Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘Hilary Minns’

Storytelling Starters ~ Best story ever (for young ones)

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

DSCN5231For any storyteller, it’s a heartening moment when you learn that a story you’ve told has succeeded in engaging a child. It’s even better when the story has become part of a kind of chain. You told it to a group of adults and it’s one of them that passed it on to the child concerned.

This week I had one such moment when I received the following message from Hilary Minns at Warwick University. Hilary has for many years been running a module on Stories and Storytelling for people pursuing Early Childhood studies. The story she refers to is one I’ve told there a number of times.

Hilary’s message:

A little story: one of my students has a group of seven children with special learning needs. Among them is a 6 year old autistic boy who, she says, dislikes stories intensely and who wriggles and squirms around at storytime. But she told him Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle, complete with actions, and he was transfixed. He then asked her to make the characters into Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle and said they had to change houses. At break time she observed this boy retelling the story to a friend!


Storytelling Starters ~ Crab for your tea

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

IMAG3051‘Did you bring anything back from your holidays?’ It’s a good question for inviting stories from children as well as adults. But beware! Whatever little treasures you acquired yourself, they’re likely to remain in your home for a very long time. They start off precious and they go on being precious and they also add to the stuff you’ll one day feel you need to get rid of. Take my word for it. I know.

Meantime, I remain dazzled by the sun-bleached crab shell I picked up from one of my Pembrokeshire beaches on one of my forays back home from London. Its delicacy and intricacy capture my admiration every time I look at it. It has the additional attraction that  it reminds me of one of my favourite Shemi stories.

Shemi’s stories are ones that children of all ages get absolutely hooked by. The fact that Shemi was real – he died in 1897, a well-known tall-tale-teller in his locality (North Pembrokeshire) and by all accounts much-loved – only adds to the huge attraction. So here’s that particular tale of his of which I’m reminded by my crab-shell. You can find it in a fuller version under the title, Crab Meat for Supper, in my book Shemi’s Tall Tales. (And you can order Shemi’s Tall Tales from me if you wish by clicking on My Publications on my website).

Shemi and the Enormous Crab

One day when he was out fishing, Shemi pulled a huge big sewin out of the river. But as soon as he’d hauled it up onto the river-bank, a great big heron flew down and swallowed it whole. Shemi shouted at the heron: not only had his sewin disappeared into the heron’s gullet, his fish-hook had gone there as well.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Good things

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Hooray!!! Now you can subscribe to my Blog. See below for what to do. What a pleasure this facility has now been sorted – all thanks to the ever-helpful Tim Howe. Comment, Warwick, Poems, Subscription – it’s been a week of good things.


Little Bear crop 2A comment from a reader always feels good to get. Jo had been enjoying my recent series on Getting Participation. She loves creating stories with children. She describes sitting with a piece of material and allowing the children to choose any object around the room. ‘We decide where we are, the material for example could be blue and shiny, maybe we are at the bottom of the deep dark blue sea. Each child takes a turn describing what their object may be: a cotton reel becomes a pirate ship, the pencil is the mast, the ship has sunk, the button becomes the treasure …’ And so, as Jo points out, they end up with their own story.


On Wednesday evening, a hearteningly warm and engaged response came from the students on Hilary Minns’ excellent Storytelling Module at Warwick University. I’ve been going as guest storyteller to Hilary’s course for about ten years now. The students are all studying child development for a Foundation Degree. One of the stories I did with them was Little Bear on the Long Road. (The prop I always use for this story is on the right in a painting I made of him when I was in hospital four years ago.) On this visit, it was brilliant to meet the person responsible for setting up a similar course at Telford who had come along for the session.  I believe, and have always said so, that such courses should be available nation-wide. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Key

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Problem: storytelling in schools is in decline.

Question: what can be done about it?

This week I’ve been given some good ideas. Here’s one.

Response Archive:

The Response Archive idea was sent to me by Hilary Minns of Warwick University. It involves noticing, then noting down, key moments in children’s responses to oral stories they’re being told. The children can be of any age. The responses could happen either during the telling or after in the course of some talk or activity following the telling.

Recording the responses would be a way of beginning an archive of evidence about the value and benefits of storytelling in education. This is greatly needed in my view and Hilary and others agree.

Example: The Gingerbread Man

Here is the example Hilary sent me of the kind of responses that might be captured for the Response Archive. One  student on her storytelling module at the University recently told her class the story of The Gingerbread Man. Afterwards the student role-played being the Gingerbread Man. The children came up with questions. These are the questions they asked:

Why did you run out of the house?
How did you escape from the oven?
How come you were real when you were made out of playdough?
How did you get on the fox’s tail?
Why did you trust the fox?
Did your leg hurt when the fox bit it off?
What was on the other side of the river?

Good, hey? The questions demonstrate how keenly the children had listened to the story and how intelligently they were thinking about its implications. For anyone of the view that these days, it’s difficult to get children to listen, think and speak, let alone be creative, the example could be key.

Action: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Where are we?

