It’s a steal

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about theft; of family pets, of the apples from her garden, of property, and even of good name through myths and false accusations.

I didn’t have to think for long to come up with three fairy tales that deal with the issue of theft. Why three? Because three is the fairy tale number. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with these two traditional fairy tales: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Some will not be familiar with Joan Aiken’s more modern (1968) fairy tale A Necklace of Raindrops.

girl and bear

If you were to search online for teaching resources to support use of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in an early childhood classroom, you would have much from which to choose. Many of the available resources are worksheets and printables with few requiring children to think beyond the surface level of the story.

The same is true for Jack and the Beanstalk. A search for supporting teaching resources also brings up a plethora of worksheets and printables for colouring, cut and paste and writing activities.

While it’s no secret that I am not a fan of worksheets, activities such as those may have a place if they are used to stimulate language development through retell and role play, support beginning readers and writers in a meaningful context and develop basic mathematical concepts. Children might also be involved in activities associated with the story such as making porridge or growing beans.

However children can be encouraged to think more deeply through discussion of the motives and feelings of the characters and the morality of their actions. After all, both Goldilocks and Jack were guilty of break and enter and theft; Jack repeatedly so. Jack didn’t follow his mother’s instructions and was “conned” by the man with the beans. Goldilocks was also guilty of vandalism.

A strategy for encouraging thinking:

Ask children to:

  • retell story events
  • tell about the character and character traits
  • make a judgement about  the character’s actions: Was what Goldilocks did good or bad? Was what Jack did good or bad? (Note: It is best for children to make and record this judgement independently of others before sharing their thoughts. The method of recording would be dependent upon the age and ability of the children. They could, for example, write the word “good” or “bad” in a book; or colour a picture of the character e.g. green for good, red for bad.)

Tally and/or graph children’s responses.

Invite individuals to explain the thinking behind the decision. A lively discussion may ensue, particularly if there are mixed responses. It would be of interest to note which children maintain their position, which waiver and which change their opinion.

Other questions can also be asked, and children can be encouraged to ask questions of their own, for example:

Questions re Goldi and Jack

Hopefully the events of these stories will be just as fanciful to the children as the settings. Most children will not have records of breaking and entering, and any incidences of petty pilfering or even vandalism will have occurred as part of their learning about property and ownership. Some appropriation of another’s toys or breakages in frustration or misuse are common and nothing to cause concern about future morality.

a necklace of raindrops

While the setting of A Necklace of Raindrops is equally fanciful with the personification of the North Wind, talking animals and a magic necklace, the situation, involving schoolyard jealousy and theft, may be more familiar. You will find few teaching resources to support it in an online search.

book 3

Here is a brief synopsis:

A man frees the North Wind from a tree.

The North Wind gives the man a necklace of raindrops with magical powers for his baby girl, Laura.

Each year a new raindrop with new powers is added.

Laura must not remove the necklace.

At school Meg is jealous of Laura’s necklace. She tells the teacher who insists Laura remove the necklace.

Meg steals the necklace.

The animals help Laura get the necklace back.

The North Wind punishes Meg.

(Note: My few words have not done justice to Joan Aiken’s beautiful story. If you can, please read the full version.)

The story is rich with opportunities for discussion with children, including:

Envy and jealousy — feelings familiar to many children who may have taken, borrowed or used something that didn’t belong to them. They may have squabbled about ownership or use of an item or had someone take something of theirs. Learning a sense of ownership as well as sharing is important in early childhood.

Telling the teacher — sometimes called “dobbing” in Australia. When is it important, when doesn’t it matter? What were Meg’s motivations?

Honesty — Was it okay for Meg to tell her father that she had found the necklace on the road? Why did she tell him that? What would he have done if she told him the truth?

Finders keepers” — Is it ever okay to keep something you find? When might it be okay to do so?

Following the rules – The teacher insisted that Laura remove the necklace. What could Laura have done or said? What else could the teacher have done? Was it fair for Meg to tell the teacher?

Stealing the necklace — Was Meg good or bad to take the necklace? Why?

Why did the magic not work for Meg?

Was the North Wind’s punishment of Meg appropriate? (He blew the roof off her house so she got wet.)

Thinking of these issues familiar to many in the schoolyard and playground made me think of Marnie who has experienced some similar situations. In this episode a boy dobs on Marnie for having a unicorn at school. Toys weren’t allowed, but this boy knew it meant Marnie was troubled again and needed the teacher’s help. A teacher is also called upon in this episode when Marnie has locked herself in the toilet and won’t come out. In both those instances the children were dobbing for good reason.

