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Listening to Classes, Updated

May 10, 2011

It’s been fascinating to see what kind of new Madeline adventures kids come up with when I do school visits. I am realizing that the single most differentiating factor is not geographical or age but class size. The most exciting, original tales tend to come from kids in groups of fifteen to fifty kids. There’s definitely a breaking point above that, where kids are either giving safe answers that they think no one will make fun of, or give joke answers–Miss Clavel gets run over by a truck!–that are meant for a laugh. Inevitably, the end result is a boring story. Except when it’s not.

The kind folks at Books, Bytes and Beyond took me into a couple of large public elementary schools in north Jersey. I could only try my exercise on one group, an assembly of about 150 kids. The tale began in fairly pedestrian fashion. Madeline and the girls take a cruise ship to New York, visit the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and the Empire State Building, where Madeline happens into a room where she finds a man holding onto the ledge of a window by his fingertips. How will Madeline get him out of this jam? As I take suggestions I’m thinking I have no idea how to solve this one and that instead of coming up with an ending it’s going to be one of those Why-don’t-you-go-home-and-think-about-it-on-your-own situations. The first suggestions from the kids bear out this fear: Madeline reaches out the window and pulls the man up. (But she’s a small girl and he’s a grown man.) She gives him a rope and pulls him up. (Again, she’s the smallest, remember?) She finds an adult to help. (Boring!)

Just as I’m about to throw in the towel, a kid in the front row suggests that Madeline take some bubblegum, stick one end to the imperiled man and the other to the elevator and send it down. (Brilliant!) The kids vote to change the bubblegum to a rope, and the story is successfully concluded.

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