic spoon. Thank you Dr Salk. Polio has not been a cause of fear for my children or grandchildren.

I remember us all having the mumps when I was eight and my Mum was pregnant with my little sister (the seventh of ten children). I remember that our glands were swollen and our throats were sore. We were tired, headachy and miserable. I remember my Mum got Bell’s Palsy too, and the muscles in her face were affected and never fully recovered. I remember her being sick in bed for weeks and a friend kindly came and stayed to look after us and help out.

I remember having measles and being dabbed all over with calamine lotion to help stop the itch. It was difficult to not scratch.

I remember when the rubella vaccination became available, but it was too late for me because I’d already had it as a child. I remember thinking how lucky everyone was to be able to have the vaccine and not suffer the illness.

I remember having chickenpox during the summer holidays when I was about thirteen or fourteen. It was such a scorching hot summer, or it certainly seemed that way; two weeks of the longed for holidays ruined by this horrible illness.

I remember the chickenpox blisters that started small, then grew bigger and finally scabbed. I remember the pink baths in Condy’s crystals and the strong smell which I would still recognise if not describe. I could never associate it with anything pleasant.

I remember waking one night and finding three neat little piles of vomit on my bed beside my pillow. I remember waking my Mum and her coming and cleaning it up.

What overwhelms me now when I think of all these childhood illnesses that inflicted us with so much discomfort  is the thought of my mother tending to a houseful of sick kids, when she was probably sick herself, and if not sick then probably pregnant or at least feeding a baby. What a life it would have been. One child going down after another, moaning and complaining and needing attention or treatment. I found it difficult with just one child at a time! (There are 12 years between my two.) On top of that she had all the usual household chores and a husband to attend to. Makes me wonder that she wasn’t worn out long before her 90 years! How grateful she would have been had we all been inoculated against these now preventable illnesses.

Thanks, Lisa, for the opportunity of sharing these memories, and thank you, my readers for indulging me.

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

 

Here are some links to further information about vaccinations if you are interested:

Australian Government Department of Human Services, Immunising your children

My DR for a healthy Australia, Immunising your child

Raising Children Network, The Australian Parenting Website, Vaccinations and autism spectrum disorder

The Daily Life, Adverse Reactions by Benjamin Law

Mama Mia, What everyone’s talking about, 9 vaccination myths busted. With science! By Dr Rachael Dunlop

I’m too busy to be tired!

This week’s flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills posed a challenge for me.

How do I respond to her prompt to:

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about exhaustion.

and maintain my focus on education?

Do I ignore the prompt and post about education?

Do I respond to the flash fiction prompt in isolation?

Neither of these alternatives appealed as I have been enjoying the camaraderie and support of the flash fiction tribe as well as the opportunity to experiment in a genre that, while not an immediate writing priority, I may move towards in the future. On the other hand, as my intent with this blog is to share ideas and thoughts primarily about education, I don’t want to become distracted from my focus.

As do many, the idea for this prompt attached itself to me when I wasn’t thinking about it. Ideas tend to pop into my head when I first awaken in the morning, when I am showering, or during any other moment when my thoughts are free to flit and fly without the constraints of achieving a particular outcome.

This one descended when I was out for a drive appreciating the beauty of the pure white clouds, like puffballs, on the bright blue sky of a glorious winter day. It plopped down, ‘Barrrump!’ just as the space-bat-angel-dragon from The Iron Man by Ted Hughes had plopped down on Australia.

book 2As mentioned in a previous post, The Iron Man is one of my favourite books. It is a great story told in beautiful language. On the back of my copy a quote from the Observer declares that it isReckoned one of the greatest modern fairy tales.’ The rhythm and poetry of the language begs for it to be read aloud. Because it has just five short chapters, ‘a story in five nights’, it is perfect as a first chapter book to share with younger children, and can be read to a class in a week, a chapter a day.

The chapter I wish to share with you in this post is #4 ‘The Space-Being and the Iron Man’.

The previous chapter has seen The Iron Man happily ensconced in a huge scrap-metal yard. It could have finished there with a happily ever after ending. But no. It was only chapter 3. There were two more chapters to come! What excitement was in store?

The chapter begins

One day there came strange news. Everybody was talking about it. Round eyes, busy mouths, frightened voices – everybody was talking about it.

One of the stars of the night had begun to change.’

