We think in stories. We live out stories. We tell stories. Stories are everywhere, they are part of the fabric of our lives. When you get back home from a busy working day, you ask your spouse, “How was your day?” And you swap stories about what happened to you that day, what you manged to accomplish, what you left undone, what you found interesting, amusing or upsetting.
If you’re like me, the world of fiction is almost more compelling than the real world. In the real world, you have to clean up messes and make snacks for school and battle the traffic. In the fictive dream, you get to live out epic heroic fantasies, armed with magical swords and elf cloaks (okay – who can tell I’ve been reading Tolkien?) The world of books is often more exciting than our real lives and gives us an escape from the ho-hum humdrum.
This week I had the privilege of talking to some Grade 1, 2 and 3 learners at Hertzlia Primary for Book Week about what it is to be a writer and storytelling. Clearly their teachers had prepped them well, for they all knew that stories must have a beginning, a middle and an end. We had lots of fun playing word association games where rhyming was very popular (goo – poo – moo!) and building a plot using Story Cubes.
My favourite story was about Big Tomahawk (yes, I did provide a suitable name for the protagonist – one boy wanted to give our Native American character the name of Levi!). Big Tomahawk wanted to write a book, but got writer’s block and pierced an arrow through his book in frustration. Then there was the story of Albert Einstein who wondered if he had seen a unicorn the day before, had an ice-cream and… (This is where it got a bit confusing.) I just remember something about an alien and the ice-cream cone ending up on a horse, which became a unicorn. Then both Albert and the unicorn went parachuting down to earth. (Okay, I think that one needed a bit of reworking to make the character motivations a bit clearer.)
It was great to have an interactive session with the kids – I didn’t want it to be just about me and my books (although I did read Alfonso the Tooth Mouse to them). I wanted to awaken in them an interest in stories and the craft of storytelling. It was clear that some of them are already budding authors and love reading.
Books are magical things. Walt Disney put it so succinctly when he said:
“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island and at the bottom of the Spanish Main … and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.”
One of my favourite authors is Roald Dahl. His books made such an impression on me as a child. As soon as I could read competently on my own, I was diving into The Twits, The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – in fact, any of his books that I could lay my hands on. This year, while my eldest son was nursing a cold, we read The BFG, which I think is my best Dahl book (I also loved his two autobiographies). His use of language is so rich and colourful and it’s hard not to fall in love with the bumbling, happy-go-lucky Big Friendly Giant.
The bit I love is when the BFG and Sophie discuss farting, which perhaps was part of the inspiration behind my own children’s book, The Poofiest Pong.
“A whizzpopper!” cried the BFG, beaming at her. “Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpoppers is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping is forbidden among human beans?”
Half of the appeal of this book are the words that Dahl invented for his lovable giant. It reminds me of Lewis Carrol’s Jabberwocky, replete with curious words like “galumphing” and “burbled”. My boys’ faces as I recited that poem to them for the first time was a study in wonder. They couldn’t believe something so crazy existed, especially as it involved a “vorpal blade” and slaying a monster.
That’s one of the reasons I love being a mother and a storyteller – you get to dip into these fantastic worlds of imagination and live vicariously in them, sucking all the goodness and nourishment they contain. Books make living more enjoyable, allowing us to see things with changed eyes. As Dahl himself so famously said, “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”