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Learning Activity

The Wishingbone

Art Forms
Poem, story, possible dance, drama…
Art, Language Arts, Social Studies
grade levels
You will need
Writing materials, art supplies
One hour


Discuss: Native American traditional stories are often “trickster” stories—being an excellent “trickster” is valued. Coyote and Raven star in many trickster tales, but they are also gods, just as the trickster Loki is a god in Old Norse tales.

In this Cree series of stories from around Lake Winnepeg, the “speaker” of these story-poems has found the wishbone of a snow goose that has been killed by a lynx.

The Magic Rule: If a person finds such a bone, he or she possesses a magic wand of transformation which allows one to wish anything into existence and wish himself or herself into any situation.

The magical tradition here teaches us that things do not stay the same. By swift processes we do not understand, things turn into other things, just like in real life. In this way such stories prepare children for life.

Emphasize: Wishing in the European tradition is usually connected to selfishness and ego gratification. In European stories, given our usual three wishes, we wish for personal advantage first; wealth, immortality, etc. This approach will not give you a strong wishingbone narrative.

Play with What If
A proper wishingbone wish begins elsewhere—it begins with “what if?…”, it begins with playfulness and creativity and what would be fun.
The Cree wishingbone puts no number limit on wishes; you can wish up anything as often as you like.

Discuss: Wishing in the European prayer tradition is also often connected to conscience and being ‘good.’

Wishing for an end to violence or similar obviously good things may be wonderful, but is unlikely to produce a strong wishingbone narrative. (If there were no violence, of course, most life forms would quickly starve, and earth would reek with death. )

Discuss: All human stories about magic teach us that magic is tricky. We often get more than we bargained for. Magic is filled with the unpredictable and unexpected.

Consider also the wisdom of the old adage: “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.”

Optional Background: Let Loose the Antic Spirit

Read this to the class, or copy it for them:

We each contain within us the Antic Spirit.
The Antic Spirit is that part of you that now and then puts a gleam in your eye, that puts the ‘devil’ in you, that part that loves mischief and the occasional practical joke.

It is the part that makes your family walk softly for awhile without being afraid.
It is the part inside you that giggles when the tables are turned.
It is the part inside you that sometimes overwhelms you with laughter until you can’t stop.

The Antic Spirit is the irrepressible trickster inside us, the ambiguous archetype of all cultures who is the Norse Loki and Native Americans’ Coyote and Raven and the West Africans’ Trickster Spider, Anazi.
It is Br’er Rabbit and it is the ‘Beep-beep’ Roadrunner who always defeats old Wiley Coyote.

The Antic Spirit is whimsey and playfulness; it is ridiculous and preposterous. The Antic is the pixie and the puck, imp and rogue, the jester in bells. The Antic Spirit punctures pomposity, it is the caper and the doffed cap in caprice.

The Antic Spirit is ambiguous, not all positive. The Antic Spirit does sometimes take pleasure in others’ discomfiture, misfortune, or pain. It can get us in trouble. The trickster does get tricked.

Some people throttle the Antic part of them, or life and time does. But the Antic Spirit is tough, persistent. It keeps welling up within us. The image of the Antic Spirit may be our most accurate representation of what human existence is really all about. The Antic Spirit is the part that smiles when we find we’ve once again broken Murphy’s Law.

I want you to try to give the Antic Spirit voice in a poem.
Loose the Antic from any chains or walls you have imposed on it. Find that part of you and write from it—see what that part wants to say.

One way to loose the Antic Spirit is to invent a wishingbone storypoem.

The Activity

Write a wishing bone story poem;. Wish up some fun! You are welcome to imitate the style of the examples.

Notice the 3 ways they begin.

• In your poem, remember that you hold the wishing bone, so write in the first person., from the “I”. You are the powerful one.
• It is a good idea to begin with the moment you held the bone and felt the power.
• When you read the example poems, pay special attention to the lines in italics. These are the storyteller’s repeated comments which convince us there is a real human voice speaking—they give the poems conviction, and they’re fun.
• The examples contain many rapid changes in plot and possibility. Yours probably should also

Read these story-poems out loud.

