January 26, 2015

Super Cyborg Killing Transformer Shoe

~ Stories By 8-Year-Olds ~

In the spring of 1987, the grubby little fingers in Mrs. Thompson’s 1st grade class were hard at work scribbling out short fiction. Witches flew on broomsticks. Easter Bunnies delivered eggs, or didnt. Ladybugs ate aphids. Life was grand.

However, as ABC Publishing Editor N. Hardwell was quick to point out (in his brutal rejection letter here), all of these short stories were remarkably formulaic. Every story in the anthology I Am the Easter Bunny, for example, started with:
I am the Easter Bunny. My name is _____1. I am _____2.
1. Floppy, Hoppy, Gilbert, Spotty, Fluffy, Swifty, Floppy, Easter, Fluffy, Heather, Easter, Gilbert, Smarty, Fluffy, and Rainbow Egg
2. Various combinations of: white, fat, fast, nice, happy

Given these cookie-cutter shapes, is it any surprise that the vast majority of children filled in the exact same cookies?

Now, dont get me wrong: for Mrs. Thompson to have 1st graders write short fiction is AWESOME, and she was a GREAT teacher; I certainly loved her. Furthermore, some students must have benefitted from this kind of 1-2-3 guidance (heres looking at you, Easter Bunny named ‘Easter). But to be creative in this context, students had to be crafty—they had to include the mandatory sentences, but then branch out onto their own paths.
I live in Bunny Town. Do you like my eggs? I like Easter. Do you like Easter? I do like Easter. It is fun. Some of my eggs break.
I didnt say they were good paths. But, BUT… then there was young Gordon. Little Gordons Easter Bunny (named ‘Rainbow Egg) hops to the planet Jupiter and has difficulty understanding space monster language. His ladybug, who is melted by magic when trying to kill an evil witch, is rescued by a friend from the witchs castle.

Clearly chomping at bit.

If there were any clearer evidence that young authors creativity was being stifled by these formulaic requirements at school, then it is this story, which I wrote less than two years after I Am a Ladybug, presumably NOT for a school assignment: