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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday's for Kids XXII -- KIPLING and an "A IS FOR ALPHABET"

Since we're reading a novel by Rudyard Kipling right now (Kim, which, by the way, is surprisingly more difficult than I thought it would be), I figured it not inappropriate, particularly as Kipling was so otherwise skilled at stuff so pointedly for kids, to feature a story from his so well-known Just So Stories.  If you're not familiar with these tales of origin (and Tolkien, by the way, was not the first Briton to invent a mythology, though Kipling's takes place "abroad" rather than in Britain, as Tolkien so intended his tales), they include answers to such life questions as "How Leopard Got His Spots" (the most famous of them, really, as this story is read and modeled to the point of "hackney-fication" by grade- and middle-schoolers across the English-speaking world), "The Beginning of the Armadillos," and "How the Whale Got His Throat."  While these stories are all so just fine, there are two that are perhaps so much more appropriate to the blog, here: "How the First Letter Was Written" and "How the Alphabet Was Made."

the alphabet necklace
All of these stories are brilliant, wonderfully simplistic little tales, and particularly perfect for narration (and so I think more appropriately so through oral retellings, fairytale-style, rather than straight readings) to kids.  Considering "How the Alphabet Was Made," I expect that an ambitious (more accurately read perhaps as "desperate" or "creative," depending) parent would even be able to generate such a discussion with his/her kid[s] and create their own alphabet, illustrations and all, just like the father/daughter duo of the story's Neolithic cave.

My favorite part of this particular story is Kipling's acrostic (sort of) poem (less sort of) and illustration:

ONE of the first things that Tegumai Bopsulai did after Taffy and he had made the Alphabet was to make a magic Alphabet-necklace of all the letters, so that it could be put in the Temple of Tegumai and kept for ever and ever. All the Tribe of Tegumai brought their most precious beads and beautiful things, and Taffy and Tegumai spent five whole years getting the necklace in order. This is a picture of the magic Alphabet-necklace. The string was made of the finest and strongest reindeer-sinew, bound round with thin copper wire.
Beginning at the top, the first bead is an old silver one that belonged to the Head Priest of the Tribe of Tegumai; then came three black mussel-pearls; next is a clay bead (blue and gray); next a nubbly gold bead sent as a present by a tribe who got it from Africa (but it must have been Indian really); the next is a long flat-sided glass bead from Africa (the Tribe of Tegumai took it in a fight); then come two clay beads (white and green), with dots on one, and dots and bands on the other; next are three rather chipped amber beads; then three clay beads (red and white), two with dots, and the big one in the middle with a toothed pattern. Then the letters begin, and between each letter is a little whitish clay bead with the letter repeated small. Here are the letters—

A is scratched an a tooth—an elk-tusk I think.

B is the Sacred Beaver of Tegumai on a bit of old glory.

C is a pearly oyster-shell—inside front.

D must be a sort of mussel shell—outside front.

E is a twist of silver wire.

F is broken, but what remains of it is a bit of stag's horn.

G is painted black on a piece of wood. (The bead after G is a small shell, and not a clay bead. I don't know why they did that.)

H is a kind of a big brown cowie-shell.

I is the inside part of a long shell ground down by hand. (It took Tegumai three months to grind it down.)

J is a fish hook in mother-of-pearl.

L is the broken spear in silver. (K aught to follow J of course, but the necklace was broken once and they mended it wrong.)

K is a thin slice of bone scratched and rubbed in black.

M is on a pale gray shell.

N is a piece of what is called porphyry with a nose scratched on it. (Tegumai spent five months polishing this stone.)

O is a piece of oyster-shell with a hole in the middle.

P and Q are missing. They were lost, a long time ago, in a great war, and the tribe mended the necklace with the dried rattles of a rattlesnake, but no one ever found P and Q. That is how the saying began, 'You must mind your P's. and Q's.'

R is, of course, just a shark's tooth.

S is a little silver snake.

T is the end of a small bone, polished brown and shiny.

U is another piece of oyster-shell.

W is a twisty piece of mother-of-pearl that they found inside a big mother-of-pearl shell, and sawed off with a wire dipped in sand and water. It took Taffy a month and a half to polish it and drill the holes.

X is silver wire joined in the middle with a raw garnet. (Taffy found the garnet.)

Y is the carp's tail in ivory.

Z is a bell-shaped piece of agate marked with Z-shaped stripes. They made the Z-snake out of one of the stripes by picking out the soft stone and rubbing in red sand and bee's-wax. Just in the mouth of the bell you see the clay bead repeating the Z-letter.

These are all the letters.
The next bead is a small round greeny lump of copper ore; the next is a lump of rough turquoise; the next is a rough gold nuggct (what they call water-gold); the next is a melon-shaped clay bead (white with green spots). Then come four flat ivory pieces, with dots on them rather like dominoes; then come three stone beads, very badly worn; then two soft iron beads with rust-holes at the edges (they must have been magic, because they look very common); and last is a very very old African bead, like glass--blue, red, white, black, and yellow. Then comes the loop to slip over the big silver button at the other end, and that is all.
I have copied the necklace very carefully. It weighs one pound seven and a half ounces. The black squiggle behind is only put in to make the beads and things look better.

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