We are immediately reeled back into the story – What is going to happen? What will the Iron Man do? – and propelled along by the giant star that grew ‘not just bigger. But bigger and Bigger and BIGger as it came

rushing towards the world.

Faster than a bullet.

Faster than any rocket.

Faster even than a meteorite.’

Thankfully it stopped before it hit Earth. But wait – it’s not over yet, for ‘a dreadful silhouette, (came) flying out of the centre of that giant star, straight towards the earth.

After several days it (‘a terrific dragon) landed, with its body ‘covering the whole of Australia’ and it ‘wanted to be fed. And what it wanted to eat was – living things.

The people of the world decided they would not feed this space-bat-angel-dragon … they would fight it.” But all the forces of the world were no match for the dragon.

As you may have guessed, this is where the heroic Iron Man devises his plan ‘to go out, as the champion of the earth, against this monster from space’. The dragon was very surprised to be challenged to a test of strength.

The Iron Man, you may remember, is taller than a house, but the space-bat-angel-dragon is bigger than Australia.  The dragon thought that, when the Iron Man had finished, he’d ‘just lick him up.’ He didn’t figure on the ingenuity of the Iron Man. The Iron Man’s challenge was for the dragon to ‘go and lie on the sun till (he was) red-hot. (The Iron Man was small enough to be made red-hot on Earth.)

After the second journey to the sun the dragon again ‘landed on Australia. This time the bump was so heavy, it knocked down certain sky-scrapers, sent tidal waves sweeping into harbours, and threw herds of cows on their backs. All over the world, anybody who happened to be riding a bicycle at that moment instantly fell off. The space-bat-angel-dragon landed so ponderously because he was exhausted.

Have you ever felt that exhausted you just wanted to flop down and never move again? An article in my local newspaper1 recently declared that We belong to the Spent Generation – the most overcommitted, overscheduled, overconnected, and therefore overtired, in modern times.The journalist Frances Whiting listed a number of professions including ‘doctors, scientists, social commentators (who) the statistics tell us (are) working longer, sleeping less, not resting enough and taking on too much.’

Teachers weren’t on this list, but they could have been at the top. Anyone who lives with, or has a friend who is, a teacher knows the long hours they work. Because it is a caring profession it is impossible to leave work at the gate and pick it up the following day. Content-driven curricula and unrealistic expectations imposed upon both teachers and learners place extra stress upon all stakeholders. Long before a school terms end teachers are tired, stressed and in need of time to recuperate and recharge in preparation for the next one.

At the moment most teachers in Australia are conducting assessments, evaluating their own work and student learning, preparing report cards and conducting teacher-parent interviews. This is in addition to their ongoing tasks of preparing and teaching lessons and is mostly expected to be completed in out-of-scheduled work hours.

When I was teaching I worked between 50 and 70 hours most weeks. I used to say that even with our ‘enviable’ holidays we were still owed time. In my current out-of-the-classroom role as writer of curriculum materials, I now feel the difference as I don’t have to think about it away from my desk.

I still get tired, but not the same heavy exhaustion that comes from giving all; physically, mentally and emotionally, to a class of 25 active learners while trying to stay afloat amidst ever increasing expectations.

So my flash this week recognises the teachers who, buried under a pile of paperwork and lost in a maze of data collecting spreadsheets, still struggle to be everything to everyone, endeavouring to make every child feel special and valued, while often feeling that their own work fails to achieve any real recognition. Enjoy the break, teachers. You deserve it!

 

A Unicorn at School

‘Miss. Marnie has a toy in her bag.’

‘Uh-uh,’ I responded.

‘You’re not allowed to have toys at school,’ he insisted.

‘Uh-uh.’

Trust him! Always dobbing.

‘Miss,’ he persisted, tugging my sleeve.

‘What is it?’ I sighed, dragging myself out of the confusion of marks and percentages that now seemed more important to telling a child’s story than their own words and actions.

I looked at the little fellow pleading for my attention. They were all so needy; so demanding; but time . . .

‘It’s a unicorn, Miss.’

‘Unicorn! Let’s see!’ I was back. A child in need!

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I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece.

 

1 QWeekend 14-15 June, 2014

Of rainbows and unicorns – Part 2 – Do fairy tales and fantasy still have a place for children?

