Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ The Rag-and-Bone Man

Last week it was bags. This week it’s rags, namely things which are so well-worn that, in times gone by, they were  generally only good for passing on to the rag-and-bone man. One such used to come round our streets with his horse and cart collecting big old items such as an old mattress and bags full of unwanted small items too. I remember the tone of his cry though I never worked out quite what he was saying.

My well-worn stuff this week is a joke, one which has been told so many times by me that it could well qualify as good only for the rag-and-bones man except that it possesses the extraordinary quality of still being able to make people laugh.

The joke:

A chicken went into her local library. ‘Book …book …book,’ she called. Well, the librarian sitting at the desk was a very helpful community sort. So she immediately got up and went to look for a good book for a chicken. (Chicken-Licken? 100 Ways To Cook An Egg? An item from the Chick-Lit section?)

The librarian brought the book she’d chosen, stamped it and tucked it under the chicken’s wing. The chicken was very pleased and proud. Out of the library she went calling out proudly, ‘Book … book …book …book …’

Down the road, the chicken met a frog. ‘Book … book …book,’ said the chicken.

The  frog replied: ‘Reddit.’

Essential ingredients for telling this joke:


The joke depends on well-executed creature-noises. First of all, the chicken’s noise (and, despite my picture being of a cockerel, this must be a chicken’s noise, not a Cock-a-doodle-doo). So if you can’t do chickens already, you must practise. First, turn your mind to farm-yards. Remember chickens strutting about. Chickens are self-important. They behave as if the entire farm was theirs. Their chicken-calls are loud, drawn out, repeated. Have a go. Strut your arms if it helps. Repeat your practice until you are happy.

Second, the frog’s call. Now turn your mind to river-banks and the reedy edges of ponds.  Think about frogs lurking somewhere deep down in the grasses and mud. Or if you’ve never heard a frog for real, think about frogs as cartoons portray them. Now attempt a frog-noise. It should feel as if it’s coming from deep-down in your stomach. Have another go. But as you practice, be careful not to hurt your throat. The noise should feel like it’s coming  from lower down.


The joke must be told as if it’s for real. You must keep a straight face right up to the end except that you can show pleasure at making your chicken-noises and also possibly using bent arm movements to imitate the chicken’s strutting. Enjoy the telling, head for the end. The end is where your audience will laugh and so may you.


I’ve used this joke as a sweetener or relaxer at the beginning of many, many storytelling sessions over the years. The audiences have been of every age.

Once, I remember, I told it at the beginning of each of four sessions with 12 and 13-year-old boys at a boys’ school. As the second lot were coming in at the beginning of the second session, one lanky boy sidled up to me as he went to take his place and very quietly said to me: ‘I hear you do really good chicken-noises, Miss.’

This week, I told the joke to my 8-year old godson, his 5-year old sister and their parents who were all staying with Paul and me for a few London days. We were sitting outside in the garden at the time. They all fell about.


There is (in my view) an incalculable value for a storyteller in having something that can make people relax and feel ready to enjoy whatever’s going to come next.

So that’s it for this week – a small offering but one I hope you may enjoy (even if you knew it already) and maybe make use of yourself. Oddly it came to my mind yesterday in a kind of desperation as we were driving down the M4 to Wales. It was a beautiful day but far too hot to be travelling. The journey was extremely slow with long queues of cars on many parts of the road. What normally takes 6 hours took over 8. Ghastly.

But I suppose it’s on just such occasions that, needs must, all kinds of reminiscences come into your mind. Maybe it was simply to keep myself sane that I remembered the laughter of our visitors this week, which in turn put me in mind of how that chicken-and-frog story has entertained so many people over so many years.

And even as I finish for today, I’m thinking that perhaps it’s seeing the value of well-worn things that is one of the ultimate arts of the storyteller. Maybe it’s what the storyteller shares with the rag-and-bone man of old.

PS: Illustrations this week speak for themselves except to say that the second one is a frog we found in a bucket in our garden and the last is a much-loved prop of mine.

PSS: Apologies for sending out a recent blog (The Happy Prince) a second time. Several days after I’d pressed publish, the blog site on my computer was indicating that it was still in draft ie. not published. So I pressed the Publish button again.

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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ The Rag-and-Bone Man”

  1. Karen Says:

    What fun this week, Mary! So good to be reminded of the old joke.

    Made me remember a good tip I learned for making a frog sound (although not for ‘reddit’) which was this: Say the two words “KNEE DEEP” out loud, but when you want to replicate a frog say the words whilst you are taking your breath IN.

    I reiterate your word of caution about taking care of your voice though, so make sure you have warmed up your vocal chords first.

    Have fun in Wales. xx

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Karen,
    So good, as always, to get a comment from you. Yes, that point about the indrawing of breath when you are saying KNEE DEEP – very important. The devil is always in the detail. All the best. Mary

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