In this one-week mythology workshop, students in grades four through six learned about tricksters, monsters, and constellations. We began by writing stories based on a “Merperson” selected from a collection of images. We then read and analyzed a prose poem by Matthea Harvey called “The Backyard Mermaid.” In Zoom breakout rooms, students worked together to identify vivid verbs, intriguing nouns, and points of symbolism in the poem. This led into the exercise of listing mythical creatures we know (and researching about some that we didn’t). Choosing from their lists, each student wrote a poem or a story about one such beast. We also responded to a prompt that had us creating unique animal-creature hybrids and writing about what would happen if these strange monsters met each other!
Our discussion of tricksters was fueled by two animal trickster myths: “Raven and the King Salmon” and “How Dog Won Fire.” In these tales, we saw how certain characters utilize intelligence and cunning to outsmart others—but, more importantly, we came to see that myths often tell about the earliest times and about how certain aspects of the world came to be. We had a chance to watch a video of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” being read aloud and followed along with the words on the screen. Although “The Raven” is not an easy poem to understand, we still garnered a lot of meaning from it, and it served as a great example of symbolism. Ravens, after all, are quite iconic in many cultures, and they are often found in myths. Exploring what the raven in Poe’s famous poem might represent was quite a treat.
Rounding out the workshop was a lesson about constellations. We learned that two of the most known constellations, the “big dipper” and the “little dipper,” are contemporary names for what are also called “Ursa Major” and “Ursa Minor,” which translate to “greater bear” and “little bear.” We talked a little about the myth behind these nighttime outlines and how humans have always looked to the stars and wondered about what is above. We drew our own constellations, and then each student interpreted the drawing of a fellow workshop participant! Everyone was asked to imagine being an archeologist who was discovering the tomb of a lost civilization’s king or queen. If a peer’s constellation was found inscribed on the tomb’s wall, what story might explain the starry pattern’s shape? What might this tell us about what the lost culture valued most?
It was a blast engaging with some diverse literature and sharing our own work with one another. Myths demonstrate one of humanity’s greatest truths: we tell stories to understand ourselves and the world around us!
Badgerdog Teaching Artist
Experiencing a Yeti
There once was a pure white beast
He always wanted a colossal feast
But the only thing included in the meal
Was some magnificent yeast
The mountains continued beaming, tall
Yet the creature could still crawl
When its fresh fragrance of snow filled the air
Everyone began to bawl
The creature is now curious
The town hopes he won’t become furious
But, instead, becoming horrific
The creature begins to appear hideous
Her name is Mertool. Her life is chaotic. Because she has a lot of tools, she is in demand from everyone else in her country. She lives in Mertown, where there are a lot of ordinary people that are not Merpeople. Mertool likes everything but people. Here are some of the things she likes: books, long swims by herself, sitting on a rock, and playing with her pet horse, Axl. Mertool hates people who go crazy, and she hates being pestered by people asking for her help. She worries about Mernappers coming to her house and taking her. They would take her to make millions of dollars because of her skills and then sell her to very bad people. Mertool always thinks that people will go crazy and destroy her house and kill her.
Poja, the Ninja Porcupine has a ninja outfit, has spikes like a porcupine coming out of the outfit, and has legs like a porcupine. Pin, the Pig Clown has pink skin, has back legs like a human, front legs like a pig, and a pig tail. Pin wears a rainbow clown wig and clown shoes.
One day, Poja the Porcupine Ninja was practicing walking on his hind legs in the middle of the woods. He saw a clearing and thought it would be the perfect place to practice because there weren’t any trees to run into. Meanwhile, Pin the Pig Clown was looking for mud puddles to bathe in because he knew it had rained the night before. Pin saw a clearing and thought there might be some puddles because there were no trees there to block out the rain. He was sad to see there weren’t any puddles, but there was an odd-looking ninja. Poja and Pin saw each other at the same time. They just stood there staring until Poja drew out his swords and asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for mud puddles,” Pin replied honestly, “What are you doing?”
