Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Seasonal Tales’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ From the street

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

P03‘Why don’t you go round making a tape-recording of the stories of the street?’ That was the question of the tall young man at the party we went to on Thursday night. ‘Then you could offer it to the Lambeth Sound Archive,’ he said.

The party had come about in an unusual way. About a fortnight ago, two lovely young women had turned up at our door with a bunch of invitations. Although the street is, in my view, a very friendly and neighbourly street, I had never consciously seen either of these two before. Now here they were inviting us to a Winter Warmer.

And what an excellent occasion it turned out to be! The talk and the stories flowed. A particular part of the fun for those of us who’ve lived in the street for a while – and some of us have lived here an extremely long time – was when we got on to telling some of the stories of the street.

For instance, there’s the scaffolding story.  (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 ~ Time to tell

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Do I dare call myself a storyteller? Hallowe’en is a popular time for storytelling. Yet I absolutely hate Hallowe’en – not because of the spectres, witches, zombies and demons but because of the commercialisation. Fancy-dress clothes get hired, kids run round knocking on doors, then look at you blankly when you appear, not sure what to say or quite why they’re there.

Baba Yaga

I don’t like Hallowe’en but I like Baba Yaga, the ugly old hag of Russian fairytale. She seems entirely the sort of ambivalent character we could do well to remember at this time of the year. A creature who inhabits the shadows, she lives in the depths of the forest in a hut with chicken legs that spins endlessly round. To get in to the hut, indeed to survive Baba Yaga at all, you have to know the correct thing to say. According to Afanas’ev, the Russian story-collector, she uses her very long nose to poke the fire and her sharpened iron teeth to devour young, tender victims.

But it’s often possible to outwit Baba Yaga. In fact, sometimes you feel she’s got something extremely insightful about her – for if you have courage and a good, kind heart, she ultimately respects it and will spare you. And when she spares you, you will afterwards be all the stronger for it.


Last week, I encountered Baba Yaga when I went with one of my god-daughters to see a play called HAG at the Soho Theatre in London. Produced by The Wrong Crowd company, the play generally followed the pattern of Vasilisa the Beautiful, one of the most well-known of Baba Yaga stories. It made strong use of puppets but was by no means aimed at young children. From its hilariously satirical approach to the stepmother character and her two mocking daughters (these were shown as a bodiless, twin-headed puppet), I could sense how it would appeal to the teenage audiences for whom it’s apparently at least partly intended. The play’s main character is a sweet-natured girl whose mother has died. With so heartless, vain and cruel a stepmother, she has in consequence to face some of the worst demons this world can throw up.

Coming out of HAG, it was particularly nice to encounter a large group of young women who, it turned out, had been brought to see the play by their English teacher. They had obviously got a lot from it.

So let me recommend Baba Yaga stories for audiences young and old. Plenty can be found on the Internet and, for young children, there are a number in picture-book form. In these, quite suitably for the age-group, Baba Yaga is usually presented simply as a witch who has to be fled. HAG reminded me that Baba Yaga’s significance can be more complex and, as such, her appeal far wider.

And meantime remember your clocks …

Yes, do remember to turn your clocks back on Saturday night or Sunday morning.

I well remember the occasion when Paul and I were in Italy on holiday and, over several days towards the end of our holiday, were surprised to notice that our hotel dining room was virtually empty each time we turned up there for dinner. Not until the morning that we left did we understand why.

Because of the earliness of our departure, we’d organised with the hotel-owner the night before that he would be up early in the morning to sort out our bill. We got up. He wasn’t there. Indeed, he had to be sent for and when we finally saw him coming up the road, he was still doing up his trousers and repeatedly calling out ‘Mama Mia’ in a long-suffering voice as if he couldn’t quite believe what these mad British people were up to. Shortly afterwards, we realised why. Days before, the clocks had gone back. We’d been completely oblivious.

Got any similar stories? The theme’s a good one for story-sharing. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ August days

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

August days are times to relax, take your shoes off, go for a swim. They’re also times off for your mind, opportunities to notice things in a different kind of way, mull them over and allow the seeds of a story to sprout in your mind.

Years ago, Paul and I went on holiday to the isles of Mull and Iona. We were intrigued, on Mull, by the number of mail-boxes we passed. Again and again there they were on the road-side at the turn-off to farms and houses. Contraptions where the postman could leave people’s post, they came in different colours, shapes and sizes. Many looked like little houses. We couldn’t help noticing and commenting on them. In a flash, Mr Beaton existed.

