This writing activity is based on two stories published in the May/June 1994 issue of Stone Soup: “The Mother’s Day Gift” by Mathew Thompson, 11, and “The Clay Pot” by Naomi Wendland, 12. Follow the links to open the stories in a new window, and read both of them carefully as part of the activity.
These two stories deal with the same problem: the temptation to lie to hide a mistake. The temptation to lie to cover up a mistake is a common one, and most people, at some point in their lives, give in to the temptation to pretend they haven’t done something that, in fact, they have.
In “The Clay Pot,” Sashi gives in to this temptation and lies. In “The Mother’s Day Gift,” Mathew resists temptation and tells the truth. Fiction is often used by authors to explore difficult human problems, and few human problems are as difficult as the ones dealt with in these two stories. Mathew’s test, in “The Mother’s Day Gift,” is not as severe as Sashi’s. Mathew was careless and broke a window on a rebound, but his mother’s life wasn’t bound up with the window in any way. His mistake was in the form of an accident.
Sashi’s mistake was more serious. She purposely, out of laziness, did something she was prohibited from doing. In both stories the mothers responded to what their children did by seeing it as an opportunity to strengthen their bond with their child. They both understood that the most valuable object between mother and child is something that cannot be touched but can be broken, and that is trust. Both mothers used the actions of their child to lovingly nurture trust so the bond of trust would be made stronger.
Project: Write a story about trust and lying
It is easy to be honest when there are no consequences to telling the truth! But it is not easy to tell the truth when you think that your words may get you in trouble. There are many famous stories and novels written for adults that explore the difficulty of telling the truth when lying seems safer or easier.
Create a test of trust for your character. Your character might, for example, want to go out to play before finishing his or her homework. A friend offers a solution: lie about the homework and finish it later. A bigger test might be that your character borrows something and either loses it or breaks it. An even bigger test of trust would be one where your character is actually tempted to steal something, does steal it, and then lies about stealing it.
Show us how your character responds to the test you create. Show us what, if anything, your character learns from his or her experience. Of course, there will always be at least two people involved in a story about trust. Show, as Naomi and Mathew do, what the other person expected of your main character and how that person responds to what happens.
In order to test your character’s trustworthiness you need to build up the significance of the trouble your character thinks he or she could get into by being found out. Naomi and Mathew took different approaches to building up their characters’ problems. Naomi builds up the significance of Sashi’s problem by showing us how important that one clay pot was to her mother. “It wasn’t the beauty of the pot, it was that it was part of her mother.” Mathew builds up the significance of his character’s problem by showing us how upset he was by what he had done. “My stomach immediately pole-vaulted into my throat . . . I could feel my body beginning to sweat and I felt sick.” Mathew’s character clearly thinks he will get in big trouble for what he did, and this is what makes his response courageous.
When you tell your story, you have a choice of voices: the “I” (first person) voice that Mathew uses, or the “he/she/it” (third person) voice that Naomi uses. The first-person voice emphasizes the experience and feelings of the central character, while the third-person voice emphasizes the larger world in which the tale takes place.
Whichever perspective you choose as the author of your piece, be sure, like Naomi and Mathew, to tell us the whole story, from the beginning: the whole “who, what, where, why, and when” of what happened to test your character’s honesty.
Both stories © 1994 Children’s Art Foundation–Stone Soup Inc.