Sunday, October 12, 2008

Children Putting On Plays

Reading serves many purposes: it comforts, sustains, and encourages. We learn behaviors, values and facts from what we read. Most fundamentally, perhaps, it encourages our capacity of sustained imagination. While the author may do the heavy lifting in this exercise, it is none-the-less a mutual conspiracy between the author and the reader. The author may have written the words, but it is the reader and her imagination who ultimately brings the story to life. (See Children Putting on Plays booklist).

The mere act of reading is in itself an exercise of disciplined imagination, converting the dark scratchings on paper into a set of images in the mind's eye. The more we bind ourselves to the protagonist and their actions and adventures, the more we spread the wings of imagination. The ultimate extension is when we become involved in the protagonist's own imaginings. Sometimes this magic of imagination spills over into the real world.

The first time I saw this was years ago with our firstborn, when he was perhaps a couple of years old. For some reason I was relating to him the story of how one time, before he had been born, his mother and I got home on a Friday evening. We had planned to go out to dinner and a movie, were running late and moving fast. I was in one room grabbing some clothes when I heard a noise: "Sally, was that you?" "No, I thought it was you."

I scouted around the house, not initially finding the source of the sound. When I got to the living room, the light began to dawn when I saw some bird droppings. Clearly a bird had flown down the chimney and was in the house somewhere. Moving into the dining room, I found the culprit. There, in the scrabbly branches of a rescued rubber plant, sat an uninjured but rather disconcerted woodpecker.

I got my heavy leather work gloves, stalked my woodpecker, and despite his protests, managed to capture him without injuring myself or him. Taking him gently outside, I enjoyed that distinctive pleasure of tossing a living creature into the air to see him take wing to freedom.

All this I related to a wide-eyed two year old. Over the next week, he asked to hear the story a number of times again. I obliged. About a week later I got home from work late of an evening, just in time to put this little boy to bed. But first he needed to tell me something that had happened to him that day. "I got home from play school this afternoon and I heard a noise in the house . . ." He had made the story his own. There were a couple of plot twists and changes in sequence and detail but the authorial piece de resistance was when he traced the noise to the dining room and discovered, not a woodpecker but . . . a parrot in the rubber plant.

That was perhaps my first view into the ability of a young mind to absorb a story and make it their own. Later I saw this happen again in a different fashion. Unfortunately, I don't recall the book which was the catalyst to this event. Our oldest, then about ten years old, had read in a book he particularly enjoyed, about some children who had put on a play for their own amusement. He promptly designated himself Producer and Director, and shanghaied his younger sister as assistant producer/stage hand/general dog's body. Finally, because every play needs an audience, he dragooned his six year old brother as the admiring audience.

I don't know how many hours they busied themselves about building a stage in their bedroom, constructing some marginally functional marionettes, developing a script and translating that into a production. By the time I found them though, they had just been through a very rough rehearsal, had delighted themselves with the sophistication of their play and now wanted an adult audience as well. I was happy to oblige.

One seed from a book, the idea of putting on their own play, led to a whole afternoon of entertainment, a whole raft of lessons about planning, writing, producing, and best of all, a sense of accomplishment.

In which stories are there such seeds? We have put together a very brief booklist below in which children put on a play or some other production for their own edification or that of others. Perhaps these stories might inspire your children to let their imagination work its magic, taking an idea from the literary ether and making it real in the real world for others to enjoy. Let us know if there are other stories of which you are aware that might serve as inspiration.

Picture Books

A Time to Keep written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor Highly Recommended

House on East Eighty-Eighth Street written and illustrated by Bernard Waber Highly Recommended

A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill and illustrated by William Pene Du Bois Recommended

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent Recommended

The Nutcracker by Janet Schulman and E.T.A. Hoffmann and illustrated by Renee Graef

Maurice Sendak's Really Rosie Starring the Nutshell Kids by Maurice Sendak Recommended

Independent Reader

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Highly Recommended

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by Robert Sabuda Highly Recommended

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes Highly Recommended

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson and illustrated by Sue Porter Highly Recommended

Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfeild Highly Recommended

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott Recommended

Hazel Green by Odo Hirsch Recommended

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and illustrated by Garth Williams Recommended

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary L. Blackwood Suggested

Young Adult

Hamlet by William Shakespeare Highly Recommended

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