The mail-box story (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Dates to Remember

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Two significant dates are in view. March 1st is St David’s Day. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s an important day for people in Wales and for Welsh people outside it. It’s the time to pay special attention to the gentle Patron Saint who as he was dying urged those around him ‘to do the little things’. Gwnewch y pethau bychain. I think what St David said is important, namely attending to the detail of people’s needs in the world around you. Which I hope includes valuing the part stories can play.

A great story for St David’s Day is the one I call The Door in the Mountain. To find it, please look back in my Blog Archives to my posting for February 2012. When you read the story, you’ll see it’s not only got daffodils in it – and of course daffodils (or leeks) are the St David’s Day emblem. In the story, a single daffodil becomes an apt symbol of wonder, living on in the mind long after the real daffodils the little girl finds have gone brown and withered and died.

World Book Day 2013

A week later on March 7th comes World Book Day 2013. This day gives a chance to celebrate what books do for all of us who have access to them. Fact or fiction, they can take us into worlds we might never otherwise reach, transcending time and place and our own physical selves to enable us to see things from other points of view. I hope it also prompts us to remember organisations like Book Aid – for there are still too many people in this world who do not have access to any books (or Kindles or the Internet).

One of my best stories for telling makes a bridge between St David’s Day and World Book Day. The kernel of it was told to me at a Local Legends workshop I led in St David’s. The rest developed around that kernel as I told it and retold it. I recently wrote it – not the story itself so much as my experience of telling it. I hope you enjoy what I wrote. (more…)

Storytelling Starters~ Family Bonds

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Storytelling has its public side and with World Book Day 2013 coming up on March 7th, it’s interesting to note how – it always happens in my experience – the number of storytelling invitations from schools goes up. I wish schools were as keen to have storytelling regularly all the year round. Yet it’s great to see the association between books and storytelling being made.

The private side

But storytelling has its private side too. I mentioned family bonds last week. On Thursday this week, I got a fresh experience of how magically these can start to arise.

Thursday was Valentine’s Day. At about 3 p.m. I went round to the home of the former wife of one of my former long-term foster-sons. If that seems a bit complicated, it doesn’t matter. She and her family are still very much part of my world and I’d promised her 6-year-old granddaughter I’d be round to read her a story. The little girl loves books and stories and is an attentive listener. She loves talking about the stories and joining in. It’s great.

This time, as well as some books the little girl probably hadn’t seen before – including Sunshine by Jan Ormerod who sadly recently passed away – I took the wherewithal for making some Valentine hearts like the one I wrote about last week.

What happened? Not at all what I’d expected. Two more grandchildren also arrived to visit, neither of whom I’d seen for some time. One is a little girl aged just three. The other is her brother aged five who, last time I saw him, was a bit of a handful. Yet even then I’d noticed how engaged he’d become when I told them Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle. Now I was in for a bigger surprise. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Inspiration

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Where to begin? First, because St Valentine’s Day happens next week, I’m offering some background information on the name of the day together with the suggestion that you bend your mind to looking up a love story to tell. Plus – as you can see from my photos – I’ve got a suggestion of something to make which could form a really great prop for your story, not least because it could also lead to some enjoyable craft work on the part of your audience.

Equally importantly, I have a couple of thoughts related to two great comments on last week’s blog that arrived during the course of this week. Both are from people I know and admire. Both show the kind of passion for storytelling and its effects that, in my view, has a much wider bearing on how we all approach our lives.

St Valentine’s Day

First,  St Valentine’s Day. I’ve been looking up some background. Did you know – I didn’t! – that St Valentine was a priest of Rome who was martyred for succouring persecuted Christians? Why his saint’s day, 14 February, has become a symbol of romantic love is perhaps connected with the love he showed his fellow human beings.

But because of the link between the days, it appears that St Valentine’s Day also reaches much further back into the story of ancient Rome. There, the festival of the Lupercalia used to occur around 15 February. It involved the wild rampaging of youths on the streets and also the giving of presents.

 Zestful energy? Hormones surging? The mating of human beings? It all seems to be part of St. Valentine’s Day. Hence also another old association – with the mating of birds.

A Valentine Heart

Now here’s that prop that you can make. (I actually don’t love the term ‘prop’.)

As in the photo to the left, cut out two paper shapes that look like small, tall loaves of bread. The ones in my photo are 80 mm wide and, excluding the top rounded bit, 80 mm long. Your shapes could be bigger or smaller according to your preference.

