Another Christmas, and another delivery of sticky buns. Every year I feel like a child hoping that Santa Claus will come, except that Santa is actually “the sticky bun mom”. This is perhaps the longest tradition in my family, and it started decades ago in my classroom. Two young girls, Michelle and Nicole, adored being in my preschool class, especially listening to “Jennie Stories”. They were sisters, and their mother made sticky buns. But, that is only where the story begins. It happened like this…
For each year as a treat, the sticky bun mom joined the class to make sticky buns with the children. Cooking is one of the best activities with young children, as it is hands-on and full of science and math. Oh, we cooked up a storm in the classroom. And we painted, and we read stories. Stories became popular, particularly fairy tales. The more I read-aloud, the more the children wanted. I knew I had to do something to address this drive, this passion, that children had for stories and reading.
I did my first play performance with children. After reading Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky, it was obvious that the children craved more. Acting out the story was just the thing to do. Michelle played the part of Rapunzel, using a loosely knitted long shawl as her hair. The play was a huge success for many reasons; it gave children confidence and language skills, and it expanded upon a book they loved.
I realized books were far more important than just the story. They opened a big door to so much more.
It was autumn that year. We were learning about nocturnal animals. I read Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Again, a book was incredibly beloved by the children. This beautifully written story has illustrations done in pen and ink outlines, and watercolors. We spent minutes, hours, talking about the illustrations; they became an important part of the story. They brought the beautiful words to life. I knew just what to do.
Yes! The children could bring the book to life! They can create a mural!
We decided to create an authentic Owl Moon mural, just like the book. Oh, was it magnificent! We drew the outlines of trees and people and owls with real pens, then water-colored the figures. I remember the big sky was a blue wash. But, the children weren’t quite satisfied with the owl. They were right- it was missing something. We scoured the playground for items to make the wings. Nicole found pine cones, and we picked the ends off to create the owl wings. Perfect! The mural proudly hung in the hallway, but still it wasn’t enough, as Owl Moon had captured their hearts and was a powerful teaching tool. Each child made a paper bag owl to decorate the classroom. Unlike many preschool projects, every owl was unique. Children were proud.
I am so in-tune with young children; I can sense if they need more.
If Jane Yolen’s book Owl Moon started the interest in owls, then why not duplicate what happened in the story, “going owling”? We did! What an adventure on the playground at night, surrounded by dark and woods, calling for owls. It was thrilling. Parents and children gathered with spotlights to call into the woods. Yes, an owl called back.
Fast forward to today. When the sticky bun mom, and Michelle and Nicole, arrived at my house with the annual Christmas delivery of sticky buns, we talked about memories; “Jennie stories”, and also going owling. Yes, owling. They remembered! They talked about the paper bag owls we had made that year. Those hung as decorations in their home until this very year. Michelle and Nicole described to me in detail each of their paper bag owls, with the same excitement as the day they made them, many decades ago. Wow!
No, they did not remember the book, but they remembered the words and the story. They remembered how those words made them feel. They certainly remembered going owling.
Isn’t that what a good book does?