Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sniffing Out a Story

“So what you’re saying is, you can actually smell a story?” Bubble Boy leaned back in his seat, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

“Well, I suppose in way you could,” I said, pleased that my lesson on sensory details was making such an impact. We’d just concluded a reading of Amy Tan’s Fish Cheeks, a narrative detailing the particulars of a decidedly alarming culinary episode involving gutted prawn, bulging eyeballs, and dried fungus—a veritable feast of sensory stimuli which I was now using to encourage my seventh graders to “enter” the story. “Can you see those black veins being pulled from the prawn?” I asked. “How about that slimy cod? Can you hear it squish?” The students were eating it up—figuratively, so I thought, until Bubble Boy followed up his query with: “Well that’s good, because I just caught a whiff of something.” He waved a hand vaguely through the air, giving several curious sniffs.

“Good! Good!” I encouraged, really impressed to see him engaging in the literature.

“No, not good,” he replied. “It’s burning.”

“Burning?” I turned my gaze back to the text, scanning for any mention of flame.

“Yes, it seems sort of—rubbery.”

“That’s not the story,” another student piped up. “It’s tar. They’re working on the roof.”

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