“Hunting,” Poja lied.
“Found anything?” asked Pin.
“No,” Pojo replied, embarrassed.
“Do you need help?” Pin asked helpfully.
“Sure,” replied Poja, “Need help finding mud puddles?”
“Yeah, thanks!” said Pin. So, the two went off together searching for mud puddles and food, but they didn’t find either. Instead, they found the most horrifying thing you will ever see in your life.
To Be Continued…
The Life of Stuffed Animals
I know what you’re thinking: stuffed animals are just, well, stuffed animals! They smell like scented oil, nobody knows if they actually talk, can be “created” in any shape, all feel different, but most are fluffy, and yes, they taste like cotton. We all know they exist, but… The government has a top secret classified case proving that they are mythological creatures! If you don’t believe they CAN move on their own and that they ARE mythological creatures, take a trip to StuffedAnimalLand.
This does sound very real (it is), but the residents aren’t the people you’d expect… They’re stuffed animals! The entrance is very small so that only stuffed animals can get in and out. During the day, the stuffed animals lie still and motionless so that nobody comes to see them, but at night, they get on the party bus, which is as small as an ant (but can grow to any size) and is very fast. When they arrive at StuffedAnimalLand, they hop off and start partying! From classic music to arcades to watching fireworks, anything is possible—except when the monsters come. These tiny creatures come crawling through the entrance and are so fast, the gates can’t even close on them! Ants can crawl very fast, and even though they are harmless to stuffed animals, they can get very annoying. The stuffed animals have tried building a cage for the ants, but it’s no good.
One day, an old and wise stuffed animal saw his owner looking up, “How do you repel ants?” The answer was vinegar mixed with water. Back at StuffedAnimalLand, the stuffed animals stirred up vinegar and water. This made something that smelled like oil. They all wore some so that ants wouldn’t attack them, and they put a container of the mixture in front of the entrance. Later that night, no ants arrived. The kings and queens of StuffedAnimalLand presented the highest civilian medal to the old stuffed animal that saved them: the Palm Stuffed Award! The wise stuffed animal was soon famous, and he was celebrated with fireworks! This is why stuffed animals smell the way they do.
The Hydra looks like a big dragon with no wings and with nine heads. Hydras live in the swamp. They feel like snakes, smell like garbage, and are considered a rare delicacy that tastes like beef, buttered and salted, to lizards, deer, and giant gorillas 500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 feet high and 500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. The hydra desires another battle with Heracles, fears the giant gorilla, and needs a lot of meat—500,000,000, pounds to be accurate. The Hydra’s swamp affects its desires, needs, and fears because the swamp makes a good hiding place for the Hydra to hide from giant gorillas. Plus, sometimes the Hydra gets to nab some meat from the gorilla’s kills, and the Hydra thinks that Heracles will come back to fight him. The hydra attacks villages and mountains to strengthen up against Heracles. Beating Heracles is an honor to any Hydra and comes with the Alpha Hydra’s ultimate treasure and name of Heracles Slayer. If a Hydra kills one giant gorilla, it will become an Alpha Hydra.
The Phoenix’s fiery feathers of bright red-orange and scarlet dance in the wind as it glides overhead. The majestic bird is calming, yet overwhelming. Though it will one day be consumed by the same fiery colors of itself, from its own ashes shall it emerge, more beautiful than ever before.
Jerry was a Truffle. Truffles are shapeshifters who will trick you into giving them food. Every day, Jerry would shapeshift into an old woman and ask for food on the street. But one day, his shapeshifting powers disappeared, so he had to find a new way to get food. He went to a nearby city and saw a restaurant and bought a sandwich. He saved a little bit to eat and went outside to catch a fly to put on the rest of the sandwich. Then, he went inside and said, “THE SANDWICH YOU GAVE ME HAD A FLY IN IT. GIMME A REFUND!!!” The restaurant had no choice but to give Jerry a couple of bucks back. And now, every day, Jerry goes around the world looking for new restaurants to give him that sweet, sweet food.