Teacher discovers everyone has a story to tell

April 20, 2012|Lisa Prejean

If the words "Open, Sesame!" take you back to childhood tales of "Arabian Nights," the escape might prove to be a welcome reprieve.

I've been re-examining the tales of "The Thousand and One Nights" (also called "Arabian Nights") in preparation for our next story in freshmen English, "The Forty Thieves."

In this story, a woodcutter named Ali Baba is in the forest one day when a band of thieves on horseback approaches a rocky hillside. Ali Baba climbs a tree to hide from the robbers' view and observes the men as they dismount with their treasure.

Their leader boldly states, "Open, Sesame!" and a door opens in the rocks. The band of thieves enters the cave. Their leader proclaims, "Shut, Sesame!" and the door shuts behind the robbers.

The story is one in a series of tales told by Scheherazade, a beautiful and clever maiden who has agreed to marry the Sultan Shahriyar. She has married the Sultan because she believes she can break his vicious habit. The Sultan had the custom of executing each of his brides on the morning after their wedding.

Scheherazade's plan was to begin a nighttime tale that would captivate the Sultan. She would tell the tale until morning but then stop short of the ending, telling the Sultan she would continue the tale the next evening.

On their wedding night, her plan worked. The Sultan was so taken with the tale that he granted his bride another day of life so he could hear the conclusion of the story.

The second night, Scheherazade completed the first tale but led into another one that she promised to complete on the third night.

And so it went for more than 1,000 nights. Eventually, the Sultan fell in love with his bride and no longer wanted to kill her.

She was highly valued as a storyteller. As one text tells it, she "had won his heart by first capturing his imagination."

My students have been learning about the power of storytelling, so this seemed like a fitting tale to cover. The students each had to write about an experience they had.

At first, they seemed to struggle with a topic. Some of them said they had no interesting stories to tell. I told them that is not true. Everyone has a story to tell.

For the next week, I told them a story a day about everyday occurrences. We talked about knowing where to start a story, describing a setting, developing characters. It was so much fun. Before long, everyone had an idea. (Isn't that the hardest part of writing? Selecting a topic?)

Their tales might not save them from a crazed Sultan, but they are bound to bring a smile to their teacher's face.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to her at

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