Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What's an esio? And what makes it trot?

I’ve always been a huge Roald Dahl fan, but I never read Esio Trot until I read it with you, Chenery Fifth Graders!  Should I call you guys CFG for short? It seems like a very Roald Dahl thing to do. Have you read his book The BFG, which stands for “Big Friendly Giant?” Maybe you guys are the Chenery Friendly Giant. You certainly would be if you made a massive human pyramid, with each of you standing on each other’s shoulders. And speaking of human pyramids, and creatures piling on top of each other, and of turtles – wait, had we spoken of turtles yet? We’re about to, since Esio Trot is about a tortoise, or a whole bunch of them--here’s a picture of turtles piling on top of each other:

Can you imagine if all 140 tortoises in Mr. Hoppy’s living room piled on top of each other? Can you picture that tottering pile of turtles? The question is, how would they get there? How would the 139th turtle – let’s call him Merv – how would Merv climb up over all those other turtles and position himself at the top? He’d step on a lot of turtle faces to do it. I’ll bet Merv wouldn’t have a lot of friends afterwards. All those turtles he stepped on would hold a grudge.
A tower of 140 turtles probably wouldn’t fit in Mr. Hoppy’s living room, either. They’d have to form their tower out on his balcony, I imagine. And I ask you, CFG, what if Mrs. Silver had come home early from work one afternoon and looked up at her balcony, and at Mr. Hoppy’s balcony directly above, with all its lovely flowers, and seen the tottering tower of turtles (the TTT for short)? She would have discovered the sly secret behind Mr. Hoppy’s magic spell for rapid tortoise growth. She might have grown upset. She might never have married Mr. Hoppy. She probably would have ripped up the growing spell paper with its magic words, “Esio Trot,” and we wouldn’t have this book today.
So it’s just as well that turtles can’t actually form themselves into TTTs. But they do climb onto each other’s backs, especially in aquariums, when they are competing for the warmth of the sun or the light that comes from a heating bulb. They call it basking. Cats bask in the sunlight too, just like sunbathers bask at the beach. I like the word “bask.” And when I like a new word, I look for a way to use it. I want to bask in the warm glow I get from learning a new word.  (Here’s a picture of a tower of turtles, though it’s almost certain humans helped form this tower:

So, CFG creative writers, let’s bask in the silly fun world that Roald Dahl always creates with his stories, but let’s not let him have all the fun.
Writing prompts for CFG based on Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot:
1.       Did you notice that I used the word “sly” to describe Mr. Hoppy’s secret tortoise trick? Sly is another of my favorite words. It means clever, sneaky, and mischievous.  Have you noticed that Roald Dahl often tells stories about characters we like who are sly? Fantastic Mr. Fox is another great example.  Dahl follows in a long tradition of trickster tales that go far back in many cultures. Trickster characters do something dishonest and sneaky, and they succeed and get away with it. As readers, we usually forgive them if we think their purpose is good, like Mr. Hoppy seeking to win Mrs. Silver’s heart, or Robin Hood seeking to take tax back money from greedy English barons to relieve the suffering of the poor, or Mr. Fox feeding his family, who has been cut off from food sources by those nasty farmers.  (In real life I don’t agree with lying even if someone thinks their reasons are good, but in stories, as a reader, I play along.) Your prompt: Write a short scene or story about a trickster character who does something sly and dishonest, but for a reason readers can like, and he or she gets away with it. Remember, tricksters don’t have to be human. 
2.       How would it feel to be one of the turtles in Mr. Hoppy’s living room? You’re taken from a pet shop to a room swarming with turtles, fed cabbage leaves and water, and then, one day, lowered down on a long metal pole to the balcony below, where you get to eat yummy vegetables for a week, and then you are brought back to a room full of Too Many Tortoises, and only cabbage leaves. Finally, in the end, you’re taken back to a pet shop, and bought to be some kid’s pet. Your prompt: write a story about the adventures of a pet store pet, who is bought and brought home to a bad situation, then eventually finds his or her way to a happy situation.
3.       Your prompt: Write a story about a goofy tower. Maybe it’s a silly tower, or a spooky tower. Maybe it has magic powers. Maybe there’s a curse on it. Maybe something happens to anyone who tries to climb the tower. Or maybe the tower is silly because of what it’s made of – like turtles, or cheerleaders, or cheese.  Have fun!
4.       Silly romance:  Mr. Hoppy is desperately in love with Mrs. Silver, but he’s too shy to have any chance of winning her heart. It takes Mrs. Silver’s odd wish for Alfie to grow faster for Mr. Hoppy to find a way to win his love. Your prompt: write a story about someone who is in love, who has no chance of winning their love, until an odd, silly, or bizarre circumstance gives them their chance to try.
5.       Word fun! Your prompt: Write a story paragraph that uses the words “bask,” “sly,” and “trickster.” Use them so they make sense, but most of all, use them to help us love your story.