Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Learning | Pretending: Zombies in the Library

It was the middle of the summer. The librarian was walking through the children's section of the Troke Branch. She noticed a very young lady with wet paper towels plastered to her arm. Thinking the child had an injury, she asked if she was alright.  The girl looked puzzled at the question, as if to say, why wouldn't I be alright? She said she was fine.

The librarian went away, to help another customer.  When she returned, the paper-towel girl was walking stiffly, wearing only one shoe, following another little girl.  Then she stopped and told her companion,"Okay, you be the zombie now." 

The librarian was shaking her head when she told this to me.  "When I was that age, I played house with my friends." Neither one of us could recall playing  zombies as children. But I think pretend play changes with the times.  I grew up in the Beaver Cleaver and Brady Bunch era. I remember it was frustrating playing house with friends, because nobody wanted to be the daddy. The girl playing daddy had boring lines like,"Hi, honey, I'm home!" or "Where's my newspaper?" Considering how popular zombies are in current pop culture, it's not surprising that these girls were choosing to be undead with instead of Stepford Wives. Come to think of it, I usually enjoyed playing cowboys or cops and robbers with my big brothers, better than playing house.

There's an article on about the importance of pretend play.  It explains how pretending allows children to build learning skills--for instance, using wet paper towels to represent zombie bandages is an example of using an object as a symbol: the paper towels stand for something else, and both kids playing treated it as though it was the real thing. Guess what? Using symbols is a step toward understanding that the letters of the alphabet stand for the sounds that make up the words we say--thus, pretend play prepares a child for reading! 

Jan Thomas' picture book, Can You Make a Scary Face? is designed to engage the reader in pretend play.  For example, at one point, the reader is encouraged to do the chicken dance to get a bug out of his shirt. As with Thomas' Dust Bunny books, silliness abounds. 

This time of year, people of all ages are preoccupied with pretending; I see people checking out books and magazines that tell them how to make costumes, or how to decorate a house to look scary.  

Reading a book is one of my favorite methods of pretending. I love losing myself in a different place and time. Too often, I don't want to put a good book down and come back to the real world around me.

When I was preparing to write this blog post, my search for books about zombies led me to a fun discovery. There's a children's graphic novel series by Erik Craddock, called Stone Rabbit.  Book number 6 in the series is called Night of the Living Dust Bunnies. The main character has neglected his household chores for months. People are dressed up in scary costumes to go trick-or-treating...but some of those monsters are living dust bunnies!  I would recommend this as a entertaining read for grades 4-8.

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