Teacher’s Lounge: Peter Rabbit Meets Katniss Everdeen

How many of us really understand the power of language?  How many kids even have an inkling of the way a group of carefully chosen words can direct their thinking and mess around with their emotions?  All art forms in talented hands have an ability to provoke a response in the audience, but writing possesses some unique capabilities that young writers (maybe 12 and up) can learn to to use.

“Slant” writing is designed to provoke an emotional response in the reader, even if it’s posing as a factual statement.  It can be obvious or implied, as in

Just gimme the facts: It looks like there’s a snowstorm on the way.

Dig into my right-brain processor and plant a tiny clue: We’re about to get slammed by 3-6 inches of snow.

Hit me over the head with it: Winter Storm Jezebel is brewing up a traveler’s and homeowner’s nightmare in the Midwest.  Save yourselves!!

With a little practice, any young writer can learn to this with a greater or lesser degree of emotional subtlety.  Consider this classic piece of literature:

Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were: Flopsy, Mopsy, peter-rabbit1Cottontail, and Peter.  They lived with their Mother in a sandbank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree.  “Now, my dears,” said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden – your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”

“Now run along, and don’t get into mischief.  I am going out.”

This is stripped-down narrative, and undoubtedly better for it.  Certainly better than this:

Once upon a time there were four furry little Rabbits, and their names were: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. 

They lived with their kindly Mother in a sandbank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree, in a humble but cozy home.

“Now, my dears,” said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, looking lovingly over her spectacles at them,” you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden – your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”  A lonely tear slid down her soft cheek, but she swiped it away quickly with a furtive paw.

“Now run along, and don’t get into mischief. I am going out to trade some knitting for a half-dozen honey buns for breakfast.”

Still, if I wanted to produce a sticky, sentimental emotion in the reader (providing the reader isn’t more likely to hurl, either book or breakfast), I might try slip in a telling adjective and provide some additional sympathy-grabbing details.  But if I were writing a horror story, I might start it out this way:

Once upon a time there were four fatherless little Rabbits, and their names were: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.  There was something a little odd about Peter, and it wasn’t just his name.

They lived with their Mother in a dark and gloomy sandbank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree that creaked ominously on nights when the moon was full and the wind was high.

On a morning thick with fog, old Mrs. Rabbit tied on her dusty black bonnet.  Peter couldn’t help noticing the peculiar glint in her eye.  “Now, my dears,” she said, with a peculiar glint in her eye, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden – your Father had an ‘accident’ there.”  Was it Peter’s imagination, or did the smile turn a bit sinister?

“Now run along, and don’t get into mischief. I am going out.”  Almost as soon as the door closed behind her, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail crept into a huddle.  Peter felt so . . . alone.

Shivering yet?  What if you’re more drawn to gritty, dystopian “realism”?

There was the blasted earth. There were the shriveled trees.  And there were four little Rabbits, and their names were: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.

They eked out a miserable existence with their Mother in a sandbank, underneath the dripping root of a very big fir tree, where light never penetrated.

“Now, my dears,” sighed old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden – your Father had an accident there; it was–” she choked off an involuntary sob and struggled to get hold of herself: “It was—a—a–”

“Why don’t you just say it?” Peter demanded.  “It was a pie.  He was cooked by the overlords and eaten.

The other bunnies gasped in dismay.  But Mrs. Rabbit collected herself and ignored Peter.  Like she always does, he thought.  Nobody will face reality around here.  “Now run along,” his mother sniffed, “and don’t get into mischief. I am going out.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

These three introductions are  going to launch wildly different stories, and if any of them catch a young writer’s imagination she might want to go ahead and tell the tale.  But just for fun, how would you rewrite the first few lines of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” as

  • an adventure story?
  • a moralistic tale?
  • a humor piece?

I think I’ll try those myself–come back next week and see how I did it!

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Teacher’s Lounge: Peter Rabbit Meets Katniss Everdeen”

  1. Emily Says:

    Funny!

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