Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Cheshire Cheese Cat and other May Musings

Did you know May is Better Speech and Hearing Month? The purpose is to raise awareness about communication disorders and to promote treatment. I’m a speech therapist and I think our profession is worth celebrating; however, I’m not sure everyone would see it that way. Take for example, David Sedaris. In his book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, his description of speech therapy was anything but pretty. I cringed (and laughed) when I read his description of the “agent” coming to take him away,
“My capture had been scheduled to go down at exactly 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon.”
The agent, if you haven’t already guessed, was his speech therapist coming to his fifth-grade classroom to take him out (not as in “rub him out” although the humiliation may have made him feel that was her intent). David went on to describe his hilarious, if somewhat painful, memories of speech sessions. He had a lisp and so he pronounced “s” as “th.” Besides embarrassing him, his speech therapist had him read, “childish s-laden text recounting the adventures of seals or settlers named Sassy or Samuel.”

Ooh, that hurts. I hate to admit it but I’ve been guilty of inflicting my students with plot-less stories, just to give them a lot of practice pronouncing their target sounds. But that was a long time ago. I have since discovered an abundant supply of fabulous books to read, filled with whatever target sounds I’m looking for. For example, if I had a fifth grade student with a lisp, I could open The Cheshire Cheese Cat: a Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright. On the very first page there are plenty of “s” sounds for practice.

            “He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms.
Fleet of foot, sleek and solitary, Skilley was a cat among cats. Or so he would have been, but for a secret he had carried since his early youth.”

Look at all those “s” sounds - and what a delightful way to practice them. The first lines of this book drew me in immediately with its nod to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I am a fan of Charles Dickens, animal stories, humor and good writing, so this book was a hit with me right from the start. I haven’t had the opportunity to use it with my students yet, but I have “great expectations” for doing so.

The secret Skilley hides is his extreme fondness for cheese; and he does not eat mice. These qualities lead him into a unique relationship with the throng of mice who inhabit Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub which is a gathering place for famous authors in 19th-century London. One of these authors is Charles Dickens himself. In this story, Dickens is struggling with a severe case of writers’ block. Eventually, he is assisted by Pip, a literate and literary mouse. This romping tale is full of adventure and challenges. The tension builds when a conniving cat arrives and the alliance between Skilley and the mice grows strong. The story has twists and turns, plots and subplots, and captivating characters. Described as being suitable for children age eight and up, I think Dickens’ fans of all ages will enjoy the humorous use of familiar lines and phrases. In one conversation, Skilley and Pip spoke of “our mutual friend;” there was “artful dodging” of passing cabs; and when the barmaid renames the conniving cat, Oliver, it brought “an unwelcome twist” to the story. 

I’ve solved the problem of plot-less stories in speech sessions. I don’t use them. And I’d never intentionally embarrass a student when I escort them to speech. The younger ones are thrilled to go. In fact, the difficulty comes with telling the other students why they don’t “get” to go to speech. Older students require a bit more subtlety. Fortunately, they don’t need me to come knocking at their door. David Sedaris’ humorous essay should be required reading for speech therapists. It’s eye-opening to see our job from the other side of the table!


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    1. Loved your review of the Cheshire cat story. Makes me want to read it and share it with others. I'm anxious to hear how the students respond to it.

  2. Thank you for dropping by my blog. I think you'll enjoy the Cheshire Cheese Cat - I certainly did!