Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Chants and songs’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Duck Confit

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

P1070169Ducks in Brockwell Park this week made me laugh. I love it when they go tail up, head down, orange legs flapping like mad. Then when the eclipse was occurring this Friday morning, I thought about Earth’s dependence on the Sun. Although only a small darkening happened, the birds in the garden went quiet and it felt strangely cold.

After the eclipse, I found myself plunged – this upcoming Blog in mind, no doubt –  into the characteristic mode of the storyteller. Down inside, you start digesting and sorting all kinds of stuff that may have gone into your mind in the past. Then suddenly up come findings – stories, poems, odd bits of memory. And the magic is that, somehow, the findings are all linked in some way.

So here are three items from my cosmic soup of yesterday morning accompanied by two photos of those Brockwell Park ducks. I hope you enjoy the mixture and see the links between the items. For me as a storyteller, they bring the additional pleasure of realising that, between them, they have something to offer for all ages.  

1. Five Little Ducks (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Moon tales in verse

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Moon tree compress 2You must have seen that enormous perigee moon that glowed so brightly down at us a week or two back. The perigee comes when the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth and this recent perigee moon made me think about the moon stories and poems I know. For me, it’s always worked well to add poems into the mix when I’m storytelling. So this week, here are two moon poems I’ve often brought out. The first (origins unknown) was told me ages ago by a friend. It’s an extremely daft little verse and I’ve been known to quote it, as it were out of the blue, to anyone I happen to be with on any brightly moon-lit night. Because it’s so daft, it must be uttered with full romantic zest up to and including the very silly end. I hope it amuses your friends.

Moon, oh moon with thy beautiful face
Who encloses us all in thy gentle embrace,
Your lovely face is oft in my mind
But when, ah oh when, shall I see thy behind?


My second moon poem, Silver, was composed by Walter de la Mare. It’s full of such delicate imagery that many times I’ve felt inspired to sing it to a setting I made. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Gibberish

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Summer holidays coming up has reminded me of several alphabet games we used to play as kids – in the car coming back from the beach, in the caravan before going to sleep. It feels like a good idea to share them. You may be able to use them too.

Going Away:  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Eggy Tale

Saturday, April 19th, 2014


Happy Easter – and here’s my Easter gift to you: a Russian rhyming story about an egg. I put it into this blog for Easter 2012 but I think it’s worth repeating (with a repeating photograph too).

The story:

Bunny and hornIn grandmother’s shed
Lived a speckled hen.
On the day of my story, it laid an egg.
The egg rolled down
From shelf to shelf
Until in the end it found itself
In a little keg made of aspen wood
In a dusty corner where the donkey stood.
A mouse ran by too near the keg,
Wiggled his tail, and broke the egg!
At this great catastrophe
The farmyard donkey began to cry,
The fat old pig let out a sigh,
A startled chicken rose to fly;
The gateposts shrieked,
Bunny and hornAll doors creaked,
The milk-churn leaked;
And the priest’s daughter,
The little girl in my story,
Carrying water
Broke her bucket.

All in a dither
She came to her mother
And said:
Mother, mother, have you heard the news?
In grandmother’s yard
Lives a speckled hen.
Today, she laid an egg;
The egg rolled down
Bunny and hornFrom shelf to shelf
Until in the end it found itself
In a little keg made of aspen wood
In the dusty corner where the donkey stood.
A mouse ran by too near the keg,
Wiggled his tail, and broke the egg!
At this great catastrophe
The little donkey began to cry,
The fat old pig let out a sigh,
A startled chicken rose to fly;
The gateposts shrieked,
All doors creaked,
The milk-churn leaked;
And I, the priest’s daughter,
The little girl in this story,
Bunny and hornCarrying water,
Broke my bucket.

When she heard this story,
The wife of the priest
Dropped her yeast
And seeing her dough fall to the floor
She headed straight
Through the churchyard gate
And said:

Husband, husband, have you heard the news?
In grandmother’s shed
Lives a speckled hen.
Today, she laid an egg;
The egg rolled down
Bunny and hornFrom shelf to shelf
Until in the end it found itself
In a little keg made of aspen wood
In the dusty corner where the donkey stood.
A mouse ran by too near the keg,
Wiggled his tail, and broke the egg!
At this great catastrophe
The little donkey
Began to cry,
The fat old pig let out a sigh,
A startled chicken rose to fly
The gateposts shrieked,
All doors creaked,
The milk-churn leaked;
And our dear daughter,
Bunny and hornThe little girl in this story,
Carrying water,
Broke her bucket.
And I, your wife,
Dropped my dough to the floor!

