2:6 –Response to Question 1

Read “Coyote Makes a Deal with King of England”, in Living by Stories. Read it silently, read it out loud, read it to a friend, and have a friend read it to you. See if you can discover how this oral syntax works to shape meaning for the story by shaping your reading and listening of the story. Write a blog about this reading/listening experience that provides references to the story.


As King suggests in his article “Godzilla vs. The Post-colonial,” Robinson’s “Coyote Makes a Deal with King of England” is written using syntax that defies silence.  In fact, with its repetition, plot diversions and syntax, its almost impossible to understand if you read it to yourself.  But read this story aloud, ideally to another person, and your voice naturally pauses in the appropriate places, you begin gesturing with your hands in others, such as the suggestion that the “black and white” law book is “about this long and about this wide” (84).

Repetition is an important characteristic of this story, and one I noticed right away.  The word “fire” is repeated four times on the first page of the story.  The specific phrase “they got a fire” is repeated twice on the first page.  This becomes a trend throughout the story, and I noticed that this use of repetition helps not only with the flow of the story, but the rhythm.

This article speaks about the importance of rhythm in children’s stories.  Children’s stories are one of the few structured oral storytelling methods surviving in Western culture. The distance between beats and the number of beats are cited as two important characteristics of good rhythm in a story.  Robinson’s has both.  The words used for the story are similar in length, and visually, the text is structured like a poem in that it has stanzas of text rather than traditional paragraphs.

Plot diversions are another aspect of this story that, unless read allowed, trip up the reader.  The narrator seems to be talking to the audience directly in many of these plot sidelines, or arguing with himself.  One instance is on page 81, beginning at the first line of the page from “That’s all the name I know” to “Only name I know, that was TOH-mah” (81).  Here the narrator has stopped the story to try to recall a character’s name, but can’t seem to precisely remember it.  The narrator struggles aloud for several lines before giving up and moving on.  This is really hard to follow when reading silently, but when read out loud, it flows better.  The speaker can use tone to make it clear that the narrator is thinking to themselves rather than speaking to the audience.

The syntax itself contributes heavily to the rhythm, as I mentioned, and this is due I think in a majority to word length and use of contractions.  The language is very informal, words such as “writing” or “until” replaced with “writin'” and “’till” (79).  Repetition is used here as filler.  Where some people might use “like” or “um” when speaking naturally, the narrator recreates these breaks in speech by repeating themselves, such as on page 66: “Do you know what the Angel was?/Do you know?/The Angel, God’s Angel, you know.”  This is an example of filler speech because it does nothing to move the story forward, it is simply stagnant.

Robinson is able to write a story and make it seem like he is simply transcribing a story he is hearing.  The experience is one of both listening and reading, but much of the story is lost or cannot be properly understood without listening to it read aloud.  This was an interesting experience for me, especially once I realized I could connect this experience with folk tales and other stories I was read to as a child, meeting four of the five points of a children’s story that I remember being significant to a good story.

Works Cited

Coyote. Digital image. Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 29 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coyote>.

Heathfield, David. “Rhythm, Rhyme, Repetition, Reasoning and Response in Oral Storytelling.” TeachingEnglish. British Council, n.d. Web. 30 June 2016.

King, Thomas. “Godzilla vs. Post-Colonial.” Unhomely States: Theorizing English-Canadian Postcolonialism. Mississauga, ON: Broadview, 2004. 183- 190.

Robinson, Harry. “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King Of England.” Living by Stories: a Journey of Landscape and Memory. Ed. Wendy Wickwire. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2005. 64-85.

Shepard, Aaron. “Rhythm and the Read-Aloud.” (Writing Books, Stories for Children). Aaron Shep, May 1999. Web. 30 June 2016.

7 thoughts on “2:6 –Response to Question 1

  1. Hi,
    I like how you connected Robinson’s storytelling ways to children’s fairy tales! I see the connection now too — the repetition in particular. I wonder — did the spelling errors, or any of the idiosyncrasies of Robinson’s speech, throw you off from the story when reading aloud? I know they make it difficult for me to focus when reading it silently, but even out loud I found that it was almost too annoying to do for long. In particular filler sentences make me mad — a perfect example is Daniel Defoe in either Robinson Crusoe or Roxanne (seriously don’t read, such a bad book), where perfect page space is wasted on repetition and asides that have nothing to do with the story.

    • Hi Mia,

      Spelling errors didn’t bother me–probably because I’m an awful speller myself! And reading aloud in general throws me off, so i found this assignment to be an interesting challenge. Filler sentences usually frustrate me as well, but if I think of oral stories the way I’ve always remembered children’s stories, I realize that the repetition is necessary, as it holds your attention, but also helps you to remember the story and perhaps tell it to someone else.


  2. Hi Gillian,

    I too worked on this question, and I can very clearly see the connection you draw from the Coyote story to young readers’ children’s literature. I think it makes sense that stories that were intended to be read aloud to children, such as picture books to a class of a short novel before bed. I think in part it goes back to, as you said to some degree, having a speech voice in text rather than a more put on writing voice. That is to say, the text is written as is was spoken, which is something most of us have been trained out of through our many English classes. You don’t write how you talk, and so forth.
    I do find myself in a bit of a disagreement with the repetition as just “filler speech”. While you might be right that that is one aspect of the repeats, I don’t believe that is the only thing the speech is doing in those instances. I wonder what you think of the repetitiveness as an oral pause; a means to draw attention to, or emphasize certain parts of the story? Also, what do you think of the repeats as a way to make the story easier to memorize for the next oral teller, as the practice before was to pass along the stories orally?
    Hope that wasn’t too much. My aim is not to attack you or your thought in any way. Just curious.


    • Hi Dilinie,

      I didn’t mean that filler was a bad thing. In my mind, it is necessary in order to remember the story. It’s like built-in memorization. Your brain already heard it, but the second time it remembers it, the third time it can repeat it. That’s more what I meant by “filler”. Its not necessarily meant for your conscious mind, but rather whatever part of your mind remember without actually trying to remember.

      I hope that made sense?

      (By the way, it didn’t come off as an attack, and I appreciate the questions and disagreement :). It wouldn’t be much of a course if we all agreed with each other!)

      • HI Gillian,

        I was wondering if you wanted to be in a group together? If you’re interested, could you message me on Facebook. Just comment on a post from me or something


  3. Hi Gillian,

    I loved your post, and agree that Robinson is skilled in using an array of techniques that have his readers ponder the meaning behind certain repeated words. It’s often said that repetition, especially in children’s literature, actually helps with increasing comprehension because it lets us pick up little details that we might have missed on our first try. So my question is, do you think Robinson’s oral syntax and overall style should be adopted by all authors of children’s books?


    • Hi Sandrawu,

      I think his style, in the sense of repetition, memorability, orality, and snappy style is already similar to children’s literature. Or more to say that children’s literature is similar to an oral style.

      I hope that answered your question!

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