Great Lesson for Literature: "The Birth of Literature"
The Great Lesson for Literature
PRESENTATION ONE: Cosmic Story, The Birth of Literature Prior Work: Basic reading and writing experiences. A familiarity with books, and an ability to make distinctions and sort books into different categories. Materials Needed: Timeline of thirty-five numbered cards from Gilgamesh to Harry Potter Library books or purchased volumes to go with the Timeline Three-part card material for forms and genres A copy of the story, “The Birth of Literature”(included below)For further information about this material, see www.montessorilitlines.com.
THE BIRTH OF LITERATURE: A COSMIC STORY FOR LITERATURE STUDY
In the beginning was Story. Before houses, before cars, before Roman warriors and the pyramids of Egypt, almost before there was such as thing as bedtime, there was Story.
Story was sturdy, even as a little baby. At night, before the blazing campfire they fed him, but instead of giving him mother’s milk, or bits of bread, they fed him with words.
During the day, Story roamed the woods, filling his mind with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of the marvelous earth he lived on: the shafts of light that danced on the water, the surprising sweetness of the mockingbird’s song, the velvety feel of a rabbit’s skin, the gentle aroma of smoke from a fire, and the tangy, pungent mint leaves he loved to chew.
When Story grew to manhood, he married Language. Language came in so many forms that Story had to follow his new wife everywhere. He could hardly keep up! But they began a family tree that would lead from the first word ever spoken to the birth of Literature itself.
When Latin developed in Italy, Story was there. When Swedish developed in Scandinavia, he was there. When Gaelic emerged, or Portuguese, or Russian, or Korean, or Japanese, or Greek, or Anglo-Saxon, he was there, spinning his magic.
And as Language and Story spread across Europe and into England, they had six children. The names of their children are a little unusual, so listen closely. Epic, the oldest son, came first. Epic was a strapping boy who wrote long poems about powerful heroes, often taking his tales from legends that had been told for generations. Maybe you’ve heard of Odysseus, who tried so hard to get home to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus, after the Trojan War. But the sea-god Poseidon brewed storm after storm to crash his ships!
Creation Story was born next. She told stories of the beginning of things, of how the universe, the earth, and humans came to be. The Iroquois Indians told a story that the earth began as a handful of mud on the back of a giant floating turtle.
Poetry followed. She was so happy to be alive all she could do at first was say thank you to the gods for all the goodness in creation.
Myth followed poetry. She told of the struggles between gods and humans. She loved to explain how the world worked. The Ancient Greeks said that lightning bolts were flung from the sky by a god named Zeus!
Drama showed people how to speak loudly enough from a stage, so that the audience would hear every word. He told stories of heroes, and exciting tales of the hunt.
Fable was born next. Using animals as characters, he told stories with only a single, short episode. Have you heard the story of the “Tortoise and the Hare?” The Hare is so confident that even though he’s faster he loses the race, because the lowly tortoise never stops!
One day a beautiful daughter was born named Folktale. When Folktale became a grown woman, she found a partner she could count on whose name was Tradition. They had six children. Their oldest daughter was Fairy Tale. Whenever she spoke, she created a trance in her audience so profound that people remembered her for the rest of their lives. Have you heard of “Little Red Riding Hood,” or “Snow White,” or “Hansel and Gretel?” Fairy tales remind us that children face challenges too, important challenges that test their character.
Next was a boy named Animal. Whenever Animal told a story (which some people called a Beast Tale) he had animals as characters. One Animal Tale everyone knows is the “Tale of the Three Little Pigs.” Do you remember the terrible wolf? “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!”
When Pourquoi grew up, she loved to make people laugh by telling funny stories. How did Elephant get its long trunk? Well, a crocodile tried to eat Elephant, and pulled on her stunted little nose until it stretched and stretched like a thick garden hose, and stayed that way, which turned out to be quite an improvement.
When Trickster came to life he was full of mischief. He wore masks, sometimes a raven mask, or a coyote mask. Once Trickster had to free the sun itself from a little box so the world would have light. But it wasn’t easy. He turned himself into a pine needle so that a princess would drink him from a cup. Later, she gave birth to him and he crawled around and opened the box. Quite a trick, don’t you agree?
The next daughter had a special love for little children. She was called Nursery, and because she always rhymed what she said, we call her tales Nursery Rhymes. I’ll bet you’ve heard this one. “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water; Jack fell down and broke is crown, and Jill came tumbling after.”
Cumulative was born next. She loved the sound of words so much she repeated them over and over. I’m sure you heard of “The House that Jack Built.” This is the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built…
Wow, Folktale and Tradition had a lot of kids!
