Good Stories Do Inspire Children

Good Stories Do Inspire Children

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A good story can fire up a child's imagination, totally change his or her attitude or spark a level of interest and motivation that never existed before.

I often convey helpful psychological messages to young children through stories because there is something very natural and instinctive about story telling. For thousands of years parents and adult surrogates have told children stories to teach them about such important things as values, morals, virtues, bravery and hope. When mothers tell stories to their children at bedtime, they slip into the dream world taking these messages into the deeper layers of their minds.

I wonder if pre-historic cave paintings were meant to teach children about the animal world and the ways of hunting. What else could be the reason for our ancestors to come "home" (cave) after a grueling day and then paint the same thing they had been doing all day long?

Since I have no talent to match that of a cave painter, I prefer to tell a story and let a child illustrate it. Sometimes, we do it in the form of a little storybook for other children.

In this article, I will talk about a couple of stories, which emphasize such social qualities as empathy, acceptance and tolerance of others who may appear different but really are a lot like us.

Brand New Kid by Katie Couric, host of NBC's Today show is one of them. The book is written in couplets best suited for children between the ages of 3 to 8. The brand new kid is Lazlo who doesn't look or speak quite like the other kids and no one is sure what to make of him. So, when he arrives at his new school, he is met with taunting and teasing. He tries to humor and please other kids but fails. They continued to give him dirty looks and Lazlo, "kept his head down and stopped trying to please and simply prepared for the next taunt and tease.

One day, to continue the story, Lazlo's classmate Ellie saw his mother walking up to the school gate looking sad and teary eyed. Ellie finds out that the mother is sad for her son who is having so much trouble in the school. One day, after school, she gets herself invited to Lazlo's home to play. She discovers that he plays soccer like the rest of the kids and is in fact better at chess than a lot of other kids. Both Lazlo and Ellie had a good time and he thanks her for coming out and being his friend in a new town and school where he is still trying to figure out how to fit in.

The next day Ellie told her friends at school, and I love this couplet, "He may look slightly strange, have an accent and stuff, but if you know him, you'd like him, it wouldn't be tough." Then one more kid comes forward to befriend Lazlo and before you know it he is a bonafide member of the pack.

Oliver Button Is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola is another children's storybook I like a lot. It has been a part of my children's collection for many years. Oliver Button was called sissy because he didn't like to do things that boys are expected to do. When other kids would go out and play a ballgame, Oliver would read books and draw pictures, play jump rope or wear a costume and sing and dance. His dad, out of frustration would sometimes say, "Oliver, Don't be such a sissy! Go out and play baseball or football or basketball. Any kind of ball."

The reason Oliver didn't want to play any ball game was because he was not well coordinated. So, whenever he tried to play it was a disaster. Kids just didn't want him on their team because he would make them lose. He would drop the ball, get stuck like the deer in the headlights or not run fast enough. So, Oliver did what he was good at. He was good at drawing, painting, reading, writing and dancing.

Finally, his parents accepted that he was not going to be a Mike Jordan or "Magic" Johnson and took him to a tap dancing school so he could get enough exercise. Oliver loved it and excelled in it. The word spread in the school about Oliver and his tap dancing school and the taunting and teasing increased. Some kid wrote in big and bold letters on the school wall, "Oliver Button is a sissy." But Oliver kept on practicing and practicing and getting better at it every day.

Then came the time for the annual children's talent show. It was always a big event in town. Children exhibited their talent in front of a big audience. Participating children and the schools they went to would be the talk of the town. That year, Oliver was given the chance to participate in the talent show. Oliver tapped extremely well and hoped to win the prize for his school. But, the girl who did beautiful baton-twirling won the coveted talent show prize.

Oliver was disheartened and didn't want to go to school because he couldn't get the prize for his school. However, he drug himself to school, and when he looked at the graffiti which used to say, "Oliver Button is a sissy." He saw that the word "sissy" was crossed out and over it was written, "Oliver is a star." Nice story, isn't it?

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