Stone Soup Writing Activity: Reward a Likeable Character

Activities, Story activity  /   /  By William Rubel, Editor
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2016

Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing Activity

Joanna’s story is a fairy tale, a story in which a supernatural force rescues a good person from a desperate situation. While it is a fairy tale, it is a modern fairy tale. The action takes place in a big city among people who all act and think like average modern people. In fact, while it is pretty clear that something very magical happens in this story to save the main character, Sam, from his landlord, Mr. Murphy, Sam is never sure what saves him. Maybe it was just luck. Maybe the girl and the doll were a dream. Sam, like most modern people, doesn’t believe in fairies.

Notice how thoroughly Joanna develops the reality of Sam’s life and problem. His city has changed, his doll store is no longer in the part of town where people shop, and the new landlord, like the city itself, is no longer friendly or tolerant.

The modern city doesn’t encourage romance and magic. And so, throughout this story, the question remains unanswered: Did more than just good luck enter Sam’s life?

Project: Write a Story in Which a Likeable Person Is Rewarded Through Magic or Luck

Your character does not have to be perfect, just likeable. But your character should be struggling against a mean or uncaring person. In traditional fairy tales the bad person is very bad: typical examples include an ogre, an evil stepmother, or an evil witch. In Joanna’s story Mr. Murphy, the landlord, plays the role of the more traditional evil fairy tale character. But Mr. Murphy is not really bad, like a criminal or an ogre. He is bad the way the modern world is bad. He is insensitive, uncaring, and inflexible towards a fellow human being.

In your story, show us how a kind person who desperately needs help finally gets it in an unexpected way. Whether the unexpected is clearly magical or whether it just seems a coincidence is up to you. Or, like Joanna, you can blur the edges between reality and fantasy so we never really know.

Pay attention to the setting in which your story takes place so that no matter what happens you give the reader a sense that at least the place and the main character are real.


Doll Shop Magic

By Joanna Calogero
Illustrated by Lee Bee Pierce
From the September/October 1992 Issue of Stone Soup


The mail I got was usually no more than a few coupon booklets, but today there was a business-like white envelope mixed in. Hmmmm, how odd, I thought. I waited until I was in my small doll shop before looking more closely at the envelope.

“Alan J. Murphy,” read the first line of the return address. Alan J. Murphy was the man who I leased my small doll shop and upstairs apartment from, and Alan J. Murphy was not a nice man.

This letter could only mean one thing, Alan J. Murphy caught up with my bills, or better put, he found out my bills weren’t caught up with him.

I opened the letter. “Dear Sam Donalds, I am afraid your lease has not been paid ….” A nice man would not toss an old man into the streets. But, as I said, Alan J. Murphy was not a nice man.

What was I going to do? Where would I go? I would have had enough to pay the lease if my shop was located in a better part of town. Twenty years ago, when I bought my shop, the whole town was a nice town, all over. But a lot can happen in twenty years, and a lot did, including a new owner of the building, too, that owner being Alan J. Murphy. I’ve held on to the shop, hoping that someday the town would return to how it was before. But that hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, people didn’t come to this side of town looking for a doll.

“…if your lease is not paid within twelve days, I’m afraid you cannot remain on the premises.”

Twelve days! That was all I had? Could I sell enough dolls in twelve days to pay the lease? Not likely.

I went to my workroom and finished sewing the eyes on a small doll. But my heart was not in it.

Doll Shop Magic making a doll

How could I get little girls to come and buy my dolls in this part of town? I couldn’t afford any advertising, so what could I do?

I finished the doll’s face and started working on a small dress for her. I studied her face. She seemed like she was happy, so I looked around and found some pink material to make her a light, bouncy dress. Wait a second, I didn’t remember buying any pink material lately, where did that come from? Oh, well. I decided to use it anyway. “You could make a little girl very happy,” I said to either the doll or the air.

I worked into the night, thinking all the time about my unpaid lease. Twenty years ago, if I had an unpaid lease, the owner would say, “Pay it as soon as you get it, and don’t worry about it.” Now, it’s “Pay it now, or get tossed in the street.” Many times in the night, I got so deep into my thoughts I didn’t even realize that I was making a doll. When the small dress was nearly done, I still had no solutions. I decided to sleep on it and turned in for the night.

I awoke the next morning to the soft singing of a child’s voice. At first I thought it was a bird, but then I heard the sweet words, clear and simple.

