Stories are essential tools for verbal development, social-emotional learning, and character education. Intentional parents can use family movies as a basis for storytelling.
Repeat the story of the movie at bedtime, on a rainy day, or at any quiet time. Let your child correct you if you make a mistake and, better yet, encourage your child to tell you the story. Both of you can invent new adventures for Manny, Ellie, and all their friends. Your child’s imaginative and verbal capacities will be enhanced if you invent new characters and create situations that are not in the movie. To learn more about enhancing growth and development through stories told to children, go to How to Tell Bedtime Stories . . . Any Time.
Here is a story to read to your child. If you read it at bedtime and your child falls asleep before you are finished, complete the story some other time.
Water as Far as You Can See
Rain pummeled the roof of Jonah’s house. Storms had never really bothered him before, but this one was different. The sky was a deep purple and black, and every now and then, a sharp flash of lightning would light up the world outside his house and in, as if it were day. Thunder crashed loudly, roughly; sometimes it shook the floor.
Jonah was eight years old. He had brown hair and blue eyes, and he was proud that he had just started the third grade. He wasn’t afraid of anything, except right now he was hiding under the covers, nestled between his mom and dad. Usually, he slept in his own bed, beneath the glow-in-the-dark stars stuck onto the ceiling, his head resting not on a pillow, but on a squishy stuffed animal. It was a stuffed bear toy he’d received as a baby, and while Jonah didn’t remember who gave it to him, he thought it was the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on, and so it became his pillow. Jonah adjusted the firm pillow under his head. He couldn’t understand how his parents could actually fall asleep on these things. But eventually, the booms and bangs of the whirling storm outside settled into a sort of rhythm, and Jonah, reassured by the presence of his parents, found his eyelids dropping down, and he fell asleep.
The next morning Jonah awoke to the sound of rain and water dropping noisily from the roof. The lightning and thunder were gone. He slowly opened his eyes; the grogginess of the night’s sleep falling away. Downstairs, his parents were having breakfast; he smelled the making of toast; the warm scent of coffee. When he plopped down at the kitchen table, his father was eating a bowl of cereal and reading the newspaper. Jonah could hear the morning news on the television: ” . . . And with the rain, comes the question of flooding. Now, here in Maryland, we already know the dangers of flooding. Last week’s report on the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge prompted a flurry of your questions. So we’ve sent our Eyes on the Ground, reporter Brian Charles, to the Refuge to fill us in. . . . Brian?”
Jonah was hoping that he could change the channel, since his favorite cartoon was starting any second, but when the images of the wildlife preserve came on the screen, Jonah watched with fascination.
“Thanks, Marie,” Brian the reporter said, “I’m at a rescue station in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which has been around for over 75 years. The animals here are astounding: thousands of migratory birds stop for rest and food on their way north or south; deer roam the premises; nearly extinct squirrels find sanctuary here; and bald eagles and other birds of prey call this marshland home. But will their home be here 20 years from now . . . or will it be lost to flooding?”
Videos of the animals played on the screen, and then it cut back to Brian the reporter. Brian was a big man, wearing a yellow rain slicker. The hood covered his hair, but Jonah remembered that it was silver and swept back from his forehead in a big sweep that his mom called a pompadour. It was always very neat, but on camera Brian usually couldn’t keep himself from patting it and checking on it with his hands. Jonah’s mom and dad joked that Brian was more concerned with his hair than with the events he was reporting. Today, the hair was safe beneath the hood and to prove his point about the flooding, Brian was out in the rain kneeling down and patting the very wet ground. A deer walked past him in the background.
“This marshland is a very delicate system. Behind me, that’s a sika deer. What a beautiful creature! Unfortunately, her home was flooded out by last night’s rain. A report released earlier this year predicted that in a hundred years sea levels on the East Coast of the U.S. will rise by two feet, submerging many low lying areas. But for the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, it’s not going to take that long. Many parts of Blackwater are only inches above sea level. Experts predict that due to the rising ocean, large parts of this wildlife refuge will be gone by 2030. This area here, to my left, as far as you can see, will probably be open water within the next 20 years.” The camera panned to show the marsh. “And what will become of the animals that make their homes here? Only time will tell. . . . Marie, back to you.”
