Youngsters learn to follow in footsteps of Aesop, Thurber
From Aesop to Thurber to children from throughout central Ohio, the fable is in good hands.
Thurber House, in collaboration with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, is holding a series of "Fable Writing Workshops."
They began Feb. 23 at the Whetstone Branch and will continue Saturday, March 2, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Northwest Library, 2280 Hard Road.
Taught by freelance writers Valerie Cumming of Westerville and Katherine Matthews of Hilliard, the gatherings are designed to introduce students in grades 4-6 to famed fable writers Aesop, a Greek slave who won his freedom for his wit and wisdom, and Columbus-born humor writer and cartoonist James Thurber.
Participants in the program will also be encouraged to write their own fables.
That's the major fun part for the instructors, according to Matthews.
"I think the most of it is the underlying humor of the stories," she said.
"Anytime you bring Thurber into a class, it's funny.
"Fables themselves are these sort of twisty little stories ... that have a moral," Matthews said.
"Sometimes they were humorous, sometimes they weren't, but Thurber's fables always were.
"It shows kids what you can do with humor," she said.
"It lets them exercise their own funny bones by creating their own fables."
"Its taking something that's traditionally inaccessible for children, like Thurber, like Aesop, and making it funny," Cumming said.
"It's not some sacred text," she said.
"Once they can laugh and once they can play with it and know they have permission do to that ... they can come up with anything, and they do come up with anything," Cumming said.
"Once they get into doing fables, they realize that a lot of the stories they've been told growing up have been fables."
Aesop's fables are some of the most well known in the world and have been translated in multiple languages and become popular in dozens of cultures through the course of five centuries, according to the website of the Library of Congress.
"Many of them have studied the concept of a fable in school, so they have some familiarity," Matthews said.
"Some of the more popular fables like the tortoise and the hare they recognize ... the ones that have made their way into pop culture."
The schedule for the program, which is free, although participants need to call the library site to register in advance, includes:
* March 2, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Northwest Library, 2280 Hard Road, 807-2626, and
* March 4, 4 to 6 p.m., Westerville Public Library, 126 S. State St., 882-7277.
The fables workshop participants produce on their own range from fairly serious to ones that are "just completely absurd," Matthews said.
"I see a lot of stories about bullying, helping out when someone's being bullied," Cumming said.
"Also siblings getting along is a popular theme that comes along," she said.
"I'd say those are the two issues that I see the most that are serious."
But many of the youngsters take a light-hearted approach to the genre of fables, as Thurber did in his satirical 1940 work, "Fables of Our Times and Famous Poems Illustrated."
"They pick up on that and figure out what Thurber did to Aesop's fables and then they can do their own version of fables," Matthews said.
"The way we present it isn't threatening," Cumming said.
"Fables can be five sentences long or less," she said.
"It does go beyond traditional schoolwork in terms of what we expect them to produce, but it's painless," Cumming said.
"They see from the examples we give that anything goes.
"I hope that they're going home and writing more. I suspect that a lot of them are."
All workshop participants are invited to a joint celebration party at Thurber Center, 91 Jefferson Ave., from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, March 10.