Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ What’s in a story?

What’s in a story? Things that are normally hidden? Things of remarkable beauty? Keys to the future? One of my main occupations at present is writing a book about doing stories  with Early Years children. It’s a subject I’ve thought about a lot about over the years because I’ve done so much of it, not only with children themselves but with their teachers and parents too.  Writing the book has been bringing back to my mind all kinds of little tales. Here are three.

Story One:

This story was reported to me by my storyteller friend, Debbie Guneratne. It’s about an incident that occurred to her some time ago during a period when she was in Australia, working in a hospital for children.

One day, she started telling a little boy in the hospital the story of The Yellow Blob. Debbie had heard this particular tale (it’s one I created) on a storytelling course I’d been running. The little boy was a child who didn’t speak and his attention span was very poor. So Debbie was delighted to see that he kept listening intently as he heard how the Yellow Blob lived in an entirely yellow world until one day when he climbed to the top of a yellow hill and saw a blue lake below.

Suddenly at this point of the story, and much to Debbie’s regret, a nurse turned up to take the little boy for some treatment he was due to receive. Debbie was naturally very sorry he hadn’t been able to stay to hear the end of the story. Come the end of the day, however, Debbie was on her way out of the hospital when she heard a voice calling her name. Turning round, she saw the nurse hand in hand with that same little boy standing at the top of the hospital steps.

‘Debbie, stop,’ the nurse called out. ‘He wants to hear the end of the story.’

Story Two:

Another story from my own experience is one I think I’ll include in my Early Years book. It’s a story of something that happened during one of several storytelling visits I was making to a largely Asian school in Bedford. On this occasion, I was asked to tell a story in Assembly. I preceded the story I’d decided to tell with a simple storytelling game that invites children to imagine what transformations could occur to a gauzy cloth of many colours I’d bought long ago on a visit to Kenya and that I normally carry round with me in my storytelling bag.

The game has a little chant which everyone can sing: Here’s a beautiful piece of cloth. But what’s it for? What’s it for?

Several children took up my invitation to come out to the front of the hall, one by one, to tell everyone what they imagined that cloth could be for. A princess’s veil, a cloth of invisibility … there was no lack of ideas. Then a small boy put up his hand and came out, took the piece of cloth from my hand and began winding it round to form a pad. Everyone watched intently as he finished what he was doing and then lifted the pad onto his head. Without him speaking a word, we all knew he’d made a carrying pad of the kind on which, if you lived in Africa, you’d place a large pot or a jar you needed to carry.

Later I learned that this little boy had only been in the school a couple of weeks. He was a refugee from Somalia and had arrived knowing no English. Yet he’d succeeded in telling us a story, a story which needed no words. I think that, with that telling, he established himself a firm place in that school.

Story Three:

Again this is a story from my own experience, this time about a young husband and wife, possibly from an Asian background, who came to a storytelling talk I was giving one evening at a Nursery School in South London which I’d visited on numerous previous occasions. The talk had been arranged with the specific purpose of interesting parents in stories and why they are important. In the course of it, I told a number of stories of different sorts, including some anecdotes from my own personal experience as well as a simple folk tale or two.

As people were leaving at the end of the evening, this young couple came over to speak to me. Looking down fondly at their young son in his push-chair, they thanked me very sincerely for the talk I’d given and said that now they’d be sure to tell stories to their boy. With a delightful lack of any embarrassment, they went away saying: ‘We never thought of telling him a story.’

I think each of these three episodes tells me in one way or another how important it is that storytellers keep on spreading the word about why stories are so important, not only to children but to us all. Perhaps the most effective way to do this is always through telling a story. Hence this week’s three little tales. If you’re reading this blog, I guess you’ve got some too. Keep on telling them is my message.

PS: Pics are 1. my set of cards for what might be in a story; 2. my rainbow cloth; 3. some keys (as in keys to the future).

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