Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Primary’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ On the journey

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Here we’ve been going flat out all week, me in what feels like constant contact with the very fine Marketing Manager at Jessica Kingsley (everyone there has been exceptional) and with husband Paul helping throughout by casting an editorial eye over stuff I’m writing in pursuance of sales for Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years. An article with an edited extract from the book for such-and-such-magazine… A blog for an Early Years organisation… Emails to editors of Early Years journals… Messages to anyone and everyone I can think of who might be able to help spread the word… One step at a time, I have to tell myself.

Meantime: School Librarian

Meantime I’ve also been doing the necessary reading to be able to write my seasonal batch of reviews for School Librarian. 1987 is when I started reviewing for School Librarian. It’s a labour of love in every sense of the term. But I enjoy it and it means I get to read some very interesting books I might not otherwise come across. Hence the next item in this week’s journey.

Plus: a good book for storytellers

Georgiana Keable: I’d forgotten the name until her book arrived for review. Then I vaguely remembered hearing about her long ago. In the early days of the Storytelling Revival, she was a member of the West London Storytelling Unit along with Ben Haggarty. Subsequently she was  one of the tellers in The Company of Storytellers. I never met her and never heard her. What I do recall hearing at some point was that she’d gone off to live somewhere abroad. As I now learn from her book, Norway is where she went. In Norway, she became a kind of storytelling queen of the forest, an ambassador for trees and wildlife introducing children to nature’s riches.

Her book is called The Natural Storyteller. It contains 48 stories. Some are stories from real life experience. Most are folktales from a wide variety of countries and one of these is her retelling of The King with Dirty Feet, the lovely Indian story that Sally Pomme Clayton sent me for my collection of stories, Time for Telling. The Natural Storyteller (subtitle Wildlife Tales for Telling) is aimed at older children and throughout it treats them as Apprentice Storytellers, giving helpful ideas on how to absorb stories and maybe make new ones from them.

The Natural Storyteller comes from Hawthorne Press. I recommend it. Here, briefly retold in my own words, is one of the stories in it that struck me most strongly and that I will surely tell.

An inspiring story: The Blind Little Sister

In a village in West Africa, there were two sisters. One was blind. The other was married to a hunter and whenever this hunter went out hunting, the blind sister said she’d love to go with him. The hunter always refused. ‘What use is a hunter with no eyes? Besides you’re a girl.’ But the married sister always said that her blind sister was the wisest person: ‘She sees with her ears.’

So it turned out. One day, the hunter relented. In the jungle, the blind girl suddenly stopped. ‘Shhhh, there is a lion! But the lion will not bother us, it’s eaten its fill and it’s fast asleep.’ The blind sister proved to be right. The hunter couldn’t see it at first but soon they came across a mighty lion fast asleep beneath a tree.

Further on, the same kind of thing happened. The girl said, ‘Shhhhh! An elephant. It’s washing itself. It won’t bother us.’ As with the lion, the hunter asked, ‘How did you know about it?’ As before, she said the same thing: ‘It’s simple. I see with my ears.’

Before leaving the jungle that day, the hunter suggested that he and the blind sister should both set a trap. Next day they could return and see what they’d caught.

Next day on their return, the hunter saw his trap had caught a little grey bird. The blind sister’s trap had caught a bird whose feathers shone with scarlet and gold. Thinking she’d never know the difference, the hunter took the scarlet and gold bird as his own and handed the grey bird to the girl.

But on the way home, the hunter posed a question to the girl. ‘If it’s true as my wife says that you are so wise, tell me why there is so much war and violence in this world.’

The blind girl replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who take things that are not theirs.’

The hunter felt very ashamed. At once, he took the little grey bird from his blind sister-in-law’s hands and gave her the bird with red and gold feathers that had been caught in her trap. He said, ‘I’m sorry.’

Then as they walked home in silence, the hunter asked another question. ‘If you are so wise, and people are selfish, how is it there is still so much love and kindness in the world?’

The girl smiled and replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who learn by their mistakes.’

One way a story can make its mark:

Sometimes a story comes at the right time – like a keyhole to put your key into. As I was reading Georgiana Keable’s book, I received an invitation to an event soon to take place at the offices of ADD, a charity which I support. ADD represents ‘Action Aid for Disability’. The organisation works by identifying and supporting people, themselves disabled in one way or another, who can become Disability Activists in the countries where ADD operates. Last year I wrote a story for them based on the life of one such activist, an Ugandan man with albinism who, from all I have learned about him, is a powerful advocate for people with disability and an extraordinary man of great wisdom and kindness. His albinism has meant that he is almost blind. He’s going to be at the gathering. I can’t wait to meet him.

