Write Your Once-Upon-a-Time - National Council of Teachers of English
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Write Your Once-Upon-a-Time

This post is written by member Emily Green. 


Once upon a time, there was a six-year-old girl who hid her hands in her pockets. Why? Because she had warts on her left hand. Now, these tough little warts were going nowhere soon, despite a small army of special creams and bandages. The girl’s parents tried to convince their daughter that she was beautiful, that her warts did not diminish her, disfigure her. And yet, the little girl remained unconvinced.

One night, her parents played their trump card. Knowing their daughter’s unabashed love of writing, they told her she needed her left hand, her storytelling hand. She couldn’t write stories with her hand trapped in her pocket! Faced with this harsh logic, she hurled the complaint that had lodged itself deep in her heart as the weeks with her warts wore on:

“But, Cinderella doesn’t have warts! Snow White doesn’t have warts! Sleeping Beauty doesn’t! Ariel doesn’t either! Only the toad has warts!”

Truth be told, this little girl with the very valid complaint is my daughter. And, truth be told, I didn’t know what to say—right away, that is. But, as I lay awake in bed that night, riddled with remorse at having pushed the envelope, at having called out her pocketed storytelling hand, I realized the solution was simple: Write. Write that wonderful wart princess into being!

As a middle school English language arts teacher, I am a professional writing cheerleader. I’m constantly whooping: “Write what you know! Write the story you want to read!” Truly, all I’m missing are the pom-poms. But, for all my peppy shout-outs, I haven’t explicitly encouraged my students to celebrate diversity through language and literature. Thanks to my daughter, that’s about to change.

With our increasingly diverse student population, attention has recently been drawn to children’s books and young adult literature. The campaign We Need Diverse Books highlights a critical need for literature that allows us to better understand ourselves and the world around us. And while it is always best practice to fill our classrooms with books that celebrate the unique individual, why not start with our student writers? Allow conversations on diversity in its myriad forms to evolve into writing workshops where students have a chance to write themselves into the stories they read. By revisiting a story, students can carve a place for themselves in literature—warts and all. I invite educators and students alike to share their new characters’ voices at #MyCharacterMyVoice. Tell us your own once-upon-a-time!

Emily Green (@emilyinverse) is a middle school English language arts teacher at Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo, Ohio. Her character has a penchant for dark chocolate and can’t help twirling her hair.