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Query: Every year the local Charter School where I tell stories develops a new theme for the arts to revolve around. This year is a fun topic of "imagination."
What stories spring to mind for imagination? I'll be looking for short (15 minutes or less), geared to ages 5 through 13 since these students are kindergarten through sixth, and generally folk and fairy tales but I know anything goes when we're letting our minds and fingers run wild.
Batsy B. 8/29/06
Response: Imagination can be good or bad; the maid who is so caught up thinking what she'll do with the money from the sale of eggs that she ends up dropping them vs Jack who can think his way out of situations because he's a dreamer or The Boy Who Drew Cats and Other Japanese Fairy Tales (Dover Children's Thrift Classics) whose images come to life and save him.
Building castles in the air can lead to great things if you use them as blueprints, but disaster if you try to move into them as is. (yeah, I always try to balance my programs--can you tell?)
Cathy Jo S. 8/29/06
Response: And there is the lovely Haitian version of this in Diane Wolkstein's The Magic Orange Tree: and Other Haitian Folktales. I call it Monkey Misery (not sure if it is called that in the book). It is where the farmer's wife drops the honey jar and the monkey "imagines" that this must be what she is calling "misery." So he goes to ask Papa God for some more.
Richard M. Germany 8/29/06
Response: Don't forget the various versions of The Three Sillies or Four Fine Fools where everyone sits around and imagines dire events that "could" happen, and the protagonist (maybe a priest or the prospective bridegroom) goes out searching for other people even more silly and, of course, finds them right away, us humans being what we are!
Jackie B. 8/29/06
Response: There are so many stories in which dreams and imagination are integral. The man who dreams he will find a fortune if he goes to the city and stands on a bridge, only to be told there of a fortune buried in his own yard.
Mary G. 8/29/06
Response: Perhaps this is the quote you were referencing? "Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." - Goethe
Patti D. 8/29/06
Response: Stories cross over all boundaries for they speak the language of the heart.
Well, be sure to include some factual information about the people to start all that - the Australian aborigines. They tell stories and tread the songlines because they believe those literally recreate/sustain the world around them. The Dreamtime is where all things exist and come from, and their job is to keep them coming into manifestation. Their whole culture is based on Dreaming - but as a place, a self-existent world, not just something one can choose to do at night or in the imagination.So an aboriginal story might be very apposite, not that I can suggest any. But I do suggest you read Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin - it's beautiful, poetic, and short, and gives a good understanding and some anecdotes, perhaps some tales too.
Response: I remember some stories offering people hope and encouragement about dreaming a new world into being. Also, I as I think more about this subject, that there are cautionary tales that reflect the other side of this - warning us to take action before life swings far out of balance. Anyone have any suggestions for these. I am remembering one that I tell along this line is The War Between the Sandpipers and The Whales from Peace Tales by Margaret Read McDonald.
There is another story (I am trying to remember where I read it) that may fit the theme of dreaming a new world into being...
Two men disagree about some shared land each says it belongs to the other and not themselves - so a judge tells them to donate the land to build a park for the poor. They agree and give money to a young monk who is traveling to the city and will purchase seeds to plant in this park. On the way to buy the seeds, the monk sees live birds in cages and hanging by their legs from a camel and is moved to pity to spend all his money on buying and freeing these birds. When the poor monk returns to the park, he weeps that he will not be able to plant any seeds - but the birds come, carrying seeds from all ends of the world and a magnificent garden grew in that place.
I may be remembering more than one story here 'cause it seems to me that some rich merchants decide they want to go to the garden and some magical wall surrounds the garden and the gate will only open for the poor. There are also fountains within. The wall grows up at night, giving the homeless somewhere safe to sleep. I want to say that it is Mid-Eastern in origin - but could be from India and I am remembering the wrong pack animal. Anyone remember versions of this and where the tales are to be found?
Response: How about the Chinese story of The Magic Brocade: A Tale of China (English/Spanish Edition). The mother, who is a weaver of brocades, takes one of her brocades to market. After she sells it, she happens upon an idyllic picture of a large white house in a green meadow filled with farm animal with a beautiful river flowing by . She spends all of her money on the picture and takes it home, telling her three sons longingly how she would love to live in such a place. The two eldest sons are not encouraging, but the youngest tells her to weave a brocade of the picture so that she will feel that she is actually living in it. For three years she sits at her loom, pouring her tears and drops of blood into the work. Finally, when she takes it off the loom and spreads it out in the sunlight, a strange wind comes down and whirls it away.
