The Story with a Sense Appeal
T HE senses are the only avenues to the brain by means of which the outside world makes its way into a little child's inner consciousness. A baby's brain is an almost unexplored, untracked place, empty save for a few instinct paths—certain motor tracts tenanted by inherited memories which lead him to cry, to nurse, and to perform some other reflex movements.
This condition of the mind does not last long, however. The baby opens his eyes and sees the sunlight dancing in a yellow patch of gold upon the wall above his bed. Instantly, like a telegraphic message, there is delivered at the baby's brain an idea, unnamed at first but ineffaceable—color. When he sees a red ball suspended by a string in front of his eager eyes, a second message is delivered at his mind-house, differentiating and localizing the first impression—color versus color. The formal names, red and yellow, do not enter into the process at all and are indeed quite unnecessary. The baby differentiates red and yellow months before he knows the color names.
The baby hears his mother's voice and he receives by means of another telegraphic message the percept, sound. He touches a piece of ice, or his warm bottle, and learns by means of this direct contact, cold and warm. His nostrils admit the pleasurable odors of his scented bath, the dainty powder used for making his body comfortable or the bunch of roses that stands on his mother's table, and he receives a new set of brain stimuli as he differentiates odors.
These are all such simple mental operations that we have rather taken them for granted, forgetting that Nature's method of forcing, letting in impressions to the child's mind, is the only way for us to give him knowledge. The surest way of educating a child is through an appeal to his senses. In a large degree this matter of sense training has been exemplified in hand work by the disciples of Froebel and Montessori, but the sense story has been completely overlooked. We have made little effort to appeal to a child's mind through the story that has sense images of sight, touch, sound or taste to strengthen the mind impression which it makes.
If we analyze the story that has interested us most in
a current magazine, we shall discover that, somehow, it
made a direct appeal to our senses. It may have had the
setting of some old garden, the description of which
made us, in imagination, smell the clove pinks, roses,
French lilacs and mignonette that grew in some garden
of our childhood. Perhaps it was a sound story, giving
us such speaking word pictures of bird songs, violin
tones or even the human notes of voices that we almost
heard the story instead of seeing it.
On the other
hand, the sense appeal of the story may have been that
of color, of
food— any sense stimulus that routed from
their brain corners our old sense impressions and set
them to working again. And it is almost impossible to gauge the
effect upon cerebration of these
That whiff of odor from a city flower cart brings
suddenly to my mind an incident that I had not been
cognizant of for years—the memory
of a certain
Dr. Van Dyke once said that if he were able to paint a picture of Memory, he would picture her asleep in a bed of mint. He illustrated the value of sensory stimuli in fiction. One gauge of a perfectly constructed piece of fiction is its sense content. Does it include such writing as will make the reader see, taste, smell, and hear? So, in stories for children we must apply the same test.
A child's story, to interest, should have a strong sense appeal.
Many of the old, handed-down jingles and folk tales are full of eating and drinking, smelling delectable odors, hearing the sounds of child life and seeing over again child scenes. Therein lies their world appeal and the reason for their ancient and obvious popularity.
One might go on indefinitely quoting lines of Mother Goose that tickle a child's fancy and are undying in their appeal for the sole reason that they are sensual in the broader understanding of the term. They include simple, direct references to the mental concepts that the child has gained through his senses. Practically all that the normal, natural child has accomplished, mentally, up to the age of three or four years, has been to note bright colors, to handle everything he has come in contact with,—not, as so many persons suppose, for purposes of mischievous destruction, but rather to touch each object and make its feeling an integral part of his ego,—to eat and drink and to use his nostrils as a dog does. What more natural than that his beginnings in English should have for their basis a sense content that will help the child to name, put into words his previously acquired but unnamed sense impressions?
Miss Emilie Poulsson's finger plays for little children have for their basic appeal the stimulating of a child's ability to recall previously acquired sense impressions. In addition, the finger movements with which the child illustrates these rhymes give the added association of the sense of touch to strengthen and vivify the child's interest in and memory of the rhyme stories. To illustrate:
As the child grows beyond the age when Mother Goose and Finger Plays appeal to him, he still finds his greatest interest in those stories which stimulate his acquired sensory images. The mental operation of apperception described in the last chapter is so inclusive a process, covering, as it must of necessity, memory and perception, that it explains the appeal of the sense story to the mind of a child.
