Unsolvable Mysteries

In the summer of 2014, I guided a group of children through a murder mystery experience at their public library. Some of the kiddos knew one another already and some were complete strangers. None of them had done anything like this before. And yet, within an hour and a half, they all managed to work together as a team of detectives, accomplishing creative tasks to unlock clues and they successfully solved the fairy tale-themed mystery. They were thrilled to have been so clever, but simply determining who did it, with what, and why was not enough. They still had questions.

“But Rumplestiltskin can turn straw into gold. Why did he need Cinderella’s glass slipper?”

“Why did he have to kill the ugly stepsister?”

“Why is the stepsister mean?”

“Would a pile of books really kill someone like that?”

I was surprised and delighted. Here they had answered the questions I had set out for them, but they were hungry for more. Not only did they have questions, they had brilliant answers.

“Maybe Cinderella’s slipper is magical! The Fairy Godmother made it and it might be powerful.”

“Or worth a lot more than gold!”

“I bet he killed the ugly stepsister because he thought she would tell the other sister about his plot.”

“The stepsister might be so ugly and mean because she doesn’t have a dad to love her like Cinderella did.”

“Maybe she’s mean because she doesn’t like how she looks. Or she might be under a spell.”

“I don’t know if a pile of regular books would do that, but maybe they were magic spell books. Or maybe they had some secret metal hidden inside.”

And the mysteries and possibilities just kept unfolding.

These young sleuths had solved the mystery–had accomplished every task I had set before them. But they wanted to keep exploring. Working with older students, I have sometimes found that just they want to do the bare minimum. They just want to find the right answer and be done. They struggle with “what if” and are only satisfied with “what is.” And that’s where teaching artists and those like them come in.

It is our job as teachers, as parents, as coaches, as adults to nurture this need to keep going. We need to be the voices saying, “Don’t stop now. You’ve just scratched the surface.” We don’t need all of the answers. We just need to welcome the questions and to let children young and old run around seeking the possibilities themselves. And to be okay with not knowing for sure.

How else will fairy tales survive?

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4 thoughts on “Unsolvable Mysteries

  1. I love the idea that fairy tales are somehow innately connected with asking questions. Or perhaps they present us with the invitation to realize that there are some things for which we simply don’t have answers, and so we wonder… . Teachers who teach that wonder are a beautiful gift to the world 🙂

  2. How lovely to read your reflections on this! I love how you advocate for teaching in the arts, especially in areas that may not seem so “prestigious” but are all the more critical because they are everywhere and accessible: public libraries, schools, churches.

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