From THE WISHING BONE CYCLE by Jacob Nibenegenesabe, Cree Nation

I try to make wishes right
but sometimes it doesn't work.
Once, I wished a tree upside down
and its branches
were where the roots should have been!
The squirrels had to ask the moles
"How do we get down there
to get home?"
One time it happened that way.
Then there was the time, I remember now,
I wished a man upside down
and his feet were where his hands
should have been!
In the morning his shoes
had to ask the birds
"How do we fly up there
to get home?"
One time it happened that way.

There was an old woman I wished up.
She was the wife
of an old pond.
You could watch her swim in her husband
if you were
in the hiding bushes.
She spoke to him by the way she swam

One time in their lives there was no rain
and the sun began making the pond smaller.
Soon the sun took the whole pond!
For many nights the old woman slept
near the hole where her husband once lived.
Then, one night, a storm came
but in the morning there still was no water
in her husband's old house.
So she set out on a journey to find her husband
and followed the puddles on the ground
which were the storm's footprints.
She followed them for many miles.
Finally she came upon her husband
sitting in a hole. But he was in the wrong hole!
So the old woman brought her husband home
little by little in her hands.
You could have seen him come home
if you were
in the hiding bushes.

Once I wished up a coat
wearing a man inside.
The man was sleeping
and when he woke
the coat was on him!
This was in summer, so many asked him
”Why do you have that coat on?"
"It has me in it!"
he would answer.
He tried to take it off
but I wished his memory shivering with cold
so it wouldn't want to remember
how to take a coat off.
That way it would stay warm.
I congratulated myself on thinking of that.
Then his friends came,
put coats on,
and slowly showed him how they took coats off.
Even that didn't work.
Things were getting interesting.
Then his friends
tried to confuse the coat
into thinking it was a man.
"Good morning," they said to it,
"Did you get
your share of fish?"
and other things too.
Some even invited the coat to gossip.
It got to be late summer
and someone said to the coat
"It is getting colder.
You better go out
and find a coat to wear."
The coat agreed!

Ha! I was too busy laughing
to stop that dumb coat
from leaving the man it wore
I didn't care.
I went following the coat.
Things were getting interesting.



The magical tradition of stories teaches us that things do not stay the same. By swift processes we do not understand, things turn into other things, just as in real life. In this way such stories prepare children for life.


• Turn any Wishingbone story into a dance or drama or reader’s theater. Students could act out one of Jacob’s stories before making up their own.

• When the Wishingbone poems and stories are shared, ask students to listen with their eyes closed. Ask them to allow the stories to paint pictures in their minds. After, ask what they saw.

• Have student volunteers read/share/perform their Wishingbone poems and stories with another class.

Student Source Sheets Wishingbone

Dali the Surrealist Painter by Kevin Johnson

Once I wished the head of Salvador Dali into a clear plastic ball
It looked very funny with the big mustache and bulging eyes
I am Dali!
I am Dali!

The ball shouted
I am Dali the surrealist painter!
Yes you are, I said laughing, and rolled the ball down a hill
The ball rolled and rolled a long ways and eventually came to a lake
Some kids were playing by the lake when Salvador Dali came rolling along
I am Dali!
I am Dali the surrealist
the head said from inside the ball
The kids thought this was very funny
What’s this talking ball with the goofy mustache yelling at us? they asked
They picked up the ball and began playing catch with Dali's head
This was even more funny, because now the ball was really screaming
I am DALI!
I am DALI!
Dali! the surrealist
Dali! the surrealist painter!
cried the ball
You’re funny laughed the kids, who eventually got bored
and threw the ball into the lake

Dali's head drifted out on the water
What’s this funny ball with this ridiculous head in it?, asked the fish
I am DALI!
I am DALI! the surrealist!
shouted Dali to the fish,
who simply turned and swam away
Eventually Dali's head rolled up to a steep and wavy beach
You can still find it there today rolling in and out with the waves
And screaming
I am DALI!
I am Dali!
i am dali.........
The Surrealist!
the surrealist.........