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

At the end of this week, an old Afrikaans saying came back to my mind. The exact wording eludes me but it goes something like this: We may think we know where we are but all the time we are being carried like great clouds across the sky.

The saying was a favourite of my wise friend, Lynne, poet and publisher and mother of two of my god-children, who died very much too young. Why I remembered it now was the work I’ve had to do on behalf of my Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nomination. The nomination is being made by the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling. To help, I’ve needed to provide lists of my work over the 30 years of my storytelling. Performances, workshops, courses, special projects, residencies, work in schools, talks, articles, publications – making the lists has been momentous for me, a real walk down memory lane. Yet how else is it possible to demonstrate the work across time of an oral storyteller, especially when, for most of that time, we didn’t have video recordings?

How to measure storytelling

In a very significant sense, the work of the oral storyteller mostly goes into the air (and, hopefully, the hearts and minds of those who listen). How can its results be measured? Its comparative invisibility creates many problems, especially in regard to what happens in education. Especially after the lovely long comment that arrived this week from Hilary Minns of Warwick University, I’ve been thinking about the problems all over again. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Storytelling in Education

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

This week in Wales, the big feature of my morning walks has been the flocks of birds whirling round the sky, wings whirring as they go over my head. Right now, a whole lot of them are perched in the tree behind the house. They chatter ceaselessly in some kind of group talk. ‘It’s getting colder,’ I think they’re saying. ‘Soon it will be time to go. Remember the age-old way.’

The excitement is palpable. So too is the purpose. I wish I could send them right now to all those places where school curriculum is decided. The message would be: ‘Please pause awhile in your deliberations and consider the place of story in children’s lives. In particular, take a look at the potential of the told story and require teachers to give room for it in schools and also learn how to do it themselves if they don’t already know.’

Comment from Hilary Minns:

Hilary Minns teaches storytelling at Warwick University. As a guest storyteller, I’ve visited the courses she runs over a number of years and on each occasion it has been abundantly evident how all her students love her and how keen they have become to follow her example. She is an inspiring storyteller and an inspirational teacher. The Comment she sent in to my Blog on Principles and Practice is an important contribution to the evidence I’m starting to gather on Storytelling in Education. 

Hilary’s comments matter. She began working life as an infant teacher, later moved on to teach 7 and 8 year olds, then became headmistress of an Infant School in Coventry. She is also the author of the influential book: Read It To Me which followed the reading lives of five young Coventry children. One part of her Comment relates how she herself began telling stories. It was while she was on teaching practice. She ‘wanted to share some Hans Andersen stories with my class of 6 year olds, but the stories were too difficult and too long to read aloud, so I adapted them and told them orally with the help of pictures I drew on the blackboard.’

Flexibility … imagination … belief in the power of story … the determination to share the sources of your own inspiration: I think these are all vital qualities for teachers to have and I read them all in what Hilary says. How many times have teachers said to me after a storytelling session when they’ve seen how children have sat up and listened and participated: ‘This is why I came into teaching. Why did I stop doing this kind of thing?’

One child’s response

Hilary’s comments include a short description of one child’s response to a John Burningham story. ‘ “Mr Gumpy shouldn’t have let them all in the boat,” says four-year-old Anthony as he looks at Mr Gumpy’s Outing and sees everyone falling into the river. That bit about “shouldn’t let them all in” isn’t in the story. John Burningham would never pass judgement on his characters. But Anthony has engaged with the story and responded in his own way.’

Anthony’s is the kind of freely-offered insight teachers love to hear. It’s a frequent experience when time and importance are given to stories. So isn’t it terrible to hear what Hilary also says in her Comment: ‘The students who take my module Stories and Storytelling at Warwick University often tell me that stories are given a low priority in their schools; in particular, those who work with KS2 children sometimes report that there is no longer any time for personal storytelling, the telling of traditional stories or even stories taken from beautiful picture books.’

No time for stories

More Primary School teachers than I could count have said the same thing to me: ‘There’s no time for stories in our school.’ To me, this is as lamentable as failing to give children decent food. It’s like feeding them only on turkey twizzlers, leaving out the healthy stuff. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Aaargh!

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Funny, isn’t it? Storytelling can give such great satisfaction yet is often so full of terrors. 


This last Wednesday, I was at Warwick University doing a workshop with a lovely group of people taking a module in Storytelling for their Foundation Degree.  (Hello to anyone who was there. It was so good to meet you. I thought you said some amazing things.) One topic that came up in discussion was the fears we can all feel about our storytelling. It made me think that, in this week’s blog, I’d take a look at some of these and try and lay a few ghosts. I thought Edward Munch’s famous painting, The Scream, would make a suitable accompaniment.

The fears:

1. Other adults 

Especially when you’re working with children and those other adults are somewhere on the sidelines, they can feel most alarming. What are they thinking of you? Are they laughing behind your back, whispering that you’re rubbish and they could do much better? Are they thinking you’re childish or boring or silly or, god forbid, that your nose is too big? (more…)