Wednesday, May 7, 2008

If I Had a Hammer, I'd Hammer This Message Into You

Depressed, North Wind confided in his Siblings; “I was blowing around my favorite places on Earth and looked down, I mean really looked; she’s sick you guys, and it’s frightening, we have to think of a way to help heal our precious Planet Earth, what would we do without her; there is nowhere else to go?
Annie, a young girl, made from recyclable trash is a creation of the Winds because of their worry over the many environmental illnesses Earth is suffering from. Their plan: have Annie come to Earth and visit schools around the world to teach the children about these issues and how to tackle them one at a time; but which problem should they tackle first?

Which problem should we tackle first, indeed.
Children are just like unformed pieces of wood, aren't they? Just waiting for the chisels and planes and hammers and nails of the well-meaning adults around them? Or maybe they're like those pedal-operated trash cans: just step on a lever, their heads pop open, and a sign reads "Dispense Knowledge Here."

Except wait. That's almost the exact opposite of what I think.

Here's what I think: Children are people. They aren't people-in-training. Isn't it adorable the way they think they have minds of their own? No, it isn't. They do have minds of their own.

People (of any age) do not appreciate the funnel-to-gullet method of learning a lesson. Which is why I am firmly of the school of telling a story because you love the story, rather than loving the lesson that's carrying the story around like emotional baggage.

I would recommend you take a big step back from this message. No one here--no one!--is going to argue that it isn't a good and important message. I'd just argue that you'll catch more flies with honey than with a sledgehammer.


Anonymous said...

Ed Anon, I like what you wrote and how you wrote it.

Children are their own people, they are just at a different developmental level. Writing to their level of comprehension doesn't mean writing down to them.

Anonymous said...

This writing sample sounds like another entry from the 'Slush and Punishment' collection... maybe it's time for Volume Two of that much-loved anthology?

Anonymous said...

"...just step on a lever and their heads pop open.."


You just gave me an idea for a picture.

Anonymous said...

I think the Winds are miscast in this story. They haven't ever shown much interest in being kind to Earth to date. What is their motivation here?

Anonymous said...

"How many trees will we have to cut down
To publish these trite picture books?
Yes, and how many hours will some editor waste
Responding to ideas from schnooks?
Yes, and how many times will a character form
From hallways, coops and chinooks?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind..."

Anonymous said...

Here, here.

Sam Hranac said...

"'ll catch more flies with honey than with a sledgehammer."

Yes, plus the honey-caught fly will be fat and useful. Not flat and lifeless, like a child who has been bombarded by flying object lessons.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Hmmm.. perhaps this author needed to spend a little more time with the Aeneid...

Traditionally, The Winds LIKE wreaking havoc on Earth.

Though I do find the Pandora reference intriguing....

But instead of Pandora RELEASING environmental evils, she's trying to prevent them.... hmmmm.....

It's like the author took classical mythology and.... tried to make it sweet? Uck....

I'll just go back to waiting for a chance to read the latest Rick Riordan....

Anonymous said...

Um ... yes, this is wretched in so many ways. And yes, it's important to respect kids and take them seriously as people. But I'm going to go all contrarian here and say that many (most?) kids are less offended by sledgehammer moralizing than I am. A lot that seems obvious and heavy-handed to adults just isn't to kids.

My reaction to the ugly book each page of which featured a licensed character demonstrating a way that you can help Mommy: How did this horrible thing get into my classroom?

The reaction of my three-year-olds: Read it again. And again. The insight that you can help Mommy struck them as true and important.

And when my son was in first grade, he took very seriously the preachy doggerel that his teacher kept assigning as "Poem of the Week." I never let on how I felt about it -- I thought he should get to form his own opinion free of parental pressure.

Kids are not people in training? Kids are working hard every day to figure out how the world works and how they should behave. And their parents and teachers have a duty to provide guidance. It's just that telling inane, unbeautiful stories is a lousy way to provide guidance.

At least, that's my opinion. But my kids, while they respond to literary merit, don't care about it the way I do. When I steer them toward what I consider to be good books, I'm pushing values that I would like them to adopt.

Anonymous said...

A girl made from recyclable trash is better than a ninja, but maybe instead of having her do the public school circuit, the winds could send her on a mission to clean up the earth, creating an army of recycled kids who help her as she goes, until the waste has been beautifully transformed into billions of trashy children.

Editorial Anonymous said...

If you mean they are people, and they are in training, that's fine. So are we all.
But some people seem to think of kids as not-people-yet. A doctor- in- training is not yet a doctor. But a kid is already a person, and deserves the respect of a person.

Sherryl said...

I've been trying to tell teachers this same thing about poetry - don't analyse it to death and *don't* put it in a test!
Read kids lots and lots of great poems and let them hear for themselves how wonderful poetry is. They're clever. They'll know.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't even get to the message -- I was too busy mentally rearranging the punctuation.

Anonymous said...

