The girl with the brown crayon

The girl with the brown crayon – how children use stories to shape their lives

The girl with the brown crayon

I picked up this unassuming book merely for the intriguing tagline – ‘how children use stories to shape their lives’. Stories did always fascinate us, when we were kids, and of course even now. I wondered what this girl with the brown crayon did…so I flipped to the first page, and read about a little five year old girl who fell in love with a character in a book…Frederick the mouse. This friendship of hers with a character from a book starts off a journey of learning that nobody had quite expected.

The beauty of this book is that it’s the true story of what happened in a preschool classroom.The day Mrs. Paley brought out Frederick to read aloud to her little students, a discussion begins. A discussion that goes on beyond the classroom, beyond the boundaries of age, colour and  curriculum.

Leo Lionni is the creator of the said character. It all starts when Mrs. Paley decides to read through most of Leo Lionni’s books over a period of a year, the year which is to be her last year as a preschool teacher. The children go back and forth between the stories, and discuss them as if these characters are partakers in these sessions. This mouse is like that fish, they say…or our friend Walter reminds us of this character.

Bright-eyed Reeny is the girl with the brown crayon, making statements of philosophical depth that leave Mrs. Paley pleasantly surprised…there are times when she can’t wait what Reeny will say when she reads out a new book. Does Reeny identify with the story? Does she think the story could have ended some other way? For Reeny has a way of reviewing these stories with sensitivity and brilliance. There are times she will even empathise with the author and explain to the class why he might have led the characters one way and not the other.

The journey brings in many travellers along the way…storytellers who bring in new opportunities for children to continue this string of reflections. A mother comes in and talks about her childhood, a grandmother talks about Harriet Tubman and slavery. An Indian teacher narrates the special powers of the monkey prince, Hanuman.

And the rewardees are many. Teachers who have learnt from children, the lessons of life. Children who have opened their eyes to themselves and their friends.

How is this episode any different from what would take place in any other preschool classroom?

For one, the teacher experimenting with books from the same author, thus building a premise for the children to reflect on the author’s intent, as well as find the freedom to imagine alternatives, and most of all, relate to them and befriend the characters that bounce off the books into their very lives.

A touching account of what can happen when one digs into the heart of a simple story.

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Art and Design: Should we be drawing lines between them?

Today I was reading my friend Shankar’s post on Art and Design that got me thinking. Here is what I wrote as I sat to comment:

I remember that very day, and specifically this debate about art and design. Isn’t an artist a designer in the sense that he has designed his piece to express that very thing that he senses to resonate with you, when you see/hear/experience it. Did he put together elements, place them so that it makes you look at it the way that he wants you to? In this sense, are you, as viewer not the consumer of his ‘design’?

Then again, it is also possible that an artist might not really care if his expression means anything to you. He wants to express and that’s what he does.

A designer also puts in expressions of himself when he solves a problem. The way one designer solves a problem need not be how another does. In that sense, is it not art?

I read recently a book (Beautiful Thing: An Introduction to Design) that talks about design, art and technology… how they are closely connected, they need each other to exist and you can’t put your finger on where one ends and the other begins. Though roughly, you could define a very broad spectrum with art (as only expression and nothing else) at one end, and Technology ( which only solves a technical problem) at another. And design, somewhere in the middle, trying to solve a problem creatively.

And why do we need those lines to be so clear? Personally, I like this ambiguity!

Scratching the Itch

I could only go so far without putting my thoughts down. When one has an eventful time, the mind being opened, perpectives being challenged, and learning so much…it only makes sense to write about it.

The past four months saw me completing my first semester at NID. I like to think the reason behind me enjoying every single day has to do with me having no formal design background. Thus, anything from painting colour swatches to making paper models has me excited. Not to mention meeting people from diverse backgrounds and having intriguing conversations over bottomless cups of coffee. 🙂