Over the past year I have been visiting schools reading a story I wrote and illustrated for a beloved local brand to school children. My story, “El Tesoro Escondido,” (“The Hidden Treasure) is not a work of art, it more of a tool to have somebody else besides the teacher and librarian talk about writing. To my client and sponsor it is an excercise in engaging the community and becoming partners in education. For me yesterday, it was a path to living the story I tell.
Before I begin the story, I talk to the children about reading stories to my children, the process of creating stories, writing down the story, daring to share it with the brand and then illustrating it. Throughout, I try to focus on what the children and I might share: a love for stories, imagination, learning how to write, wanting to share our creations. I underscore the importance of daring to share and opening up you work and ideas to a world of possibilities. This is my favorite part of my tour of the schools. Before I start the story, I insist, “I will share with you now, the adventure I wrote, but I look forward to the next adventure being one you write.”
It is a vehicle to bring foster a love for reading and excitement for writing. It is good enough to capture the attention of 60 kids at a time, and sometimes even more, for 40 minutes. I hold up this small book with my illustrations, which are also far from a work of art, and closer to what a talented sixth grader can do. More than read the story, I act it out and I ask questions throughout breaking the pace to engage the kids in side commentary like: the importance of good nutrition, recognizing the emotions of the characters in the story, the preconceptions the character held in the beginning and what actually happened. Again, I enjoy the conversation more than I enjoy the story telling itself or the acting.
At the end of the story telling and discussion, the brand’s mascot and main character of my story shows up and the kids squeal in delight and take turns hugging him and taking pictures with him. This is where the magic works itself in to hopefully make the conversation and commentary become a cherished memory. Finally the kids leave the event with a notebook with comprehension excercises, teachers sometimes get a copy of the book, and supplemental materials like information on trees and a ready made lesson plan for a second reading focusing on social emotional development of the characters.
The story: In the story, a bear finds instructions to a treasure but fears sharing the instructions with his friends for fear of missing out on the treasure, so even as he needs help, he holds back. Upon reflection, after the lowest point in the story, the bear has a change of perspective and decides to outright share the instructions and ask for help trusting in his friends. Together they find the treasure (edible treats) and learn that the real treasure were not the treats but the joy of sharing with friends.
The story is definitely not rocket science. I usually do the activity with Kindergartners, first graders, sometimes second graders and special education students of different ages, but in fact, when third, fourth, fifth or sixth graders are present, they usually guess the punch line, they can tell the story without having read it, and I laugh to myself. It is simple and banal, totally predictable. And yet, we all seem to enjoy the time together.
Yesterday, I performed the activity and as I have said thus far, I enjoy it inmensely. It was a small school next door to a housing project in big town outside San Juan. A disheveled and larger for the grade, kindergartner who had already left. Came to find me before I left and told me: “Thank you for the story!” as he handed me all the monies in his pocket. I was surprised and moved by the gesture. I quickly tried to decline taking his money, but he overlooked my refusal and insisted “I really liked it! That is for you.” I took another look at him and accepted his generous gesture and gave him a hug and thanked him as he ran off.