For articles I’ve written on education and book reviews I’ve done, visit my original blog, Lemon Drop Literary.
For articles I’ve written on education and book reviews I’ve done, visit my original blog, Lemon Drop Literary.
“Today’s the day,” Lauren said, “I’m gonna hop Old Man Ernie’s fence and dig up one of his wife’s bones.”
“From his tomato graveyard?” Jose squeaked.
Exasperated, Lauren replied, “She’s buried under the tomatoes, right?”
Jose nodded. “That’s what my sister said.”
“Cool,” said Mark. He pulled a piece of graph paper from his pocket. “I drew a map of Ernie’s yard for you because of all the bushes along the perimeter of the fence.”
Jose ignored the map. He looked confused as he whispered the word perimeter to himself. He remembered learning it in school. It had been one of their vocabulary words, but he couldn’t think of the definition. Of course Mark remembered it and knew how to use it correctly in a sentence. He was good at everything and everyone knew it, including him, especially him.
All the kids in the fifth grade hated when Mark used big words like perimeter. Unlike all those other kids, Jose was the only one who had the guts to ask Mark what the big words meant when he used them or question Mark when he disagreed with him.
“What’s a perimeter?”
Mark sighed. “A boundary, you know something you can’t cross.” Looking quite smug, he returned to his briefing. “The tomato graveyard is on the right side where the shed is. The dogs are chained up on the other side.”
Jose gulped. Every single kid on the block, even the teenagers, were afraid of Ernie’s dogs: two, large, black, sleek-skinned Doberman pinchers named Demon and Killer. The word on the street was that Ernie had traded his wife’s soul to the devil in exchange for the black eyed beasts.
Jose shivered. “Are you sure the dogs are chained up?”
Mark rolled his eyes. “I watched Ernie put them out there this morning from my window.”
“Oh, but what if–” Jose said.
“You worry too much, Jose,” Lauren said, flashing Mark an adoring smile. Jose frowned at her, but kept quiet. Like every other kid in the neighborhood, Lauren admired Mark and did everything she could to earn his approval. Lauren turned back to Mark’s neatly drawn lines and perfectly colored perimeter. “Is the shed unlocked?”
Mark nodded. “There are lots of shovels in there, too.” He eyed the backpack Lauren was wearing. “Did you bring the beef jerky for the dogs?”
“Do you really think jerky will keep them quiet?” Jose asked.
“My dog loves meat,” Lauren replied.
“So does mine, but she eats jerky really fast. Don’t you think…”
Mark glanced at his watch and cut across Jose’s question. “It’s 11:30. Ernie’s car is gone so he already left for work. Lauren will hop the fence and you and me,” he continued, staring at Jose, “we’ll be the lookouts.”
Jose gulped again. “This is a bad idea.”
“Shut up, Jose,” Mark said, “If we find his wife’s bones we’ll be heroes.”
“We’ll be famous,” Lauren said, “My aunt works for a newspaper. She could write about us.”
Eyes shining, Mark said, “And put our picture in the paper, too. Let’s go!”
“You’ve already had your picture in the paper, two times,” Jose said to Mark.
“So?” Mark and Lauren chimed together.
“Whatever,” Jose mumbled.
“You can always go home,” Lauren said, “No one is making you come with us.”
Jose wanted to go home. He thought this whole idea was stupid, but if he bailed out now and everyone found out they’d think he was a chicken. Kids would tease him for the rest of his life. He could hear their jokes and laughter ringing in his ears already. “I’m coming.”
The trio trooped over to Old Man Ernie’s house and peered at the fence. Tall shrubs, wild and overgrown, poked through the fence and blocked their view of the yard.
“Where’s the gate?” Jose asked.
“There isn’t one,” Mark replied.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“I have bad feeling about this,” Jose whispered.
Smiling, Lauren began to climb the fence, but as she got to the top her smile vanished as she lost her balance. With a scream, she dropped and disappeared into the bushes.
“Oh, no!” Frantic, Jose paced back and forth, trying to find a smarter way into the yard. “Are you okay?”