In this episode Marnie is purposefully tripped and falls into a puddle losing hold of her “security” unicorn, and in this longer episode we find that, later that day, the same boy took her paint brush, and stashed it out of reach on a high shelf. He hadn’t taken it because he wanted it, as Meg had taken the necklace. He had taken it simply to torment, be mean and bully.

Children, like Brucie, who tease, torment and bully are often themselves victims of similar behaviour. They feel powerless, lacking control in their own lives, and probably lowest in the pecking order at home. Targeting someone more vulnerable provides an opportunity to find a sense of power; for a while at least.

So that’s where I’m headed for my response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a thief or a theft. 

Motives

The morning started badly; nothing unusual in that. He’d been woken in the night by shouting, slamming doors, and screeching car tyres. Nothing unusual there either.

There was no milk to moisten his cereal, only a slap to the head for daring to ask. He grabbed his bag and disappeared before she used him as an ashtray, again.

Looking for a fight, he couldn’t believe she was just sitting there clutching her stupid unicorn. He snatched it; danced a jig to her wails, then threw it onto the roof.

“I’m telling,” said a witness.

“Who cares?” was his response.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

50 thoughts on “It’s a steal

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  4. Bec

    Poor Marnie, it so so sad to hear about these stories. Poor Brucie, too though. I am glad we know that Marnie’s story ends up being one of survival and triumph over what was ‘dealt’ to her in her life – I hope there is a similarly good outcome for Brucie.

    Great point about the morality (or lack thereof!) in fairy tales. But as you say, a great opportunity to stimulate some critical thinking and discussion with the students.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I knew you wouldn’t be happy with this episode of Marnie’s story. Sadly there are many children like Marnie and Brucie who have less than perfect home lives. Unfortunately it is difficult for many to break the mould and go on to happy, positives futures and to create warm loving homes, but some do. I haven’t given any thought to Brucie’s outcomes at this stage.
      The depth of thinking Goldilocks has stimulated is amazing. I think I may have to delve a little deeper here.
      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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  5. Autism Mom

    I love the story you have written – stark, vivid, and powerful in its simplicity.

    Another thing I was thinking about with the theft stories was a theme of “specism” in the stories – Goldilocks is treated as the heroine because she is human. Jack’s beating the giant is celebrated because he is human. There is a tone of something lesser in the bears and the giant such that the theft and vandalism by the main characters is downplayed or overlooked.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m pleased you enjoyed my flash.
      I like where you are going with your comment about specism. I hadn’t thought about that, but I can think of another couple of isms that might also apply. What depth of questioning and wondering this story has evoked. I’m thinking I might have to incorporate the wonderful thinking from the comments into another post.
      What your comment has got me thinking about is what the response would be to the situation if instead of blond and blue-eyed the character was black, or male, a teenager in a hoodie …. I think some very interesting discussions could be had that would show up some ways our thinking is influenced by stereotypes without us even being aware of it.
      Thank you for extending my thinking. 🙂

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  6. Sherri

    I love how you show the background of ‘the bully’ leading up to his actions against poor Marnie..and in so doing, you enable us to feel so sorry for both of these unhappy, troubled kids. So sad but so true of so many children in real life…
    You make many excellent points in your post Norah, as you always do, I always look forward to reading the very clever way in which you tie in your educational messages wtih Charli’s prompts.
    You evoked in me strong memories of how I felt when I read Goldlilocks And The Three Bears as a child: I remember feeling confused for one thing, because although I was frightened by the bears coming home and finding her and Father Bear getting really cross (which is interesting because when I was growing up it was my mother’s wrath I feared, not my dad’s), yet hating what Goldilocks was doing by going into the Bears’ family home, stealing their porridge and also breaking Baby Bear’s chair! How bad is that? 😮
    I struggled with the image of her portrayed as a sweet, innocent looking little girl (very 50’s type illustration) doing these bad things. Hmmmm…and there was I stealing sweets when I was about 7 or 8…
    I just shared over at Geoff’s post that my Mum recently told me that it was my stealing that made her take stock over the state of her marriage, as she realised I was clearly looking for attention!!
    But here, you bring in such wonderful ways to use such stories like Goldilocks and Jack for helping young children understand the messages contained therein, and of morality and good old fashioned right and wrong.
    My step-sister, who lived with us temporarilly for three months after my parents split up, stole the one precious toy I ever had from my dad: a small lion I adored. I found it years later flattened between my mattress and the bed frame. I hated her for it. She had her troubles, I understood that, but everyone felt sorry for her because she let everyone know it. I kept mine to myself through writing and playing guitar and so found my own way to manage. I hope Marnie finds peace and calm in her own special way 🙂 ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing all your wonderful thoughts, Sherri.I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. We don’t always think of the bullies and abusers as being victims but they often are, and often only repeating behaviour that is learned. While I don’t think we should be lenient on them or let them get away with their violence, I think more needs to be done to help them improve their ways. However I’m not really sure how effective any “treatment” would be. As they say, old habits die hard.
      That you remembered your childhood response to Goldilocks is interesting. I’m not sure if I can remember that one, but I remember being frustrated with Jack not following his mother’s instructions, and then was fearful for him when he entered the giant’s castle, and annoyed with him for stealing. There was a lot of emotional response to that story. 🙂
      Your step-sister’s actions in stealing your precious toy seem quite similar to Brucie’s in stealing Marnie’s. Marnie will probably get hers back though. I daresay the groundsman will get it down and return it to her. 🙂 I can’t imagine your ongoing anger, and then to find the lion squashed under your mattress. That was just such a mean thing to do. As you say, she had her problems too. Some show them outwardly as she and Brucie do, needing the attention. Others like you and Marnie (and I’m not saying that you are alike) find more inward ways of coping.
      Your “stealing” obviously had a positive effect with the change it required your mum to make.
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  7. roweeee