The singer was definitely young, which puzzled me. What was such a young child doing in this part of town this early in the morning? I decided to find out. I put on my warm bathrobe and went down the stairs to my shop. From the back of the shop I saw a small girl outside the window, completely alone. She had brown hair which curled at the end around her shoulders. She had huge brown eyes, which were too big for her face. She wore a thin, tattered jacket, which was buttoned around her face tightly because she was obviously very cold.

She was looking slowly and longingly at each doll in my shop window. And she seemed to like what she saw.

I continued from the bottom step and went to the door, picking up the keys on my way. I opened up the door softly so I wouldn’t frighten the little girl. She looked at me with her huge brown eyes.

Doll Shop Magic looking at display window

“Hi, would you like to come inside?” I asked her. She nodded in reply. “I’m Sam,” I told her. “What’s your name?”

“Heidi,” she said in a voice as sweet as the singing which woke me up.

“Were you singing earlier? It sounded beautiful!” I said cheerfully. I got another nod.

By now, we were in the shop, and Heidi was looking around at all the dolls.

“Do you like dolls?” I asked her.

“Yes, they’re my friends,” Heidi said, a little more interested.

“Do you know them well?” I asked her curiously.

“I come and look at them every day. They like me, and I like them,” she said.

“I can see that. They’re my friends, too. I make them,” I said. “Would you like something to eat?” Heidi nodded her head.

“O.K., sit down at the table and I’ll fix something. How does French toast sound?”

“Yummy!” Heidi replied.

“Where do you live?” I asked nicely.

Heidi hesitated a little. “We lived in an apartment until last year. My daddy lost his job, though, and we got kicked out. We live in an abandoned car, near 52nd Street, now. My mommy, and my daddy, and I all live there,” Heidi said sadly.

“I’m sorry, Heidi. How old are you?” I asked.

“Six years old. But my birthday is in two weeks.”

I served Heidi her French toast and we ate breakfast together. Heidi ate a lot, and she ate it quickly.

“This is soooooooooo good. We haven’t eaten in a while,” Heidi said solemnly.

I didn’t know what to say again. “I’m terribly sorry.”And to change the subject, I said, “Would you like to watch me finish a dress for a new doll?”

Heidi nodded her head with excitement.

I went to my workroom, with Heidi at my heels. She watched intently as I finished the pink lacy dress.

As I worked I still wondered what I would do about my lease, but I also thought about Heidi’s family, living in an abandoned car, going without food every so often. They were worse off than I would be, yet I still worried about my lease. Was I being selfish?

“Well, it’s done!” I said, holding up the small dress. “Would you like to put the dress on the doll, carefully, while I go look for some tags?” I asked Heidi.

Again, she nodded her head.

I left her to dress the doll and went to search my room. I knew the price tags were up there somewhere. I was excited to get this doll out because I thought I could get a good price for her. Aha! I found them. I returned to the workroom.

She was gone. The beautiful doll was gone. Heidi… was gone. The scraps from the dress… were gone. The extra material… was gone. The dress… was gone.

I went in the kitchen. There was one plate next to the sink. Not two, only one. All was as it had been the morning before.

All, except one thing. On the kitchen table was a small piece of paper. I picked it up. It was a lottery ticket. I had never even bought a lottery ticket. There was a note attached.

“Sam, I found this on the step. Is it yours?”

This was written in neat, careful print. That’s all it said. There was no signature or clue of any sort. “Heidi?”I asked myself. I looked at the ticket once more.

“Oh, my gosh!!!!” I shouted, after I read the four numbers.

For a week, the numbers 4, 9, 11, 27 were being said over and over. They were the numbers for the last unclaimed ten-million-dollar prize.

And those numbers were on the ticket that Heidi found for me, at least I think it was Heidi.

Ten million dollars was definitely enough to buy a new doll shop in a better part of town. And enough to get Heidi’s family a new apartment.

I whistled the tune I heard Heidi singing that morning as I walked to the drugstore to claim my money. And I wondered, would I find an abandoned car near 52nd Street? Is there a Heidi?

Doll Shop Magic Joanna Calogero

Joanna Calogero, 13 Manlius, New York

Doll Shop Magic Lee Bee Pierce

Lee Bee Pierce, 12 Fallbrook, California

 

William Rubel, Editor
About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea. Along with co-editor Gerry Mandel, I have continued to edit and publish Stone Soup for all these years. I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a 130,000-word bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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