A riddle to end:

Like a good story, a good riddle is cheering and makes you think. A friend put this one to me one evening this week.

Question: Why do anarchists prefer herbal tea?

Answer: Because proper tea (property) is theft.

PS: Tracks across the sand, a path through a forest, a beautiful keyhole in a door: I hope my choice of photos makes some sense. Anyway, the choosing of them is always fun.

Storytelling Starters ~ Stew

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Last week this blog was a pot-pourri. This week it’s more by way of a stew.

Item 1:

Item 1 must be my new book which will be out in only four days’ time. Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years will be available to buy on my website and I’ll say more about it here next week. I do hope it encourages early years staff and parents (and what about grandparents?) to realise that, next to food and love, stories are vital to the growth of healthy children. In fact, they are part of the food and the love. It seems that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, agrees. A few days in advance of this year’s World Book Day, in a piece in the Sunday Express that was in turn reported on the BBC and then re-reported in the Guardian, she described how much joy it gave her as a child that her father had read stories with her. She went on: “Reading to our children and our grandchildren is something we can all try to do every day of the year. Not only does it give us pleasure but it leads them on a voyage of discovery and enrichment that only books can bring.”

Item 2:

Item 2 has to be about the personal tale. On the 10th March, the word ‘storytelling’ appeared in another piece in the Guardian. Of course, it caught my eye. The piece reported former President Obama’s senior adviser, Eric Schultz, having told the New York Times: ‘President and Mrs Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire. Throughout their lives they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better.’

And why was Eric Schultz saying this now? Because, evidently, there’s a possibility that Barack and Michelle Obama might be on the verge of signing up to present a series of high-profile shows on Netflix. Hence the connection with storytelling: ‘As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories.’

On Tuesday this week, the Obamas’ possible plan came back to my mind during a visit to St Peter’s School in Hammersmith. As twice before, I was there to do a day’s storytelling for their Arts Week and it felt very encouraging  that lots of the 300 children I saw in the course of the day remembered those previous visits. Until this year, however, I’d never made a conscious choice to tell a personal story in any of my sessions. This time with Years 5 and 6, it was a spontaneous but very conscious choice. I was planning to tell two main stories, each somewhat scary in its way. One was going to be that Indian story about the barber and the ghosts that I recently told in this blog. The other was going to be the strange and thought-provoking story by Richard Hughes, The Glass Ball. (You can find it in my blog for November 29th, 2014.) A story about war – and, yes, the Year 5 and 6 children were very aware of war from the TV – it begins with the ever-present fear war brings of being trapped and hurt or killed and the wonder of it when peace is found.

£8.50 (£10 inc UK postage)

On the hop, because I’d be telling these two scary stories and felt suddenly aware of the scariness ahead – I began with the story that comes first in by book of personal tales, A Long Run in Short Shorts. The experience, as I explained, had been a bit scary for me. For as I’d started down that hill in Wales, on my own and, as daylight darkened, not looking forward to shaded places on the road back home, I’d initially been very startled by the sight of those two strange men coming up the hill towards me. Jowly faces, thin bare legs, very short shorts, knobbly knees: who could they be and why would they be coming up that hill towards me at that time of the evening? And would I have to be following them on my way home?

After my personal tale, I went on to the barber story and then suggested a minute’s visualising to the 60 or so young people before me. A scene from the barber story was what I proposed they choose. And when, after a minute or so had elapsed, I invited anyone who wanted to report what they’d ‘seen’, quite a lot of children put up their hand But only one  described a scene from the barber story. All the others for whom there was time came up with something personal, something a bit scary that had happened to them. It was a real reminder to me of the power of the personal story and the importance of including our own lives in the wider context of storytelling. It was also a lesson to me to perhaps make more time for that kind of telling with that age-group in future.

Item 3:

The third item in my stew again involves reference to a Guardian piece (you can tell it’s the paper I read!) This was the three-page obituary of Stephen Hawking that appeared there on Thursday. Written by his colleague Sir Roger Penrose, the majority of the piece was about Hawking’s scientific thinking and the extraordinary advances he made in the science of space.

