Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Power Of The Spoken Word

Over the years when working with students during a storytelling class, I am always deeply moved by their need to share their stories.  Some are more eager to tell than others but the story of one can connect to the memory of a story in another student's mind.  Soon everyone wants to tell their story.

We always sit in a circle; no one person has greater importance than another.  For those shared minutes an unbreakable bond is created.  It is an empowering experience.

Four years ago author Barbara Bottner and illustrator Michael Emberley introduced readers to a first grade student in Miss Brooks Love Books! (and I don't) who had a tough time finding a book for the Book Week celebration, but she did.  When it came to warts, snorting and a particularly dreadful ogre, it was true love.  Missy and her school librarian have returned in Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome!)(Alfred A. Knopf).

Miss Brooks has Story Nook first thing before school, and I don't like to miss it.

As luck (or not) would have it Missy needs to pass by Billy Toomey's house if she uses the short cut.  The problem is Billy Toomey chases her and grabs her hats.  His laughter and overt taunting at her frustration makes the entire situation intolerable.  The long way to avoid him is not an option on this rainy day.

Arriving late Missy joins the group only to be startled with the others when a boisterous boom of thunder makes all the lights go out. Miss Brooks can't continue reading in the dark, so she suggests a round of storytelling straight from her listeners' imaginations.  Missy declares herself to be more of a reader than a teller.  Upbeat Miss Brooks replies

"Good readers make wonderful storytellers."

Missy's mind is a complete blank when it comes to thinking of a tale to tell even when Miss Brooks advises them to think of a problem needing solving or a compelling character.  You know who keeps popping into her mind.  In a flash, not unlike a bolt of lightning, it comes to her.  An ogre.

This particular ogre lives on her street.  This particular ogre has animals, not domestic but wild.  One of Graciela's prized pets, a snake, gets loose.  With interjections from friendly classmates and coaching from a wise book lover, Miss Brooks, Missy becomes a skillful yarn spinner except for one thing.  How will her story, this story, be wrapped up?

Shifting between Missy's narrative, character dialog and the story within the story, Barbara Bottner persuades readers to actively participate in this book. (I can see listeners leaning in closer to not miss a single written line.)  During the telling of Missy's tale, Miss Brooks proposes story parts, introductory details, action, lengthier plot, and an ending which works with the rest of the pieces.  In response to the natural interplay of conversation, these recommendations fit flawlessly with the flow.

Bottner's word choices in Missy's thinking and voice as well as the three students, Wilbur, Plum and Violet, up the funny factor.  I love that Missy uses the phrase

It's vexing.

Missy is a character who knows her mind and displays a special kind of wit.  The repeated remarks of her classmates to add aliens, ghosts and kittens to her story will provoke laughter with ease.  Here is a sample portion of a passage.

"I love stories more than anything," said Miss Brooks.
"So let's close our eyes and let out minds wander.
Everyone has a tale to tell."

"I've got nothing," I said.

When you first glance at the dust jacket and book case, you wonder how the pictured characters connect; lively Miss Brooks, a boy giving someone the raspberries, an animated Missy and a green-skinned, earring-wearing ogre.  The facial features on each are enough to bring on the grins.  Michael Emberley has the gift of infusing the right touch of humor in his illustrations from the beginning, throughout the book and on the final page.  Red and yellow striped endpapers leave no doubt as to the positive outcome.  A two-page illustration spans the title page featuring an animated Miss Brooks reading a pirate story.

There always seems to be a bit of wizardry involved when the picture size, the design and layout of all the elements and the use of white space work to elevate the text.  Emberley's artistry is evident with every page turn.  An excellent example is his visuals for the single sentence,

I slipped into Story Nook.

Four small pictures depict a wet, hatless Missy arriving at school, searching in her backpack, finding her favorite indoor stripped hat and putting it on.  These are a header of sorts for the larger illustration of Miss Brooks reading to the group after Missy finds a seat.

One of my favorite pictures is after the lights have gone out.  Miss Brooks has her back to the reader as she removes her skull-and-crossbones hat, gathering the students near to her.  There is warmth in this scene. Trust has been previously established and a sense of anticipation is prevalent on the students' upturned faces.

Every child needs to have a Miss Brooks in their lives.  Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome!) written by Barbara Bottner with illustrations by Michael Emberley is as entertaining, playful and gratifying as the companion title.  Plan on having more than one copy available (if you don't already) and if you are like me, you and your listeners will be reading it over and over.

To discover more information about Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  Michael Emberley provides quite a bit of information about his process in making the illustrations for this book.  Here is the link to the publisher's website.  Take a peek inside the book.  Here is a tweet which appeared in my feed today.

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