“I was not someone for whom writing comes easily,” said author and storyteller Norah Dooley during a visit at the Brown School. Dooley, shown kneeling behind students in grades 1-3, told how curiosity about her own vibrant multicultural Cambridge neighborhood led her to write, “Everybody Cooks Rice.”
“I was not someone for whom writing comes easily,” said award-winning author and storyteller Norah Dooley during a visit at the Brown School on Jan. 13. Dooley, shown kneeling behind students in grades 1-3, told how curiosity about her own vibrant multicultural Cambridge neighborhood led her to write the book, “Everybody Cooks Rice.” Dooley’s other books include “Everybody Bakes Bread,” “Everybody Serves Soup,” and “Everybody Brings Noodles.”
By Delia Marshall Wicked Local Somerville Posted Feb 08, 2010 @ 06:55 PM Somerville —
Speaking at the Brown School on Jan. 13, author Norah Dooley described her bumpy road to becoming a writer.
As a child she shed tears over writing assignments and put them off for as long as possible. It wasn’t until she had children of her own that she found her writing voice. Each evening she would tell stories to her young daughters, who figured out they could delay bedtime if they asked a lot of questions. As she agreed to tell “one more story, please,” Dooley learned something about herself: “If I kept my mouth moving and telling a story, I could find all the words I needed for a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
Dooley’s daughters wanted to hear about the older children living right on their block in Cambridge. “My kids loved the big kids on the block,” she said. “If the big kids had told them to wear socks on their ears, they would do it!” Her stories about those neighbor children and their families, who came from all over the globe, led to her book, “Everybody Cooks Rice.” This bestselling picture book has remained in print since 1991, and has been read by families the world over.
A professional storyteller who uses her face, her voice, and her body to bring her characters to life, Dooley treated the kindergartners to three folk tales. From Colombia came the story of “Conejito.” Dooley taught the children a song about this little rabbit’s aunt, “Tia Maria,” and they all sang it during the rabbit’s eventful journey. With voice and sign language she told the next tale, which began with a stonecutter chipping away at a mountain and wishing for something different. As his wishes are granted, one by one, he becomes a rich man, a king, the sun in the sky, a rain cloud, the wind, and then the mountain itself. With yet another wish he travels full circle. Dooley’s third tale was about the learning curve of a boy named Tony. It featured two donkeys, one magical and one not, and the difference magic can make to the state of a kitchen floor.
In talking about writing with grades 1, 2 and 3, the author encouraged students to ask questions, be curious, and “be a person who notices.” And she described some of the ways she gets her story ideas into written form, in spite of the gap between her mind and her fingers. “If I had to make a sound for how fast our brain works, it would be ‘shooooom!’” she said. “And our writing goes: ‘bah dum dee dum, bah, dum dee dum’. You may think you’re not a good writer, but it’s just that your ideas are going so fast you can’t catch up with your own imagination.” Adding another writing tool to the word webs and maps that students use in school, Dooley showed some pages from her sketch-filled journal. “Drawing helps me remember those ideas,” she said.
When a student mentioned “brainstorming,” Dooley nodded appreciatively and said, “We didn’t have brainstorming when I was in school. We had the right answer, the wrong answer, and ‘think harder, Dooley!’” She also uses free writing in creating her stories, and relies on all five senses to bring the fuzzy parts into focus, asking: “If I was in the ‘then’ and ‘there’ of my story, what would I see, hear, smell, taste and feel?”
Dooley has written many, many rough drafts on the way to each of her finished stories. For every new draft, her next step is to “read it out loud. This is the best editing program on the planet.” Hearing the words helps her to spot errors and to generate new ideas. Usually she’s the only one listening. But she also recommends reading to the family dog — “a big fan who doesn’t interrupt!”
Norah Dooley appeared at the Brown School on Jan. 13 as part of Young Audiences of Massachusetts, an arts education organization based in Davis Square. Her two presentations, for kindergartners and for grades 1-3, were sponsored by the Brown School PTA.