Where Literature Begins

                                                   Tom Birdseye

"But teacher, I can't even read letters. How can I write words?"

Five year old Sam looked up at me with eyes that spoke silently of disbelief mixed with outright panic. One small, stubborn twist of blond hair stuck up from the back of his head as if to punctuate his trepidation with a hairy exclamation mark. His unmatched socks slumped around his ankles in the same droop as his mouth. Sam was not a happy boy.

But then how could I expect him to be otherwise? Here it was the first day of kindergarten, and his six foot, mustached teacher required of him a story. Without the slightest provocation on Sam's part, I had handed each member of my class eight pages of clean, white paper folded between a rosy red piece of construction pulp stapled in three places as a binding. Then I had asked the kids to write a story. Who did I think I had here, miniature Faulkners?

I walked over and gave Sam a hug. "That's exactly the question I was looking for," I said so that all the class could hear. "Just how important is it that you know your letters and how to put them together into words before you can write?"

Expectant stares were in abundance. Good question, teacher.

"Not important at all," I answered rhetorically, standing like a man who could save lost souls. "This is your journal. I want you to put in it what you want. Words are not the point. Pictures, and pretend writing, and the stories you want to tell, are. You can scribble, and draw, and doodle anything you want, as long as you promise to share it with me when you're done. I will not correct what you put in your journal, nor will I help you do it "right." Your job today is to have a good time filling at least one of those blank pages with fun. You can worry about doing things the way it is in books later. You have a good time. We learn best what we first learn to love."

I looked back over at Sam. As so often happens with kindergartners, his attention span had waned in short notice. Quickly turning off my well-rehearsed, educational justification for why he should damn the torpedoes of an unlearned code, he was instead already well into full speed ahead. A brief survey of the room confirmed likewise for the rest of my bright-eyed crew-- all "writing."

Yep, I nodded to myself, as I wandered between tables, in and out of imaginations at work, this is where literature begins.

« Back to Teachers and Librarians' Page