This world is too boring!
Holding the wishbone in my hand
I wish for the earth beneath me
to become a star.
It is all lava and flames,
and not much fun.
Even Earth was better than this.
So I hold the wishbone high
and wish for the star beneath me
to become a moon.
But it is only dust and rock.
Even Earth was better than this.
Again I lift the wishbone over my head
and wish for the moon beneath me
to be a mighty black hole.
Even in this cosmic entity of great power,
I am not amused.
I feel so heavy, and there is nothing to see.
For one final time
I lift the wishbone above my head
and wish for a magic, wonderful world
full of excitement and nature, away
from all that is normal and boring,
and it must have worked,
for I came back to Earth, where I started from.

— Anthony Cary, 8


One time I wished for school to be closed forever,
but school only closes when it is very cold out,
so it got cold, and I wished school back.
Then I wished for a ten year school vacation,
but I got bored and wished the vacation over.

I thought and thought, and finally came up with a plan
to get rid of school but still have it.
I wished for a school vacation every other day.
But I got dumber from having less school,
so on my off days, I wished for some knowledge,
and everything worked fine.
But then everyone else got dumber, so
I wished for them to get some knowledge too,
and they got it, and everything worked fine.

— Clayton Miller, 8


I found a magic wishingbone
lying in the dirt.
I wished to go back in time
about twenty or thirty years.
I saw my mom
sitting at a desk in a bedroom,
writing a poem.
She looked like me.
I looked over her shoulder
and saw her poem,
the words uneasy to read.
“marriage” and “children”
the only words I could see.
I bent closer to get a better look.
“I’m almost done,” she said.
Then I was sitting in my room
in front of a mirror.
“I’m almost done,” I said to my mom.

— Carissa Davidson, gr 8


There is a girl who lives in a tree,
She lives where it’s scary and dark.
Ants crawl up the bumpy wall.
She gropes around.
She finds a wishingbone!
She wishes for a bunny upside down
walking on its ears.
She just sits for a time scared and shaky.

She climbs out and starts looking
for a bunny walking on its ears.

She turns to go back in, but
catches a glimpse in her eye.

She turns
and looks, quickly and quietly.
It is the upside–down bunny!
She laughs with great pleasure,

But it is time to tuck away for the night
in the lovely moonlight.

— Tonia Jennico, gr 7


There once was an old Stonecutter
Who found a wishingbone with which
He could become anything at all
He wanted to be the most
Powerful thing in the Universe.
So he looked to the Sea.
The sea was the most powerful
So he became the sea.
Then the Stonecutter looked to the Sun,
It was more powerful than he,
So he became the Sun.
But he looked down and tried
to set a Stone ablaze,
It would not start on fire!
It was more powerful than he.
So he became the Stone,
truly the most powerful thing.
Nothing could harm him.
Then one day out of nowhere
along came a Stonecutter.

— Brian Seifert, gr 8


I found a wishingbone
and asked for world peace
but the world just broke in half
and there were no more geese.
I noticed this and asked for it to become whole again.
I still had the wishingbone
and I asked for no more wars,
but the bone misunderstood
and there were no more apple cores.

— Bridget Smith, gr 6


I wished once for beauty.
My beauty was worshipped,
Yet, somehow I was miserable.

I wished once for Power
My Power was worshipped,
Yet, somehow I was miserable.

I wished once for Knowledge,
My Knowledge was worshipped,
Yet, somehow I was miserable.

I wished once for Love,
My Love was worshipped,
Yet, somehow I was miserable.

I wished once for Perfection,
My Perfection was worshipped
Yet, somehow I was miserable.

I wished once for Humbleness,
I was not worshipped,
Yet, somehow I was Happy

— Sarah Lynn Jutila, gr 6


There once was a wishing well,
Farthest in the land—
It had a rusty sign
I couldn’t understand.
I put my penny in it
And the sign showed up clear:
It warned me to stand back
And something might appear.
It told me to be careful
For what I want to get,
And if I got it how I asked
I just might have a fit.

I wished for a certain bully
to become very nice,
I may not have made myself clear,
For it turned him into ice.
I wished for a cat,
Something very new,
But when I got home
My cat was turning blue.
I’ll never wish again
As long as I will live
—I want to stop this wishing;
“I give, I give, I give!”

— Kim Jackson, gr 6