Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Monkey

Monkey 23 May 2Two separate events have brought monkeys into my mind this week. One was receiving a message from a student on the Warwick University course I visited a few weeks ago. She was getting in touch to ask me where she could find a copy of the Little Red Monkey story that I’d told in my session. She’d liked it and now hoped to tell it. But she hadn’t been able to find a copy either on this blog or my website.

This surprised me: it’s one of my favourite stories for children and I thought I’d posted it on this blog a while ago. So I sent her a copy and told her she could also find it in my book, Stories for Young Children and How to Tell Them (A & C Black).

Now, of course, I feel I must remedy my previous omission. So please look below for the story with, at the end, a few hints on how you might tell it. Also if you’d like to hear me telling it there are links to my website. 

First, though, here’s a thought-provoking little poem. It’s called The Prayer of the Monkey and it comes from the set of poems, Prayers from the Ark, that I acquired a few weeks ago. Prayers from the Ark was written in French by the little-known poet, Carmen Bernos de Gasztold. It was translated into English by Rumer Godden and, in the version I have, was published by Macmillan in 1966. Last Sunday, I read the whole set  to a special group to which I belong. We call the group Works in Progress or WIPs for short. When we meet, each of us presents something creative that we’ve been working on.

This time, I presented Prayers from the Ark. I feel the poems are ideal for speaking aloud (reciting poetry was one of my loves as a child) and I hope soon to be offering public readings of them, for example for charity concerts. I see them as fables that are in tune with one of the world’s great needs of today – that we should as a species become far more aware that we share this beautiful earth with all kinds of other creatures, both wild and domestic.  So here is The Prayer of the Monkey. But the monkey is not the loveably cheeky monkey of most people’s imaginations. It’s a melancholy monkey. It might make us think!

The Prayer of the Monkey

Dear God,

why have you made me so ugly?
With this ridiculous face
grimaces seem asked for!
Shall I always be
the clown of Your creation?
Oh, who will lift this melancholy from my heart?
Could You not, one day,
let someone take me seriously,


The Little Red Monkey


Monkey 23 MAY 1The story of the Little Red Monkey comes from a children’s picture-book by John Astrop. The author gave me his permission to put it into my own words for oral telling. I’ve told it literally hundreds of times, normally bringing out my little orange monkey from my story-bag before I begin and explaining that the little orange monkey knows this story very well and always likes to listen to it.

The story has proved extremely popular. It’s ideal with children between about 4 and 8 years of age and, in my experience, is one of those stories that children easily remember, perhaps because it is episodic, perhaps because it suits something in their own nature.

Also children love to echo the noises and actions you can put into the story.


A naughty monkey plays tricks on the creatures of the jungle. They get fed up and decide to teach him a lesson – they trap him in a hole in the jungle and keep him there till he realises why they’ve done this and promises to be better in future.

 Full version:

Once in the jungle there was a little red monkey who was always playing tricks.

One day, he went to see the hippopotamus who was wallowing in the mud at the time. When the hippopotamus came out of the mud, the little red monkey painted pink spots on his back.

The hippopotamus roared when he saw what had happened: “Who painted these spots on my back?”

 And who was it who did it? – the little red monkey.

 Another day the little red monkey went to see the parrot. He took hold of his long coloured tail and pulled it. The parrot squawked: “Who’s pulling my tail?”

And who was it? – the little red monkey.

Another day the little red monkey went to visit the birds’ nest. When the birds flew off to find some food, he put sharp prickly thorns in their nest. “Ouch!” said the birds when they came back. “Who’s put these sharp prickly thorns in our nest?”

 And who was it? – the little red monkey.

 The same thing happened with the little animals. The little red monkey woke them up by playing his drums when they were taking their afternoon sleep. “Who’s woken us up from our afternoon sleep?” they cried.

And who did it? The little red monkey.

Then the little red monkey played a trick on the elephant. He tied the elephant’s trunk in a knot with the result that the elephant could barely speak: “Who died my drunk in a dot?”

Finally the animals felt so fed up, they decided to teach the little red monkey a lesson. They called a meeting and asked the elephant what they should do. The elephant thought about it and after they’d untied the knot in his trunk, he came up with a plan. “What do little red monkeys like to eat?” he asked. “Bananas,” the animals replied.

The elephant suggested they all dig a hole in the jungle and fill it up with bananas. When the little red monkey came along, he’d jump on the bananas and start eating them up and, without realising what was happening, he would sink down into the hole. Then they would have him trapped in one place and they’d be able to tell him why they were angry. 

So that is what they did. They dug a hole, filled it with bananas and waited. When the little red monkey came along, he jumped on the bananas and started eating them up and by the time he’d finished, he’d sunk down to the bottom of the hole.

When he realised where he was, the little red monkey was frightened. “Get me out,” he shouted.

The animals came and looked down the hole. They each reminded him of the tricks he had played.

“Do you remember what you painted on my back?” said the hippopotamus. “Do you remember what you did to my tail?” asked the parrot. “Do you remember what you put in our nest?” asked the birds. “Do you remember what you did when we were having our afternoon sleep?” said the little animals. “Do you remember what you did to my trunk?”  said the elephant. “Why should we help you now?” they all chorused.

“But I’ll be good from now on,” the little red monkey replied. “Please get me out of the hole.”

 When they saw that he meant it, the animals decided to help. The elephant put down his trunk and lifted the red monkey out of the hole.

Then the little red monkey did all kinds of things to make up for the naughty things he had done and everyone was very happy.

Some hints on telling the story:

Monkey 23 May 31. Some singing helps. I made up a little tune that acts as the little red monkey’s signature tune. It’s what he sings before each new trick, rubbing his paws as he does so: “La, la, la, la. La, la, la, la. What shall I do today I wonder?”

2. Simple actions help the children’s understanding. Painting. Tail-pulling. Playing drums. Tying a knot. It all makes the story more vivid – and your audience will love to copy!

3. Sound-effects are also effective. So please practise your best approximation of a hippo’s roar, a parrot’s squawk, the birds’ equivalent of “Ouch!” or an elephant trying to speak with his trunk in a knot. (Pinch your nose between your fingers for that last one!)

4. Leave plenty of room for children to offer ideas, for example of how they might teach the little red monkey a lesson or how he might be helped out of the hole.

So that’s it for today.

Yes, that’s it for today. I just hope you’ll remember these two offerings – the poem and the story – next time you hear someone say of a child, “He (or she) is a right little monkey!”

See you next week. Meantime, please do listen to the Little Red Monkey story as well as a counting chant Five Little Monkeys by just clicking on the audio bar here:

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