Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Getting participation’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Smorgasbord

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

That word smorgasbord always suggests outside eating to me, a delicious-looking range of dishes set out on a summer-time table strewn with flowers. A couple of sunny days this week suggests that, despite all the indications, spring and summer might actually be on their way. Some smorgasbording might occur!

So here’s a kind of storytelling smorgasbord to go with the imagined food.

1. Sharing stories

Did you know it’s National Share-a-Story Month? Among all the other National Thises and National Thats, I hadn’t specifically registered it until alerted by the delightfully efficient Marketing Manager at Jessica Kingsley Publishers who has been handling my new book. Might I do a piece on story-sharing to go on their blog? Answer: Yes of course I will. Story-sharing is so right up my street, it’s in my house and in my study and in my heart. The irony is, of course, that National Share-a-Story Month is organised by the National Federation of Children’s Book Groups. (more…)

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 ~ Moving the chairs

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

‘Imagination,’ Grace said, picking up on the final word of the story I’d just told. ‘Imagination is ..’.: and her thought continued, ending in an invitation to anyone present to tell a story. Specifically, she turned towards a neighbour in the home where she now lives whom she knew had a story to tell.

And so the Story Sharing began, the second part of a day that had been arranged to honour Grace Hallworth at the end of the month of her 90th birthday. Grace remains a much-loved figure in the storytelling world. She became the first Chairperson of the Society for Storytelling, the SfS, when it was formed back in 1993. She’s told her stories at festivals, schools and storytelling events all over the UK and elsewhere. She has published a large number of books of her stories both for adults and for children. Most of all, she has been a powerful voice for the value of stories in allowing us to discover, express and share our innermost selves as human beings. (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 ~ 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…)