The Bear essentials of creative writing

11th July 1997 at 01:00
Few collections of stories are so familiar to primary school children that the plot and characters of each story are widely known throughout the age range. Disney videos could be cautiously put forward as one candidate. Yet from a teacher's point of view the worth of such stories is vastly increased if they are free from copyright restrictions.

Fairy tales occupy this happy position of being very familiar to children yet free to use. It may be thought that the increasing sophistication (and typical interest in the ghoulish and macabre) of the upper primary child makes the fairy tale inappropriate for use with this group. But what of the blood letting in Little Red Riding Hood, the extortion, fire raising and boiling alive in the Three Little Pigs or the criminal activity in Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

The popularity of such books as Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes rests largely upon altering perceptions of the traditional fairy tale. Goldilocks becomes a little delinquent. Little Red Riding Hood, with her interest in wolf skin clothing, is more likely to be a target for Greenpeace sympathisers than voracious wolves.

In the upper primary school, children enjoy tampering with a traditional format. This corruption of conventional ideas appeals to them, particularly when it transforms one of the traditional interests of the very young child. The romance and sentimentality of fairy tales can be replaced with stark and incongruous reality.

A meeting of the Thurso High School area English language group identified the fairy tale as a suitable basis to provide children in the upper primary and lower secondary with an opportunity to write in a variety of styles and genres. I later produced a set of worksheets based around the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Each of the seven worksheets concentrates on a different style of writing outlining the typical characteristics and appropriate style of each.

Script writing is often based around a conflict. The Bears' household would not be a conflict-free zone. After all, few contemporary children would relish the prospect of going out for a walk with Mum and Dad. Daddy Bear may well be locked in dispute with Baby Bear over the issue.

Baby Bear may be happier with the idea of playing his Game Bear. He would be more likely to want to forget all the traditional rubbish about bears going out for walks to sniff out honey. Be like everyone else and buy your honey from the supermarket.

Formal letter writing often involves letters of complaint. Daddy Bear may well feel compelled to whisk a formal letter off to the pine showroom where he purchased Baby Bear's chair to complain of what he sees as shoddy workmanship. Or what of a stiff letter to the local police chief to complain about the appalling lack of policing in the woods which allows young delinquents to ransack the homes of hard-working, law-abiding bears?

Children love problem pages. They are a vital part of any teenage magazine. Plenty of characters in fairy tales have an angst they could share with a bear. Daddy Bear has a wife who can't make a decent bowl of porridge. She is not even consistent. She can get three different tasting bowlfuls out of one pan. Should Daddy Bear ditch her? Mummy Bear is lumbered with a real no hoper. He hasn't fitted a door lock or sorted that dodgy bear cub chair. It could do somebody an injury.

Then there is poor Baby Bear. His parents won't let him grow up. He is seven years old but they still call him Baby Bear, make him eat special porridge and let him sleep in a really soft bed. Why can't they let him be like all the other cubs?

Children enjoy constructing such problems. Wouldn't you write a letter to your friend telling that your house had been broken into by some golden haired menace? It's a pretty exciting story to tell and you could even update the tale a little. Goldilocks could forget about tasting the porridge. She could have had a good look through your videos. Daddy Bear's home improvements video would have been too dreary, Mummy Bear's Brigit Beardot's Aerobearics was just too exhausting while Baby Bear's Disney video would have been just perfect.

The newspaper article is another distinct possibility. No self respecting hack would want to miss out on the story of yet another teenage tearaway who is terrorising the residents of a previously idyllic forest. Comments from an outraged Bear family (blaming the lack of moral guidance at the local school?) could produce an ideal story.

Biography is another type of genre which the language guidelines in the 5-14 curriculum make reference to. Fairy tales offer a chance for chronological ordering and the selection of important life experiences. Did the harrowing experiences Baby Bear had as a child at the hands of Goldilocks motivate him to become a famous mystery writer, an inventor of fail-safe burglar alarms or a celebearty MP who advocated law and order, or did he too embark upon a career of crime?

Finally there is poetry in all its varied form. Perhaps one of the simplest and most accessible types of poetry built based on Goldilocks and the Three Bears involves similes around the sequencing ad repetition of the story.

Daddy Bear's porridge was as lumpy as . . . . . . .

Mummy Bear's porridge was as hot as . . . . . . .

Baby Bear's porridge was as perfect as . . . . . . .

The story allows this to be repeated around the condition of the beds, comfort of the chairs and taste of porridge. Similes can be built up: as hard as, as comfortable as, as uncomfortable as, as salty as, as hot as, as cold as, as soft as, as big as . . . As one primary 7 wrote: "Baby Bear's porridge was as perfect as half past three on a Friday afternoon." Now that is poetry.

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