Monday, June 15, 2009

Timothy's "Just So" Story

(My photo at San Diego Zoo, March 2009)

For our little writing class this year in our home (consisting of my older boys and the daughter of a nearby friend), I had Jonathan, Timothy, and Olivia finish their school year writing two "Just So Stories" based on the book of short stories of the same title by Kipling. The idea came from a long-time Brave Writer class "Just So Stories" in which families read several of the stories in Kipling's book and then compose their own "Just So" story, explaining how an animal got a certain unique characteristic. Some ideas might be how the lion got its roar, how the giraffe got its neck, how the tiger got his stripes (Kipling wrote about that one), why the penguin can't fly, how the camel got his hump(s), etc. I gave my little class free reign, and they chose some intriguing topics from their brainstorming sessions. Jonathan (age 11) wrote about how the pug got its flat, black face (taken partially from the Men in Black films and involving aliens) and how squirrels got rabies (a common problem around here but which involved a coffee shop heist resulting in too much caffeine - I may share that one here at a later date). Olivia (age 11) wrote about how the lion got its mane (by swallowing a guy who had spiked hair and used too much hair gel - priceless!) and how the toucan got his colorful beak, and Timothy (age 14) wrote about how the ape lost its tail (because he was a bully) and how the turtle got its shell. With his kind permission, I will share Timothy's latter story because I think it's really well-done. Enjoy!

How the Turtle Got Its Shell
by Timothy Barrett (8th grade)

Once a long time ago, turtles had no shell. The foxes, the hawks, and the pythons loved to eat turtle. They had turtle for almost every meal. They had purple soup, turtle dogs, turtle with taters, and even turtle bacon.

"What will we do?" asked the turtles to the High Turtle Council. "We will not survive!"

The High Turtle Council who were the oldest and wisest turtles of them all thought and thought and thought until finally one of them said, "We must go to war."

All the other turtles were scared. "They are so big and we can't protect ourselves."

The member of the Council who had spoken earlier said, "We can make foul-smelling liquid from the flowers and other plants in the area; we can also make shells like the snails have."

All the turtles cheered a very joyful and enthusiastic cheer, and they went to work making shells that they could hide in and that would protect them. At first the shells had to be changed to fit each turtle; then they fitted some shells with foul-smelling liquid that would make other animals sick. Finally after weeks of working, each turtle had a shell, and every single shell was different.

So they sent a message to the foxes, hawks, and pythons. It told them to stop eating turtles or they would regret it. The foxes, hawks, and pythons laughed and laughed and laughed. They said they would keep eating turtle, no matter what. This decision made the turtles angry, so one night when the foxes, hawks, and pythons were asleep, the turtles attacked. They shouted hideous war cries and leaped onto the foxes, hawks, and pythons. The foxes, hawks, and pythons were so surprised that they jumped right out of their skins! The turtles paraded back with all the skins of the foxes, hawks, and pythons.

"What were those things that stole all of our skins?" asked the foxes to the hawks. One of the hawks replied, "I think they were turtles!" The foxes, hawks, and pythons crept over to the turtles' village where they saw turtles stuffing mattresses with hawk feathers. They also saw python-skin boots, bags, belts, and even python-skin umbrellas. The turtles also had made fox-skin sheets, pillow slips, towels, and napkins.

One of the skinless foxes grabbed a turtle passing by, covering its mouth so it couldn't yell, and bit the turtle hard. An ominous cracking sound emanated from the fox's mouth. The fox dropped the turtle and yelled in pain. All the teeth in his mouth were broken, but instead of running away, the turtle stood there and admired its handiwork. Then the fox started making choking noises, and the air was filled with a malodorous scent. All the foxes, hawks, and pythons ran, flew, and slithered away as fast as they could, and that is how the turtle got its shell.

The End.
These stories are quite fun, and I really recommend the Brave Writer "Just So Stories" Class because the teacher (usually Rachel Boyer) helps each student to think and write creatively as she teaches developing ideas, rough drafting, revising, and editing in a way that is personalized to each student. It's a light-hearted and fun approach to writing, and composing "Just So Stories" was the perfect way for my little class to finish a year of hard work in writing different sorts of paragraphs and even a few five-paragraph essays.

So, here's to brave writing!

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