Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Stories for Younger Children No. 3

This week’s story is another of my favourites. It’s for the upper age-range of younger children, not the very young ones. (See my comments at the end of the blog.) 

Mr and Mrs Hak-Tak

Mr and Mrs Hak-Tak were very poor. They didn’t have much of anything at all – not much food, not much money, not much time to rest. They both used to work very hard.

One day, Mr Hak-Tak was digging over the piece of land where he always grew his vegetables. Suddenly, his spade hit something hard in the earth. He heard it! CLANG!

‘That’s funny,’ said Mr Hak-Tak. ‘I’ve dug this ground a lot of times. But I’ve never heard a clang before.’

Mr Hak-Tak was VERY puzzled. He dug down until he discovered what had made the noise. He dug it out. It was a big metal pot – a VERY big metal pot.

‘That’s strange,’ said Mr Hak-Tak. ‘I’ll take it home to show Mrs Hak-Tak.’

But when Mr Hak-Tak picked up the pot, he couldn’t hold it at the same time as his purse. So he put the pot down, put his purse inside it, then picked up the pot and carried it home.

Mrs Hak-Tak was astonished. ‘Where did you get that pot?’ she said. When Mr Hak-Tak explained, she was even more surprised. ‘Well, it looks like a very nice pot,’ she said. ‘It could come in useful. So I’ll give it a clean.’

It was when Mrs Hak-Tak started cleaning the pot that she noticed Mr Hak-Tak’s purse inside it. ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘I put it there to carry it home. I’ll take it out.’

But when Mrs Hak-Tak went back to the pot, she couldn’t quite believe her eyes. Inside was Mr Hak-Tak’s purse!

‘I thought you took it out,’ she said. ‘I did,’ said Mr Hak-Tak.

Now this was VERY VERY strange. Mr Hak-Tak’s purse was on the table. But inside the pot was another exactly the same.

Mr Hak-Tak could not understand it. He lifted the second purse out of the pot and put it beside the first one. The same exactly! Then he looked back in the pot and got even more amazed. Another purse again! The same exactly! Mr and Mrs Hak-Tak could hardly believe it. Whenever the purse got taken out of the pot, the pot would make it again.

After they’d got over their first surprise, Mr and Mrs Hak-Tak tried the pot with other things – a half-burnt candle, a small bag of rice, a carrot. It was true! The pot made everything again. But it made them exactly the same. If it was a half-burnt candle, that’s what the pot would make. It would never make a new one.

Now Mr Hak-Tak got another idea. He opened his purse and took out the single penny he had inside it. When he put it in the pot, the pot made it again. And again … and again … and again… and again …

Mr and Mrs Hak-Tak were overjoyed. They realised that the pot could make them lots of pennies. They could get enough money to get all that they needed.

And so it was. After staying up all night making more and more money, Mr Hak-Tak went off to market next day and bought lots of food and things that they needed.

Unfortunately, just as Mr Hak-Tak got home, something unexpected happened. While Mr Hak-Tak was away, Mrs Hak-Tak had spent her time polishing the pot. She was feeling very dreamy, thinking about all the new things they could get. So when Mr Hak-Tak called out her name when he got back to the house, she was so surprised that she fell in the pot. All Mr Hak-Tak could see was two thick ankles and two small feet sticking out of the top of the pot. ‘Get me out!’ Mrs Hak-Tak was screaming.

Mr Hak-Tak rushed over at once and heaved Mrs Hak-Tak out of the pot. ‘Oh dear,’ he said. ‘Are you alright?’

‘Yes, I’m fine,’ said Mrs Hak-Tak. But as soon as she said it, she screamed again. She’d just noticed two thick ankles and two small feet sticking out of the top of the pot.

Well, you can guess what it was. When Mr and Mrs Hak-Tak pulled on those ankles, they pulled another Mrs Hak-Tak out of the pot. She was exactly the same as the first Mrs Hak-Tak.

Oh dear, oh dear. They all started to scream. What were they going to do? When the two Mrs Hak-Taks started to quarrel, Mr Hak-Tak was very dismayed. He put his head in his hands and because he went backwards, he backed right into the pot and,somehow or other, he fell right in! Two thin ankles with two big feet were now sticking out of the pot.

‘Get me out! Get me out!’  Mr Hak-Tak shouted. So the two Mrs Hak-Taks pulled him out. But no sooner was he upright than the two Mrs Hak-Taks saw two more feet sticking out of the pot. It was another Mr Hak-Tak!

What an awful situation! Two Mrs Hak-Taks. Two Mr Hak-Taks. What do you think they could do?

Well, I’ll tell you. In the end, they decided to build a new house next door for the second Mr and Mrs Hak-Tak. That proved a good idea.

But then they argued about the pot? What could they do about that? The pot couldn’t make another pot. There could only ever be one. So in the end they put the pot in the garden exactly between their two houses so both sets of Hak-taks could use it whenever they needed.

Why I’ve chosen the Hak-Tak story:

It’s a Japanese story and, although I can’t now remember how I came across it, I know I used to tell it a lot. In schools with children or on adult courses for parents and others, it always went down very well, producing a lot of ideas from the children and discussion from the grown-ups. It’s one of those stories that tickles you pink, to employ a phrase my father liked using.

