I cannot remember exactly who first mentioned this book on Twitter a few years ago, but to whoever it was, I am eternally grateful. This esoteric little book is a brilliant one to share, it is visually arresting and is such a great book to teach with.
The idea of it is that a little boy called Kevin wants to make another Kevin who can do his domestic chores, so he saves up his money and buys a robot. In order for the robot to act like and look like Kevin, he needs to fill it with all the information about himself. Each page shows something different, such as his Likes and Dislikes and the Things I Can and Can’t Do. The way I see it, the book is a gentle introduction to introspection – when kids read it and begin to think about how they would programme their own robot, they tiptoe towards a kind of reflection on selfhood that doesn’t come instinctively to them.
I have used it before with two classes, and I have been using as part of my mentoring with some of the Year 6 children. Some really thoughtful artwork and picture books can be created by the class through a short sequence of lessons using this book, but more than this, the greatest strength is in the quality of discussion that can come about through getting the kids to create their own pages.
I am interrogating the role of anecdotes in the classroom at the minute – I guess this is my little teaching preoccupation – and this book has a great scope for it. Storytelling can go beyond narrating the written word, and I think there is merit in pupils ability to speak narratively about their own experiences.
To get what I mean, think about one of your classes: you will have a couple of children in there who can capture the attention of everyone in their class when they are telling even a quite objectively boring and uneventful anecdote, and you will have some children who, even if something truly remarkable has happened to them, haven’t got the capacity to tell it well.
Being able to tell a story, in the form of anecdote, is a valuable social skill, a form of confidence building, and it is also supportive of an understanding of storytelling more generally.
A loose set of lesson plans can be found here – I am going to use this when we get back with Year 4 over the course of the four lessons, one a fortnight, that I cover each class during their Creative Arts Day.
The ‘My Face and Body’ page is probably the most fertile for anecdotes. As you see, the simple idea of it is that different body parts are labelled and different facts or stories are linked to each.
After sharing this page with the kids – projected large on the screen – we had a quick circle time. The circle is just to cement the idea that we need to listen to each other, and make sure that everyone can see each other. We could focus first on hands. I shared how I have always bitten my nails, and my Dad really hates it (always has) and he threatened to put English Mustard on my fingernails if I didn’t stop. I could have shared the weird feeling it gives me when I wear gloves for too long, which makes me feel like I am being suffocated.
Then the children can share their hand stories. Some kids might point out birthmarks or scars, some of them might talk about trapping their fingers, or about a special piece of jewellery they are wearing, or why they are wearing mehndi at the moment.
We can then move onto another area, perhaps the eyes. I could share about how when I was in school, I saw somebody get bullied for wearing glasses, so when I was told that I needed glasses, I felt super anxious and would take them off in the corridor.
I could share – and I have just thought of this now, and this is the kind of free flowing retrieval of anecdotes that this lesson is all about – the time when I was taking a group of kids to the swimming baths with a youth charity, and I had to choose between wearing my massive glasses in the pool and looking weird, or going without, and lacking my eyesight. I chose to go without glasses, but because I couldn’t see properly, I tried to take the wrong kids onto the slide, which was among the most excruciatingly awkward moments of my life.
In telling these stories, what you are needing to do yourself, and what you are encouraging in the kids, is the ability to spin a good yarn – to speak humorously or with pathos, to be able to pre-empt the reactions it might get and to withhold certain information until the very end, to be able to identify the key parts of the ‘plot’ and to tell it appropriately.
After we have shared ideas as a class – I don’t force any individual kid to share unless they are wiling to at this point – we can then get onto producing our own page.
What is shared may or may to be quite personal, but crucially, that decision is made by the children. Some children are more than happy to wear their heart on their sleeve, whereas others may be much more reticent. Often, the fact that some children are willing to share does prompt other children to be a bit more confident to reflect and share.
Through doing this activity, and being able to share a class full of completed little pages like this, you will almost certainly learn much more about the children in your class, and they will learn much more about each other.
A vital closing part to this session should be the opportunity for children to share their work with each other in the class, perhaps randomising it in some way so that they are not necessarily just sharing with their best friends. The time should be given for the children to add detail to their stories, when telling them – time for embellishment and questioning.
I am really looking forward to teaching this with three classes who I think will really ‘get it’. I will share some of their work throughout January/February.
Other great titles by Shinsuke Yoshitake include:
- It Might Be An Apple – The story follows a child’s hilarious, wildly inventive train of thought through all the things an apple might be if it is not, in fact, an apple. Distrusting the apple’s convincing appearance, the child’s imagination spirals upwards and outwards into a madcap fantasy world – maybe it’s a star from outer space with tiny aliens on board? Perhaps it wants a cool hairstyle? Does it feel scared, or snore at night? Children can see what all these crazy, funny things might look like.
- What Happens Next? – What Happens Next? follows a child’s hilarious, wildly inventive train of thought following the death of his grandfather and the discovery of his journal, in which his grandfather had jotted his thoughts about life after death and the ideal heaven.
- Still Stuck – Getting dressed and undressed can be a difficult process, especially for little ones. While getting ready for a bath one evening, a little boy gets stuck in his clothes. He panics and starts to fear what life would be like if he never got unstuck.