Jonah looked at his dad, who was still chewing on his cereal and reading the paper. “Dad? What does that mean – that it will turn into ‘open water’? What will happen to all those animals?”
Jonah’s dad looked at him and frowned. “Well, honey, it means that all of that land is going to be covered by water, that it will become part of the ocean, I suppose. And I don’t know what is going to happen to all of the animals. Maybe they’ll be taken out of there before it happens. Or maybe they’ll die. But why are you worried about it? You’re only eight. This isn’t going to happen for a long time. And besides, things can change between now and then.”
Jonah wasn’t happy with this answer. He had hoped that his dad would maybe say that good old Brian had been thinking too much about his hair and got it wrong, and that everything was going to be okay. Or maybe that his dad would load everyone up in the car and drive out to the wildlife refuge where they could start saving all those animals, right now. Jonah wasn’t sure what he had wanted to hear, but he knew that it wasn’t what his father had said.
It rained for the rest of the day. Jonah watched from the front window as his lawn filled up with water, turning into a slushy pile of mud and grass. A rabbit hopped across the lawn in the rain, and scurried under a bush in his neighbor’s yard. Jonah thought about all of the animals living in the refuge. They couldn’t just scurry under bushes if most of the marsh became part of the ocean. Jonah felt tears in his eyes.
At this point or some other time, go to the Internet and show your child scenes of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the animals who live there.
The gray day wasn’t doing much to cheer him up, and Jonah spent most of the day and the evening moping quietly. He played absentmindedly with his dominoes, stared out the window at the rain, and flipped through the pages of some books. He was actually relieved when it was time for bed.
That night Jonah returned to sleeping in his own bed, resting his head on his teddy bear pillow. His mom tucked him in and gave him a kiss. “Jonah, I know you’re upset. But don’t worry about those animals. Everything will work out. I promise.” The words were supposed to make Jonah feel better, but they didn’t. How could his mom promise something that she had no control over? He turned on his side and yanked the covers over his head, feeling sleepy and angry.
CRASH!! Jonah gasped and jumped out of bed. The noise had been so loud, that he was sure he could feel his brain rattling in his skull. The room was pitch black, and Jonah carefully made his way to the door of his bedroom, feeling for the light switch. But instead of the switch, he felt something rubbery. He pulled his hand away and just as he was about to scream, a door opened, on the other side of the room. A light flicked on, and the room was bathed in bright white. Jonah wasn’t in his bedroom. He wasn’t sure where he was.
A large yellow-hooded figure appeared in the doorway. Jonah started trembling. Then the figure pulled off his hood and stepped into the room. Jonah blinked. It was Brian, the reporter. He was wearing a yellow raincoat, which was dripping wet. Jonah tried to speak, but he wasn’t sure what to say. “Jonah, right?” Brian said. He stuck out a hand still wet from the rain.
“Uh, yeah. Jonah. That’s me.” Jonah shook his hand, still confused. “And you’re that guy on TV, Brian something.”
The man smiled. “Brian Charles.” The man dried his hands and face with a towel. He didn’t touch his hair. “You look worried, Jonah.””
“I just . . . I’m confused. What’s happening? Am I dreaming? Where am I? What are we doing? Where did my bedroom go? Where are my parents? How–“
Brian held up a hand, interrupting Jonah’s flood of questions. “You must still be groggy. We’re at Blackwater, remember? The wildlife refuge? You saw that story on the news, and you came to help us out.”
Jonah frowned. That made sense, he thought, even though he didn’t remember ever coming here. “Help out with what?” he asked.
The look of amusement on Brian’s face disappeared, and was replaced with a look of annoyance. “With the evacuation, Jonah. You don’t remember this? The seas are getting warmer and expanding, the ice that covered Greenland is melting, putting even more water into the oceans; there is a storm surge from the hurricane that’s hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic; it’s heading away from us but we’re still getting the storm surge, the rain and some strong winds, and it’s also high tide later tonight. Almost the entire refuge is flooding out. We’re trying to save all of the animals that we can. We’ve already lost some, but we’re trying. Our last effort is to rescue the sika deer. You really don’t remember this? Should we get you to the nurse? Are you all right?”
