I’ve spent years enjoying every and any chance to speak at schools, focusing on the importance of story as a way to motivate literacy. My points to students are simple. One, great stories are like great songs; great stories and great songs grab our emotions. Two, we love to mess with other people through their emotions. Three, reading and writing is a delivery system for story. Conclusion? Use this amazing delivery system to enjoy a story in a book, or to write a story and have fun messing with your teacher’s emotions, as long as the words and content of the story are appropriate for your audience.
In short, telling story is one of the best ways to connect with people. To tell story is what makes us human, and to be human is to tell story.
Then came the day when I learned something that totally shifted my foundational view about story, without diminishing my understanding of the importance of story. My friend, an orthodontist, told me that if he has an emotional bond with his young patients, they are much more likely to follow his advice in the weeks between appointments. He said he connects by doing what few adults do; he listens to their stories.
I try to remember this every day in all my contacts with people, especially to the children I meet at schools. We are our stories. By listening to someone’s story, I acknowledge the value of that person.
This truth was underscored over the months of research and writing for my novel THIEF OF GLORY, a story inspired by what my father had survived as a boy, for the novel’s narrator is a man my father’s age now, looking back on his life, and finally revealing to his daughter the one horrible secret in camp that shaped his entire life.
My father is nearing eighty, yet spoke little of those events to his children. Even as an adult, all I knew about his boyhood in the Dutch East Indies was that, during the Second World War, he, his, siblings and his mother were thrown into a Japanese concentration camp, and separated from his father who was sent to work on the Burma Railroad. It wasn’t until the war was over that they learned that my grandfather had died at the work camp.
By reading true-life stories of other survivors, I was to be able to ask my father situation-specific questions, and he began to open up with boyhood memories, many of which my fictional character shares in the novel. (I was even able to convince my father to get involved in the book trailer, where he plays the part of Jeremiah Prins, the fictional main character. At the least, this guaranteed the Dutch accent would be authentic!)
As for my own childhood, what I remember best about my father was that he always stopped what he was doing to listen to me. I was glad for the chance to do the same for him, and to honor him by sharing his story.
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Sigmund Brouwer is the best-selling author of nearly thirty novels, with close to 4 million books in print. He speaks to over 80,000 students a year at schools all across Canada and the United States through his Rock And Roll Literacy presentations. Sigmund is married to recording artist Cindy Morgan and they have two daughters.
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