    Thanks very much for these insights. So often I’m tired at night and forget to ask these questions and even forget to read at all with the kids. Must get back to it and ask more questions. xx Rowena

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    1. Norah Post author

      It is sometimes harder to maintain momentum when the children get older, but I still read to mine for many years. We would read chapter books together, taking turns to read a chapter each. I remember reading “Sophie’s World” with Becwhen she was about 12. It was a wonderful experience and led to many deep discussions. I treasured those moments. 🙂

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      1. roweeee

        A lot of things fell away when I got sick 8 months ago and the chemo wrecked my ability to establish any kind of routine and manage time etc. I am starting to get back into practicing my violin but I need to really remind myself about reading together because it was something I did for 10 years every night without fail and then it stopped. When I occasionally remember, the kids climb back on my knee like they never left and I vow to get back into it and yet there’s activities, TV and we really do need to try a bit harder. Thanks for the encouragement! xx Rowena

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        1. Norah Post author

          I know your health is demanding your attention and can only imagine the difficulties you have in finding time, and energy, for things you love. I admire your courage and strength and am amazed at what you achieve. I cannot imagine what you would achieve if health was on your side. Look after yourself. Accept what you can and don’t push yourself too hard with “should”. But the thought of your kids curling up on your knee for a story gives me a very warm feeling. Take care. 🙂

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          1. roweeee

            Thanks very much,m Norah. Reading was a critical connection with my kids when I was back home from hospital when I was first diagnosed and it really took me a good couple of years to come good. My son has always been incredibly active and so being able to read together was very important. It’s been important for bonding with my daughter too. Yes, there’s a lot of love and comfort in Mum’s lap and a good book!

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  8. Paula Reed Nancarrow

    Nice post, Norah. It’s interesting that when you gave that list of questions for Goldilocks and the Three Bears I thought of something I had never thought of before in relation to that story, and that is privilege and colonialism. What does it mean that the little white girl can enter the home of those native to the woods and consume and break anything she wants, then fall asleep, oblivious to the consequences of her behavior? A lesson, perhaps, for an older student demographic than you have in mind. Here in Minnesota, however, where we have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, and are trying to acknowledge our blithe appropriation of the land and resources of others, I am prompted to consider it.

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  9. julespaige

    Sesame Street has a cute episode about petty thievery. Elmo ‘borrows’ Abby’s (the fairy) wand. He ends up making every one sing, high, low, fast, slow…but can’t get them to stop.

    Also Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has some good episodes about wanting and trying to keep what doesn’t belong to you. Children need to learn early to respect others belongings.

    When I take Little Miss for a walk I tell her she can’t have the pretty leaf on the neighbors lawns because those lawns don’t belong to Grama. She can have what is on the public side walk – but needs to know that even at two – she can’t always have what she wants when she wants it.