I have many discussions with parents about whether they should read fairy tales and stories with magical elements to their children. These parents raise a number of issues, for example:

  • Horrible things happen – Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the woods (by their parents) and are captured by a wicked witch – the wolf tries to trick the seven little kids left at home alone
  • Parents are often dead or absent – Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk
  • Stepmothers are mean – Cinderella, Snow White
  • Sexism, especially the need for a female to be rescued by a handsome prince – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty
  • They contain “magical” creatures such as fairy godmothers (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), witches (Snow White), giants (Jack and the Beanstalk), trolls (Three Billy Goats)
  • Myth of happily ever after
  • Stereotypes – beauty is good, ugly is bad
  • The presence of magic – good magic of fairies and bad magic of witches – Sleeping Beauty; magical bean seeds and geese (Jack and the Beanstalk)
  • Bullying – Cinderella

Maria L. Hughes, writing for The Little Prickle Press sums up the concerns this way:

“many of the older tales incorporated rather dark themes devoted to death, suffering and children being murdered. But then there is also a second incorporation that has to do with later Disney movies of these fairy tales and them being too happy and can result in parents thinking their child will be deluded with ideas that the world will just work for them and things will be good.”

While I acknowledge these elements occur, I am not prepared to abandon fairy tales because of it.

While I may consider a diet of only fairy tales problematic, I think something would be lacking if a child was refused access to the richness of their stories and tradition. Like most fiction, they offer an avenue for escapism. In addition, the stories can be used as a tool for initiating non-threatening discussions of the issues listed above.

In Once upon an if The Storythinking Handbook Peter Worley writes

“Stories are just one way that we are able to sharpen our own character in order to prepare for the narratives we will one day find ourselves in as the story of our life unfolds before, around and within us.” 

Following a comment by Richard Dawkins, a recent discussion on The Guardian considered whether fairy tales are harmful to children. So far the consensus seems to be that they are not.

Albert Einstein was a supporter of fairy tales and is often attributed with the following quote, discussed in more detail by Maria Popova on brain pickings.

Anne Fine, in the Foreword to Once upon an if The Storythinking Handbook explains

“In an increasingly complicated world, we more than ever want our children to be able to think with clarity, rather than lead lives hampered or derailed by all those false assumptions and unexamined prejudices that seem as easily inherited as freckles or brown eyes.

How can we go about teaching them to peel back the surface of their first thoughts on a matter, or even their strongest beliefs, and look at them with more care? . . . fiction has always fostered the moral, intellectual and emotional development of the growing child. (‘Should she have done that?’ ‘Would I?’ ‘What else could have been done?’ ‘How would it feel?’) Good stories highlight the sheer complexity of things. They furnish a far greater understanding of the world and everyone in it. For most of us, fiction has always been the earliest – and many would argue the best – instrument we have had for ethical enquiry.”

Think of the ethical inquiry that could occur when discussing Goldilocks and her break and enter, Jack’s theft of the giant’s belongings and the constant portrayal of the wolf as the bad guy; just to get you started.

Melissa Taylor on her blog “Imagination Soup” suggests the following 8 reasons why fairy tales are essential to childhood:

  1. Show kids how to handle problems
  2. Build emotional resilience
  3. Give us a common language (Cultural literacy and canon)
  4. Cross cultural boundaries
  5. Teach story
  6. Develop imagination
  7. Can be used to teach critical thinking skills
  8. Teach lessons

In a previous post about fairy tales, written in response to a flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills  I mentioned that I was not a keen reader of adult fantasy. In a comment on that post Charli mentioned that she knew others with similar feelings. I will leave you with a link to another article on brain pickings in which Maria Popova discusses the thoughts of one of the masters of fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien on Fairy Tales, Language, the Psychology of Fantasy, and Why There’s No Such Thing as Writing “For Children”

What do you think? Should we read fairy tales to children? Why/why not?

What are your favourite fairy tales and what lessons have you learned from them?

Please share your thoughts.

Of rainbows and unicorns – Part 1 – Fantastic creatures and magical realms

I am not a reader of adult fantasy novels. I have never read Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit or Watership Down. I just couldn’t buy into it. I’m sorry I have to admit it – it is true.

However, I don’t mind a bit of fantasy in children’s books and, in fact, really enjoy it. I didn’t mind the rats’ use of language in Robert C. O’Brien’s The Rats of Nimh while I couldn’t handle the talking rabbits in Watership Down by Richard Adams. I cannot explain why my response is different but I’m sure it has something to do with the ability to suspend disbelief. I am obviously more able to do that when encountering fantasy in children’s stories than in adult fiction.

