This blog post was written for Share a Story, Shape a Future's Blog Literacy Tour 2010 and is part of day two of the tour by The Book Chook. Here is the roundup of posts: Literacy My Way.
Storytelling in the Bathtub; Practical Aspects of Family Storytelling
Once upon a time, when my daughter was three years old, she hated to have her hair washed. I understood her vulnerability. A certain amount of trust must be in place in order to allow an adult to tip the child’s head back, pour the water on the hair and keep the water off of the face. Despite the presence of the washcloth, water inevitably trickles into the eyes. As my daughter shrieked that she didn’t want her hair washed, I said, “Have I ever told you about Pepper’s eleven brothers and sisters?”
My daughter stopped yelling. Pepper was my daughter’s beloved little Playmobil princess who shared her interests and fears, but before that moment, she hadn’t known about Pepper’s family. The Twelve Dancing Princesses was my inspiration for the number of siblings, and as I began to wash my daughter’s hair, I gave them plant names: Carnation, Jonquil, Heliotrope, Johnny-Jump-Up, Violet, and so on. In subsequent baths, I told my daughter about the day they all decided to go on a picnic, what they brought with them, who they met along the way, and what they played when they got there. As I told the story, I didn’t try to create an intricate plot, but I took some inspiration from the book Picnic by Emily Arnold McCully. If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s because I wrote about it three years ago and included a bed-time story as well in the post Three Wishes and One Too Many Shaggy Dogs.
Public storytelling performance is different from family storytelling. When I tell stories for an audience in a bookstore or library, I make sure I know my stories thoroughly and provide proper attribution. Some storytellers are able to make up stories spontaneously for an audience. I am not one of them, but I do know that my colleagues’ spontaneity is possible because of the abundance of stories they already know.
When I do family storytelling, I draw inspiration from Western folktales like those collected by the Brothers Grimm (Germany) and Joseph Jacobs (Great Britain) because I know that I will not be infringing upon another culture’s sacred stories. Certain motifs in those stories by Grimm and Jacobs are probably already familiar to you: a journey, a series of events that happen in threes, a smattering of magic, a symbolic challenge to deal with. I often used my daughter's character of Pepper in stories to help my daughter work through her own struggles from swings and slides to dogs and sirens. Over the years, I've employed other characters meaningful to her.
Two in-print books I recommend are:
Bringing the Story Home: The Complete Guide to Storytelling for Parents, by Lisa Lipkin
A Parent's Guide to Storytelling: How to Make Up New Stories and Retell Old Favorites, by Margaret Read MacDonald
If you are inclined toward folktales, here is a link to help you with the inspiration for your stories: Sur La Lune.