So the flooding had started. Jonah still wasn’t sure how he had gotten to the room where he was now, but he knew that going to the nurse would just waste time. “No, I’m fine. I’ve got it now. Just tell me what to do, let’s go!” Jonah looked around the room and saw the rubbery thing he had grabbed when looking for the light switch – it was a bright yellow rain jacket. He yanked it off the hook and put it on. He saw some rain boots next to the cot he had been sleeping on, and stepped into them. They fit perfectly and went all the way up past his knees. Brian handed him a flashlight and a rain hat. Jonah put on the hat and nodded: he was ready to go. Brian led the way.
The rain pounded on Jonah so hard it almost hurt. He could hear adults yelling instructions, and saw a lot of people running around in the dark. Some had head lamps on, others were carrying flashlights. There were tents set up, with big signs that said things like “BASE CAMP”, “MEDIC”, “RESCUE”, and “VET”. Jonah followed Brian into the tent with the sign that read “RESCUE”. There were already 10 or 11 people in the tent, listening to a tall woman give orders. She pointed to a map, circled different areas with a red marker, and called out names. People would approach her, receive a packet sealed in a plastic envelope and leave. “Brian! Jonah!”
Brian and Jonah walked forward. Jonah was feeling scared and slipped his hand into Brian’s. Brian squeezed it tight and said, “Don’t worry, buddy.”
“Sika deer. Fawn and a mother. They’re in the southern quadrant.” The tall woman smacked the plastic envelope into Brian’s hand. “Good luck. Emily! Stephanie!”
Brian and Jonah stepped into a corner of the tent to read their packet. It had a picture of a sika deer, and a map, with a large section highlighted in yellow. “We have to go there,” Brian said as he pointed to a spot right in the middle of the yellow highlight, “and we have to get these two animals out. It’s a mother and her baby. They prefer the secluded, less populated areas of the refuge, which makes it a hard mission. It means they’re more difficult to find . . . but hopefully not harder to save. You ready?”
Jonah nodded. They left the tent, back into the pouring rain, and followed volunteers toward the flotilla of boats at the edge of the camp. They waited in line, and when they finally got up to the makeshift dock, they showed their instructions to a man who spoke into a walkie-talkie. A motorboat grumbled up to the dock. “EVACUATION TEAM” was written on the side in red paint. “Go get ’em!” the dock man yelled as Jonah and Brian carefully stepped into the rocking boat. As soon as they sat down, Brian said, “Used to be, this was dry land you could walk on.” Then the boat took off, throwing Jonah and Brian backwards; they almost fell to the floor of the boat.
Jonah looked around. It was a metal boat, with thick wooden benches across it. The man at the back of the boat steered carefully, avoiding half submerged trees and bushes. They passed small islands where the land was a little higher. Jonah could see slivers of lights from in between the bushes. There were people out there, and the light was coming from their flashlights. Jonah saw something shiny at his feet. He bent over and looked at it more closely. It appeared to be some sort of cage, but it was flat. The man in the boat saw Jonah and, over the roar of the engine, yelled, “That’s the collapsible cage, for when you find that mama and her babe. Whoop, we’re just about there!”
The boat puttered down, and pulled up against a large mass of floating grass. On the right side of the boat about two feet away was what appeared to be dry land. Jonah looked to the left and as far as the eye could see, there was water; it looked like miles of water, with shrubs mostly under water and trees with their trunks below the water. Every once in a while there’d be an island of what had been higher ground. “This used to all be land. It was marshy and wet, but you could walk on most of it and animals could live here,” the boat man said, shaking his head, “now it’s all just a mess and mostly under water.” He put out an anchor in the shallow water. “I’ll be waiting here when you get back.” The boat man rummaged beneath his seat and pulled out a red stick. He snapped the one of the ends off, and a bright red fire shot out from the top. He stuck the bottom into a metal holder on the side of the boat. It illuminated them all in an eerie red glow. “Look for this,” he said.