Many of the stories quoted at the end of the chapter as being of universal interest to all children find their common points of interest in their sense pictures, so quickly grasped and so warmly welcomed by the child mind whose sense doors are always flung wide open.
It is to be questioned whether or not the story of "The
Little Red Hen" would have been awarded such
immortality if its heroine had been a plain hen and not
red. Having been dyed with the crimson pigment of the
imagination, however, by some
So it is with Elizabeth Harrison's wonderful allegory of "The Little Gray Grandmother."She might have been described in the story as a spirit, a fairy, a mythical character who influenced for good the lives of Wilhelm, Beata and the others. But instead of describing her invisibility—Miss Harrison paints it, colors her story heroine with the shades of intangible things. She is a little gray grandmother and her clothes are sea fog and her veil is of smoke. She is an animated part of the seashore home and is made of gray mist. What could be more artistic than the sense appeal of this story?
Why do children—all children—listen, gaping and ecstatic, to the account of the many and hazardous adventures of the Gingerbread Boy? Why do they beg to have the story told over again, even after they have heard it so many times that they know it by heart. Its universal popularity is not due to its folklore quality. Neither is it due to its plot and treatment, although these undoubtedly strengthen it. Its big appeal, however, is to the child's sense of taste. The story arouses tasting images in the child's mind, that are pleasurable and strong.
. . . "A chocolate jacket and cinnamon seeds for
buttons! His eyes were made of fine, fat currants; his
mouth was made of
"Why the Chimes Rang" makes a different and more ethical sense appeal to the child's mind. The story stimulates in the listeners a deep interest in the old chime of bells that has hung silent for so long a time in the tower. One longs to hear them and waits anxiously for the miracle that will start their pealing. At the story climax, when an unselfish offering laid upon the altar works the wonder, it is possible to listen, in imagination, to the bells' sweet music.
But why make this sense appeal to the child mind through the medium of a story, the story teller asks? There are two very real and definite uses to which the sense story may be put.
Such sense stories as "The Little Red Hen," "The Gingerbread Boy" and many others of similar character may be told not only to give pleasure to the child of kindergarten age who finds delight in their sensual content, but they have a very real value in resurrecting the dormant brain of a mentally deficient child. More and more attention is being given every year to the education of the feeble-minded child, both at home and in the public schools. We are discovering that it is possible to rouse to action a child's sleeping brain by means of intensive sense training. We are teaching him to smell, taste, see color, discriminate forms and textiles, to open the telegraphic circuit of his senses. We are putting the world of realities into the arms of the feeble-minded child to touch, feel, taste, smell, see. So we educate him, but we must carry out the same system of sense training in his stories, selecting for his hearing those stories that make verbal and recall his previously acquired sense impressions.
There is one other use to which we may put the sense story. It is a means of strengthening any child's imagination. The same mental operation by means of which a baby associates the idea cold cold with a block of ice, helps the child to feel the cold of Andersen's "Little Match Girl." In the first instance the association of cold and ice means self-preservation for the baby. He wishes to avoid an unpleasant sensation, so he does not touch the ice, but his former experience of touching it has left an ineffaceable image in his mind. In the second instance, the image cold is recalled in the mind of the child by the story and the result is a very different mental process. The child is able through the sensory stimulus of the story to feel with the little match girl, to put himself in her place, to understand her condition, because it is brought to him in a familiar term—cold.
