Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Going Back to Kindergarten

When I was in kindergarten, we made up stories and our teacher, Miss Hoadley, typed them up and made a book of them. Each of us got a copy. We got to choose the color of construction paper we wanted for the cover (light green for me) and then decorate it. I don’t remember what my story was about, but I absolutely remember the book itself, the particular smell of the mimeographed pages, and what it felt to look at the block of purple print with my name under it, “Barbara White,” and to know that the words I couldn’t read yet were mine. I remember thinking, I want to do this again!

So it was a special pleasure to visit my grandson Jake’s class at the Bridgeford Kindergarten to talk about writing and to celebrate the imminent release of the books they wrote with the help of their teacher, Miss Melissa.

I talked about my books a little bit, especially Everything You Want, because they liked the idea of winning all that money and lots of ideas about how they’d spend it if they won. Also because they loved the goose on the cover…particularly, the goose’s butt on the back flap.

The best part was the creative thinking exercises we did together, though. I brought a box of stuff and pulled two things out at a time. A ceramic house and a pine cone. An unrecognizable plastic action figure and a “fly’s eye,” that multiplies the world when you look into it. With each pair, we played, What if?

Their ideas were endless. They waved their hands. “Jake’s Grandma,” they said. “Jake’s Grandma! What if….”

…there were tiny people living inside the house? What if the house was on a block of regular houses? What if the people were so small they could live inside the pinecone? What if the pinecone fell on the house and all the little people were smushed. What if it was a tree in theiry yard? What if a regular sized person became friends with a tiny person and carried him around on his hand?

What if the action figure was Cat Woman? (She had pointy ears and cat-like face.) What if her super-power was being able to see a million things at once? What if she could make what she saw? Like a million pizzas! But what if the pizzas were tiny, for the tiny people?

After that, we talked about how words were like seeds that could grow pictures. The word “dog,” for example. How many different pictures could that make? Dalmation, poodle (large or small, and what color?), beagle, Chihuahua. “One of those hot dog dogs,” somebody said.

What about “a perfect day?” What’s perfect, anyway? Somebody might think of a summer day with blue skies and sunshine. Somebody else might like rain or snow. We “what-iffed” a summer day. Blue skies, they said. White clouds like marshmallows. Sun that felt warm on your skin. Green grass, cool and tickly. Butterflies landing on flowers. Birds chirping, the pst-pst of of a sprinkler in someone’s yard.

Last, we went on an imaginary journey. They sat still (kindergartners!), closed their eyes and I led them with words through their bedroom windows into a world where the trees were lollipops and a jelly bean path led them to a house made of candy. Afterwards, they told the stories of their imagined worlds.

Yesterday, Jake brought me the story they wrote after I left (transcribed by Miss Melissa) and the fabulous pictures they made for me, showing the worlds they imagined on their journey—and in some cases, descriptions of those worlds. They were all wonderful. I will keep them forever! Here are just a few:

Jake’s has a lady with her arms out, a piano, a cupboard, and a ceiling fan made of lollipops: “thas a choclat curd cawbd it has a chocola curd pano”

Ella had a lady in her story, too: “To Jake’s Gramc from Ella that was a lito girl and she fawd a house thar was a lade picing a plat the lito girl said can haw sum cande”

Elly’s world is all lollipops: “thar’s is LoLy PoP’s! and thar is a tree and the tree is made out of LoLy PoP’s! and the hous, is made out of the LoLy PoP’s and thar is a LoLy PoP laty.”

Mya’s has a block of blue sky, a yellow sun, a little girl standing on a path made of candy: i wint in a house made out of candy i said that house is yummy”

Will, not a candy-lover, made a mostly green house: “it is mede aut of spinach,” he wrote.

Annelise made a lollipop tree and a cookie house: “to jaks grama the huos is made of chocit chip kooes and the rof is mad of clrbings

And here’s the story they wrote with Miss Melissa. But first, can I just say, they totally got the “show, don’t tell” thing that sometimes takes college students a whole semester to understand, if they get it at all?

Once upon a time two kids named Pete and Frannie went for a walk in the forest. Suddenly, they saw a bear. They ran as fast as they could to a house. The house was covered with candy. The roof was made of chocolate chips. Around the windows were candy canes and it was decorated with jelly beans and m&m’s. The sidewalk was made out of Hershey bars. There was a garden of gumdrops and lollipops.

Next to the house was a car made out of an orange circus peanut with Rolo wheels. The house had a playground in the back yard. The swings were fruit roll-ups. There was a climber made of chocolate bars with Laffy Taffy slides. There was a peanut butter cup bridge to the tree house with candy cane monkey bars on the other side. The fire pole down from the tree house was licorice.

The pool was filled with root beer with huge scoops of ice cream for people to float on. the sandbox was filled with crumbs from cinnamon graham crackers and every type of cookie. Around the sandbox were little marshmallow seats.

The back of the yard had enormous marshmallow trampolines where children could do somersaults and a ball pit filled with Skittles.

On the other side of the house was a chocolate river. Marshmallow Peep ducks and gummi fish swam cheerfully over peanut brittle rocks and between puffs of cotton candy. The rowboat was brown sugar with pretzel stick oars. Cinnamon stick and pretzel trees lined the river bank.

As the children approached the house they saw someone inside. A witch! They were afraid and ran back into the woods. Stopping for breath, they met a mouse named Charlie. He was old and wore glasses. He told them the witch was nice. Pete and Frannie decided to go back to the house. Charlie went, too. They knocked on the door. The witch came out an the kids asked for candy. The witch said, “Yes, help yourselves. But don’t eat too much because it is my house.” They ate and then they planed on and licked the playground and drank for the river. They went to visit the witch whenever they wanted to have a snack.

Bravo, Miss Melissa! If every child had a kindergarten teacher like you, the world would be a better place.

I can’t wait for the book launch on Thursday, at the Young Writers’ Tea!

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