Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Snow Maiden and the Five Laws of Storytelling


"Snegurochka" plate based on art by Boris Zworykin

My daughter's assistant-kindergarten teacher told the story of The Snow Maiden two days in a row. On Thursday, while I was typing, Lucia said to me, "I had tears in my eyes, but I didn't cry when my teacher told the story of the Snow Maiden." I looked over, and her eyes were brimming. I closed my computer, swooped her up, and encouraged her to talk about the story. She said, "I was so sad when the Snow Maiden melted. She comes back each year. Why am I crying?"

"You are moved by beauty," I said. I told her that had I listened to the story with her in class, I probably would have felt like crying too.

The next day, the assistant-teacher told "The Snow Maiden" again, and this time, Lucia wept openly. The main teacher told me that the other children looked at Lucia in wonder-- not critically, but with curiosity. We talked about how different stories move us in different ways. I told Lucia that The Clown of God and Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep always make me cry, every single time. "Those stories don't make me cry," she replied.

I cannot help but think of S. R. Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science. They are also applicable to storytelling, I think. Here are the laws as modified:

1. Stories are for use.
2. Every listener his or her story.
3. Every story its listener.
4. Save the listener's time (i.e. don't overexplain).
5. The story is a growing organism.

29 comments:

Schelle said...

Both links are to the Clown of God (which sounds great) but I want to know what Elsie Piddock Skips in her Sleep is about! What a fantastic title :D Hugs to you and Lucia - and thanks for the fairytale

GraceAnne LadyHawk said...

Elsie always makes me cry, too. It is hard to describe what it is about, but it is one of the greatest picture books of all time.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Oh heavens. That is just beautiful. I mean, what a tender, beautiful, little soul you have there in your daughter. And now I've GOT to read this story.

Lone Star Ma said...

She is a beautiful soul! I need to read those stories, too.

I'm afraid that I'm moved to tears very easily by stories, both literary and historic. To the point that I tend to feel a little ridiculous about it. I've always wept over stories that even I can see are not worth my tears as well as the ones that really are.

Many of my students are very poor readers so I read a lot of things to them, as I know that much of it won't get read independently. They are a tough crowd in most situations, but you can hear a pin drop whenever they notice the tears in my voice when I am reading about Sadako or Ruby Bridges or a similarly sad or moving event in history. I think they wonder what it is that makes me care.

jama said...

Thanks for sharing this. Lucia is so very special (but of course you've known that all along). (((Hugs)))

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Farida,
Don't you think that there is a sense in which no story truly exists... not at least till it is processed and recreated by the listener or reader. Only then does it have wings to fly. And if I said to you a word - say apple - think about it. What do you see in your mind's eye? Well whatever you see it is different from my apple. Mine is a big Granny Smith's cooking apple and it is still connected to a twig on one of our gnarled old apple trees. It is not perfectly round. There are raindrops on its surface even though the sun is shining. I can see a dark blemish on its surface - perhaps where a bird has pecked at it or where a moth has planted eggs in it. I wonder what your apple was like.

And if we move away from the simple apple... how differently I recreate abstract feelings like envy and hope. My envy is unlike yours, my hope is also uniquely my own. So it is with Lucia's ice maiden. Her tears concern her own interpretation - not the words themselves. I guess you knew all of this already...
Mr Pudding

Saints and Spinners said...

Schelle: I've fixed the link! Elsie Piddock first appeared in the book Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field. by Eleanor Farjeon. It's similiar to its prequel (MP in the Apple Orchard), in that it's a frame tale in which MP tells a story for each of the girls (young women). The picture book illustrated by Charlotte Voake is worth seeking. It's about how Elsie Piddock overcomes tyranny with her skipping rope. There are fairies in it, too!

GraceAnne: I agree. The story "And I Dance Mine Own Child" from Farjeon's The Little Bookroom gets to me, too.

Jules: You may need to get skipping ropes for your girls after you read the story.

LSM: I am so glad that you read to your students.

Jama: Thanks! I do feel lucky. Every day.

YP: I have to shake out my head and try to think of what my first image of the apple was. A number of apple images came flooding in, including the one that was in your head. I see a reddish-greenish apple on a branch, and the tree is on a hill where I can look over to see a group of houses in the valley. The sky is perfectly set up for a rainbow (still cloudy and soggy from rain, but with sun coming through), though I've not yet seen the rainbow. I don't recognize this scene from any place I've visited.

Thank you for bringing your thoughts to this gathering.

Melangell said...

The Clown of God ALWAYS reduces me to tears. Elsie does usually, although not with the Voake illustrations (which are nonetheless charming). So fascinating, that the Snow Maiden moved Lucia in that particular way, and it makes me want to scoop her up. But right now, I am particularly intrigued by your adaptation of Ranganathan's Laws, which I have always loved for their simple and soulful qualities.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

I went looking for it in my two lovely, huge volumes of annotated fairy tales, and it's NOT THERE. Wah! I'm determined to find it, though...

Elaine Magliaro said...

Alkelda,

Your little Lucia is a child with a caring and tender heart.

I can still recall the time when I read the book STONE FOX with a small group of students. One boy and one girl in the group burst into tears at the end of the book when the dog named Searchlight dies. I called their parents that night to talk to them and make sure the children were okay.

But isn't it wonderful that literature can touch young children so deeply--in a way that many adults may not think it can?

Saints and Spinners said...

Elaine: I thought about Stone Fox when I was writing this post. I am so glad that your students were moved by it-- it was kind of you to check in with their parents, too.

BlueMamma said...