The story teller who makes the wisest use of the sense story sees to it that the color, sound, taste or odor described in the story is used as a means to an end. One does not wish to stimulate sense images in a child's mind for the simple operation of "making his thinking machine work" in old paths. What we must do is to utilize his sense impressions to strengthen new brain paths. Fortunately nearly all of the stories for children that have a sensory content utilize this mode of writing to strengthen the climax of the story. It only remains for the story teller to select her color, sound, taste, odor, or touch story to meet the special needs of her children. The following story is an excellent illustration of utilizing the sense of taste to point a moral:
The Three Cakes
Once upon a time there was a little boy named Henry, who was away from his home at a boarding school. He was a very special kind of boy, forever at his book, and he happened once to get to the very tip top of his class. His mother was told of it, and when it came morning, she got up early and went to speak with the cook as follows:
"Cook, you are to make a cake for Henry, who has been very good at school."
"With all my heart," said the cook, and she made a cake. It was as big as—let me see—as big as the moon. It was stuffed with nuts, and raisins, and figs, and candied fruit peel, and over it all was an icing of sugar, thick, and smooth, and very white. And no sooner was the cake home from the baking than the cook put on her bonnet and carried it to the school.
When Henry first saw it, he jumped up and down. He was not patient enough to wait for a knife, but he fell upon the cake tooth and nail. He ate and ate until school began, and after school was over he ate again with his might and main. At night he ate until bedtime, and he put the cake under his bolster when he went to bed and he waked and waked a dozen times that he might take a bite.
But the next day when the dinner bell rang, Henry was not hungry, and was vexed to see how heartily the other children ate. His friends asked him if he would not play at cricket, tan, or kits. Ah! Henry could not; so they played without him, and Henry could scarcely stand upon his legs. He went and sat down in a corner, and the head master sent for the apothecary to come with all his phials of physic. After some days Henry was well again, but his mother said that she would never let him have another cake.
Now there was another scholar in the same school, whose name was Francis. He had written his mother a very pretty letter without one misspelled word or blot, and so his mother, like the mother of Henry, sent him a great cake.
Francis decided that he would not be so unwise as to follow the example of Henry, so he took the cake, which was so heavy that he could hardly lift it, and he watched to see that no one was looking, and he slipped up to his chamber and put the cake in his box under lock and key. Every day at play time he used to slip away from his companions, go upstairs on tiptoe, and cut off a tolerable slice of his cake which he would eat by himself. For a whole week did he keep this up, but alas—the cake was so exceedingly large! At last the cake grew dry, and quickly after it became moldy. Finally the maggots got into it, and Francis, with great reluctance, was obliged to throw it away.
There was a third little gentleman who went to the same school as Henry and Francis, and his name was Gratian. One day his mother, whom he loved very dearly, sent him a cake because she also loved him. No sooner had it arrived than Gratian called his friends all about him, and said:
"Come! Look at what my mother has sent me. You must, each one, have a piece." So the children all got around the cake as bees resort to a flower, just blown, and Gratian divided the cake with a knife into as many pieces as he had invited boys, with one piece over, for himself. His own piece he said he would eat the next day, and he began playing games with the boys.
But a very short time had passed, as they were playing, when a poor man who was carrying a fiddle came into the school yard. He had a very long, gray beard, and he was guided by a little dog who went before him, for the old man was blind.
The children noticed how dexterous was the little dog in leading, and how he shook a bell which hung underneath his collar, as if to say:
"Do not throw down or run against my master!"
When the two had come into the yard, the old man sat down upon a stone, and said:
"My dear little gentlemen, I will play you all the pretty tunes that I know, if you will give me leave."
The children wished for nothing half so much as to hear the music, so the old man put his violin in tune and then played over jigs and tunes that had been new in former times.
But Gratian, who was standing close to him, noticed that while he played his jolliest airs, a tear would often roll down his cheeks. And Gratian asked him why he wept.
"Because," said the old man, "I am hungry. I have not any one in the world to feed me, or my faithful dog." Then Gratian felt like crying, too, and he ran to fetch the cake which he had saved to eat himself. He brought it out with joy, and as he ran along he said:
"Here, good man, here is some cake for you."
Then Gratian put the cake into the old man's hands and he, laying down his fiddle, wiped his eyes and began to eat. At every piece he put into his mouth he gave a bit to his faithful little dog, who ate from his hand; and Gratian, standing by, had as much pleasure as if he had eaten the cake himself.
STORIES SELECTED BECAUSE OF
The Gingerbread Man