Janani Whitfield photo
Author Sigmund Brouwer listens to hear if St. Paul Elementary School students are singing along to the music blasting through the gym. Brouwer visited the school on May 24 and gave a presentation filled with music, laughter and stories.
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Rock and roll literacy knocks out students
Author Sigmund Brouwer takes the stage at area schools
May 29, 2012 06:00 am |
By Janani Whitfield
A hockey player heads out on the ice, ready to play, only to start stripping down in a frenzy. Off comes his jersey, his hockey stick, his gloves, his shin pads and only then do the stupefied people watching understand what has caused him to fly into this frantic undressing. But to find out more, you have to keep reading.
This was one of the stories that Red Deer author Sigmund Brouwer used to hook St. Paul Elementary School students into the potential joys of reading and writing, as he visited the school on May 24 in a presentation full of music, laughter, and of course, stories.
Every story has to have a “thumb,” with a “problem that gets you hooked,” he explained to the kids. For instance, he told the story of a hockey coach named Pete who got angry and threw a water bottle at the referee. It was wrong, Pete admitted afterwards, but he recalled it wasn’t as bad as the time he lost his temper as a player sitting in the penalty box. With the kids hanging on to Brouwer’s story, he built up the scene of the six-foot tall, 200 lbs. player getting angrier and angrier as a fan hurled insults at him. Pete finally lost his temper when the fan spit on his face, and responded by yanking him across the penalty box and pulling him across his lap so that the man’s backside was facing up. Pete was then faced with a dilemma. What should he do next, short of spanking the irritating fan? The answer lay in a flap of underwear that rode up on the man’s back – and Pete seized his opportunity to give the offending man a massive wedgie.
The kids roared appreciatively in response to this story and others, as well as to the pop and rock songs blasting through the gym. A song, just like a story, has the opportunity to make a person feel something, whether it’s patriotic, lonely or pumped up, as if a person has just won the Stanley Cup, he explained.
Brouwer knew exactly what it felt like to win the Stanley Cup. “My Stanley Cup was made up of paper, ink and glue,” he said, holding up his book. It took him 10 years to get there, but when he saw his first published book, he felt a great feeling of accomplishment. Since then, he has written several books, both for children and adults, that have been published.
“You want to reach your dreams? Never quit,” he said, adding that to get there, students had to be good at reading and writing.
Brouwer used cow flatulence, wedgies and drinking toilet water as a way to engage his young audience, but his advice to the kids was that writing is about using a pirate’s “Rrrr matey” principal. The acronym stood for the right story at the right time, for the right audience to get the right reaction. Although they might like a story about cow farts, their teachers might not feel the same way, he said. “Who are you writing for? It has to be appropriate.”
Marlene deMoissac, a librarian dubbed the “Story Diva” by Brouwer, said that she first heard about Brouwer at a meeting for librarians in the area. Five of the area librarians attending decided to bring Brouwer to their schools, which included Racette, F.G. Miller and Elk Point Elementary. Ashmont’s schools also hosted Brouwer this past February.
“We’re always trying to promote reading and literacy,” explained deMoissac. She thinks Brouwer’s visit went very well in engaging the children, adding, “They were thrilled.”
“I'd like to use my background as a novelist to help kids get excited about reading," Brouwer says on his website. “Once, I found that talking to children about writing could open doors for them. I've been committed to doing that, and I will continue to do so. Kids who can read and write well when they get out of school have a lot better chance of reaching their dreams than kids who still struggle with it.”
To that end, the author splits his time between writing, visiting schools and coaxing reluctant readers to pick up a book that will hook them.
As for the stripping hockey player, the students soon found out what brought on his craze. The player had left his equipment in the locker room, only to have a group of 30 cockroaches crawl in and take up residence in them. The player didn’t realize until he hit the ice that something was up, specifically, cockroaches that were climbing their way up to his chest, said Brouwer. This is one of the stories told by Brouwer’s friends that made its way into his fiction.
The person who told this story was a story ninja, said Brouwer, who encouraged the students to become true story “ninjas” and “diva-ettes” and to embrace reading and writing.
“It will help you get to your Stanley Cup,” he promised.