“My ankle hurts,” Lauren gasped.
Jose looked at Mark. “What are we gonna do?”
Suddenly pale, Mark shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Jose spat.
From inside the yard, the dogs started barking, their chains clanking as loud as a car alarm.
“Help me,” Lauren cried.
Looking less sure of himself, Mark called, “C-can’t you climb back out?”
“I’m stuck,” she replied, shaking the bushes.
“We’ve got to get her out of there,” Jose yelped.
As Mark hesitated and fell back, Jose scaled the fence and leapt over the bushes, landing in the yard. He glimpsed the dogs, snarling and straining against their chains, and began pulling on Lauren’s arm at once.
“Stop,” Lauren yelled. She was wedged into the hedge, her bag twisted and tangled through the branches.
“I’ll cut your bag off with shears.”
Jose dashed through the tomato graveyard and toward the shed. He whipped open the weather worn door and rummaged through the lawn tools, the dogs’ barks louder than ever, echoing up and down the alley of fenced yards. Knocking over shovels and buckets, Jose spotted a pair of hand shears lying on a table and scooped them up.
“I’m coming, Lauren,” he shouted.
“I don’t think so,” a voice rasped.
Eyes glaring, nose flaring, Old Man Ernie stood in the doorway. He was a short, wizened old man, brown as an acorn and just as nutty.
Jose paled and dropped the shears.
Ernie shoved his beaky nose into Jose’s face. “Do you know what I do to kids who sneak into my yard?”
Frozen, Jose eyed the tomato graveyard and gulped. Desperate, he pointed at the yard front bushes. “My friend is stuck.”
“There are two of ya in here?” Ernie growled. He stomped toward the front hedge, poking and prodding at it with a long stick. “There ain’t no one here.”
Jose gasped, staring in horror at the empty bush and front lawn. “They left me?”
Ernie threw down the stick and stomped back. “Why are ya here?”
Jose gestured at the withered vines in the tomato graveyard. “I wanted a bone…I-I mean a tomato.”
Ernie gave Jose a knowing look. “You believe those rumors about my wife.”
“Don’t ya?” Ernie barked.
Jose gave a guilty nod.
Muttering, Ernie went to the shed, picked up a shovel, and threw it at Jose’s feet. “Go on then, dig ‘er up.”
White-faced, Jose croaked, “I don’t want to.”
“Dig her up,” Ernie growled, “or I’ll put your bones in there, too!”
Jose jumped with fright and obeyed. Hoping that a quick pace would get him out of Ernie’s yard faster, Jose began digging with zeal until a horrible thought struck him and he stopped dead. What if he couldn’t find any of Ernie’s wife’s bones? Would Ernie get angry? And then Jose had a more terrifying thought. What if he did find her bones? Would Ernie get even angrier? Finally, Jose had a such an awful thought he almost feinted on the spot. What if it didn’t matter whether he found the bones or not and Ernie was really making Jose dig his own grave?
“Come on boy get diggin’.”
Jose thought of making a brash escape. If he was quick about it, he could knock Ernie over the head with the shovel and be back over the fence in no time, laughing at his daring dash to freedom and bragging to everyone about he did it. They’d think he was a hero. Ernie must have sensed what Jose was planning to do because he unchained the dogs. The two long faced canines ran at Jose, circling him and sniffing at his heels like he was a big, juicy sirloin steak. Jose’s stomach sank to his ankles. He’d never make it to the fence in time now.
At Ernie’s command, Demon and Killer growled low in their throats, nipping at Jose’s feet. Jose began digging like a madman, dirt and stones flying every which way. Before long the shovel banged against something hard. Panting from fear and hard work, Jose stopped.
Ernie smirked. “What did you find?”
A nasty shade of green, Jose pointed at a white shard poking up through the dirt.
Ernie eyed the white shard. “Get it out o’ there.”
After a few reluctant tugs, Jose held a long, white bone as it broke free of the ground. Shrieking, he dropped the bone, and backed away from it shaking all over.
Ernie chuckled, a look of relish on his weathered face. “That’s not my wife.”
