Well-Traveled Paths

by Lisa Bullard

12_17PinkCarriageI slip into auto-pilot when I’m dri­ving through over­ly famil­iar ter­ri­to­ry; I stop tak­ing in the same old land­marks. And then one day, there’s a stop sign where there’s nev­er been one before, and my eyes are re-opened to the pos­si­bil­i­ties around me.

There are “sto­ry paths” like that too: fairy tales and oth­er nar­ra­tives that have grown so famil­iar we fail to notice the pow­er they hold unless we’re forced to take a fresh look. But these sto­ries have much to offer; there’s a rea­son they’ve been passed down through ages of sto­ry-tellers. Some­times they even serve as the foun­da­tion for new sto­ries in new gen­er­a­tions; “once upon a time” becomes “here, in this time.”

I use some of these time-proven sto­ries as stu­dent writ­ing prompts (down­load here). They are par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful when stu­dents are strug­gling with pulling sto­ries togeth­er. The prompts pro­vide the basics of char­ac­ter, plot, and conflict; stu­dents draw on their knowl­edge of ear­li­er ver­sions of the sto­ry to craft a new ver­sion. By explor­ing the exist­ing nar­ra­tive from the inside out, they learn how a sto­ry is craft­ed. And they car­ry that knowl­edge for­ward to oth­er sto­ries they write.

Some­times writ­ers turn time-proven sto­ries into even more pow­er­ful new sto­ries. When I added the last of the four prompts to my list, I had “The Ugly Duck­ling” in mind. But it didn’t take me long to real­ize that the same basic descrip­tion could apply to anoth­er children’s sto­ry: the tale of a boy, shunned by his fam­i­ly because he’s dif­fer­ent who one day shocks every­one with his amaz­ing hid­den tal­ent.

I offer you the two words that changed children’s book pub­lish­ing: Har­ry Pott‚er. Who knows what oth­er “new clas­sics” your stu­dents might cre­ate when they begin trav­el­ing the paths of time-test­ed sto­ries?

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