Alas, I understood only those parts of the tribute that referred to Hawking’s life and personality. But the stuff about his science brought back to mind the last session of my day at St Peter’s.

That last session was with the 7 to 9 year-old in Years 3 and 4. It included a telling of the West African story, How Sun and Moon Got Into the Sky. You know the one? (If not, you can find it in my blog archive for January 14th, 2012.) Briefly, it tells how Sun and Moon once lived down here on earth. They were married and in the house where they lived, Moon used to do lots of polishing (for of course, these were the olden times before female emancipation) whereas Sun used to go out to chat with his friend Water. On one occasion, Sun inquired why Water never came to visit him and why he, Sun, always had to go and see Water. Water’s response was to enquire whether Sun had enough room in his house for him. ‘After all,’ said Water, it’s not just me. There’s an awful lot in me. (Fishes, sharks, seaweed … the story gives lots of space for participation).’

So Sun went and extended his house. (Again, the idea of extensions gives plenty of room for contributions). Finally, the invitation was confirmed. Water would come to tea. On the appointed day, Sun and Moon were ready. They heard Water coming. But of course the results were truly world-changing.  As Water flooded into the house with all that was in him, Moon followed by Sun had to run upstairs and climb out onto the roof. But even that wasn’t going to be enough. Soon Moon was saying, ‘I must go, I must jump.’ And when she did, Sun said, ‘Wait for me!’ So that’s how they both got into the sky and, of course, they’re still there (though some of us do say that, in the immensity of space, they still meet whenever there’s an eclipse and others remark that they had lots of children, namely the stars).

The response to this story on Tuesday amazed me. How much those children knew about space! It all came out in questions and comments. Wouldn’t Water have got evaporated by Sun when Water came to the house? How did Sun and Moon manage to jump into the sky considering that gravity would have held them back? Considering that Sun is so massive, how could Sun have had a house big enough to live in here on earth?

Naturally, the awareness of science those children showed, together with their capacity to think about it, came back into my mind yesterday when I read the obituary of Stephen Hawking in the Guardian. What an astonishing mind he had, a mind as big as a planet. And reading about him, I felt very aware that all that thinking had to have started somewhere. Conceivably the challenges provided to a modern mind by an ancient West African story can help such thinking to begin.

PS: Illustrations this week speak for themselves. Hope you enjoy the stew!

Storytelling Starters ~ Pot-pourri

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word pot-pourri in its first recorded usage in 1725 referred to a stew or a hotch-potch. Not long later in 1749 it was being used, as now, to describe a mixture of dried petals of different flowers mixed with spices. But of course it can also have the figurative meaning of a musical or literary medley. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Mirror, mirror

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

What happened became something I’d never forget as the young Masai moran stared at the camera, stared again, then summoned the others to come and look. One by one, they took turns to do so.. And why? What the first young man had seen was a reflection of himself in the camera lens. Now everyone else had to have a look too. Camera had become mirror. And this was fascinating to those Masai people for, at that point anyway, they had no mirrors.

This encounter occurred during a weekend safari trip made by myself and my then boyfriend at some point during the nine months I spent in Kenya as a VSO (Volunteer for Service Overseas) before I went to University. At that time, the VSO scheme was for school-leavers in the belief that the time those accepted onto it spent in developing countries would have a powerful and probably beneficial effect on them and also, in terms of what they could do to help, on the communities they went to. They were certainly right in regard to myself and the long-term effect. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ On reflection

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Looking anew at a story in the light of new information can cause a bit of reflection. This happened to me this week. I’d been looking through my files of stories and had come across one I like a lot that I’ve sometimes told to younger children. It’s about a tiger and a mouse and you very likely know it already.

The Tiger and the Mouse:

So this tiger is marching through the forest when he almost trips over a little mouse.

‘Ha,’ says the tiger. ‘You got in my way. I’m going to eat you up.’

‘Oh, don’t do that,’ the little mouse replies. ‘You never know, one day I might be able to help you.’

‘You? Help me?’ blares the tiger. ‘You’re very small and weak. I’m very big and strong. How could you ever help me?’

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Settling into a story

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Roses 3Do stories need explanation? And what kind of explanations might be needed for a story from an unfamiliar culture? I did wonder a bit about these issues while preparing The Tale of Farizad of the Rose’s Smile for telling to the older children in Wolfscastle School this last Monday. No wide cultural diversity there except for that between Welsh and English. Probably little awareness of Muslim culture. No great variety among children’s names. Certainly nothing like Farid, Faruz and Farizad.

