Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Getting participation’ Category

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 ~ The Story Stone

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Stone Crop 1Funny that. Whenever anyone has asked me what I’d try and save if my house was burning down, I’ve always replied, ‘My stones.’ In all shapes and sizes and colours, I have so many of them, picked up and brought home from walks over beaches. Yet on reflection, that’s a daft thing to say. If anything was to survive a fire, surely my many pebbles would be the things to do it.

Walking across a favourite Pembrokeshire beach on one of the brighter days this week, I started thinking about stones and pebbles all over again. Heart of stone, stone cold sober … stones are usually associated with coldness. Yet when you handle a pebble, it’s more likely to be warmth that you feel. Besides, the individuality of pebbles – size, shape, colour – warms your imagination. It’s  why I’ve often taken a bag of them on a storytelling visit to a school. For when you look at children looking at pebbles, it’s often as if they’ve never previously seen such things. Quite probably, many haven’t. Given the chance, they tend to look at them with enormous care, noticing their individual features – for sometimes a stone can look like a face, as if it has eyes to look back at you with. Or sometimes it may have cracks or holes that make it look like living things might hide inside it.

Besides, it’s rather nice to imagine that a stone can be alive, can even be hungry and have plenty to say. It’s why I’ve always liked telling children the following story which, as I recall, comes from South America.

The story stone: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Poems can be stories too

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

My husband has been singing Scottish folk-songs. Two friends from New Zealand have just been on holiday to Scotland’s West Coast and loved it. Their trip included Oban, which is where one of my grandfathers came from. And yesterday talking with my Scottish storyteller friend, Jean Edmiston (she sent a lovely comment on last week’s blog), we talked a lot about the sense of place and how powerful it is when you’re storytelling.

A poem from Arisaig:

P1010525It must have been all those Scottish connections that made me remember a poem I once came across. It was hanging on the wall of a pub or café (I can’t remember which) in Arisaig one time we were up on that same West Coast. I wrote it down and afterwards I told the story of it and read it out to classes of children on a number of storytelling occasions. Once with an especially responsive class of ten-year-olds, we somehow got the idea of doing the poem with sound effects. I remember auditioning volunteers for all the many different sounds in the poem – the gulls, the whimper, the grey dog running. Then we performed it, me reading the words, them doing the sounds. They were wonderful. It still brings a thrill to my spine to recall it.

So this week, I’m quoting the poem in full because it’s one of the most haunting poems I’ve ever come across and so evocative of a sense of place. Also it affirms the truth that stories come in many forms, including in poems. But first let me expain the background to it’s story. According to a note that accompanied the poem where it hung on that wall in Arisaig,  it so happened that at the time of the Highland Clearances at Rhu Arisaig – and the Highland Clearances were where crofters were cleared off the land by land-owners – one of the families that were evacuated by boat accidentally left behind a favourite collie. Afterwards,  it was often said locally that, at dusk on certain evenings,  the ‘grey ghost’ searches the shore. 

The Grey Dog of Rhu Arisaig – by Roy Ferguson (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Ibanang Story 2

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Last week’s story was The Swallowing Drum, the story of a girl called Ibanang. This week, I promised some ideas about telling and working with it. Before getting going, however, I must emphasise my belief that a simple, straightforward telling can also work very well. Often, however, participation is both appropriate and helpful for enriching the story and making it stick in its listeners’ minds. What follows are some well-tried ideas.

Steph's drumsJoining in with sound and action:

The drums Ibanang encounters on her way into the forest provide a brilliant opportunity. Pretend you are beating the drums with drum-sticks and repeat what the drums say a number of times and in different tones of voice – high for the little drum, medium-voice for the middle-size one, low for the big one. By the time you get to the middle-size drum – and I recommend leaving it to the children to join in when they want to – I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have your whole group doing the same as you.

If you know some kind of celebratory song, add it in at the end of the story when people are celebrating the end of the evil drum. And sing it several times over, with verve.

Getting children to volunteer their own ideas:

Some storytellers worry that the session will get out of control if you provide opportunities for children to say things in the course of the storytelling. Perhaps this is why some adults only ask very limited questions (eg do you know what colour of coat Red Riding Hood put on?) (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

Flag-of-Wales-thumbnail[1]OK, I admit it. Over the last few weeks, I’ve become a devoted football fan. Obviously that’s because I’m Welsh and the Wales football team did so brilliantly in the Euros. It wasn’t easy seeing them get knocked out against Portugal in their semi-final this Wednesday. Yet, especially in this post-Brexit world, it’s an inspiration that the team believes so much in the strength of playing as a team, they pay such high regard to their fans and the support they get from them, they speak with such warmth of their country and they have been so good-humoured during their time away in France.

