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The Boy on the Beach

Building Community through Play

Four-year-old Eli plays alone at the shore, inventing dramas out of sand and water. He is Builder, Fireman, Protector, and Scout, overcoming waves and conquering monsters. Enter Marianne and doll, Mother and Baby, eager to redefine Eli as a good father and homesteader. Their separate visions intertwine in a search for a common ground on which howling wolves and butterfly sisters can learn to understand and need one another.

What can the richly imagined, impressively adaptable fantasy world of these children tell us about childhood, development, education, and even life itself? For fifty years, teacher and writer Vivian Gussin Paley has been exploring the imagery, language, and lore of young children, asking the questions they ask of themselves.

In The Boy on the Beach she continues to do so, going deeper into the mystery of play as she follows Eli and Marianne through the kindergarten year, finding more answers and more questions. How does their teacher, Mrs. Olson, manage to honor and utilize the genius of play to create an all-inclusive community in which boys and girls like each other and listen to each other’s stories? Why is Paley’s fellow teacher Yu-ching in Taiwan certain that her children pretend to be kittens in order to become necessary to the group? And why do teachers in London see their childrens’ role-playing as the natural end to loneliness in the school community?

Rich with the words of children and teachers themselves, The Boy on the Beach is vintage Paley, a wise and provocative appreciation of the importance of play and enduring curiosity about the nature of childhood and the imagination.

Read an excerpt from the book.

104 pages | 5 x 8 | © 2010

Education: Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education

Psychology: Developmental Psychology


"Parents and teachers alike will gain insight from Paley’s contemplative, creative approach to play."

Publishers Weekly

"The reader is left with the sense that Paley affords as much respect to the teachers as to the children themselves. In documenting her experiences with learners of all kinds, Paley raises questions without providing pat answers. Her purpose is to provide readers with much to think about."

Harvard Educational Review

"Of the many books in our field on the critical role of play in the lives of young children, those with Paley’s unique voice and insight stand out. . . . This book nourishes our teaching souls."

Young Children

Table of Contents


1 The Boy on the Beach

2 Letters from Taiwan

3 Hurricanes and Howling Wolves

4 Letters

5 A Lonely Wolf

6 Letters

7 Stanley Is Here

8 Letters

9 Baby Unicorns and Glue Fairies

10 Bad Stuff

11 More Chaos: Old Person on Fire!

12 Letters

13 Moving Rocks

14 The Ocean and the Island

15 Letters

16 Almost a Day at the Beach

17 We Together Have a Friendship

18 Stanley’s Fish

19 Making Scenes

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