    I can feel empathy for your character. But while it is difficult sometimes we need to learn to do the right thing in spite of the drama and negative home environment.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Those sound like great episodes for learning, Jules; and you are teaching your Little Miss well. It is difficult for children to learn when they have things at home, and communal things that are shared at kindy and school, and things that belong to others. I’m always amazed at how well most seem to learn the difference.
      You are correct in saying we need to learn to do the right thing despite the negatives of our environment. I think Brucie has a way to go. I hope he does lots of good learning.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Thieves! « Carrot Ranch Communications

  11. Charli Mills

    Norah, thank you for always educating us with your posts! I look forward to it each time you write one. I’m a fan of critical thinking and love how Aldo Leopold (considered the “father of conservation” in the US) used it to connect children to nature. I think as writers we tend to think critically to begin with because we wonder “why” and ‘what if.” Yet, we can all create thinking questions for our own WIPs to make sure our story is coming through clearly, that we as the writers understand the implications. Which brings me to your clear understanding of motives in Marnie’s ongoing story. Again, I feel this can be a powerful work of fiction that addresses these issue by showing them in the story of this girl and the woman she becomes. Reading your flash gives us yet another understanding of motives and yes, I see the struggle for power and control in the brutal pecking order. Brilliant!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your generous comment, Charli. I wouldn’t be doing any of this fiction writing if it weren’t for your prompts. While I have always enjoyed writing stories I haven’t seriously considered doing a longer piece of fiction. I know I would need to spend much more time on it than I am prepared to at the moment. Once I get a few other projects sorted, maybe then I can set some time aside.
      I’m pleased the motivations of the characters ring true.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Wonderful words of encouragement! Thank you Charli. It reminds me of the saying, “If you love something, set it free …” Holding things too close can sometimes restrict rather than encourage growth. Thank you for sharing your sage advice. 🙂

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  12. writersideup

    This is wonderful stuff, Norah. The list is great to get kids talking about the many morals that are a part of classic fairy tales. Have you ever wondered what inspired many of those old tales? What real-life incidents triggered them? Pretty cool to think about, I think 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Donna. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. Fairy tales give us a lot to think about, even to wonder if they still have a place in the 21st century. I think they do. There is so much that can be discussed and learned from them. I think these stories will be part of our inherited culture for a while yet. I think you are right about the real-life incidents that triggered them. I found this information about the Goldilocks story very interesting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldilocks_and_the_Three_Bears
      I hadn’t thought about it having an author. I thought it was a tale handed down from the oral tradition. 🙂

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      1. writersideup

        That was very interesting to read 🙂 It’s amazing how different the originals are from what we’ve come to know. They almost seem like different stories in many aspects. Not this one, so much, but others like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid and such. I honestly don’t think fairy tales will ever die off 🙂

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  13. Sarah Brentyn

    I know you’re not a fan of worksheets, but those sound cool. Thanks for the links. 😉 I really don’t like the idea of asking children “Was Goldilocks good or bad? Was Jack good or bad?” I would ask them to think deeper about what they did and if it was a good (or bad) idea or if what they did was thought through. I’d never ask a kid if another kid was good or bad as a person. I know, they’re silly, fictional characters but still. I’ll have to check out the raindrops story. I love a good fairy tale. 🙂

    I love the flash. I remember that scene and love hearing it from another perspective. That is excellent.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Good call, Sarah! Thanks. How did I let that slip by me?! I have changed the wording now in light of your comment. You are so right. I have always said to refer to the actions rather than the person and I failed to indicate that in my wording, though I had said to discuss the actions. I am very happy that you called me out on this.
      “A Necklace of Raindrops” is the title story of a collection of lovely nursery rhymes. Joan Aiken was a very gifted storyteller. Her website is worth exploring too.
      Thanks for your, as ever insightful, comment. Much appreciated.
      I’m pleased the flash worked.

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        I didn’t mean to call you out. Just saying… My kids have their moments so I’m well-versed in the “behavior was bad” instead of “you are bad”. 😉 I’ll definitely check out hte collection by Joan. And, yes, the flash worked brilliantly.

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        1. Norah Post author

          I’m grateful to you for calling me out. I totally agree with you. It was quite a mistake on my part so I’m pleased you pointed it out. I hope it works better now. Let me know if I need to do more. I appreciate your honesty. That’s what it’s all about. Thanks. 🙂

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  14. Annecdotist

    Oh, lovely, Norah, from the depths of your thinking about fairytales to that fabulous flash – I love how you’ve managed to show the thieving boy’s hidden sadness in a story that is familiar to your blog followers from the other point of view. I really enjoyed the rhythm of the opening paragraph and your phrase “used him as an ashtray” is so painfully evocative. The only part I didn’t really like was “said a witness” – doesn’t seem quite the right language for this particular story, but I appreciate it’s sometimes hard to jiggle the words to get an exact 99.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Anne. I appreciate your thoughts re the flash. I do struggle with the 99 words. I’m not sure if I try to tell too much or if I just haven’t refined my style to the 99 word limit. I’ll have another think about how I could have worded ‘the witness’. Thanks. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Colline. I have just had a reminder from Sarah that it is better to discuss the actions rather than the perpetrator, and I have adjusted the wording to suit (I hope!)

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