When I was in college, before marriage and my own children, I worked at a local elementary school in their extended day program. That’s where I met little Julie. She was in kindergarten, and she loved stories.
Every afternoon brought the same request – “Miss Ginny, tell me a story…” Right. A story. I had plenty of stories, but they weren’t all appropriate for six year olds and I was running out of material – fast. So I turned things around. I asked Julie to tell me a story before she could get to her request.
To say I was impressed with the results would put it mildly. This child had stories that wouldn’t end, usually involving a lovely princess in a tall tower and, of all things, bread. Julie and I would sit on the wood timbers surrounding the pebble playground, equally engrossed in her tall tales.
Julie’s favorite yarn featured a Russian princess who had been kidnapped by bread-wielding, talking bears. She would let down her hair on occasion, and her best friend would climb up the tower to jump rope. No one ever came to save her because she didn’t really want to be saved. She had all the bread she could ever want.
And a pony. Can’t forget the pony.
Beginning math problems held her attention for less than a minute, but Julie would regale me with her tales for close to half an hour. She added on to them everyday, picking up relatively close to where she left off the day before. She even decided to write them down, drawing elaborate pictures of triangular princess hats and marshmallow bears, adorning them with letters and numbers of whose significance only she knew.
Julie soon had a whole group of little girls, myself included, joining her in the bread bear/princess adventure. Our craft table held pictograms inspired by Julie’s endless imagination. I even crafted a valentine for my boyfriend (now husband) featuring elements from the story. He still has the valentine in a box of mementos.
I’m ashamed to admit I asked Julie to tell me a story out of desperation and annoyance. But what a window I gained into the mind of a creative six year old. Julie pulled elements of every story she had ever heard into those yarns, pulling me right along with her. From Julie, I learned that “story” comes from all sorts of places one would not expect. That the sum total of our experiences becomes intertwined in our invention, and that we, like sponges, absorb all to which we are exposed. Julie taught me how readers and writers make meaning, and I’m eternally grateful for that.
And I’m glad I learned how to evade bread-wielding ninja bears. You know. Just in case.