Jonah and Brian stepped from the boat into the water. It was only six inches deep; a foot in some places; but Jonah’s boots were high enough to keep the water out. Brian held out his hand and Jonah clamped onto it. Soon they were out of the water, but the marshland was wet and spongy. It was hard to walk because each step sank deep into the mud. The two trudged through the rain shining their flashlights around them. They could see only small patches of wet soggy land with bushes and trees. The rest was water, punctuated by the half-submerged bushes and the trunks of trees. There were no signs of animal life anywhere. Jonah and Brian carefully made their way, walking slowly, looking for the deer and its fawn. There was no movement anywhere, until Jonah thought he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. He tugged at Brian’s sleeve and pointed. They made their way over, and soon saw a flash of white. “That’s it!” Brian whispered, “That white was a tail. She’s big. That’s gotta be the mother.”
They followed the deer a few feet, when they caught a glimpse of the tiny fawn. It was trapped under a fallen branch on a piece of high ground. A concerned high pitched bleat came from the mother. She was talking to her baby. Jonah slowly approached the fawn. The bleat became louder, and the mother looked nervous. She started to paw the ground but only made a splash because she was standing in three inches of water. Jonah knew he could be in a lot of danger, getting between a mother and her baby. But instead of leaving, he quietly said, “Shhh, Mama. It’s okay. We’re here to help. We’re here to save you. We won’t hurt your little baby.”
It was like the deer understood him. She settled down, backed away, and stood next to Brian, who was holding the flashlight up so Jonah could see. Jonah patted the fawn on the head and repeated over and over, “It’s okay, little fawn. You’ll be okay.” He carefully lifted the fallen branch and slowly pulled off the sticks, stones, grass, and leaves stuck to the fawn’s small body. The fawn had a deep scratch on her side. She tried to get up, and fell. Her mother bleated and splashed her hooves, but did not interfere.
Jonah wrapped his arms around the small chest of the fawn to help her stand up. She stumbled, but leaned on Jonah, and was able to stand. Brian had slipped a braided rope around the mother’s neck when she was distracted, worrying about her fawn. He cinched it, leashing the deer so she wouldn’t run away. The deer pulled against the rope and tried to escape but stopped when Jonah took a few steps with the fawn, who struggled to walk on the uneven slippery ground. Carefully avoiding her cut, Jonah picked the fawn up. She was heavy, but not too heavy. Jonah nodded at Brian and the two made their way back through the shallow water and the rain to the glowing flare.
The boat man had already assembled the cage. Brian led the mother deer into the container. Jonah and the fawn were lifted into the boat by Brian and the boat man. He sat on the bench next to the cage. The boat man said “You gonna put the babe in there?”
“She’s hurt. I’m gonna hold her.”
“Okay, hold on tight then!” The boat roared to a start, and they turned around and took off, back toward the camp. The mother’s eyes were wild with fright from the sound of the engine, but she also kept a close watch on her fawn, and she seemed to trust Jonah. As they returned to the makeshift dock, Jonah looked around. Most of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was part of the open sea, except for stick-like tree trunks and the tops of shrubs poking out of the water.
Once they had arrived at the dock and were off the boat, Brian and the deer and Jonah and the fawn made their way to the tent marked “VET”. A yellow tag was clipped into the ears of the animals, so the scientists could keep track of them. The mother was given a clean bill of health, and Brian led her out of the tent. “Come, I’ll take you over to the next tent and give you some hay” he said to the deer. Jonah smiled. He knew the deer couldn’t understand Brian, but perhaps his tone would calm her down.
The fawn was given a gentle tranquilizer so that she could sleep while her scratch was examined. Jonah stood by her side, watching the veterinarians work. They rinsed the cut, and using tweezers, pulled out a sharp piece of stone. They stitched her up, and wrapped her with a soft white bandage. After they had finished, they asked Jonah to sit in the chair, and placed the fawn in his lap. “Just stay with her, until she wakes up.” The vet handed Jonah the stone that had scratched the fawn. It has been cleaned, but was still very sharp. Jonah turned it around. It was in the shape of a heart. “Thought you might want this, as a souvenir,” said the vet, with a wink.