 Children’s responses:

Children love those names, Mr and Mrs Hak-Tak. They love the unexpected finding of the very big pot and the discovery of what it can do. They love realising the implications. They gasp when Mrs Hak-Tak falls in the pot and they foresee what will happen next. They can’t quite believe it when the same thing happens to Mr Hak-Tak. They absolutely love imagining how the two couples are going to sort out their lives and then wondering what will happen to the magic pot. They love creating their own scenarios to provide their own endings to the story.

Adults’ responses:

The doubling in the story is one of the things that fascinates adults. It raises many philosophical questions. Did the second Mrs Hak-Tak emerge from the pot with the same remembered experiences as the first Mrs Hak-Tak? Were they a bit like twins who, as we all know, often have similar feelings at similar times even if widely apart? There’s something so humanly intriguing about such questions. Do second wives respond to their husband in the same way as the first wife? Do women pick second husbands because they are different or similar to their first one? The doubling – or is it cloning – makes you wonder.

Pot-lore is another of the fascinating themes that the story throws up. I came across it in particular with the Asian women who used to attend my Storytelling Courses in Tooting. So many had grown up with special beliefs and lore about pots – the pots in which their mothers stored rice, for instance. ‘Never let your rice pot get empty,’ was one of the sayings quoted to me. Another – ‘Never refuse to give rice to a neighbour in need’ – could, in theory, have led to problems. How can you share when you’ve got almost none left? I was assured that somehow or other it was always managed. The rice pots never completely ran out. One young Asian woman on my Tooting courses had vivid recollections of the outside room where her family used to keep all their pots. She especially remembered the effect on her imagination of the very big pots where they kept their oils. When the children played hide-and-seek, she said, and she went  the room where they were, they often looked to her like people standing there swathed in their robes.

Ideas for telling:

1. Props

No attempts at magic tricks for me! But sometimes when telling the Hak-taks story to younger children, I’ve brought along two identical yellow purses, each with a penny inside. As props, these are useful for demonstrating and discussing what it must have been like for Mr Hak-tak to see two purses exactly the same, with the same amount of money inside.

2. Questions

The Hak-Taks make an excellent story for enabling children to explore possible endings. Tell it up to the point where there are four Hak-Taks, then leave the children to decide what could happen. You’ll get some good story-making.

Or, when you’ve finished, raise the question of what might have happened to the Hak-Taks’ pot. Extend the question. What if it still exists? What if it turned up here in England? Where might we find it? In the attic? In the playground? What would happen? Would the magic have changed? Start these questions in a tentative, questioning sort of way – ie. not in the sort of way that will indicate to the children that now they’re going to have to do some work! – and you’ll probably find the children very keen to get going on some writing or story-boarding.

What is the age-suitability of the Hak-Taks story?

There’s a rule of thumb among storytellers. There are lots of stories you can tell to very young children that can go right up the age-range. But the opposite does not apply. Many of the stories you can tell to adults won’t and can’t work for children.

The Hak-Taks story is excellent for children and, as I’ve said, for adults too in the right situation. But there are huge differences between Nursery,  Infant, Junior  and Secondary children. So we we still have to consider what stories are suitable for different age-ranges of children.

I think of younger children as being children up to the age of 8. I think the Hak-Taks story is very suitable at that upper end of the younger-children age-range. But I wouldn’t dream of telling it to children under 5. Between 5 and 8 I might try it out. If I knew the group already, I’d know if it was something they’d understand and enjoy. If I didn’t know the group beforehand, I’d have to test them out first with a simpler story.

How do you test out a group’s understanding? Well, with the Hak-Taks, you might try telling it up to and including the point where the Hak-Taks have realised they’ve got a magic pot and can now get all kinds of things. So Mr Hak-Tak can go off to the market and when he comes home, they can live happily ever after.

If you think you want to go one stage further, you might quietly ask your audience – and you’ve got to sound as if you yourself are really thinking about it – what would happen if a person fell in the pot. What if Mrs Hak-Tak fell in, for instance? If the idea doesn’t seem to take, drop it and end the storytelling. If there’s a simmer of interest in your audience and the light goes on in their eyes, continue.

That’s how I do it anyway!

P.S. In my experience, last week’s story, Little Bear In the Snow, is ideal with children up to the age of 5 or 6. It can also be very good for children of 3 and under and, if you’re careful, with slightly older children too, especially if you’re encouraging them to be storytellers to other children. Invite them to retell it to each other in pairs and they can have a lot of fun. You can learn a lot by observing them.

P.P.S.  The first story in this series, The Elves and the Shoemaker, is a magical story for telling to almost every age. Babies of course need their own kind of stuff. But after about the age of 3, any child who has been getting used to listening to stories should be capable of being entranced by this one. Simplify as necessary and it will work. And if it doesn’t, never mind. Come back to it when the children are a bit older.

Next week: Story No. 4 for younger children


You can also read occasional blogs by me on the Early Learning HQ website.  Early Learning HQ offers hundreds of free downloadable foundation stage and key stage one teaching resources. It also has an extensive blog section with contributions from a wide range of early years professionals, consultants and storytellers. For details of the Society for Storytelling, click here.


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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Stories for Younger Children No. 3”

  1. Ben Tombs Says:

    I reckon the best solution would be to put you in the pot and double you. Could we have a copy of you here in New Zealand please?
    No RSS feed seen on your website, Mary.

  2. admin Says:

    Ben – At last we’ve got the RSS feed on the site. It’s taken a long time because we’re such tech-dinosaurs. A number of people have asked about it so I’m relieved and delighted at this major step forward in the life of the blog.

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