In her book, The Boy on the Beach: Building Community through Play, Vivian Paley turned a letter into an epigraph.
I have a name for us. We are anecdotists. The dictionary says this is someone who collects and tells little stories. Of course, our stories are all about young children, but I think the name fits.
Do anecdotists ask why? If so, then I agree to be called an anecdotist.
—Letters to and from Taiwan
It was my 16th two-hour visit to the preschool where I was testing Vivian Paley’s storytelling and story acting curriculum. From my seat at the designated story table, I was waiting for Allen to join me. Allen, who already knew how to read, was standing next to the bookshelf, resisting my call to story.
“Brain blast,” he said, “and that’s the story of the Alphabet Riddles!”
“Bring the book over here.” I said, while wondering whether all early readers associate the word story with thing that comes from a book.
When he joined me, the book fell open to a poem about echoes, so we read it together and then I tried to extend thing that comes from a book to thing that comes out of a mouth that can be dramatized with the help of friends.
“Do you think you could do a story about echoes? You could say some words when we act it out, and then your friends could say them back.”
“And that’s it!” Allen said, and ran off to play cars with Matthew and Zach.
When it was time for story acting, Matthew and Zach agreed to be the echoes.
“Allen, can you tell them how it starts?”
“Is anyone there?” Allen said, then paused so his friends could do the echo.
“I’m here,” said Matthew.
Allen looked at him and then at me.
“Try it again,” I said.
“Whooo’s theeerrrre?” Allen said, elongating the sounds.
Chenoa’s answered by standing up, placing her hands on the floor, and pointing her tushy at the ceiling. Her reply went viral. While Allen continued using different word combinations and waiting for an echo, his peers continued standing up and joyfully aiming their tushies at the ceiling.
Why? is a good question for anecdotists, scientists and young children. It’s also comes in handy for thinking about the role a chicken might play if it finds itself in the Case of an Extended Metaphor.
Why do we think that learning the alphabet is the first step to learning to read?
Why don’t people understand my words?
How many times can a human brain wonder why? before it feels compelled to reach for the Off switch?
Why do we think of human brains as things with left or right sides, or as a thing equipped with a switch?
Why would someone turn a chicken, famous for baking bread, trying to cross the road, and running to tell the king, into a support animal?
Recognizing Allen’s struggle to stay on the off-ramp of the road to anger, I used his last sentence to bring an end to the anecdote with which we were building the classroom story.
“And that’s it! Please sit back down in your chairs.”
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, my chicken wrote Allen a letter.
When someone imitates someone else, that’s a kind of echo.
Love, Lil C
B is for Beyond the Book ✒︎