When he heard all this,
The holy priest with a terrible look
Tore the pages out of his book
And scattered them on the floor.
And do you know what happened then?
The wind came and blew the pages across the farmyard into the river
And the river-waters carried them off
And that’s why I can’t tell you any more of the story.

Happy Easter!

Storytelling Starters – Recycling

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Recycling has to happen quite often when you’re a storyteller. Stories have to be re-made, themes and ideas adapted to the present need. This is partly because motifs in stories are, by nature, constantly recycling themselves, reappearing in some other similar form, maybe in a new story you’re making. Partly, too, it’s because you’d never have enough time or energy or imagination to make everything completely new every time.

So in Session 2 of my parents’ storytelling course at Kensington Palace this week, some recycling had to go on.

Item 1: name game

First there was another name game. We’d had one last week but this week a few new parents had joined. It was important to re-establish the friendly, inclusive atmosphere we’d created in Session 1. This week’s name game was one I’ve used many dozens of times before. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 4

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Red is for Father Christmas’s costume. Red is for berries and for robin redbreast. And red is for my photos this week. Red stands out against grey skies and fresh snow. And red is for Red Internacional de Cuentacuentos, the international storytelling network which this week posted me a fascinating blog all about Mo Yan, the Chinese storyteller who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature 2012. Why it engaged me so much is that MoYan thinks of himself first and foremost as a storyteller.

‘I am a storyteller’

‘I am a storyteller. It is telling stories that earned me the prize,’ Mo Yan said in his speech to the Stockholm Academy when he was awarded the prize. He described in detail how his storytelling began. One day, as a child, he sneaked off to listen to a storyteller who came to his local marketplace. His mother was unhappy with him for forgetting his chores. ‘But that night, while she was stitching padded clothes for us under the weak light of a kerosene lamp, I couldn’t keep from retelling stories I’d heard that day. She listened impatiently at first, since in her eyes professional storytellers were smooth-talking men in a dubious profession. Nothing good ever came out of their mouths. But slowly she was dragged into my retold stories, and from that day on, she never gave me chores on market day …’

As repayment for his mother’s kindness and a way to demonstrate his memory, Mo Yan would retell the storyteller’s stories for her in vivid detail. And it wasn’t long before he began to embellish them and introduce other people’s stories too. And that was that: he never stopped. It makes a wonderful irony of his name which, translated, means ‘Don’t Speak.’

You can read Mo Yan’s full speech on the official website of the Nobel Prize:  When you get to the site, click on Literature Prize, Mo Yan and go to Nobel Lecture. It gives a real insight into the mind and life of a storyteller and, for me personally, makes me think yet again of the Chinese myth of the First Storyteller. This has been absolutely central to my own storytelling because it is about the way storytellers finds inspiration in the people and the world around them.

A journey for the imagination

Back to Father Christmas – that’s a journey for the imagination. This week, I’m repeating from last year my Going To See Father Christmas chant. This is an excellent way of taking children on an imaginary journey and finding what they’re looking for, then bringing them back home with the ability to think about that journey again and again. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 1

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

The evenings are getting darker and I’m starting a new series of postings. Wintering Out is the title and it starts with Dark, Dark Tale, a Story Chant that’s great with children and also with adults as a piece of fun in workshops. Next week and in the run-up to Christmas, I’ll bring other seasonal tales and chants into the mix.

Storytelling in Education: good news and bad news 

But first, to continue my recent theme of Storytelling in Education, let me give you my week’s good news and bad news. Both came in the same email from a Literacy Adviser in Pembrokeshire for whom I’ve done loads of work in the past, including a series of extended teacher courses. On one of those courses, now quite a few years ago, I told the Pembrokeshire legend of Skomar Oddy and I remember how much it appealed to one of the teachers. The children in her class  loved this particular story and she based lots of writing and art work on it.  Well, my Literacy Adviser’s email told me that when she recently went into that school, there was a whole new fresh display on the Skomar Oddy story. This was music to my ears. It shows that teachers who fall in  love with storytelling can make really good use of it year after year and that a good story never goes out of fashion.

