On the 87th Saturday Reunion at Teacher’s College, the author David Booth stood at the podium of NYC’s Riverside Church admiring the mosaic of teacher faces staring back at him. It was 9:00 in the morning, and we numbered in the thousands.
“Look at you,” he softly intoned.
We quieted down.
“You look wonderful!” he continued.
We leaned in.
“I have a story to share,” his voice growing more audible as we settled in the echoing cathedral.
We leaned in closer, and his voice became clearer.
“I want to share a story that generated a thousand responses….the story of the Selkie.”
His Keynote Address was titled, “How One Story Can Generate One Thousand Responses” and on this Saturday morning, Booth was recounting to thousands of teachers how he had shared multiple versions of the Selkie with thousands of students in different countries from Kindergarten to grade 12.
Selkies are mythological creatures who live as seals in the sea, but who shed their skin to become human on land. They are found in in Scottish, Irish folklore, and some Icelandic traditions.
Selkies can also be found in classrooms, according to Booth, who described the teacher who cheerfully greeted him in a “sealskin” of paper, replete with flippers.
“Imagine having her for a teacher,” he marveled, “just imagine,” and he paused allowing us to picture the kind of teacher who would greet an author in a seal suit fashioned after the picture book Selkie woman who shed her skin in order to love a fisherman.
The legend of the Selkie offered multiple versions that Booth could share with different grades over the course of a year: a woman whose seal skin was held hostage by smitten fishermen, seal children adopted by lonely couples, or women cry seven tears into the sea for their seal men.
“When we read each humble folk tale,” he continued, “all of us, in the same room, reading the same event, we all had different responses.” He paused again, “We were making our own stories.”
Booth shared many of these different responses, beginning with the letters imagined by 1st grade Phoebe from the fisherman husband, James, to the wife, Emily. “My darling, I love you. Take care of of our seal-son. I love, love, you.” Booth paused before asking, “How does a 7 year old know about such love?”
He told us of the 9th grader who sat, morose and silent, throughout a discussion about the meaning of the Selkie legend before finally contributing, “It’s about forbidden love.”
Booth shared the responses of students who had the chance to answer questions about the Selkie by posting their ideas on three wall charts labeled:
- Our fierce wonderings…
- Our answers to our fierce wondering answered and researched…
- Further wonderings…
And he shared the a haiku penned by a middle schooler in a response to the legend of the Selkie:
“Never marry the
first naked lady you see;
she’ll swim away.”
“We share the need to be heard; the need to be a part need to be in the circle,” he said, and he paused long enough for us to consider how much we share in storytelling in our classrooms.
“Do you have enough courage to give the time to have the children grow and change?” he said, he paused again long enough for us to appreciate his modeling of “wait time” in teaching.
“It takes a lot of slow to grow,” he noted. “Have the faith to wait and not give them the answer.”
The paused for the last time before concluding, “Weave your blanket of words to cover your children. Hurray for story! Return to your children with word blankets.”
We stopped leaning.
We stopped being quiet.
Our thousands of hands clapped for the thousand responses for David Booth and the Selkie legend.