Dont you just love an excuse to sort through your book collections? To be paging through old battered survivors of childhood, as well as look at new discoveries. For me, one such new discovery is “the Paper Crane ” by Molly Bang. This little book is perfect. I love the freshness of the storytelling, the sensitivity and beauty of the artwork, and the quiet joy it radiates.
What could be a more satisfying medium for this story than to tell it in pictures made up of folded and cut paper and collage?
I’ve not been that aware of Molly Bang before, but she is an intriguing combination of artist, writer and teacher. Have a look at her site,. She writes about the process of creating this the Paper Crane on this page. And its well worth the read, for insight into the creative process of image making or writing, as well as teaching.
The story in short: The Paper Crane is a story about a father and son. The father keeps a restaurant. At first, things are good. Many people visit, and the father is happy and busy.
Things change when a bypass diverts traffic away, and people stop coming to eat at his restaurant. The father becomes sad and introverted. The son watches him quietly.
The little boys concern is not mentioned in the text, but it is there in the pictures.
One day, a poor stranger comes visiting. Despite his beggar like appearance the father serves him as an honoured guest. I’ve cropped this image to fit it in, but in the original you can see the father’s satisfaction with this oppertunity to fulfill his role again.
To repay their kindness the stranger folds them a little paper crane. It is a magic crane which will turn real and dance if you clap your hands:
This magic dancing crane becomes the wonder of the neighbourhood. People start coming to the restaurant again, enjoying themselves eating, drinking and dancing. The father is happy again.
Just look at these details of the people relaxing at the restaurant. I wonder if they are portraits?
The years go by and life is good. One day the stranger comes back, to be greeted as a long lost friend. He takes out a flute and starts playing, and the crane dances again, more gracefully than ever before.
When he is done, he puts the flute away, climbs on the cranes back and flies away with it..
But even though the crane has left, things are still going well in the restaurant. People still love coming by to eat, drink and dance, and tell stories about the magical dancing crane.
The little book is full of wordless stories, such as the way in which it finishes: the last picture is of the son, practicing flute.
I want to end this with a long quote from Molly Bang’s site, in which she describes how she used this story in her teaching:
When I used to work in classrooms, I would often use this story as a pattern on which students based their own stories, but I added a slight twist: in the Paper Crane, the stranger shows his love and deep relationship with the bird when he “adds something” to the crane by playing music. The crane naturally goes with him when he leaves. I told the students that their stranger had to “add something” to their “gift” that would also make it even more beautiful than it had been up until then, and that this addition might help the stranger and the gift to leave.
The results were unusually full of surprise and delight: a nursery owner had a problem with freezing temperatures and gave a stranger a bed during the cold; the stranger gave her a spider that wove warm cocoons around the trees; when spring came and the stranger returned, she sang as the spider wove a staircase up into the sky, which they climbed, disappearing into the clouds.
Another child had the protagonist make good, warm boots that nobody bought, until a poor stranger gave her a magic shoelace as thanks for food and a warm place to stay. The shoemaker rubbed the shoelace over the shoes, which became beautiful and full of colorful designs, and her shop became more and more popular. When the stranger returned, he tied the shoelace into the shape of a butterfly, climbed on and flew away, as the shoemaker continued to make her beautiful shoes.
This story is an excellent example of how students can learn to use a pattern and make their own stories which are varied, surprising and solid – although the story itself is indeed a wisp, almost a gauzy veil that hides and reveals great beauty.