After a few minutes, Jonah felt the fawn start to move, coming out of her sleep. She stretched and her eyes blinked open. She saw Jonah, and gave him a lick on his arm. She bleated for her mother, and her mother returned the call from the next tent. Jonah walked into the tent next door, and set the fawn on the ground next to its mother. The fawn ran to her mother an immediately started to nurse. The tent was warm and dry, and would serve as a place to sleep until the animals could be evacuated in trailers the next morning. The mother bleated softly, and nuzzled her baby. She looked up at Jonah, and he thought he almost heard her whisper “thank you”. The tent was so warm and cozy, Jonah himself was getting sleepy. He lay down on the soft hay next to the mother and the fawn and felt his eyelids getting heavy.
CRASH!! Jonah woke up with a start. He was exhausted, his eyes barely opened. He felt around him for the fawn and her mother. Instead, he touched his teddy bear. His heart pounded. He opened his eyes. He was back in his bedroom. The deer was nowhere to be found. It was all just a dream. His heart dropped. He heard his parents downstairs, shouting back and forth about something.
Jonah jumped out of bed and ran down the steps. The crash had come from the hallway closet, where his dad was rummaging. “Dad? What are you doing?”
“Looking for the camera, son! There’s a baby deer and a mommy deer in our front yard. We gotta get this on video!”
Deer? In their yard? Jonah ran to the front window. He rubbed his eyes. Could it be? The mother deer and baby deer walked through their yard, casually nibbling on grass. Jonah started to open the door, but his mom’s hand held him back. “Don’t! You’ll startle them!”
Jonah and his parents watched the deer out of the front window for an hour. When the deer had finished eating, they turned to leave and looked right in the window. Jonah smiled at them both. And the mother deer winked. Only Jonah noticed.
After the deer had left, Jonah went into the kitchen to eat breakfast. His mom had gone into the front yard to see if she could get any pictures of the deer walking down the street. She came back into the house, and went to the kitchen. “They are nowhere to be seen” she said. “They just vanished. . . . But look what I found.” Jonah’s mother was holding something in her hand. Jonah and his dad looked up from their cereal.
“What is it?” his dad asked.
“Dunno. It was on the front step,” his mom said as she set something on the table next to Jonah.
Jonah put his spoon down and stared in disbelief. It was a stone, in the shape of a heart, and very sharp. Jonah smiled, and took the stone in his hand.
After the story is completed, perhaps on another day, recall what Brian had said about the reasons for the flooding. Describe how each of those reasons would, in fact, contribute to record high water levels.
Rise in Sea Levels Due to Increased Water Temperatures — When something like a body of water gets warmer, it expands a little. In a glass of water, or even a lake, the change is so slight that we don’t notice it. But when all the water in the oceans gets warmer, the expansion means that the sea levels will rise all across the world.
Melting Ice in Greenland, the Antarctic and Glaciers — Ice has been stored on Greenland, on Antarctica and in glaciers. This ice is made up of compacted snow that has accumulated over centuries. In ages past, the ice didn’t melt because the temperatures were so low. With global warming, this ice is starting to melt and flow into the oceans. As a result, ocean levels rise. Note that while the melting ice cools the oceans, it’s not enough to prevent the oceans from getting warmer overall.
Storm Surges: The winds in a hurricane rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere (clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.) The wind drives water before it and when the water hits land, it mounds up on itself, raising the level of the sea. If the storm is really big, storm surges can be felt hundreds of miles away. Because the oceans are getting warmer, there are more hurricanes.
Tides — Tides are caused by the gravity of the moon affecting the Earth. In the ocean, the moon’s gravitational pull causes the sea level to rise on the side of the Earth nearest the moon; on the other side of the Earth, the ocean level goes down. Thus we have high tides and low tides. These change every day as the Earth spins on its axis and different parts of the Earth are near or far away from the moon.
If, at the same time, you have a high tide and storm surge, in an ocean that is already rising because of global warming and melting ice, it can be a catastrophe.