She is so distressed by the loss of her brocade that she weeps until her eyes are blind and she is bedridden. One by one her sons set off to find her brocade. They all meet an old woman near a mountain pass who tells them what they must do to get it back from the fairies of Sun Mountain who have taken it and are trying to copy it. The two eldest draw back from the trials and take the gold the woman gives them, going to the city to spend it rather than back home. The youngest son, endures the perils and arrives at Sun Mountain on the back of a magic horse to find the fairies all at their looms, copying his mother's work. While he sleeps, waiting for them to finish, one of the fairies embroiders herself into the original picture. When he returns home with the brocade, his mother's health is restored. They once again take the brocade out in the light and as they watch it somehow, magically surrounds them, so that they are living in the picture. Not only is the woman and her youngest son there along with the house, meadow and river but also the fairy in the red dress . The son and the fairy maiden marry and live contentedly with the old woman for the rest of their days.
Response: Perhaps, The Man Who Planted Trees would fit. He imagined into being a forest and a community and worked at it until it happened.
Mabel K. Australia 8/31/06
Added later: Is the story true?
Wikipedia suggests it may well be partly autobiographical so who knows?
Jean Giono died in 1975 so he won't be telling!
Although written as if a biographical account ending with "Elzeard Bouffier died peacefully in 1947 at the hospice in Banon," Jean Giono, the author of "The Man Who Planted Trees," calls it an allegory.
Printed in the 'afterword' of the illustrated (with woodcuts, by Michael McCurdy) 1985 edition published by Chelsea Green is (in part) the following information:
First published in 1954 by Vogue magazine, Jean Giono's story has been translated into at least a dozen languages. It has since inspired reforestation efforts, worldwide.
Giono was a self-taught man. He lived virtually his entire life in the little city of Manosque in France. His elderly father was a cobbler and his mother, he tells us in his early novel Jean le Bleu (Blue Boy), ran a hand laundry.
In 1929, he published his first two novels, Colline (Hill of Destiny) and Un de Baumugnes (Lovers Are Never Losers), both rave success, in part thanks to the instant sponsorship of Andre Gide.
Years afterward Giono recalled the turning point in his life, to a moment in the afternoon of December 20, 1911, when he could spare enough pennies to purchase the cheapest book he could find. It turned out to be a copy of Virgil's poems. He never forgot that first flush of his own creative energy: "My heart soared."
Giono ran into difficulties with the American editors who in 1953 asked him to write a few pages about an unforgettable character. Apparently the publishers required a story about an actual unforgettable character, while Giono chose to write some pages about that character which to him would be most unforgettable. When what he wrote met with the objection that no "Bouffier" had died in the shelter at Banon, a tiny mountain hamlet, Giono donated his pages to all and sundry. Not long after the story was rejected, it was accepted by Vogue and published in March 1954 as "The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness." Giono later wrote an American admirer of the tale that his purpose in creating Bouffier "was to make people love the tree, or more precisely, to make them love planting trees."
Giono interpreted the "character," as an individually unforgettable if unselfish, generous beyond measure, leaving on earth its mark without thought of reward. Giono believed he left his mark on earth when he wrote Elzeard Bouffier's story because he gave it away for the good of others, heedless of payment: It is one of my stories of which I am the proudest. It does not bring me in one single penny and that is why it has accomplished what it was written for."
A couple of other links: (there are hundreds on the net.)
So, no! I don't know for sure that it is literally true ... but it feels true to the highest sense of human endeavour.
Mabel K. 9/1/06
Response to above: Jean Giono french writer of the twentyth century wrote it as a little booklet about this man who planted trees in the provence hills, very often burnt in summer by mistake or on purpose, and get very little rain. The booklet is a must. Giono did not want royalties, and the text is on line. According to giono himself in a letter he wrote in 1957, he invented this story to make people love trees
Ofra K. Israel 9/3/06
Response: It just occurred to me that Joe Wos has a story on his website called The King Who Loved Dragons. The king has a dragon in his imagination and can't find a drawing of it anywhere until a young boy draws it for him. It's a great little story.
