Life is little more than one lesson after another. It ends when there is nothing left to learn, when experiences become muted by the nothing known as death. Its mysteries and intricacies weave and unfold before our very eyes, and whether it be fate or destiny, all we can do is march forward, sword in one hand and the dove of peace in the other.
Enough philosophy though.
Teaching this evident truth to students in a middle school setting needs to be properly adjusted to the age level. And what better way than to do so in a Creative Writing class? The idea of having students write a child’s book may seem preposterous and pointless, but lessons can and do abound. (The fact that I came up with the idea at 3 o’ clock in the morning, almost waking my wife from a deep sleep and clocking my noggin on the head board can wait for another day.)
Approaching the topic with trepidation, I informed my first period class that they would be writing a children’s story on an individual basis. Illustrations would also be included in their books, but students would not be graded on their artistic ability, or lack thereof. I am no Picasso; my one successful forage in drawing stems from a decent Odie from the Garfield comics. Surprisingly, my students ate up the idea, and dove into it like Kevin Kreusch eating a mushroom and Swiss burger. The idea would be extremely low on cost as well, since all students needed was printer paper, colored pencils, rulers, and crayons.
I re-introduced students to childhood favorites and had them explore this hidden secret called “moral.” Why does an author of a children’s story add a moral? What does “The Little Engine That Could” really effectively teach the young toddler? What about the wondrous classic “The Three Little Pigs”? While students answered and named more than one moral per story, I informed them that oftentimes different people learn different lessons from the same stories. The educational gleam in their eyes, sometimes little more than a dimly lit ember, was glowing full force. And to say that I caught a wave of this force would be an understatement.
One student during third period asked me if I was going to make a child’s book as well. Me? I thought. My familiar genre of horror and the macabre suddenly lifted. I, too, became a children’s book writer. I also created a silly character, complete with moral intended to teach the very young an important lesson.
Indeed, experiences in life can only be desiccated by the reaper’s cold embrace. But this life experience taught me a substantial moral: children delight when their teacher is working right with them on an assignment you created (just be sure not to get carried away and forget to help them out when they need it!). Seemingly drab literary terms can be brought to life with exciting lesson plan ideas. And also, one may step out of their own familiar writing genres. I wrote about a cute brown fur-ball named Snurfle. He met a nice old lady and they went on a picnic together after he once believed she was mean and frightening.
Lesson learned for Kreusch and Snurfle.