Today Packing for the Journey features two stories from Dr Virginia Lowe. These wonderful anecdotes show how shared book reading enriches children’s knowledge and their ever-expanding understanding of life.
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‘I’ll tell you a story Mum’: Two children tell
by Virginia Lowe
I kept a record of my two children’s contact with books and their responses. Rebecca is almost three years and three months older than her brother. The children’s own stories arose naturally from contact with books. These two stories demonstrate how the children use this literary material – in this case at least, one shows her scientific bent, the other works on relationships.
1. Nick the whale. One morning, Rebecca and I had a row before school – the reason for it is not recorded, but Nick disliked us arguing and was tense about it. Later he was helping me hang out the washing, as usual handing me pegs. (He was 3y1m old.) This time he was picking them up in his mouth because he was being alternately a shark and a whale.
N: I’m picking them up in my mouth cos I can’t use my flippers. I’m a friendly whale.
V: You’re clever to do that Mr Whale.
N: Yes, I can do that ‘acouse I’m an excellent whale who can do everything that is magic.
He talked a bit about his mother who had gone shopping underwater. Then,
N: I’m having an argument with my mother [imaginary whale one that is].
V: Oh yes. Do whales like arguments? [Expecting him to say that like him, they didn’t. It’s obviously different for whales]
N: Yes. Argumenting [sic] is good for whales.
He carried the monologue on over lunch. His [whale] mother was sitting beside him.
N: I’m sharing my food with my mother. She said to put the plate in the middle.
V: What am I?
N: You’re people
He carried through fairly logically, as a completely anthropomorphised whale.
N: Do you know how we get out of the water? We use our flippers on the steps.
N: Do you know how we wash our clothes?
N: In a washing machine! [etc etc].
Anyway, at rest time, I fetchedWhale’s Way (Johnston) to read to him. He at once identified himself with the largest whale on the endpapers and first few pages.
N: That’s me and that’s my mother. I’m bigger than my mother.
N: That’s me and that’s my mother [the lower, closer one]. I’m bigger than my mother. I’m a grown up whale.
Some pages later he chose the smaller of two on the page
N: There’s me looking small.
V: Do you look small because you’re further away?
N: That’s me and that’s my mother [lower, closer one]. I’m bigger than my mother. I’m a grown up whale.
On several pages he commented on the more distant whale as ‘that’s me looking small’ presumably to make sure that we both understood it was only through perspective that he looked smaller.
N: I have those flukes. I swim and splash with my flukes (etc. mainly echoing the book’s text).
But the book is fairly long and very complicated, and he was restless before the end of most pages.
N: I’m tired of this whale book
So we stopped and he cuddled down to sleep with it clutched in his arms.
When he woke from his nap, his grandparents were visiting. I asked him if he was still a whale, he grinned and said ‘yes’ and told them with excitement –
N: We’ve got a book about whales!
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2. A story-game from Rebecca. She was 4y 4m, and we were exploring Italy in a campervan.
A day of turnips inspired by ‘The Turnip’ (Tolstoy) which is in two of the collections of stories we had with us, Bamberger My First Big Story Book and Haviland The Fairy Tale Treasury.
First, in a park, by a delightful pond (Florence) – Rebecca pointed to a large clump of grass.
R: That’s a great big turnip, Mum! There must have been a show here to grow such a big turnip (presumably she meant the biggest vegetables would be grown for and sent to agricultural shows).
That evening, while tea was preparing, she played ‘turnips’ outside in the campsite for half an hour or so. She was pulling up clumps of grass. This is just a few jotted phrases of an interminable conversation.
R: Look at this great big turnip, Mum! It’s so heavy, and it was hard to pull up. We’ll have turnip for supper.
R: If I find more than four turnips I’ll invite some friends to tea (a partial quote from Potter’s The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher).
R: Look at them on the scales. See how heavy the big one is? (One in each hand, arms straight, bigger one low, smaller high)
R: Now I’ve got two little turnips and one big one. Nick will have a little one, and I will have a little one, and you and Daddy shall share the great big one.
R: Three of them are boiled now. I can’t wait to eat them.
R: I’ve planted some more of that brand of turnip. They’ll be ready in the morning. They’re the sort that grow overnight. I hope they’re as nice as the ones we’ve just eaten.
As might be expected, this one is now a scientist (a permaculture one) and the other a teacher, coping with relationships all the time.
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Dr Virginia Lowe has been a Judge for the Children’s Book Council’sBook of the Year Award and Convenor for the CBCA Crichton Award for new illustrators. She is now an honorary life member of the CBCA (Vic) and recipient of the Leila St John medal from them for services to children’s literature in Victoria. She has taught children’s literature, English and creative writing at university. She is a published poet (her latest, with her husband John, is published by the Melbourne Poets Union, Lines Between), and has also written extensively on children and books with some forty academic articles and a regular column ‘Two Children Tell’ in Books for Keeps http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/. Virginia’s book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell was published by Routledge (London, 2006).
Virginia Lowe’s book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell is based on a reading journal of over 5000 hand written pages in which she recorded all the books read to her two children and their responses to them.