Dinosaurs and Leprechauns. The elements of any story.

October 23, 2008

Years ago I was a guest speaker to Mrs. Cordani’s second-grade class in Beverly, Massachusetts. I won’t lie and say the experience changed me, but I will tell you that it taught me a lesson.

Know your audience.

I went into the classroom prepared to twist and mold little minds and left there with a new understanding of how a second-grader thinks.

In my hand as I entered were the latest two Laura and Tony Mysteries (author Jeff Cutler of course), and I also brought with me my Indiana Jones hat and a colorful button-down shirt.

When prompted by Laura Cordani, I read my story to the class and was thrilled to hold them in rapt attention for two stories totalling approximately 2000 words. Then I asked the class if they wanted to help me write the next Laura and Tony mystery.

A roar was returned from the kids, so I asked them each to come up with two words. They were to place one word on each of the two index cards I passed out and then return these cards to me at the front of the room.

What do you think 50% of the cards had written on them? Right. Each child’s name. What comprised the other 50%? Exactly! Dinosaurs, Leprechauns, Ponies and Firemen.

Talk about a challenge. But I took my medicine like a pro and promised them that I’d mail a story to them for Mrs. Cordani to read. And the story would contain each and every word that they put down on the cards.

Here’s what I came up with….

The Scavenger Hunt Mystery
Jeff Cutler

Laura looked at the list in her hand and shrugged her shoulders.
“What can we do?  Getting everything before five o’clock is impossible.”
Her friend Tony was sitting next to her on the wooden bench and he agreed.
“Yeah,  Some of these things aren’t even from around here,” he said.  “Like a Leprechaun.  Where can we find one of those?”
“I don’t know,” said Laura.  “But we better start or we won’t even have a chance of finishing.”
The two kids were part of an exciting class exercise called a scavenger hunt.  Each team was given a list of items and an instant camera.  When they found an item they would take a picture of it and then turn in all the pictures at the end of the day.  The pair with the most pictures was the winner.
Laura got up from the bench and Tony walked slowly behind her as they started the hunt.
“What’s the first thing we have to get?” asked Laura.
Tony looked into his hand at the list and saw the word ‘action’.
“How can we take a picture of action?” he asked.
“Easy.  If you go way down the sidewalk and then start running towards me, I’ll take your picture.  Running is action.”
“OK,” he said and soon the pair had one of the items crossed off the list.
“What’s next?” said Tony.
“It says we have to find a basketball.  Let’s go to the playground.  Somebody must be playing basketball there.”
So Tony and Laura continued their fantastic adventure down at the playground.  When they got there a boy named Ryan was playing by himself under a tall metal hoop.
“Ryan,” yelled Tony.  “We need to get a picture of your ball.”
“Can I be in the picture?” asked Ryan.  He had a big ego.
“No,” said Laura.  “We only need a picture of the ball.”
Reluctantly Ryan passed the ball to Tony who put it down on the ground for Laura to photograph.  She quickly took the picture then asked Tony how many things were left on the list.
“Too many,” he said.  “We have to find dinosaurs, silver, gold and a volcano.”
“Wow.  This is getting tough,” said Laura.  “Hey!  How about the library?  They have books on everything.  We can find what we’re looking for and take a picture of the picture in the book.”
“That’s a great idea.  Let’s go.”
The big glass doors to the library were wide open when they got there so the two friends went right in.  After going up and down aisles pulling books off the shelves they got a book about almost everything on the list.  Then Laura started snapping pictures.
When she finished they had a pile of photos showing Queen Elizabeth, fire, ghosts, jewels, a lantern, the Easter Bunny, the town of Quincy, a rabbit, a spotlight, thunder and lightning and even the volcano.  The one thing they were missing was a photo of Shaquille.
“He’s a famous basketball player,” said Tony.  “How come there aren’t any books about him?”
“Maybe there is one,” said Laura, “but we don’t have any more time.  We have to go hand in our stuff.”
Tony looked at the clock and nodded frantically.  “Let’s go.  We only have ten minutes.”
Next to each other they ran down the sidewalk to the school yard where everyone was supposed to meet.  Gasping for breath Tony and Laura fell on the grass when they reached the swing set.  Melanie, Sarah and Melissa were already there and Taylor and Tessa came running up as the teacher blew her whistle and yelled.
“Children get in line and show me your scavenger hunt pictures.  The team in first place will get free ice cream for the rest of the school year.”
Tony looked at Laura and whispered, “I think we’re going to win.  No one else was at the library so we must have the most pictures.”
“Cross your fingers,” said Laura.  “We’re next.”
The teacher examined the photos the pair had taken and congratulated them on their ingenuity in using the library.  Smugly Tony and Laura sat down and waited for the final team to hand in their list.
At last the counting was done and the teacher said she had a winner.
“Boys and girls, the champions of the scavenger hunt, with a great performance, are Alex and Henry.”
“How could they win?” asked Tony loudly.  “We had everything on the list except Shaquille.”
“Tony, you and Laura did very well,” said the teacher.  “But Henry’s mother just had a baby named Shaquille and that’s how Alex and Henry won.”
Tony and Laura looked at each other and made a face.  And at the same time they said, “We’ll win next time.”

So, the next time you’re putting together a presentation or a reading (assuming you’re on that track), think about who you’re speaking to. And then adjust your expectations and maybe your approach.

Because – as I learned – no colorful shirt or leather adventurer’s hat is going to distract a gradeschooler from the important things. Their name and the amazing animals and things that are already running around in their little heads.

Keep reading!