"Green Pail". by Coleen Murtagh Paratore. from Can You Keep a Secret? Ten Stories About Secrets by Lois Metzger. ???. Scholastic. ISBN: 9780439880220
Annie is almost thirteen, and just about to start eighth grade. As she leaves her family’s summer home for the year, she notices a green pail sitting on the lawn. Though it’s a seemingly insignificant object, when she gets back home, she imagines that pail as a place to put her varied feelings about everything from her controlling father to her crush on a boy named Billy. It is through writing down her thoughts and imagining the filling and emptying of the green pail that Annie is able to survive the eighth grade.
What struck me about this story was how focused it is on the main character’s internal life. When I was around the same age as Annie, I had a very intense and emotional internal life, which lived mostly within the pages of my journal. Though I never ran across a green pail, I can relate to the idea of becoming so filled with thoughts that some of them have to be stored somewhere else. Annie’s life isn’t easy, but the story doesn’t dwell on the unpleasantness of her situation so much as it celebrates the way she handles the unhappy moments by saving her good memories in that metaphorical pail and immersing herself in them when the going gets tough.
I could argue that Annie’s connection to the pail is too obvious, but as a kid, I would have hated it if the metaphor was anymore obscure. I appreciate the fact that Paratore uses symbolism without totally confusing the reader or losing his or her interest. Fourth- and fifth grade girls seem the most likely audience for this particular story, and I think they will appreciate this as well. The story requires a little bit of analysis, but not so much that the story isn’t still entertaining and meaningful to them on a personal level.
I’d love to see this story serve as inspiration for a writing exercise, where kids each tell a story using one significant object. I also think it is an uplifting and hopeful story for kids whose home lives are hectic or unhappy - it provides hope that their own happy experiences will be enough to keep them afloat until the negative situation passes. For some situations, happy thoughts might not be enough, but it is empowering for kids to know they have their own private lives within their hearts and minds that no one can steal from them.
I purchased Can You Keep a Secret? from my local used bookstore.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.