Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Props 2: The storyteller

So here I am, thinking about props and the usefulness of them. Props attract attention, they hold attention. Interesting objects, puppets, dolls together with fascinating bags and boxes: all can be part of the art of the storyteller. Last week, I wrote about the single object that may set the scene for a story. But a set of objects can also be good as well as fun to put together.

A set of objects sets the scene in a different way. It reflects the fact that there will be different scenes in the story and is very helpful for younger children. Showing the objects one by one before the story begins gives them an initial sense that the story will progress through different scenes. Then showing them again at the end is a great way to remind them of the story. Perhaps you do this as you put the props away in the bag or box from which they’ve emerged.

A very simple story where I use a small set of props is one about a boy who is looking for a house where he can live. Off he goes. First a bird says, ‘Come and live with me.’ But the boy finds that the bird’s nest is far too small and not at all comfortable for him. Then as he goes on his way, a worm tells him to come and live with him in the earth. The worm says it’s very snug in the earth. But the boy finds he cannot breathe. Next a fish pops up out of the river and tells the boy to come and live there. But the water is cold and the boy can’t hold his breath for long. So the river is no good either. At last the boy meets a builder who offers to help him build a house of his own. When it’s finished, the builder gives him his very own key.

Now I know this story is extremely unlikely, very hard to believe. Birds, worms and fish may be hospitable and kind. But I can’t think of any builder who would help anyone get a house for free. Nonetheless, it’s a story that works. And a set of props – a toy bird, a toy worm, a toy fish, a key – help the story along very nicely. Show them at the beginning. Show them at the end and you have an ideal little story for children to retell or draw. Maybe they’ll vary it or make it longer. Its very simplicity appeals and it works.

But you know, even as I think about the value and interest of props, I am thinking how a storyteller is her or his own prop. The storyteller has eyes and hands, tones of voice and different expressions. I think these are the most valuable props of all. They not only bring the story to life. Using them brings the storyteller into a new kind of life as well. And perhaps it’s thinking of storytellers as being their own kind of prop that most distinguishes them from books. Active, engaging and expressive, they are truly live entertainment. Long may they (or we) flourish!

PS: Props – I love them. I love collecting them, I love it when they come out of my Story Bag and I love taking photographs of them. I hope you enjoy them too.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Props 2: The storyteller”

  1. Pam Says:

    Thanks, Mary for this great blog about props. I had the pleasure while in New Zealand recently, of taking my granddaughters (5 and 7) to hear a storytelling performance by Tanya Batt in a tiny but well-stocked library in Oakura, near New Plymouth on the North Island. Tanya is a seasoned storyteller and children’s author. She wore a wonderful frock with a stiff petticoat under the skirt. And she had a small collection of props, which she entrusted to various children for safe-keeping until the appropriate time in the story, which was about a princess with magical powers who sets out to rescue a prince trapped in a giant’s castle. But what impressed me most was her repertoire of noises and verbal sound effects! We were all mesmerised, children and adults alike.

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