The bad news was that, in these current times, there’s no longer any central funding in Pembrokeshire for the kind of storytelling in education work that I did so much of there. It’ll now be down to individual schools. That’s it – at least until people realize once more how important it is to fund this kind of work! Another worrying and retrograde step.

Dark, Dark Tale: a Story Chant for Winter

Once upon a time there was a dark dark wood.
In the dark dark wood, there was a dark dark path.
Along the dark dark path, there was a dark dark gate.
(Shall we go in through the gate?)

Behind the dark dark gate was a dark dark garden.
In the dark dark garden, there was a dark dark house.
In the dark dark house, there was a dark dark door.
(Shall we go in through the door?)

Behind the dark dark door, there was a dark dark hall.
Along the dark dark hall, there was a dark dark room.
In the dark dark room, there was a dark dark box.
(Shall we open it up?)

Oh my goodness! What was that? (more…)

Storytelling Starters: Desert Island

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Desert Island is a marvellous and deceptively simple game that was developed by myself and storytelling colleague, Karen Tovell. Karen and I made it up for one of our famous Drill Hall workshops. These were monthly day-long workshops which began in 1986 and went on for 10 whole years, moving in latter years to the Holborn Centre for the Performing Arts.

We covered a great deal of ground in those workshops. An enormous number of stories got told both by ourselves and participants too. We also developed a huge number of exercises and activities that enabled people to explore these stories, discovering their hidden depths and using them as take-off points for creating new tales. (By the way, one person who used regularly to come to the workshops sent me a great email this week saying he still uses some of the ideas and routines we did there. Any more of you out there?) (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Memory Work 4

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Thinking about how you present a story can really help your memory of it. Props, rhythms, sounds, actions – this blog has talked about all these before. On the right, for instance, is my sea-tray which I featured in The Magic of Objects. But thinking about memory gives a timely prompt for thinking about such things again. Also useful is beginning to think about how different stories relate to each other. All over this earth, in every culture past and present,  are stories with similar themes. Developing an awareness of the relationships between them – what’s similar, what’s different – helps with an awareness of story in general. It develops the memory muscles. And that’s what storytelling is all about – developing your muscles as a storyteller so as to feel confident about sharing your stories and giving your listeners the pleasure of them too. It’s not work that ever ends. But as you go on, the process becomes part of the way that you think.

1. Developing effective presentation

Developing your thoughts about how to present your story can really help you as the storyteller. Decisions about presentation help embed your memory of what you are going to tell. For instance,  it’s important to pay attention to how your story will sound and where you may add good sound-effects. This applies whether your story is destined for adults or children. Refrains where appropriate can also add texture and help your audience to follow the direction the story is taking.

Another possibility if you’re telling to children is to introduce the story with some kind of game that not only relates to the story but encourages visualisation. (more…)

Storytelling Starters – In the Spirit of Christmas 1

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Giving is at the heart of the Christmas story. It’s central to storytelling too. Sharing a story, you pass on something the recipient can either keep and ponder or pass on to others. Last week I was contacted by someone enquiring about a story I told over twenty years ago. The story had been remembered and often retold. And it hadn’t been ‘mine’ to start with,  but one of those traditional stories that gets remade from teller to teller.

In the Spirit of Christmas starts today with two items focused on children. The first is a Christmas-time chant – and I’m including it in this first Christmas blog in the hope that it will give any of you who work with children plenty of time to get to know it before sharing it in the run-up to Christmas.

The second item is a story generally known as The Little Fir Tree.

Going to See Father Christmas is a chant I created myself but on a traditional pattern. I’ve used it many, many times, always with enormous enjoyment both for myself and my audiences. As my pattern (for I believe in recycling tried and true materials), I used the well-known action chant, Going On A Bear-Hunt, which you may already know either in its traditional oral form or from Michael Rosen’s book of that name. (more…)