Next, as on the right, cut up towards the rounded part of each paper to make six separated legs. With a larger shape, you could choose to have more strips or, with a smaller shape, fewer. Experiment is all. Next: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 3

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Two more Seasonal Tales today – seasonal because of the star in the Christmas story and because I always think stars look especially wonderful at this dark time of the year. Today’s Seasonal Tales are two different versions of the Star Apple story.

The Star Apple Story ~ what you need

The Star Apple Story is a great one for telling at a family event or in school. All you need as props are an apple and a knife to cut it. As long as you adapt the story appropriately, the apple can be red or green as you choose and in the version of the story that appears first below (I posted it in this Blog last year, but it’s worth repeating) the apple should also have a good strong bit of stem.

Star Apple ~ Version 1

Once there was a little boy who was very excited in the days before Christmas. Was it going to snow? Would Father Christmas come to his house? What would Father Christmas bring him?

The little boy was so excited, he didn’t know what to do. ‘What shall I do?’ he kept asking. The Christmas decorations were already up. His old toys bored him and  he’d tidied his room as his mother had suggested. ‘What shall I do?’ he asked again.

That’s when his mother said something weird. ‘Why don’t you look round the house and the garden and see if you can find a little green house with no windows but a chimney on top and a star inside?’

‘UH?’ The little boy was mystified. He looked round the house. He looked round the garden. Nowhere at all could he find a little green house with no windows but a chimney on top, and a star inside. ‘Mum,’ the boy said, ‘I can’t find it.’

Then his mother suggested he call on his friend next door: the two of them together could go down the street and see if they could find it. So that’s what the little boy did. He and his friend looked at all the houses. They could see some that had stars inside on top of their Christmas trees and some of the houses had chimneys. But none of the houses had no windows and none of them were green.

The little boy went back to his own house.‘Mum,’ he said, ‘we didn’t find it.’

‘Well, let me show you,’ said his mother, reaching a little green apple out of the fruit bowl.

‘See,’ she said. ‘here’s a little green house. And look,’ she said, wiggling the stalk on the top, ‘this little green house has a chimney. But it hasn’t got any windows, has it?’

‘No,’ said the boys. ‘And where’s the star?’

‘Just watch,’ the little boy’s mother replied as she picked up a knife and cut the apple cross-wise across the middle. When she opened it up, the little boy and his friend could see that it had a beautiful star inside.

‘And now,’ said the mother, ‘you can eat the apple, half each.’

‘And can we do the story again every day until Christmas?’

‘Yes,’ said the mother, ‘we can. And tonight when it’s dark we’ll go out on the street and see if we can see the stars in the sky.’’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 2

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

A chance encounter

Wow! Coincidence and Storytelling in Education – two of my favourite themes in one chance encounter. There I was, on the train back from Cardiff last Saturday after watching New Zealand beating Wales at rugby (alas!) when, falling deep into conversation with the woman sitting next to me, I soon learned that she was American, a school librarian currently working in Germany and also – amazing! – a committed storyteller.

So all the way back through flooded Southern England, we exchanged experiences and ideas. Back in the 8Os she’d fallen in love with storytelling when she was sent to the big Jonesborough Festival that happens each year in Tennessee. Since then, as everything she said attested, she has developed a deep awareness of its power with children. More than that, she too believes that storytelling is especially important at this time when, spending so many hours on their Gameboys and watching TV, children have so much less of the vital experience of engaging with other people.

Reason for action

We know it to be true, all those of us who’ve told stories with children. It is such a powerful thing to do. It creates engagement, develops imagination and encourages language. But it’s in dire danger of falling by the wayside at this time when social media and the internet are getting overwhelming attention. Not that Twitter and Facebook and Google are not also marvellous for the sharing of stories and communication. What they do not have, however, is the face-to-face, ear-to-ear immediacy that storytelling gives.

So please spread the word.

It’s time for everyone who is committed to storytelling in education to speak to their friends about it and to think about what they can do to bring it back to public attention. Otherwise I fear the experience of a whole generation of storytellers who have gained a huge amount of know-how in the schools and libraries of our country is about to be lost.

This week’s seasonal tale

This little tale – The Little Fir Tree – went into my Blog at about this time last year. I’m repeating it now for two reasons – first, because I like it, second because it is about finding value in what can so easily be overlooked. (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…)