Lessons about Storytelling, and much more, from Avery’s Bucket List

This morning I encountered a new blog that completely took my breath away for a number of reasons.  The blog is Avery’s Bucket List.

Avery’s Bucket List is a blog being written by Mike and Laura Canahuati of Houston. Their daughter Avery suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a rare genetic disorder that strikes children. Tragically, Avery is not expected to live past 18 months.  It’s the type of story that makes any parent shiver and just want to hug their children a little tighter and a little longer the next time they see them; I know that’s how it made me feel.

What the Canahuatis have done in response to their daughter’s illness is extraordinary to me. Instead of simply wallowing in sorrow – as many would likely and understandably do – they have decided to write a blog dedicated to listing all of the things they would like to see their daughter do in her life, and Avery’s Bucket List was born.

It’s incredible to read.  Make no mistake: It’s incredibly sad, but it’s also brilliantly written, often humourous, and always poignant.  There are countless life lessons we can all learn from the stories the Canahuantis are sharing with the world.

Of course, my blog is not about Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Children, or Parenting; it’s about helping people learn. And there’s a great lesson about learning in Avery’s Bucket List: The value of story and narrative.

I mentioned that I find the blog brilliantly written, and I say that because of the narrative it uses.  One of the primary purposes of this blog is to educate people about SMA and increase awareness about the disease. That could have been done via technical medical information or simply sharing examples of how it affects Avery.  Had the Canahuantis written it from that perspective, it would have been valuable, and it likely would have helped people.

But it wouldn’t have generated almost 200,000 pageviews in less than a week.  The reason the blog has spread is because it has connected with people, and it has connected with people through it’s story.

First, Avery’s Bucket List is just that, a story of the many things Avery will be experiencing in her brief life.  It’s also ‘written’ by Avery, or more specifically, written from her point of view. It allows us to experience her journey personally, almost along side her. It’s that personal and often humourous perspective that has connected people to the story.  The ongoing narrative of Avery’s journey is what compelled me to read all of the posts in a single sitting, and what will keep me following the journey in the months ahead.

And yet… I took away the lessons the Canahuantis are trying to make people aware of.  I can tell you details about SMA that as of yesterday I was completely unaware of. They had a goal of increasing awareness. Had I seen a link that said “Learn more about Spinal Muscular Atrophy”, I likely never would have clicked it, read the posts, and written this post of my own.  The story got me interested, the narrative kept me interested, and I was able to gain some of the lessons the writers hoped I would.

That’s why story and narratives are so important in instructional design.

Of course, that’s a perifferal lesson from Avery’s Bucket List – there are many more life lessons to be learned from the inspirational story, and I encourage you to check it out and join the Canahuantis in celebrating Avery’s life.

I will close this post by adapting the closing Avery uses on many of her posts:

Up Next on the Misadventures in Learning Blog:
Whatever I bring to life, because I don’t have time to sit back and wait for life to bring anything to me.