This month, I am participating in the daily Slice of Life, hosted by two of my favorite bloggers, Ruth Ayres and Stacey Schubitz of Twowritingteachers.wordpress.com. I have also been reading Jim Knight's new book, High Impact Instruction and one of his chapters is about the importance of stories for learning. He has inspired me to think about the different reasons for telling stories, particularly within the context of a classroom and a lesson. Therefore some of my stories this month will be with the classroom in mind. This next one is from the perspective of one of my most memorable students, Bruno, and I think it could be used to teach about the complexity of symbols and authors' messages. This story really did happen, but I didn't let on who the author was. Some of you might recognize the character with the red scarf, though.
As we walked into the author's house, I really couldn't believe it. We had been reading her books for the last month. My teacher had tried to talk her into coming to our school but the author didn't have time. Instead, she had invited us to come to her house. To her house. I felt like I was on my way to Hollywood.
I had never liked reading before. I wasn't good at it. But somehow, this author talked to me. Miss Coyne said I had gotten better at reading because I had been doing so much more of it and I really liked the characters in her books. Her characters had issues. There was even a boy whose mother had left him, just like mine. I didn't dress as him. I dressed as a different character with a red scarf around my neck. My teacher had bought it for me when I told her what I wanted to do. "Bruno," Miss Coyne said. "I was shopping and I couldn't resist something I saw at the store for you." When I opened the box and saw the scarf, I couldn't believe it. It was warm and soft, but it reminded me of one of my favorite characters. Miss Coyne knew I loved it. In the book, the character wore his red scarf to protect him from the cold, but we had classroom discussions about everything else that the scarf protected him from or gave to him. We didn't always agree and I couldn't wait to ask the author what the right answer was about the scarf.
The house was warm and there were a lot of animals. The dog's barking made me jump at first but I got used to it. We sat in the living room and listened to her talk and watched the birds in the back yard. From her stories, I would have guessed that she would have a lot of bird-feeders back there and she did. There was a cardinal and I watched him. In class, we had talked about the importance of the color red and all that red could symbolize. I went through the book and I found all of the places where she had used the color red in her writing, in addition to the all-important scarf. Miss Coyne had talked me to think about the bigger meaning that maybe the author wanted to get across and we discussed that, too. For me, it came back to being angry a lot of the time and sometimes it even reminded me of blood. Miss Coyne said that red could also represent love--it didn't have to be so negative. I couldn't wait to ask the author what she really meant. My question was folded in my pocket but I wouldn't need to take it out. I knew what the question was and I couldn't wait to hear the answer.
She talked for a long time. I loved hearing about the new idea that she had for a story. She had actually gotten it from a story in the paper and was going to just make up her own characters and situation to write the story that she wanted to tell. I also liked the way that she described collecting characters and how she was always on the lookout for special names. Maybe I'd read about Bruno one day in one of her books.
Miss Coyne said that we would get to ask questions and when the author finally asked for some, my hand went right up. She smiled and pointed to me.
"I'm just wondering about the color red in your book. I wrote down all of the places where you used it." I did take my paper out of my pocket and held it up. "I made a chart of red and I wondered what the importance of red was because we have been debating it. But mostly I want to know about the scarf and what it really symbolized." I read her a favorite passage that described the red scarf, willing her to notice my connection since my own red scarf was still around my neck.
She nodded and didn't smile so I knew that she was going to agree with me right then. Then, she surprised me. "Did I write that?"
I was confused. Didn't this author know what she had written? "Yes," I said. "I just want to know what you mean with the color red and the scarf. Was it for anger or was it for love? We keep debating."
She laughed then. She laughed. "I think that you can both be right because it's whatever you want to think. I wasn't doing it on purpose, at all. I was just writing and creating an image, I guess."
"But why red?" I asked. "why not blue or brown or some other color?"
"Why not red?" she asked. "I just liked it and it seemed like the right color at the time."
She called on Rachel, then, and I didn't ask my other questions or even hear the rest of her answers.
"She's a phony," I said as soon as we were in the van and heading down the driveway. I threw my scarf down on the floor in front of me. "She doesn't even remember what she writes and she has no idea of the meaning that's even in it."
Miss Coyne let me rant for a while before she said anything. By the time she spoke, I was a little less angry, but still disappointed to not have been told the answer.
"You agree that different people to experience the same event differently," she finally asked.
"Maybe books are the same way and we all bring our own lives into the pages," she said. "For me, red is warmth and love, for you it is hurt and anger, and for her it's a color she loves. It's okay to read the same words and get different meanings. Maybe really great authors are the ones who provide you the opportunities to do that."
Then she gave me her look that said "Bruno, I know that you will understand one day". I picked up the scarf and I wrapped it back around my neck.