Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Reading Up" As A Literary Strategy

My son loved this book when he was three
Emergent readers are typically children, but they can also be adults, who are just beginning to learn the forms of grammar and written syntax found in literature.

To Read Up in this context means to have someone read something to you that you do not have the ability to read to yourself.

Babies learn how language is put together by listening to the people around them use it. Emergent readers pick up on vocabulary, grammar, structure, and style by listening to people read to them.

The best time to start this process is right after birth! Babies easily learn the difference between speaking and reading.

Parents often tell stories about watching their preverbal child pick up a book or other paper and pretend to be reading it. If you listen, you can tell that their voice patterns when they are "reading" are different from when they are "speaking".

Reading Up also allows you to model the kinds of behaviors to emergent readers that successful readers do.

Stopping to consider the text
Working out difficult language
Rereading a section if you are not sure what it says
Not continuing if you need more context
Looking up unfamiliar words if you don't know what they mean

My kids found this intriguing
As emergent readers get older, selecting books that are out of their reading range continues to be important.

As a family, we read aloud at the dinner table, on car trips, around the fireplace, and when we had some time together.

We read Ender's Game, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Artemis Fowl, The Howliday Inn, 13 Clocks, A Wrinkle In Time, The Most Timid In The Land, Shel Silverstein's poetry, and many others.

Then, somewhere in the last couple of years of high school, the tables turned, and the kids started reading aloud to us. They had books we hadn't encountered and they wanted to share them.

These books came from genres we didn't tend to read. There were phrases we hadn't heard, turns of slang we didn't know, and usages of language that were unfamiliar to us. They really enjoyed teaching us what was what.

Reading Up is not about plowing through the text. It is about soaking in the language.

So, here are some ideas about Reading UP.

1. Stop every now and then and ask for predictions.

ex. Wow. What do you think is going to happen to Ramona?

ex. Do you think Bunnicula is really a vampire bunny?

2. Stop and reflect on language that you like or don't like.

ex. I love that word! Collapsable. I like the way it rolls out of the mouth. Do you have any words that you like to say?

3. Stop and reflect on how the text might make you feel. What associations do you have with the text?

ex. Okay, that was exciting. I loved the way the author surprised us! I always think about visiting my grandmother in Texas when I read that part.

4. Encourage the listener to stop you if they don't understand a word, by stopping when you get to a word that you struggled with, or that you still have to think about for a second, or that you find interesting because of definition.

ex. So, a Lepidopterist is someone who collects butterflies? Cool.

5. Reading Up should always be an active experience. Use that time to help the emergent reader interact with the text in as many ways as you can!

6. Encourage the emergent reader to read aloud to you when she/he finds something they like.

7. Make reading aloud a part of everyday or as often as you can manage it. This process can be a great bonding experience.

8. Don't get discouraged if the book you've selected isn't interesting to your audience. You can always stop and start a different one.

9. Ask the reader if there is a subject they want to hear more about.

10. Read things you enjoy! Reading aloud shouldn't be a chore.

And it shouldn't be something you only do with small children.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Li Chi Slays The Serpent


This story has been sitting in my body for days. It wants to be shared.

Long ago, in China, there was a fearsome serpent who lived in the Yung Mountains.

His head was as big as a large rice barrel and his body was fearsomely long. When the magistrates tried to travel over the mountain for business, they ran the risk of being eaten.

To assuage the serpent, the people of the region sacrificed ox and goats to the horrid monster, but it was not enough. It kept picking off the men in charge of the district.

Then, one night, the serpent appeared in the dreams of the people of the region. The serpent announced that it would leave off eating the men if, once a year, they sent up a girl child of about twelve or thirteen. If they sent him this sacrifice, he would leave them all in peace.


The magistrates thought this was a fair trade for their lives. Besides, what else could they do? They were scared.

They chose girls whose fathers were criminals or girls who were bondmaids (slaves). These girls were the least amongst others, and so were thought expendable.