Um ... I'm a little uncomfortable that you quoted directly from a real query. The original query has just been posted at a query critique forum I frequent. I'm not trying to step on your toes, but it seems a bit harsh that while the author is innocently seeking feedback and help with her query, strangers are mocking her work in another internet venue.

I don't know. :(

Editorial Anonymous said...

The author sent this query to me at editorialanonymous for feedback.

MichaelPH said...

I love the idea of the illustration with the pop-head trash can head. Now, if only I was an illustrator.... But a writer I be.
I go to many SCBWI workshops and what I hear is people talking about multi-cultural stories with lovely lessons built right in for the reader's convenience. One stop shopping. Only the story stinks. I've come to realize that the voice must appeal, knowing but cool, sincere yet wary. Leave the lessons to the teachers & parents. (That's me & me.) And even the lessons delivered by professionals don't always sink in since we're competing with the entire media onslaught kids consume.

MichaelPH said...

Those stories the Greeks told contained lessons but they are wrapped in kick-butt stories. Lessons aren't bad, but good stories must come first! Even at the sacrifice of the lesson?? Maybe so...maybe so.

Anonymous said...

Oh! I'm sorry - I must have missed that part. Thanks for clarifying. :)

Anonymous 9:07 AM

Christine Tripp said...

I've been trying to tell teachers this same thing about poetry - don't analyse it to death and *don't* put it in a test!

OH NO, you mean there are teachers like that (or rather cericulum like that) still out there!!!
I remember reading poetry from a text book in our grade 8 class and when asked what the individual student thought the poet meant, if the childs answer was something other then in the teachers guide lines for the book, they were told they were WRONG. Now how the heck can you give a wrong answer on something subjective? Certainly the author did have a meaning or moral in mind when he/she wrote it but really.... I always thought poetry was like painting. The artist has an idea, puts it on paper but each person that gazes at it gets something different from it. Imagine saying a watercolour makes you feel warm and safe and then having some grump in the art gallery tell you, NOPE....YOUR WRONG!!!
All I have to say about the posted story plot is... I do not want to be the illustrator for the book, the thought of what a recycled girl even looks like creeps me out:)

cslarsen said...

"'ll catch more flies with honey than with a sledgehammer."

How about putting honey on the sledgehammer?

Anonymous said...

"I always thought poetry was like painting...."

Amen, Christine! You got it! That is exactly what poetry should be...that is the beauty of it!!

Sarah Laurenson said...

I love the army of trashy kids!

And totally agree about the poetry. It means whatever it means to you. Reminds me of "flowers are red, young man, and green grass is green..."

Anonymous said...

Something I don't think you've fully addressed: Kids lap this shit up. Anonymous 11:10 talked about it, saying that kids see something true and important about even the most ham-handed didactic twaddle.

You are saying that kids deserve respect. Should you respect their choice of crap? Or should you say, Honey, let me impose some better taste on your ass.

I think you need to tell this author that that the problem isn't just that the story is aesthetically bad--so bad it makes your teeth hurt to read it. The problem is that it is unethical.

Too many people still think that that we can bend the twig and grow the tree, just the way we want-- as in YFZ ranch. Get to the kids when they are young, show them the true path with enough vigor and voila, even as grown-ups, they will toe your line.

Children are little and unformed and defenseless before an adult opinion. They want to agree with you, they want to like you and be liked by you. When an adult reads them this book, they want to like it because it's a chance to be safe and warm and on the same side as the teacher is. Taking advantage of this vulnerability is cheap and wrong.

I disagree that brainwashing them to be environmentalists is good while brainwashing them to be members of the KKK is bad. Brainwashing = Bad.

And that's what this story is: Brainwashing. Something this heavy handed doesn't allow the child to come to his own conclusions. He can't disagree without being on the outside, alone.

It's all well and good to show kids something of value, but you should give them space to come to their own conclusions, not yours.

And you know what else? I'm ranting. Sorry.
*apologies* This is like the choir ranting at the preacher, but I couldn't stop.

Anonymous said...

So, what about that nonrhyming poetry contest? Have you forgotten? Just wondering. Inquiring minds want to know.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh that is so true what you said! I hate that funnel to gullet method of story telling/ instruction myself.

ChatRabbit said...

"Something I don't think you've fully addressed: Kids lap this shit up."

Ooh, I was gonna say just the opposite. In my experience, any kid with a little age on them (not babies and toddlers, in other words), can smell a moral coming a mile away- and they resent them. I think they hate being led in particular directions, and being told how to think.

Anonymous said...


But think of the success of The Berenstein Bears. Didn't someone say "coat your sledge hammer with honey?" If you give them just a spoon full of sugar, they'll take your didactism. It's true that as they get older they raise their standards, but it's the lame they resent, not the lesson. I think they'll still read incredibly heavy handed moralizing if it's got the exciting plot or the happy resolution they are looking for.

Anonymous said...

>>I think they'll still read incredibly heavy handed moralizing if it's got the exciting plot or the happy resolution they are looking for.<<

..or smart bear cubs and stupid bear fathers.

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