For me, I held many characters dear from the first lap reading. Sam- I- am was the perfect salesman. Jane was so cute and spoke so clearly to her brother Dick. Her simple messages were about all I could comprehend. She had the nicest dresses, ruffled socks, and shiny black shoes. Christine was a girl created by Carolyn Haywood. (She’s also out of print and an unknown.) Yet, I will never forget all the adventures she had in Mrs. Wilkins class along with her rabbit Cupcake. Christy was polite, obedient, and loved to learn. Ramona was imaginative and fun. I felt what she felt. I too wanted to pull on the boing boing curls of Suzie “whats her name”. ( even though I had Suzie whats her name’s hair in real life) I too wanted to be pretty in a pink frilly dress. But I too was simply too awkward. Then along came Anne of Green Gables. She was smart, descriptive, and everything I wanted to be. She even wrote stories that were totally just like mine – works of art. Laura Ingalls had the spunk to take on any challenge. She was inventive and smart. The small things were her special treasures. Laura appreciated her shiny new pennies and her silver tin cup. She loved her crisply ironed dress for Sunday.
Somehow I felt validated through these characters. They taught me to be just as I was. Because that is what they were- uniquely them. Many were more out of the box then some and the world simply had to acclimate and appreciate them. These were my “character want to bes” and I sometimes I lived as though I were them! It was the practice of any young kid establishing an identity. In our work of pretending, we knew exactly what to do and what to say. Our play was enriched through these characters.
Children’s literature characters are once again held with endearment at my house by some new fans. They pretend to be these characters naturally because they have found themselves in these characters. They can put themselves into new scenes and create different play schemes. “You be and I’ll be” is the frequent instruction at play time. These characters are the special “coaches” of play that have sunk into my kids’ world.
For my two children and particularly my autistic child, they have come to know these characters through video stories. The video stories are exactly as written in a hard copy book. The illustrations are exactly as they were created but they come to life through movement. I have concluded that the characters have served as models for both children and particularly by spectrum kid. This kind of video modelling has had its advantages. Real Video Modelling involves real children acting out social situations to equip the child who struggles socially and with play. I have never used such modelling with my daughter. But through story videos she has learned the same skills and maybe more from story characters.
As a teacher that I do hesitate to introduce these characters through video first. I shutter in the fact that the only way my daughter gets hooked is through a video story first. I do long for her to get it and become “friends” with someone through a read aloud first. Yet, the video experience has nurtured her beginning reading some. She now has the stories nearly memorized and will match text with pictures. With story scripts embedded in her brain, she can use them throughout the day in various contexts. For now, this is how it is. We can work on the form and order of story introduction. Right now I choose to focus on the advantages of this type of Video Modelling.
From Kevin Henkes ‘Chrysanthemum, my daughter has taken pride in her own name. She saw Chrysanthemum search for self assurance as we all do at one point and has labeled her name “Absolutely Perfect” This is what both Chrysanthemum and my daughter are- absolutely perfect. Chrysanthemum was shy and timid and well loved. So is my daughter. She had her special dresses for her moods. Her sunniest dress for her first day of school and her pocket dress to carry all of her good luck charms. My daughter chooses the right day to wear her twirly polka dot dress for those happy dancing days and the day to wear her squeezey shirt to give her extra tight hold when she feels anxious. Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, thanks to Chrysanthemum my daughter gained some self assurance.
From Rosemary Wells’s Max and Ruby stories, my daughter has learned language. She loves the word “perfect” and talks in words of “just right” to her brother “Max”. She loves to instruct as the older sister- or teacher maybe. Ruby was just the right fit for my daughter. The things she played- making a clubhouse, having a camp out, setting up a lemonade stand, decorating snowflake cookies and gingerbread houses are simply wonderful. They are reminders of the good old days of childhood. Her interest was sparked and her comfort level was established. With Ruby’s promotion she had new play schemes that were engaging.
Else Holemlund Minarik gave us Little Bear. I must say after reading and seeing the video of these stories, I value them more now than I ever did as a first and second grade teacher for guided reading groups. Little Bear has clear language. He is simple minded but yet imaginative. My daughter finishes a video story and wishes to make her own birthday soup- which essentially is mixing several batches of colored water together. She makes a campfire (or a pile of sticks) in the wooded patch of our backyard and roasts marshmallows. She imagines the bathtub is a place for catching fish, splashes and says”You scared away my breakfast.” Her play practices are what she values from Little Bear and all of his friends.
Fairy Tales are a true security for my spectrum kid. With a slight change in the typical version, she has grown to love the James Marshall tellings. They are comical to us as well. Who can refrain from laughter when someone calls Goldilocks says “Patooey!” to the first taste of the Papa Bear’s bowl of porridge. When the intro to the Three Little Pigs, is Ladies and Gentlemen…. and the pigs reply with “Well, what do you know” to the selling of straw or sticks for a house…the humor is appreciated. The pigs and Goldilocks are characters they can be confidently because their plot behaviors are simple and in perfect sequence. These tales are reenacted again and again by my kids. I see an actress for sure in the making during fairy tale play time.
Madeline sings “If you believe you must be big in order to be tough. Then you should get to know me, I’ll teach you other stuff.” Thanks to Ludwig Bemelmans stories on video, a new character friend has been made. Madeline is a tiny girl involved with big adventures. My daughter has high regard for her. With the help of a tiny French girl, she has big dreams and big plans. My daughter sings this Madeline song as she dances about. Somehow I wonder if she truly understands the song’s message and sings it from her heart. For the most part, my kid has the same philosophy- “If you believe you must be big (typical and on par developmentally) in order to be tough ( make it in the world) Then you should get to know me I’ll teach you other stuff! She’s my kid, my spectrum kid, and knows she’s very behind. But inside…she’s tall! She’s got adventures in the making. She’s going places!
If we ever get around to official video modelling it will still be beneficial but a different experience. Until then, we continue storybook character modelling. I can’t wait to introduce my daughter to Ramona Quimby, Laura Ingalls, Anne of Green Gables- and eventually Jane Eyre. Maybe by then it will be through a read aloud or she reads it herself. Until then she continues to live vicariously through all the children’s lit friends she has known thus far and at the same time grown to know herself and her place in this world.