The children were taken from their mothers and fathers, or from the only homes they had known, and imprisoned until the appointed day. Soldiers marched them into the Yung Mountains and left them at the mouth of the cave. The serpent would appear, and swallow them whole.

This ghastly sacrifice continued for nine years.

In one of the provinces lived a poor man named Li Tan. He had the misfortune of having seven girls. His youngest daughter was named Chi.

When the magistrates began the search for the tenth victim, Li Chi went to her father.

"Father," she said, "I am going to volunteer myself for the serpent."

"What?" Li Tan couldn't believe it. "Why would you even say such a thing? I am not a criminal! You are not a slave girl. You are perfectly safe from this fate."

"Father," she said, "You have seven daughters. You might as well be childless. None of us will be able to care for you in your old age. If I volunteer, the magistrate will give you money. It will not be much, but it will be better than you spending money to feed and house me for years before I leave and give all of my labors over to a husband and his family."

Her parents were proud of her sentiment, but they refused.

Li Chi went to her grandmother. "I have told my parents I mean to go to the serpent. They need the money. Since they will not allow it, I will go in secret."

Her grandmother nodded. She understood Li Chi's feelings.

"All I ask," said her grandmother, "is that you come and see me before you go."

Li Chi went to the magistrate and told them she would offer herself to the serpent, and they promised to send the money to her family after she was gone.

The night before she left, Li Chi went to see her grandmother. The old woman gave her sweet sticky rice balls to eat, a basket to carry them, and an old sword.

"This was your great grandfather's sword," said her grandmother. "I have kept it hidden. If things got bad enough, I meant to sell it, but I think you need it more than we do."

The edges were still keen and sharp. Li Chi thanked her grandmother and went down the road in the darkness.

She climbed most of that day, and arrived at the serpent's cave before the sun went down. She took out her great grandfather's sword and sharpened ten stakes. She pounded them into the ground near the serpent's cave. Next, she put six of her grandmother's rice balls between the stakes. Lastly, she climbed up onto some rocks above the cave and waited.

As the sun set, the wind changed direction and blew into the cave. Li Chi knew the serpent was going to be huge, but she was shocked by the immensity of it.

The serpent's tongue flicked out sampling the air. It licked up the first of the rice balls, moving into the maze of stakes. It licked up the second and third. She waited until it took the last one. Its giant head was now over all ten of the stakes.

Li Chi leaped off of the rocks and with all her strength, plunged the sword through the snake's head. The snake reared up, and she was thrown clear. When it brought its head down the spikes speared it. In agony, the serpent thrashed and rolled, driving the sword and spikes ever deeper until it pulled its enormous body clear of the cave, rolled into a field, and lay dead.

Inside the cave, Li Chi found the skulls of the nine maidens who had gone before her. She gathered them up with great sadness.

"It is ashamed you had to die because of fear." She retrieved her sword and headed home.

The tale of Li Chi's bravery spread across the land. The Emperor himself came to hear of it. In time, he asked Li Chi to marry him, for what emperor would not be graced to sit beside such an incredible woman.

Li Tan, her father was given a position in the royal court, and all of his daughters married men of means.







In the face of injustice by those in power, these are all we have.

Yours in Story -

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Justice: Fairy Tale Style

Over the course of my storytelling life, I have marveled at how kids react to villains.

Depending on what that character is doing, kids turn on a dime. They will love that character right up until the moment he betrays them, and then that character is dead to them.

They don't care what happens to the villain as long as he/she gets their comeuppance and they are happy to punish the character in whatever horrible way the story decides.

Rumpelstiltskin is a great example of this.

actor Robert Carlyle as Rumpel in Once Upon A Time
He shows up at Anna's great need, and spins the straw to gold. The first two times he takes baubles from her. The kids find the little elf man funny. Whenever he is about to appear I make a specific sound and hand movement.

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! (My hands open and close as I move them in a circle. This happens every time the little man is set to appear. By his third appearance, they have this down to a science and they take over doing it in the story. I become the audience for them.)

He has a funny voice and gestures, and moves in a quirky manner. He sings a little song as he spins, and they start doing it with me by the the second time through. They adore him.

