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Book Reviews, Early/Young Readers, Interactive Ideas, Picture Books, Read-Aloud Suggestions

NOT A STICK by Antoinette Portis

by Antoinette PortisNot A Stick is a little gem of a picture book.  The entire book is about 75 words and illustrated primarily with line drawings.  The story revolves around our (unnamed) main character who is a young pig.  He is continually being questioned about the stick he is carrying:  why is he carrying it, be careful with it, etc.  Throughout the story our hero emphatically denies that what he is holding is a “stick.”

The illustrations for each of his responses reveal that the “stick” is alternately a fishing pole, a drum major’s baton, a barbell, the reins of a horse, a caveman’s spear, a sword to fight a dragon and a leash with which to lead it home.

Any child who enjoys imaginative play will delight in and identify with our young hero’s frustration and insistence on his tool of imagination.  It is much more than a “stick.”

I plan to use this book in my theater classes–for ALL ages from 4-16.  (I think it is applicable outside of those ages as well but those are the ages I currently teach in theater classes and direct in shows.)  A young child will probably assume the voice that persists in calling our hero’s Not-A-Stick a “stick” is an adult.  I think if you look at using the book for older students in a theater (or as a creative writing-prompt idea) you can expand that assumption to include any naysayer in your own life, whether that be general or specific for each individual.

There is a theater improvisation game called Props.  (If you ever watched Whose Line Is It Anyway? on British or American television you will have seen it.)  It consists of taking an item (or box of items) and using each item in a way other than what you would expect.  A folding chair can become a surfboard or a knight’s shield or an elegant, old-fashioned wig, etc.  This picture book is a great way to introduce that type of improvisation (whether physically or through writing) to very young children or to students who may have had little experience challenging their imaginations to think in ways other than the expected.

A fantastic independent or read-aloud, this book will challenge the imaginations of those who engage theirs regularly and will help springboard those who have yet to experience the dizzying heights of their own creations–at any age.

If you are interested in finding simple picture books like this to springboard imagination in physical or writing improvisation you can also try two of my favorites by Laura Numeroff (of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie renown):

Dogs Don’t Wear Sneakersby Laura Numeroff

Chimps Don’t Wear Glassesby Laura Numeroff

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