One day a great change happened in this amazing story. At some point, spoken language began to be written down. Imagine! For centuries, the legend of Gilgamesh, a famous king, was told and retold, when finally someone decided to write it down. The author took a reed from the Tigris River, dried the reed, and cut the base to make a stylus. Then he pressed the triangular base of the reed in soft clay—according to the letter shapes of a wonderful language called cuneiform. Now, the people of Ancient Sumeria could enjoy Gilgamesh even if the storyteller had become sick or died, or simply wasn’t there.
In time, humans wrote down all those stories and tales that had been told around campfires, and near the warmth of the family fire.
Yes, Literature had come to life!
She was born with the act of writing. And as Literature became a grown woman, she found a handsome partner, named Book. Together they adopted many children. Book and Literature traveled the world and collected Story’s many children: Epic, Creation Story, Poetry, Myth, Fable, Fairy Tale, Folktale, Animal Tale, Pourquoi Tale, Cumulative Tale, Nursery Rhyme, and others.
In the 1400’s, Johannes Gutenberg, who lived in Germany, found a way to make many, many copies of each of the letters of our alphabet out of metal. Oh, he must have loved words to do all that careful work! He laid the letters backward, in mirror face, on a wooden frame, covered them with ink, and pressed a page of paper over them to collect the impression of each letter and word. It took a long, long time to make a book.
This invention was called the Printing Press. His first book was the Bible. Now humans could print many copies of the same book. Soon everyone in the world wanted to learn how to read. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. How true that is. Nothing could stop the power of the word. The human mind had found its mightiest tool, far more potent that any lance, far more accurate than any arrow. Literature and Book finally decided to adopt even more children. Their children would be called Genres. All of the Genres grew naturally from traditional literature and stories. Can you think of them?
Realistic Fiction started as an adventure story about a man shipwrecked on a lonely island. Later, Realistic often wrote stories about our daily lives, and gave us new ways to think about how we live. Think of Gary Paulsen’s The Hatchet, or the novels of Judy Blume such as Fudge, or Double Fudge.
There’s Fantasy, who owes so much to her ancestors, Folktale and Fairy Tale. Think of Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings.
There’s Science Fiction, who takes our imaginations into the vastness of space and time. Think of Frankenstein, or Lois Lowry’s, The Giver.
Yes, there’s Mystery, who asks us to solve complex problems and to stay one step ahead of the author. Think of Encyclopedia Brown, or Cam Jansen, or The Hardy Boys.
There’s Historical Fiction, who helps us to know what it feels like to live in a different time and place. Think of The Little House on the Prairie books.
But that’s not all. Nonfiction was also born. Nonfiction grew up and found the perfect partner: Information. Soon we had History, Biography, Memoir and Informational writing of all kinds.
And the inspiration for creating these literary forms exists today, as alive as you and me.Have you ever created a Fable, or a Nursery Rhyme, or a Poem? Have you read a Cumulative Tale or a Fairy Tale? Well, these are just some of the choices you’ll have.
We’ll have opportunities to learn about the forms of the past and understand their construction. We’ll realize that literature is part of culture, an expression of the hopes and dreams of groups of people who found unique ways to meet their fundamental needs. Like Art and Music, Literature is a spiritual need. We’ll learn that reading, writing, and speaking are part of the seamless mystery of knowledge, self-expression, and creativity that makes us human.
Preparing the materials:
Display material on floor. Cards are numbered. A circular arrangement works best. Take another look at the quick time movie (see www.montessorilitlines.com) if needed.
Stand the three-part card material, mounted on foam core, behind the timeline, so that children can see it. This will provide a visual pattern to follow, along with the timeline, as the teacher reads the story, “Birth of Literature.”
Use the school library or your own resources to match as many of the cards as possible with actual books. Children’s versions of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, along with Robinson Crusoe, Little House on the Prairie, etc. The books are what bring the timeline to life. Presentation: 1.) Invite the students to “walk through” the timeline. Discuss what they see. “What will this presentation be about?” “Do you recognize any of the books, ideas, historical events, forms, or genres?” “Can you give examples of a favorite book in any of these areas?”
2.) Read the story, “Birth of Literature,” dramatically.
3.) Discuss the story after reading it to your students: “What strikes you about these stories? What is your favorite literary form? Which of the characters in our story of literature really speaks to you?”
4.) Write these down. I found that, after hearing the story, their spontaneous choices about their ‘favorite form’ told me something authentic about each child’s interests and personality. Later, I was able to group children for genre study.
Direct Aim: Classification of literature into thirteen traditional forms and five genres. Indirect Aim:To prepare children for a separate study of each literary form Control of Error:See next lesson. The story serves as control of error for placing the three-part card material correctly on the foam core board.
Suggestions for Student Work: Devise various classification activities. For example, students might take a random selection of books (novels for one activity; picture books for a second) and put them into groups, naming each group. At this stage, they may only use some of the categories presented. Other categories will be of their own choice.
Have the students take one of the thirty-five cards, let’s say, “Fairy Tale” and go through classroom books, or a library section, finding as many as fit the form as possible.