I have the book that plate is taken from, it was my favorite book when I was a child! It's gorgeous. Do you have it? The Snow Maiden always made me cry too, but it's not my favorite story from the book.

As I get older, I find more and more things make me cry, including previews for Disney movies I loved as a child, and particularly touching TV commercials. I'm turning into a sap.

My girls didn't cry when they read Charlotte's Web, not one of them. What am I doing wrong?

Saints and Spinners said...

BlueMamma: I have a copy of the recently republished Old Peter's Russian Tales, by Arthur Ransome, and it has a different version of the Snow Maiden than the one I liked here. I've found even another version online, having to do with the Tzar. Which is the book you have? I'd like to see it!

Cloudscome said...

I really like your explanation of why stories make us cry. I wouldn't have thought of it that way myself, but just thought we cry because it's a sad story. That's not all of it, though, is it? And Lucia was asking what else is it? when she said she comes back every year. You got to the heart of it - because the story is beautiful and she is moved by beauty. My soul, what a treasure! How precious to be the one who tells your own dearly loved child that truth.

Your adaptation of the 5 laws is right on the money too. Great great post!!

TadMack said...

Oh, may M. never, never, never, never lose what she has now.

TadMack said...

Also: Storytelling Laws go for Writing, too...

Charlotte said...

I remember when my Ben first sobbed his heart out over a story (the first Owly book). I was so moved! And a little proud. Good for Lucia!

The Clown of God gets me every time too!

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

So much to think about in this post and in all the thoughtful comments; thank you to everyone, especially Farida and Lucia. I still remember the first time Leo cried over a book: it was Old Blue Buggy. I think it's growing up, or letting go of the past that gets him.

Re: Snow maiden, we've been looking for a good version of this story ever since we saw it performed (with puppets) last year. Carolyn Croll has one (The Little Snowgirl; it's OOP).

Saints and Spinners said...

Thank you, all of you, for your wise and insightful comments. This has been one of my favorite blog posts as a result.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

So, as you know, we finally read this. Most challenging was coming up with a melody, on the spot, for the Daughter of the Snow's ditty. :)

Piper enjoyed it. Ada was riveted, too. I thought of your daughter the whole time. I wonder what it was in the story that got to her so -- not that it isn't sad. It's just fascinating how children respond to some things. I'm with TadMack -- may she NEVER lose what she has now. That tenderness, appreciation for beauty. With a mama like you, I doubt she will.

Now I've gotta find The Clown of God and Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep! Tips?

Jules at 7-Imp said...

P.S. I agree with the fabulousness of this post and the thread that resulted.

MotherReader said...

Wonderful post and comments.

I've read Show Way to several of my daughter's classes and I get choked up at the end every single time.

The Book Chook said...

Thanks so much for posting this at kidlitosphere, it has been a fascinating thread to follow. I don't know Ranganathan, but now must do some research to find out more.

One of my classes frequently begged me to read Munsch's Love You Forever. While I don't believe it is actually such a great example of children's literature, I just could not read it without crying. Finally, I asked them, what it was about the book they loved.

One little poppet piped up,"Oh, we just like to watch you cry!"

a. fortis said...

Lovely post and discussion. I agree with TadMack. I hope your daughter never loses her sense of wonder and empathy and depth of feeling.

I do find myself moved to tears by stories on occasion, and not necessarily the saddest ones. In fact, I cried during Bend It Like Beckham because at the end, when the dad starts to come around, I was so touched. A lot of my reaction was because of my relationship with my own dad. As you say, the same story will be so different for different people.

KateW said...

Thank you for sharing your personal story (lovely) and the five laws. They are the kind of thing my students can benefit from. I am adding you to my blog list. My students will enjoy coming here. Thanks for the shout out about Diamonds and Toads!

Saints and Spinners said...

KateW: You're welcome! You're on my list, too.

A.Fortis: That's a movie that bears repeated viewings. Thanks for weighing in and sharing your thoughts.

Book Chook: That's a classic story. Just classic. I've had a number of moments like that.

MR: I don't know Show Way. I'll have to check it out. The list grows...

Jules: I don't think we've touched base about these stories yet. Give me a moment, and I'll send you some links.

Annika said...

I'm Lucia's teacher, the one who told the Snowmaiden in class, and it's lovely to see the ripples that that telling created.

I must confess that I cry (discretely) at most of the stories that the lead kindergarten teacher tells in class. Especially if I am living deeply into the story.

I also find that many stories that I read from books aloud to children bring tears to my eyes and a such a tightness in my throat, that I must pause and take a breath before I can continue. In these tales of transformation, the tears always seem to come towards the end of the story, at the point that the protagonist meets and overcomes his obstacles. I think that my being strongly resonates with this energy and my heart opens. For me these tears are tears of joy and vulnerability.

botatonscattis said...

In my hunt for a fairytale about snow and winter I tumbled in to your nice blog! Thanks for sharing the five laws of storytelling! It's always nice to be reminded of the importance of storytelling! I work with music and theater in Sweden. I'll stay in contact with your blog! You write very nice about your little girl Lucia. Did you know that in my country we honour Lucia every 13th of December with a cermony of candlelights and beautiful singing? If you like I can tell you more. This link would give you an idea of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP0NoFwPEAA
It doesn't have to be in the church, but it happens.

Keep on storytelling/Catarina from Sweden

Saints and Spinners said...

Catarina/Botatonscattis: Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I am indeed aware of the St. Lucia festival in Sweden, and would love to see it there. My daughter's school does a St. Lucia procession every year, too, during school. Lucia is not my daughter's real name, but I gave her that moniker for the blog because Lucia is the patron saint of people dealing with eye issues, and my daughter is blind in her left eye.