Then he crosses that line from savior to sinner. He asks for her baby in return for his services. 

The children gasp in disbelief and shock. They can't imagine he's serious. They beg Anna not to agree. She speaks to herself, but really to the sea of shocked children,

"What if the king is lying? Maybe he won't marry me. Even if he does marry me, maybe I won't have a child. Some people don't have children. The future could be anything, but right now? Right now I'm in trouble."

So, she agrees to give up her child. The children are upset. They still spin gold with the little man, but the tide has turned. They are no longer looking forward to seeing him.

The next series of events unfolds until the queen has a baby. Usually one or two children whisper, "Oh no." under their breath. 

I continue, "Then, one morning, she heard a sound she hadn't heard in almost two years. What sound was that?"

The children make the sound, but they are not enthusiastic about it.

When he shows up to collect the baby, they are now pulling for Anna to get the right name. Some kids, the ones who know the story, can barely hold themselves together. Most of them don't remember the name. Those who do are trying to reassure their classmates sitting around them that it is going to be all right.

The first two days she does not guess correctly. 

Then, the maid arrives with the little song that breaks the whole story open.

"My lady, I saw a strange little man. He was dancing around a fire and singing this little song."

Today, I brew
Tomorrow I bake
On the third day
The queen's baby I'll take!
The queen must guess
This game she can't win

At the end of this little song, the audience lets out a collective breath and the kids get really excited.

The queen says, "Thank you." 

I give the audience a knowing look and say, "A few hours later, you know what she heard."

Now, up to this point in the story, whenever the children made the dinging sound and the hand movements, they mirror the way I did it with exactly the same gestures. Some of them actually stop making the sound after he asks for the baby. They want no part of bringing the little horror back into the story.

 This last time, however, when they know Rumpelstiltskin is about to get his comeuppance, they all lose their collective minds.

The exuberance with which they start making that sound, and the forcefulness of their hand motions is amazing. It always startles the educators and adults in the room. At least, it startles the ones who aren't participating. The grown ups who are participating are just as excited as the kids.

That horrible little man who they loved so well at the beginning of the story is about to get his little green clad butt kicked, and they cannot wait to see it.

Personally, I always felt sorry for Rumpel. I mean, he was helping Anna out. True, he did get greedy at the end, but if her father hadn't told that horrendous lie to begin with, she wouldn't have been in that situation in the first place.

I always thought he got a bum rap.

The kids in my audiences don't have this problem. 

I wonder if I would have had their experience if I'd had a storyteller tell me the tale as opposed to hearing it on a record. I wonder if I would have felt the same if I'd had that little man in my body and voice as he betrayed the helpless girl who was at the mercy of an exaggerating father and greedy soon to be husband.

I'll never know. My audiences, however, are not the least bit confused about why he should get punished.

The last half of this year I was telling social justice tales in schools. These are stories about people with power taking advantage of people who had no sure way to face them.

The children had no trouble identifying when the person in power was doing something wrong. In fact, they would yell at him/her. 

When one character decided he didn't want poor or ugly people around him, I heard about it vociferously from my audience. When one character stole from another, I heard about it. The kids had no patience for injustice. They were quick to call it out and let me know it was no bueno!

My favorite moment was when the West Wind stole cornmeal from Willa and offered her a ratty old tablecloth as a a fair trade when he could not return it.

I said, "Willa looked up at the North Wind, then she looked at that ratty tablecloth and said..."

Before I could get the next line out of my mouth, a third grader sitting a couple of rows back shook his head and said, "Bro!"

The kids around him nodded. That was the only possible reply one could give to somebody taking something valuable and then offering you a big rag as compensation.

I replied, "Pretty much," and went on with the tale.

I was quite proud of our children all across the country. 

I hope, as they get older, they keep their ability to recognize injustice, cruelty, liars, hatred, and intolerance. I hope they call it out when they encounter it. I hope they feel the same outrage in the world around them if they witness the abuse of power, and I hope they choose to stand against it in times to come.

Happy Telling -