The art of storytelling (in the style of an 8-year-old)

My daughter is 8 years old, which is one of the greatest ages a person will ever be. She has outgrown Dora the Explorer and “The Cat In the Hat.” She does her own exploring now, thank you, and writes her own adventure stories, complete with illustrations. Last week, for example, she wrote a story called “Tornado!” In this story, she and her brother are out playing on the swing one fine summer day when, all of a sudden, they hear a big wind, a REALLY big wind. There, on the horizon, is a funnel cloud! “Tornado!!” they both yell.

The rest of the story involves them going around informing a series of people, including their parents and a variety of her friends and their families. All the while, the wind keeps getting louder, and the tornado follows them around from house to house, never seeming to get a lot closer. In this respect, it reminded me of a zombie movie, but I didn’t tell her that. She’ll get to zombies soon enough, I figure.

Of course, all the families band together to go in search of a place to hide from the tornado. Apparently, and this is just an aside, our family is incapable of making friends with anyone who has a basement. Luckily, this alarmingly large group is able to find a house for sale on Main Street, a home with a basement. “Whew,” they say, with no small amount of relief. They get a key to the house, go inside, retreat to the basement, and (this is my favorite part) lock the door behind them, as if they are all third graders hiding not from a tornado, but a fifth grade bully trying to steal their Hello Kitty lunchboxes.

At last, the tornado passes, but not before a lot of plates, cups, spoons, and other kitchenware come crashing down around them. In the final sequence, the protagonist (who happens to be the author, in case you were wondering) is suddenly being jolted awake in her bed by her mother.

“Time for school!” Mom says. “You don’t want to be late again!”

Ah, just a dream. I know this is a fairly common narrative device these days, but she’s eight. Plus, it turns out to be a more complex ending when you turn the page and see “The End” followed by a question mark and a tornado clearly visible through her bedroom window. Was it really just a dream, after all, friends? She has already learned the most important lesson a young writer can learn, which is that you must aways leave a way for a sequel. Coming soon: “Blizzard!”

Another great thing she has discovered is sleeping over at a friend’s house. She has done this about four or five times now, to the point that she has developed a pre-sleepover routine. It begins around midweek, when she begins generating a list of the items she will need to take to her friend’s house. Toothbrush. Shirt. Ducky. Pants. Sleeping bag. Underwear. Baby doll. Pillow. This list of essential items continues to grow with each passing day. When she begins listing canned goods — corn, carrots, Spaghettios — we gently remind her that she is going to a friend’s house for a one night sleepover, not moving to Canada. I have never been able to explain the concept of over-packing to her mother, but I do my best to explain that there will likely be some food at her friend’s house, and they will probably give her some, and if they don’t, that she should give me a call.

“Oh, daddy,” she says, in the tone of voice reserved for when I have said something more ridiculous than usual.

I admit that I could not be more envious. One of the very best parts of being a kid is sleeping over at a friend’s house. They have stuff that you don’t have, eat things that you don’t usually eat, do things that you don’t usually do, stay up later than you usually stay up. And even when you DO go to bed, you stay up talking — and giggling, lots of giggling at the absolute absurdity of everything! — until the adults finally cannot take it anymore and threaten to separate you if you cannot be quiet.

There will be plenty more thrills to come in her life, but it will be hard to top the exhilaration of being called down “for the last time” at 1 a.m. by an exhausted parent. Savoring the sound of footsteps retreating down the hall, and yet more giggling.

If I could illustrate this column like my daughter illustrates her stories, I would draw a picture of two eight-year-old girls elbowing each other in the dark, their heads under the pillow to muffle the giggles. And maybe I would draw a funnel cloud in the bedroom window.

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