Besides, Gareth Bale is drop-dead gorgeous, both to look at and in his manner. I’m not sure I’ll keep following football as avidly now as I have been, but I’m sure I’ll be following him and the wonderful Welsh team.

It’s surely all this football stuff that caused a familiar phrase to pop up in my mind this week and with it the story from which it comes. The phrase is ‘extendable legs’. And the story it comes from is one I told in this blog on 21st July, 2012. To read a full version of it, you can look back at that blog posting. Simply fill in the words Chinese Brothers in the Storyworks Blog References slot on the top left side of the blog. Then press Search and up it will come.

The story itself is one children love to remember. An example occurred earlier this summer when I said to the two children in a family we know that I had a special story to tell them. Because the 10-year old sister is potty about mermaids, this was going to be a mermaid story. But somehow or other the promise of a story immediately made the 7-year old brother remember  The Five Chinese Brothers which I’d told to them it must be three years ago. Volunteering that they still had the colourful Chinese pin-cushion I’d taken them as a present to go with the story, he started recalling the magic powers that are at its centre.

The Five Chinese Brothers: (more…)

Storytelling Starters: Birdland

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

NZbirdcompressI’m visiting booming bittern territory this weekend. Will I get to hear one? If I’m lucky. The booming bittern has been one of the most threatened bird species in the UK. Evidently, it’s now making a bit of a comeback. It belongs in the heron family, lurks in reed beds and is extremely secretive. It’s the male that makes the extraordinary noise. When I heard one in the same area a few years ago, it really did BOOM.

And then there’s the blackbirds. So intense and tuneful is their singing, morning and evening, here in our part of South London, it fills the air around us. It is pure joy. 

But  for this week’s blog, I promised a story about how birds came to live in trees. This story was originally told to me by a woman from Thailand in an Adult Education class in storytelling I was running at the time.  Apologising profusely for her poor English, she then told the story to great effect. I’ve retold it in this blog once before, back in 2011. It bears repeating. I think it works well with Primary-age children.

TWO BIRDS IN A BEARD or HOW BIRDS GOT TO LIVE IN TREES: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Big Ears

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

Sea tray and handThe Rajah with Enormous Ears is, deservedly, an extremely well-known story. One thing that intrigues me about it is the different versions that exist in other cultures. Did it travel to those places from India? Or did other peoples in other lands come up with the same idea?

In ancient Greece:

Perhaps the oldest version of the Enormous Ears theme occurs as part of the story of King Midas from ancient Greece. Here, Midas is punished with a pair of ass’s ears when he disagrees with the verdict in a famous musical contest. For a long time, he manages to conceal these big ears under a Phrygian cap. But his barber who is the only person aware of the secret cannot bear keeping it to himself. So the barber digs a hole in the river bank and whispers the secret into the hole. ‘King Midas has ass’s ears.’ Then the barber fills up the hole not knowing that, soon, a reed will sprout from the hole and whisper the king’s secret to all who pass by. When Midas learns that his disgrace has become public, he condemns the barber to death, drinks bull’s blood and dies a miserable death.

In Wales: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Response

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

Without response, where would we storytellers be? I’d probably shrivel like the dried-up brown leaf that was on my doorstep the other morning, blown there no doubt by the winds of the previous night.

Rainbow scarf 5On Wednesday this week, I was at St Peter’s C of E Primary School in Ravenscourt Park. This was a new school for me except that its new head teacher used to book me at St Stephen’s School in Shepherd’s Bush where she previously worked. Some responses occurred in the course of the day which have stayed in my mind.

Identification

In my session for the Years 3 and 4 classes, I brought out my Rainbow Cloth (I often do). It brought some lovely responses, for instance that, if it transformed, it could become butterfly wings. I also told the story of how and where I’d bought it. ‘It comes from Africa,’ I began and in the small pause that followed, my eyes were drawn to two boys, both black, who were sitting together near the back. During my pause, one boy turned to the other, nodding slightly as if to say, ‘That’s like you.’ And at once, the other boy smiled with a look of such affirmation that I don’t want to forget it.

Questions (more…)