As both parent and teacher (and now grandparent) I love sharing stories with children. In addition to all the good things I know it is doing for them, it is doing lots of good things for me as well. Reading children’s stories written by masterful authors is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I love having excuses for doing so.

This week the flash challenge issued by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch was to

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a fantastical element or creature. 

I am taking the opportunity of sharing with you some of my favourite fantastic creatures and magical realms from children’s stories. Each of these stories is wonderful to read aloud and share with children.

Charli mentioned rainbows, unicorns and the phoenix.

I thought of The Iron Man by Ted Hughes (a story in five nights, suitable for children from age 5 – 104)

book 2

“Taller than a house, the Iron Man stood at the top of the cliff, on the very brink, in the darkness.

The wind sang through his iron fingers. His great iron head, shaped like a dustbin but as big as a bedroom, slowly turned to the right, slowly turned to the left. His iron ears turned, this way, that way. He was hearing the sea. His eyes, like headlamps, glowed white, then red, then infra-red, searching the sea. Never before had the Iron Man seen the sea.

He swayed in the strong wind that pressed against his back. He swayed forward, on the brink of the high cliff.

And his right foot, his enormous iron right foot, lifted – up, out, into space, and the Iron Man stepped forward, off the cliff, into nothingness.”

 

and The BFG by Roald Dahl. (a longer tale for school age, and older, children)

book 4

“It wasn’t a human. It couldn’t be. It was four times as tall as the tallest human. It was so tall its head was higher than the upstairs windows of the houses. Sophie opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Her throat, like her whole body, was frozen with fright.

This was the witching hour all right.

The tall black figure was coming her way. It was keeping very close to the houses across the street, hiding in the shadowy places where there was no moonlight.

On and on it came, nearer and nearer. But it was moving in spurts. It would stop, then it would move on, then it would stop again.

But what on earth was it doing?”

 

I thought of Joan Aiken’s wonderful collections of fairy tales like A Necklace of Raindrops (for children in early years of schooling)

book 3

“And when she had nine raindrops Laura found that she could make the rain stop, by clapping her hands. So there were many, many sunny days by the sea. But Laura did not always clap her hands when it rained, for she loved to see the silver drops come sliding out of the sky.

Now it was time for Laura to go to school. You can guess how the other children loved her! They would call, “Laura, Laura, make it stop raining, please, so that we can go out to play.”

And Laura always made the rain stop for them.

But there was a girl called Meg who said to herself, “It isn’t fair. Why should Laura have that lovely necklace and be able to stop the rain? Why shouldn’t I have it?”

and The Kingdom Under the Sea (for children approx. 8 -12), each beautifully illustrated by Jan Pienkowski adding another element of wonder to the tales.

 

book

 

Charli suggested that we “think of how (we) can use the fantastical to enrich realities” and I thought of the mouse who invented The Gruffalo in Julia Donaldson’s story and showed how imagination could be used to solve problems that arise. (The Gruffalo is suitable for children in pre-school and early years of schooling)

 

 

While the above excerpts are short, like flash fiction, each demonstrates the skill of the author in choice of words and sentence structure. In his book On Writing Stephen King refers to these as forming the top level of the tool box. But these excerpts show a depth greater than that also.  They create a connection, forming a relationship with and a need in the reader to know what happens.

It is the ability of the author that sweeps us away, as if on a magic carpet, to other places and other lives. It is the ability of the reader to suspend disbelief that allows the journey to occur.

I thought about how we, as either child or adult, use fantasy to escape realities that we may not wish, or not feel strong enough, to face. This brought me back to Charli’s unicorn.

And now I offer my own bit of flash, which is not suitable for reading to children of any age.

 

Unicorn knights

She sat on the bed and looked around. Funny how some things don’t change.

They had left it untouched for all those years since her escape, waiting for her return. But she never did. Never could. Until now.

“You should,” she was told. “Make peace.” “Let it go.”

It didn’t look so scary now. They were both gone. She was grown.

Sunlight glinted on the unicorn. It had faded but waited still, on the night-table, for their nocturnal escapades away from cruel reality.

She fingered it for a moment, remembering. Then dumped it in the wastebasket.

“Sell!” she said.

 

I welcome your comments on any aspect of this post; the books I have suggested for sharing and my own piece of flash.

Don’t forget to pop over to the Carrot Ranch where you can read responses to Charli’s prompt by many other writers.