“Wh-who is it?” Jose asked.
“Millie,” Ernie replied.
Ernie’s mouth split into a smile. “My wife’s dog.”
Good Day Blog Readers,
If you’d like to read more of my articles, I invite you to visit the Coffee House Writers Website. Happy Reading!
Childhood obesity, bullying, mental-illness, behavior problems, social anxiety, school violence, technology addiction: one underlying factor that has been all but tossed to the wayside can help alleviate these ailing, juvenile predicaments–play.
Not the handheld-device kind of play, not the sedentary sport of sitting in front of the television with a headset on and a controller in your palm, the good old-fashioned, physical kind that requires a child’s imagination and body stamina to perform.
While not a cure-all for every affliction plaguing our nation’s youth, play is a sensible and therapeutic place to start when searching for a practical solution to the problems stated above. Play is beneficial for many aspects of human interaction. It stimulates cognitive growth, problem solving, language development, interpersonal connections and it’s just plain fun.
As children, our hidden creative talents emerge and thrive through play and the self-expression it enables. Through play children are able to practice basic societal skills like negotiation and compromise. These two precursors to healthy human interaction are essential for adolescents and adults to function well in both private and public life.
A child who can play the role of mother or father during pretend play not only practices empathy for others, they also begin to develop successful parenting tools. The child who gets to reenact a stressful situation that left them feeling vulnerable, is able to vent their frustration and regain some semblance of control over their lives by re-writing the ending or working through the difficult details in a non-threatening way.
The importance of play has been the cornerstone of child-development specialists and early childhood educators since the 19th century. The first kindergarten was started in Germany in 1837 by Friedrich Froebel.
A strong advocate for play he said, “A child who plays thoroughly and perseveringly, until physical fatigue forbids, will be a determined adult, capable of self-sacrifice both for his own welfare and that of others.”
Although there is overlap, there are many different types of play, each one enhancing a certain skill set crucial for well-rounded development. The various types of play include:
Gross and Fine motor play utilize the large and small muscles in the body. A visit to the playground, riding a bike, and jumping rope are examples of gross motor play, whereas cutting with scissors, painting, and manipulating small items like interlocking toys, make use of fine motor skills.
Dramatic play is a social experience where children use their imaginations to create or re-create various scenarios. Through the use of language and creative thinking, they practice different roles, whether it be a doctor or a server, and the societal norms that pertain to that situation.
Constructive play calls on children to use materials like building blocks and sand to construct things. In order to develop a well thought out plan and proper organization of the materials, it necessitates a longer attention span to complete.
Games with Rules requires children to follow a specific set of rules in order for the game to be played effectively. More refined social and cognitive behaviors like self-control and concentration aid children in their ability to participate in these games with success.
Dr. Gary Landreth’s quote sums up my point perfectly, “A child’s play is his ‘work’, and the ‘toys’ are his words.”
If we removed the electronic distractions, if we adjusted our educational curriculum to allow play in all classrooms and gave children the time to do their ‘work’, we would be fostering a generation of critical thinkers, who could tackle problems with purposeful intentions, that would lead to viable results for generations to come.
Further sources for reading:
With everyone’s favorite scary holiday just around the corner, I thought it appropriate to discuss a somber poem written by Mary Howitt and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi titled The Spider and the Fly. In the 2002 adaptation, DiTerlizzi’s black-and-white illustrations are visually stunning. They capture the mood of the swanky Hollywood films that inspired him and are a perfect compliment to Howitt’s lyrical words of wisdom.
The Spider and the Fly is a classic, cautionary tale, warning travelers to never trust a sly stranger who hides his nefarious intentions behind abundant flattery and empty promises. Published in 1828, the story’s ominous message still rings true today, and unfortunately it is something we must all teach our children and reinforce at Halloween, when asking strangers for sweets and treats is customary.
Along with National Fire Prevention Week, personal safety, and stranger danger are great topics to focus on in October. One way to broach a difficult subject with children is to read them a book about it first. A story can set the tone in a non-threatening way and open the door for meaningful conversation.