Monday, March 14, 2011

Reading Aloud; Learning About Story

Like many children, I was fortunate to have parents who loved to read aloud to me. Some of my most magical early memories are of snuggling under the blankets while my mother read my favorite stories to me. To this day, I find this one of the most soothing activities; I remember her voice, soft and loving, yet expressive. I not only felt safe and loved, I felt safe letting my imagination take me wherever it would. I felt filled with delight at going on an adventure with someone I loved.

I still have a few of those books, too. The Poky Little Puppy and The Shy Little Kitten were still around for me to read them to my own children. Even better was Tawny Scrawny Lion. In case you don't know this one, the various animals get so tired of being chased by the lion, the appoint the rabbit to "go talk to the lion." The lion goes along with the rabbit, lured by the vision of the rabbit's many relations, for one rabbit is hardly a mouthful. As they go along, the rabbit gathers the ingredients for a delicious carrot stew. The entire family plies the lion with stew until his belly is sleek and round, then they sing songs. The lion comes back the next night, intending to devour all the rabbits, but ends up "sleek and jolly." The animals, amazed that they are not long being hunted, ask the rabbit what he said to the lion. "We had such a good time with that nice, jolly lion that I guess we forgot to talk about anything at all!" Needless to say, by this time, the tawny scrawny lion isn't scrawny any more. Heart as well as body have been fed.

It doesn't surprise me that the first book I wrote, in 4th grade, not only involved animals, but a peaceful resolution. I still find both in my work, although my protagonists are generally human these days (occasionally, I admit, they are alien or supernatural beings). I don't like being bashed over the head with overbearing Messages, but I do like the shift from conflict being the solution to conflict being the problem in itself, with many creative and satisfying solutions.

The Talmud teaches us that a hero is one who turns an enemy into a friend.


  1. Deborah -- This is a different response option than I was presented before, so I think you fixed it. At least I can just check "anonymous" below.

    I still can't think of the title of the story about the mouse and the elephant, but one of the longer favorites of my childhood was the one about a boy who rescues a black sheep and turns him into a prize winner: I'm pretty sure that was titled "So Dear to My Heart" -- later made into a movie by Disney, but my memory of it goes back to the Golden Book and the pictures in that book of Jeremiah Kincaid and his grandmother and the famous racehorse at the beginning. Most intriguing part of that story to me was how the grandmother told Jeremiah she had made a promise to God, and though her promise conflicted with Jeremiah's hers had to take precedence because she was older -- though better words were used to same effect. Unfortunately, these days, some people will find a reference to God as "offensive" as a violent ending. Maybe we just better stick to talking animals?

  2. Hi, Joan! It worked!

    For me, there's a huge difference between including references to God as part of the belief systems of the characters, and having God appear as a character in a moralistic, preaching way. It's one thing, for example, for the grandmother to assert that her prayers have precedence (i.e., have more power/mana/magical oomph) and quite another for some expression of divinity to play favorites.

    I tend to give kids credit for figuring out that grownups have their own rules, but also that life doesn't necessarily follow them. As a writer, I love inserting subversive messages along the lines of, just because someone says it's so and they're bigger than you are, doesn't mean it really is so.