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Archive for January, 2011

So many cool friends. Here’s two:

My pal David Holt just put up his new web page and it’s like Disney World for fans of traditional music – you can spend an hour there, easily. (Actually, not like Disney World – much cheaper and more real.) One of the best parts is David’s documentation of his mentors – a blurb on a score of people who have influenced him – from Bessie Jones to Doc Watson and to a bunch of people I didn’t know but wish I did. David’s a great photographer, too, and the photos of these folks are as good as everything else. Check it out.

And Pete Reptile (aka Albert Bitterman) of the Reading Reptile bookstore in Kansas City, MO has a GREAT new book out called Fortune Cookies, illustrated by Chris Raschka.

You can look at it on online, but you can’t know how cool it is until you get to open up the fortune cookies inside – it’s like Pat the Bunny with a narrative line. Okay, better art, better story, but you know what I mean – tactile. Definitely not for e-books – you have to hold it. He doesn’t need my help – it’s out two weeks and already in the third printing, but it’s going to be around for awhile.

It all makes me wonder what I’ve been doing lately…

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My friend Willy Claflin sent me a link to this youtube video of a young girl telling a story. She’s amazingly eloquent (and wow, she speaks French…) and it presents a way to look at what happens when children are involved in story.

One of the most striking elements at first viewing is Capucine’s vocabulary – all the animals, all the naming of things in the world, and their descriptions. Her use of those words insures they’re going to be part of her world.

What’s even more striking to me is her ability to incorporate all these things into a narrative. This connecting of elements is really what the mind does in making a story. Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, a witch, bats, and crocodiles have no relationship with each other outside of the story, but she wraps them together, into a story that also incorporates motifs found in many stories – lost babies, being eaten, going to heaven, “something going amiss”, gaining and losing magic, and death. There’s also a moral element that runs through the story – a concern for the “poor animals”, the conquering of the witch, the lion losing its powers, people being safe at the end. You can almost see her brain making connections, drawing on different stories and images, and even her immediate surroundings (her mother’s ring!). I’m reminded of Vivian Gussin Paley’s book on storytelling with kindergarteners, “The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter”, and Robert Coles’s work with children and story.

In watching this video, I have to put my critical mind on hold a little – the story lacks some narrative logic and if you start thinking about the lack of causality in spots, or the quick jumps, you miss the amazing thing that is happening. It’s a reminder that story is a way people work things out and it’s not always necessary for it to have water-tight plot points like a John Grisham novel.

And then, of course, there’s the mom – an open accepting presence through the whole story – I love her surprised “Oh!” when Capucine introduces a a twist in the plot. It’s this encouragement that lets the girl go on in her process of discovery. I think of all the times I’ve been with a kid who is telling a story, obviously making it up as they go along, and the adults in the room (me included) start rolling their eyes or say “Okay, how does it end?”. That’s fine sometimes, but adults who give themselves completely to a kid’s story-making are doing a great service.

This little girl is going to be very good at something, and a lot of it will be because of the ears of the adults around her.

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