Metamorphic Power

Transformation Moments?

What do my second grade teacher and DreamForge magazine have in common?  They both believe that there is power contained in stories.

Last week, I told you about Sister Stephanie, my first grade teacher.  My second grade teacher had just as great an impact, although it took a completely different form.  Physically, Miss Eileen O’Donnell was not at all like Sister Stephanie.  My long-ago memory recalls her as young and slim, with short, curling, brownish-black hair.  Compared to Sister Stephanie, Miss O’Donnell seemed very, very tall.

We first graders were already familiar with Miss O’Donnell because the first and second grade classrooms were next to each other and – I seem to recall – shared a connecting door.  That meant if Sister Stephanie had to step away for a moment, Miss O’Donnell would be the one who supervised us.  I don’t ever recall her having trouble, so her youth was no barrier to her being an authority figure.

Moving over into the Second Grade room seemed to me like a step on the road to adulthood.  Miss O’Donnell was very serious about reading, basic math, and any number of other subjects.  But it was in a subject that wasn’t even part of the curriculum where she had her greatest impact on me.

Although I’d only learned to read the year before, I rapidly read above my grade.  Miss O’Donnell made no effort to hold me back, even though I was less than perfect in spelling and phonics.  When I started outdistancing my classmates, she arranged for me to join an advanced reading group with the third graders.  This arrangement was probably made easier because her sister taught the third grade.  Once a day, I would walk downstairs to join Miss Patricia O’Donnell (who we referred to as Miss O’Donnell Third Grade)  and her advanced readers for exciting ventures into books with chapters.

But although this arrangement saved me from boredom, this wasn’t where Miss O’Donnell Second Grade had her biggest impact.  That, as with Sister Stephanie, took the shape of an unexpected gift: in this case a small burnt-orange hardcover book about ancient history.  It was a comfortable size for me to hold but, unlike most of the books for children my age, it had much more print than pictures.  I remember wondering if I could even read something so grown-up looking.  However, I was lured in both by Miss O’Donnell’s matter-of-fact confidence that I could and by the illustrations.

These were lush full-color paintings, not the simple line drawings or cartoons common in children’s books.   I don’t remember all the places and people that were featured in that book, but I do know that one of my favorites was the story of how the youth who would become Alexander the Great tamed his horse, Bucephalus.  Do you know the story?  The short version is that Alexander had the sense to notice that the horse no one could ride was afraid of his own shadow.  Alexander turned the horse toward the sun, so he could no longer see his shadow.  Then, shedding his own fluttering cloak, Alexander mounted and was able to ride the un-rideable steed.  The two were inseparable from that day forth.

At a time when horses in stories (and reality, for all I know) were still routinely “broken,” and relationships between animals and humans in the “real world” were characterized by domination, not understanding, this tale about trying to understand the “other” made a huge impact on me.

I think I also read about ancient Egypt for the first time in that book as well, so Miss O’Donnell is partly responsible for my novel The Buried Pyramid.  Most importantly, the little burnt-orange book taught me that history was about Story, not about dates and capital cities and the dry, abstract facts that so many classes focus on, probably to make testing easier.

Remembering how much that little burnt-orange book did for me is one of the reasons I signed on to be part of the team that’s putting together DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  Stories – fiction and non-fiction – have the power to change the individual.  The individual has the power to change the world, maybe not always on a grand scale, but maybe, sometimes, just one book, one story, at a time.

Thank you, Miss O’Donnell Second Grade and Third Grade both!

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10 Responses to “Metamorphic Power”

  1. Jamie D. Munro Says:

    Stories can change the individual and the world.

    In my role, I provide a very influential leadership role to all the young kids in my town. One of my volunteer roles is to read with the first and second-graders once a week. I know I will leave a positive forever-influence on the kids. Children are like soft clay, and you were fortunate enough to find people who recognised your talent.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Reading aloud is great. My mom did it with us, and I still have fond memories of her reading us King of the Wind, which was just a little too hard for me when I was given it, so she read it to us and sort of translated the difficult words.

  2. Svenn Lindskold Says:

    Charming Story

  3. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    I also was an advanced reader and was allowed to join the older kids for reading. My biggest gift was access to the library. I must have read every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book my elementary school library had.

    I got my DreamForge magazine yesterday. I was very impressed with the quality of the paper, print and illustrations. I’ve only read a few of the stories, but so far, I am LOVING this magazine.

    Each of us send ripples out into the world. I choose to make my ripples positive and hopeful. DreamForge is doing the same.

  4. Other Jane Says:

    For me it was Sister Marie Elizabeth in 6th grade – who influenced me in art. I dreaded having her for homeroom ( and most classes), she always seemed so mean. We had a late bus and stayed at school for 45 minutes afterward. Sister was an outstanding artist and took the time after school to work with the kids that were interested. I won a series of art awards under her tutelage.

    Thanks for the nice post!

  5. Harried Harry Says:

    WoW !!! The treasures you have given us and the way to lead children is by stirring their imaginations. Very nice reminder of some of the good things in your life. I remember learning to read as a young person was by listening to my mother read to me and my eleven siblings. For most of us, this was the key to long term success with the written word. Some of us have even managed to do okay with the spoken word. Thanks!

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