Saturday, December 09, 2006

Chapter 7 Turning Back

The island was shrinking behind them as they chugged away from it. Jessie felt bewildered to find herself on the deck of the boat. She had a can of juice in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other. The tastes were strange after several days of fruit, coconut and water. This all seemed a bit sudden. They had expected to have to stay so much longer.
Jessie and the older children had been the last ones to get into the small white boat which ferried them in groups to the American cruise ship. The wee ones had gone first, along with Lizzie and Jill who needed a bit of extra help to climb the ladder on the side of the ship. Then the grown-ups went, weak and grateful.

Jessie had stood on the beach with the group left, watching the small boat go to and fro. As their turn got nearer, Scarlet folded her arms.
‘We don’t have to go do we?’ she said. ‘I mean who says we have to go just because they’ve happened to find us?’
‘Well, no, but…’ Kieran seemed undecided.
‘I can’t wait to see Sapphire,’ said Rachel, who had missed her horse. She ran forward to get in the boat.
‘Look!’ said Trigger. ‘They’re giving out chocolate. WAIT FOR ME!’ He was fog-horning, and wind-milling his arms as he ran into the shallow water.
The chocolate seemed to decide the last few. They all got in the boat.
‘Well I suppose it is time to go home,’ said Scarlet once they were settled on the deck. She seemed to like all the tourists coming to take photographs of them. She was good at posing.
‘At least we can get freshened up a bit,’ said Jill. Luckily she hadn’t seen herself yet in a mirror. Her hair was still singed black and standing on end.
The Duchess seemed to have recovered a bit and was pointing things out to them -- coral reefs and birds scudding across the water. Jill had helped her to tie back her wild frizzy hair so she was looking a tiny bit more like a teacher.
‘Good field trip, Mr Barker,’ Scarlet leaned across to where he was sitting and smiled at him. ‘You organised that well.’
‘Thank you, Scarlet. We aim to please.’
‘Back to boring old Scotland,’ said Lizzie. ‘But at least I can get a new inhaler there.’
‘Scotland’s a very exciting country, actually,’ said Mr Barker. ‘Did you know…’
And off he went on one of his long history lessons. They used to yawn and look out of the window when he did this in the classroom. But somehow it was quite nice to listen to now, out in the open with the breeze blowing and fish to watch beneath them. And the story was quite funny and made them ask questions.

Jessie felt a bite of sadness about leaving the island. If only it had all the things they had at home. She couldn’t wait for fish and chips and steak pie and she was looking forward to getting some new glasses, and giving her teddies a cuddle in her own bed. She wondered about her mum and dad. Perhaps they would be watching TV now or her mum would be in the kitchen. She would be able to phone them soon. She would have a lot to tell them. Did they know what had happened, about the crash? She thought about her Mum’s home-made jelly.
She looked around at all the children from her school. It felt like they were her friends now. Even Scarlet had stopped being quite so bad and become a bit softer, more considerate and Ali had started talking and was more part of the school community. He had saved them, really. And now when she looked at Callum, he was far less bossy, and seemed to have relaxed. He was even having a joke with Scarlet.

Jessie’s memory zoomed backwards and forwards over the last few days. She had been a little scared, really, despite all the fun. She remembered the Tunnocks’ tea-cakes, the happy second night, and rescuing the teachers. Then she thought of the terrible fire. She could still smell charcoal and taste smoke in her mouth. It would take a long time to forget that. She spat into the sea over the railings of the boat.
Ali come over to her, ‘Are you OK?’ he asked.
She looked down through the glass bottom of the boat. A shoal of fish swept under them, like a bright blue cloud.
‘I’m fine,’ she said. She looked back at the island. ‘I wonder what will happen to it,’ she said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Whether the island will recover from what we’ve done to it.’
They both looked at it silently. It was half black, half green. And it was shrinking. The place that had been their entire world for the last few days had become just a small lump on a very wide, blue horizon.
Something welled up in her. It was big. It felt as though it was bursting upwards into her chest. She turned to Ali with a big grin. The urge carried on rising. She could feel it bulging up in her eyes, and making her ears tingle. Ali was laughing at her, giggling and holding his stomach.
Then Jessie Mousefield, the quietest girl in the school, took a deep breath, and bellowed at the top of her voice, so that no-one could miss it. When everyone turned and looked at her, she took an even bigger breath and shouted the same thing again.

The End (for now!)

End of the Story (or is it?)

We concluded the project this Thursday with a celebratory premiere of the final chapter to the whole school, parents, etc. We had a proof copy of the whole story in our hands and each of us came (suitably bloodied and ragged) as a favourite character from the story. Despite creating the impression of a school disaster, it was good to see the degree of pride and familiarity that each pupil felt for a particular character. They were able to speak about the qualities, foibles, and even what was in the character's pockets.

I've been involved in teaching this same topic in a secondary Modern Studies classroom before. In that case, the pupils had to learn about the mechanics of the British political system. I am convinced that a project like this more effectively engages children with the concepts of democracy and community, than a more knowedge-based variety. The proof of the quality of the final story will be in other children's interest in reading it, but the process is what counts to me. It was a great deal of fun, with serious discussions, disagreements and changes of mind along the way. Its experimental nature sometimes made it a bit of a hairy ride. We never quite knew where it was going next!

Now the school will consider what to do next with their story - to publish it, or present it on the CREATE website. The pupils were most insistent that it should end on a cliffhanger. So watch this space for further instalments!