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Listening to the Masses in Classes

April 18, 2011

When I’m talking to school groups and the kids’ eyes begin to glaze over, I have them do my favorite exercise: come up with a new Madeline adventure. Over the last four days, Madeline has gone to Ireland (Ten Acre Country Day School in Wellesley, MA), China (Interlakes Elementary School in Meredith, NH), New Hampshire (Interlakes again), and back to China (Main Street School, Exeter, NH).

To go to Ireland, Madeline dressed all in green, except for her socks (they stayed white). On the Emerald Isle she met dueling leprechauns who each tried to trick her into helping them steal a pot of gold from an eagle’s nest. Madeline wound up tricking them, and getting the gold for herself; with the money, she bought Miss Clavel a coffee maker. In China, she went to a restaurant where got a fortune cookie that read, “Misfortune is coming your way.” Shortly thereafter, she was kidnapped by a skinny and unsuccessful sumo wrestler; Madeline became his trainer, feeding him ice cream and candy to so he would get fat. In New Hampshire, she climbed Mt. Washington and fell down a fifty-foot hole, where she met a monkey who wanted to do the cha chacha with her. Back in China, she climbed the Great Wall and fell off the other side.

The kids inevitably want Madeline to visit a new place, go to a restaurant, and get sick. They also tend to want the poor girl to get hurt in some way and go back to the hospital. She usually makes a new friend–at the Hutchison School in Memphis, TN, she dated Justin Bieber–and often she meets an enemy. There are a lot of high places and falling that goes on, and usually at least one off-the-wall moment, such as a stampede of dinosaurs at a library in Brooklyn. Plausibility means little, until the ending. For the resolution, the kids needs something that is both fun and also makes sense. The kids in Exeter couldn’t agree on a satisfactory way to get Madeline back over the Great Wall to Miss Clavel and the other girls. Some of the kids’ suggestions–Madeline finds a ladder, a rope, a helpful adult–were considered too mundane by their fellow classmates, and then other suggestions–she takes a boat, she climbs on the back of a dragon–didn’t seem realistic enough. The kids in Meredith, on the other hand, were unanimous with how Madeline should get out of the hole in Mt. Washington–she got on the monkey’s back, who clambered right up on out of the cave.

Thanks to Wellesley Booksmith, Innisfree Bookshop, and Water Street Books for arranging the visits. And, of course, the kids, for giving me ideas. Expect to see Madeline Does the Cha Cha Cha with a Monkey in bookstores soon.

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