But what explanation does a good story need? I plumped for just going ahead, telling the story without explanation. First I’d told the wonderfully daft story of Shemi and the Enormous Cabbage. Older they might be but they enjoyed that a lot. Then I came to the Farizad story. This is in a very different vein and how it begins is rather a shock. For it tells how, over the course of the three years following the marriage of the King of Persia to the youngest of three sisters, the king is told that his queen has given birth to a dead dog, a dead cat and a dead mouse. Can this be true? No, these are just lies. The queen has actually given birth to three babies and it’s her jealous sisters who have made up the stories.

Would they stick with it? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Spot the common factor

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

27 ShemiAny storytelling booking obliges you to think. What stories will you do? How might they accord with an overall theme? And how might you relate to the particular audience? All such questions are heightened for me when it’s a booking with children.

This next Monday, it’s to be two sessions at Wolfscastle School, a delightful little North Pembrokeshire Primary school which I’ve visited on several previous occasions. But those occasions were some years ago and by now all the children I saw will have moved on. How will I try to engage my two different groups on Monday? What comments might they make? What questions might they ask?

Planning has been energising. For the younger group, I’ve decided on three favourite stories that accord with the particular theme which, said the headmistress, has been the school’s theme this term. I don’t know if you’ll spot what it is. 

Story One: 

The first story to come to my mind was one of the tall tales of Shemi Wâd, a local storyteller from the 19th century who remained a well-known character in North Pembrokeshire memory at least until the mid-20th century. When I published Shemi’s Tall Tales, I discovered that children – not just here but everywhere – absolutely loved them. One of the tallest and most enjoyable is The Enormous Cabbage. Here it is (in brief): (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking up

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

P1070076Here’s a story I remember with laughter and delight every time I think about Laugharne, the place where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived and wrote and also where the novelist and story-writer Richard Hughes had his writing-room high up in the castle walls. This story was created orally by a small group of 11-year old children.

The story:

Merlin was watching over the wall of his castle. Beside him was his favourite seagull. As he looked down, Merlin saw a family of parents and children, obviously tourists, walking along the foreshore of the estuary below. All were munching – crisps from crisp bags, chocolate from wrappers. Then as they passed, one by one they dropped their plastic wrappers onto the ground. Merlin was horrified. When the family had gone by, he sent his favourite seagull down onto the shore to bring him something else that was messing it up. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Magic eyes

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

P1000058Cast up onto the pebbles this week on one of my Pembrokeshire beaches were lots and lots of dead crabs – big ones, small ones, ferocious-looking ones, ones that made me go Oooh. I took quite a few photos with my new camera, bought because the zoom on the old one had broken, and the sight of the crabs through the camera lens reminded me of a story I’ve always loved telling to Primary-age children. I first came across it many years ago in Twenty Tellable Tales by the excellent American storyteller, Margaret Read MacDonald. In this collection, the stories are set out almost like poems making it easy to see those chant-like parts that are often repeated and where an audience can join in.

It’s the removable eyes in this story that got me. Children also love them, especially when you make spectacle eyes with your hands, moving them out in front of you and then back again as you do crab’s magic chant. Such eyes, Margaret Read MacDonald points out in her notes on the story, are usually associated with Native American Indian culture. However, it’s from South America that this tale appears to have come. Here it is more or less as I tell it except that this is in shortened form. The elaborations and exaggerations I leave to you.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Time of contrasts

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

EightIt’s a time of contrasts. On the one hand is the thought of coming days of peace and enjoyment. On the other, my mind is abuzz, thinking not only of things that have to be done but also about people who are in trouble, people fleeing bombardment, who haven’t got a home to be at home in, who haven’t got enough to eat, who haven’t got any money to buy things  – people like the woman I met on the street the other day. When she asked for some money for something to eat, I asked what she was hoping to get. ‘Anything,’ she said. ‘You know you can get a packet of crisps for 20p. Sometimes I get four packets. They make me feel full for the whole day.’

Then I had to start thinking about this week’s posting. What could I possibly write about? What my mind settled on – needs must! – is something merry and participative for children, namely the Christmas chant I created some years ago. It’s based on Going On A Bear Hunt, the traditional chant I’m sure you all know. Just change the words a bit and this is how my Christmas chant turns out: 

Going to See Father Christmas: (more…)