A children’s book. One that I never read as a child myself, but a familiar favorite that we read in my home at least weekly if not more. My son loves this story, and I completely agree with him this time. It is a wonderful story about sharing, making new friends, and helping out those who you care about. As a printed children’s book, it might not be the best example for this exercise, but luckily there is also a video production of this story (which we love equally) and so I will use both examples throughout this assignment.
Alexander (2011) suggests that a story is anything that pulls the reader into the story and encourages engagement, stating that a non-story is anything “which do[es] not attempt to engage us, or fail miserably at it” (p. 6). Think academic text. From the beginning of this story, the witch and the cat are just going about their normal activities, nothing special. But then all of a sudden, BOOM, the wind blows off the witch’s hat. Now we’ve got to go look for it with her and her kitty companion. Likewise, the story shape that is described in the video of many stories that we (throughout history) have enjoyed and read again and again, follow a similar shape of ups and downs. This story follows a very similar shape to that of Cinderella, which was used as an example in the video.
I think that this type of story, shape wise, is timeless and has been similarly structured throughout recorded history. I believe that this resonates with us as humans and problem solvers. If our characters never got into any trouble or conflict, there wouldn’t be a story to tell – it would just be ordinary life. This would not engage us. However, the conflict and resolution is what keeps us engaged. Sometimes it is not always the resolution we would desire, think Romeo and Juliet, but the conclusion of a problem is what we crave. It is as if we stop mid line to a familiar tune, our ears and minds anticipate the resolution of the hanging note, and we either hear it from the performers or we finish it for ourselves. We cannot let it go unfinished. Try it, it’s agony. I think this need for conclusion is a uniquely human experience that signifies our desire for the aesthetic to be pleasing. If I forget to sing the last note of a tune to my dog, she does not care if I sing it or not, she just goes about her happy way. When my son was around 18 months however, he would be able to sing the last note of a song, even if he didn’t know the song. To me that suggests that there is some form of evolutionary development there that strengthens social bonds.
To dig deeper into the story of the witch and her friends, I find that because it is a children’s book, there is very little to criticize as for having too much or not enough of something. It is rather short, about 10-15 pages long with illustrations. With that said, one of my favorite things about this book is the illustrations. They are colorful, playful, and extremely animated. The images of the witch and her friends weave throughout the words of the book, and in that way, it makes your eye have to travel the entire space of the page. Likewise, in the video production, the animation is based heavily on the book illustrations, and to see these sweet and happy characters come to life is a joy. One criticism that I have between the video and book version, is that there is a change in wording based on location of production. The video version is much more British, using terms for things that are different from here to there. Some examples are “braid or plait” “fries or chips” and “pool or shower” which I personally do not like as the British terminology flows much more pleasingly with the rhymes.
Room on the Broom (2001). Written by Julia Donaldson. Illustrations by Axel Scheffler. Dial Books for Young Readers, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. New York, NY.
Alexander, B. (2011). The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. Praeger.