While we were reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories, I asked my students to create a box of their own Ocean of Stories, a self-portrait box filled with stories that have helped them to become who they are. (In Haroun, the Ocean of Stories is the source of all stories and is in danger of being poisoned by a character who wants to destroy stories because they can’t be ruled.)
Discussing how all of us have our own Ocean of Stories, the students created a self-portait box to hold them. The exact assignment was:
Our personal “Ocean of Stories” self-portrait box
The people we are becoming and the way we “see” the world are shaped not only by our culture, but also by our many personal experiences and “stories.” I want you to take time to think about the “Ocean of Stories” that have informed who you are.
On the outside of your personal Ocean of Stories, place images/ symbols that represent how others see you. These symbols can include your gender, ethnic group, personality, place in the community, age group, etc.
On the inside of the box, place symbols/ images that represent the “stories” of who you really are:
- Include a symbol of at least one important family story
- Include a symbol of at least one story where you or someone in your family effected “change.”
- Include a symbol of at least one story about how you “changed.”
- Include a symbol of what you think your “story” will be 10 years from now.
The rest of the items/ images/ symbols that you choose to represent important stories are up to you. Include an index card for each symbol that identifies what story the symbol stands for.
Think metaphorically, symbolically. If your parents are really important to your development, do not put a photograph of them in your box. Instead, think of a story that best represents what they mean to you and find a symbol that best illustrates that meaning.
Be creative, deliberate, imaginative, thoughtful!
We made the boxes together, two boxes actually. One was the lid. We used an origami box format and worked together to master the simple yet masterful technique. The more adept students helped others who were more challenged in the folding.
A week later, each student presented his/her box to the rest of the class, identifying all the images on the outside, the images/items on the inside, and then they shared one story. I had them sit in the front of the class when they presented, in the “share chair” (the name of which the students found quite humorous). We have learned quite a bit about each other from these sharings: from near death experiences and accidents to congenital disease, and unique and varied family structures, from moments of bravery to moments of great fear and awkwardness. With each presentation, the students seem to become more and more open, more and more courageous in what they share. We will grow a personal narrative out of one of the stories in the box.
I have put all the boxes in the display cases outside the library (which I do every year) accented by memoirs from the library (ie Epileptic by David B., Stitches by David Small, Night by Elie Wiesel, Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic, etc.). It is fascinating to watch others looking in the cases. Especially my former students who are now in high school, who remember making these boxes in 8th grade. They peruse and comment on the boxes, but mostly they reminisce about their own boxes and try to remember what they put in them. Some tell me they still have theirs and have since added items. Some wonder what they did with their box.
The students bring an abundance of wisdom, ideas, and feelings to class. Most are not even aware of this depth. But somehow in the sharing of the boxes there is a communal glimmer of the richness of our shared humanity. Whether the kids still have their boxes years later, whether they remember what they put in them, whether they wonder where they are, it’s this glimmer that remains.