November 8th, 2006

Judge Not… Unless You’re Asked To

Today I headed to a local elementary school to read through the entries in the writing portion of a school-wide creativity challenge. (That sounds more imposing that it actually was. Only eight kids entered the writing contest.)


The subject: My Favorite Place.


The verdict: Superfun.


I admit that I’m slightly overcaffeinated today, but I don’t think it’s the coffee typing when I say that these really were fun entries to read. Samples? Of course I’ve got samples.


From one of the primary entries (meaning: the writer is no older than a second-grader), entitled “Mammoth”:


“My favorite part about Mammoth

Is my Aunt Linda.

She is kind and she is true

And she is the best Aunta.”


What a rhyme, huh?


From the other primary entry, entitled, “Thanksgiving at Grandma’s House” (and the K was backwards in “Thanksgiving”—how cute is that?):


“We eat creamy mashed potatoes covered in gravy. YUMMY! We eat turkey with sweet cranberry sauce. IT IS REALLY GOOD! We eat green beans with bacon. IT IS GREAT!”


While the writer only peripherally addressed the subject at hand—since Thanksgiving isn’t a place—I had to give big points for enthusiasm.


But my favorite piece of all was title-less, written by one of the older students (no older than a fifth grader). This kid’s favorite place is a mattress store. (I think mine might be, too, now.)


“When I walk toward a mattress store, my heart starts pounding…. I cross my fingers, toes, and any other body part I can think of that no other shoppers will be there to disturb my precious mattress…. I check to see if no one is looking, and I pounce on the first mattress I see. That’s when I get the first of my mom’s dreaded evil eye looks.”


Brilliant, right? But it only gets better. The writer describes—in some detail—each type of mattress and why he/ she enjoys that kind. His/ her fave is the mattresses that do stuff. He/ she likes to climb aboard and fold up both ends so he/ she is pinched inside like the meat in a sandwich. Then he/ she hits “vibrate” so the mattress “shakes like an earthquake.” This inevitably leads to screaming, humiliation, and an impromptu departure.


“Even though people are mean to me at that store, it is still my favorite place,” the writer concludes. “I will get my revenge next time … when I go back and do the exact same thing.”


I was glad that the contest coordinator wandered outside the multipurpose room, because I was laughing so hard. The pleasure I got from reading these entries made me think of the glee with which I used to write my Writer’s Nook assignments in Mrs. Padelford’s (emphasis on the EL) fourth-grade class. Admittedly, when I re-read them a few years ago (my mother, who accuses me of being a pack-rat, had kept them all), they did not sparkle quite the way I remembered them. Examples? Certainly I have examples. And, humiliating though it is, I will share one—purely because it will outstandingly demonstrate how far I’ve come since I was 11.


This is from a little piece I decided to call “Casting Spells.” (Lots of witches, mummies, and vampires in my fourth-grade stories.)


“On my way home from school one day I passed my block’s haunted house. [Doesn’t every block have one?] I have always been interested in old houses, and in the bright sunlight the house looked too tempting to resist. I started walking down the path in front of the house and opened the gate.


“I walked up the porch steps and on to the porch. [Luckily, this was a house where the porch steps led to the porch—not like those sneaky houses where the porch steps actually lead to the garage.] I saw a door, and naturally, I went inside. [Naturally.] Inside was a big room, almost a hall. At the end of this hall I saw another front door. [Wow, who knew I was so big on architecture? And so not big on plot? (Okay, that one I knew.)]


“I walked to the end of the hall, opened the door, and gasped. On all sides of me blossomed an enormous house. In front of me was a gorgeous stairway. It had beautifully carved banisters. The steps, large and flat and covered with faded gold brocade. [A sentence fragment??! How could I?]


Okay, a lot more architecture follows. I’ll skip ahead to the “tall, worn, overbearing old lady.”


“She was dressed all in black. Black shoes, black stockings, black dress, black cape. [Snappy!] It became almost frightening.


“She said, ‘Why are you trespassing in my house?’ She said it quietly, if not gently.


“I answered, ‘Curiosity. Old houses have always fascinated me. [When have you met a fourth-grader so articulate? Never, I bet.] I thought to myself, this may be my only chance to get inside such a beautiful house.’ [So I decided just to barge in. As ya do.]


“She ignored the compliment. ‘Curiosity killed the cat.’


“‘Satisfaction brought him back,’ we said together. ‘I knew you were going to say that,’ she replied sarcastically.”


Okay, I don’t think I can take much more. Let’s skip to the end and see what happens.


More architecture. I almost explode with questions. Oo—a cauldron. Bubbling, of course. And beakers. Oh—the overbearing lady reveals her secret: she is a witch. And now that I know her secret, she must get rid of me. Please enjoy this climax:


“I felt I was getting weaker. My heart… beating slower… she must stop… [Hey, do you think William Shatner could play me in the movie version?] I (gasp) will not die… no! I fall to the floor, writing in pain. The police never find my body.”


And there you have it.


It may not be fun to read (at least, not in the way I intended when I was 11!), but it sure was fun to write. And that’s at least half the battle—right?