Carol C. 8/31/06
Response: That reminds me of a little story by Dick Gackenbach called "Harry and the Terrible Whatzit." Was the Whatzit real or imaginary...you'll have to hear the story.
Marilyn K. 8/31/06
Response: What a chance to use the kids imagination. Some of my favorite stuff has come from kids imagination and a little prompting. Here's one some 4th graders made up.
I asked "Once upon a time there was a.......... Kids answered dog-
I said Describe the dog--- kids said ....big brown dog- another threw in " with funny ears"--- I said "Now this dog had a problem. anybody know what it was?"---- girl said "Dog can't get into house"....... I said "how did they fix the problem?" blank stares--One girl was sitting away from the rest of the kids...She was smiling- I knew she knew. I asked her "do you know?" she said "yeah":....................................................................................................... I said "Today?" she said "yeah" and giggled.
She said the dog's owners put in a doggy door when the big brown dog with funny ears was a little brown puppy with funny ears and they need a bigger door.
I do these exercises with kids at as many chances as I get.
Mike M. 8/31/06
Response: Well, I guess I ought to tell you that my dog, 'bill, small 'b' please is pregnant. Yes, I do mean my imaginary, beagle who is now seven years old. He's been pregnant for many months. He's due on labor day. Dog gone it ... this delivery will not be easy. :)
My story about 'bill' was the very first story I ever told and his story continues. It is all about imagination, voice, play and connection with others.
I have no idea what bill will bear. In some ways, bill was borne forth from a bone in an unlikely space ... the paper goods aisle in a grocery store.
Definitely one of my signature stories and a story that continues to take me on new adventures.
Mary K.C. 8/31/06
Response: There is a cute draw and tell story Meg Gilman shared with me. I am going to parapharse it badly but you can but some meat on its bones I am sure.
Little Monkey Face - a tell-and-draw story
You need a big sheet of paper and a magic marker.
Little Monkey is told at preschool to draw a pictue of something beautiful; he naturally draws his mother (draw very simple monkey face, circle, two dots for eyes, smile and ears). Then as he walks home (or back to his zoo enclosure), he meets friends one at a time, Ms Giraffe, Mr. Lion.... "Look at my beautiful picture of my beautiful mother."
Each animal admires, but then says, "Beautiful people have... (some characteristics of theirs ... long neck, whiskers, stripes etc.)" Little monkey adds each of these things one at a time (quickly and sloppily) to his picture (until you get tired or the paper gets full, and he gets to his home). Shows his mother, by now a mess of various animal parts, many stripes, long noses, necks etc.
"That's beautiful, Little Monkey." He says, "It's a picture of you" She is momentairly taken aback, then says, "That's just beautiful," and gives him a great big kiss and puts it on the fridge.
The worse you draw the funnier it is. I do one for the pattern and then let kids suggest the rest.
Karen C. 8/31/06
Response: What great ideas are coming through! I had a short list already started from my own story bag.
Mike suggested having the kids add in suggestions at appropriate moments. I would normally be doing this if my audience size was smaller. But these sessions comprise the entire school of 120 students at one time. I know this sounds like "the gig from hell" but I've worked with this school for over 7 years now. I know what to expect and what works, and more importantly, they know what to expect and what works. And amazingly enough, it does work to have the whole spectrum of ages sitting down first thing in the morning after brief announcements on each Monday morning. Last year the theme was Lewis and Clark, which was much harder to pitch to 5 year olds. But I digress, back to the list.
The first set will be a prop of a large silver pizza pan with a few magnetic pieces added one at a time as kids guess what it is. By the end it's obvious that it's a dog face with B I N G O spelled out below. (This came from the SRP manual of Paws, claws, scales, and tales.) That's a song they know well and we'll start there. The story will be a figure out what type of animal is this as I blow up and twist a long balloon. If I have time I'll do a second one, maybe a third, to show the subtle physical changes between a weiner dog, a giraffe, and ?. What makes the animal? Their imagination.
Other stories that come later are -- Nail soup, story of the blind men and the elephant, First Story by Dan Keding where the boy doesn't know a story to share. I still have to talk to the teachers to see what they would like to see covered but I feel I've got a good handle for the beginning of the series.
Batsy B. 8/31/06
web page created 8/26/06; updated 8/29/06; 9/4/06)