Children’s Books to Malawi, Africa

We are partnering with the Mzuzu International Academy to bring new children’s books to the school library in Malawi.  Seven boxes of books will be sent to the school, ranging from picture books to young adult novels.  Our friend, Mary Grace Flaherty, is doing a Fulbright in Malawi, in part to help them improve the Mzuzu school library. In her blog, she writes:IMG_20170126_120854854

“Most of the shelves that have books on them now are filled with textbooks (which the students fetch and take to the classrooms as needed), and materials that will likely not be added to the collection (because of content, outdatedness, condition). Most of the books (especially in the fiction collection) have been withdrawn from other libraries. Many have the cover torn off and/or pages ripped out where the book pocket used to be, and bear some type of “discard” stamp. There are also many donated items that don’t fit the scope of the collection (e.g. biography of KatharineHepburn; a textbook on computing with a copyright date of 1961). As the headmaster put it, it takes many resources to ship books here, and while the gifts are generous, “we don’t want other people’s rubbish.”

Story Squad rIMG_20170116_110040989_HDRecently acquired part of a collection of new children’s books, and we will be sending them down to Africa, accompanied by letters written by North Carolina school children to the Mzuzu Academy students.

Estes Hills Kindergarten Literacy Night

Story Squad storytellers, Holly Broman, Trent McLees, and Brian Sturm shared tales at Estes Hills as part of their Kindergarten Literacy Night.  We want to thank the organizers for sharing the pizza dinner with us (it was delicious)!  In the following pictures, you can see Holly finishing up the delightful story of The Wide-mouthed Frog, as the boastful amphibian realizes his big mouth is about to get him eaten by the crocodile; so he makes his mouth TINY and escapes…wiser and more humble.  In the second picture, children react to Trent’s gestures, as he shares the Native American story of the Origin of the Milky Way, when a Spirit Dog steals cornmeal from the Cherokee people.  They frighten him away, but as he returns to the sky, the cornmeal in his mouth spills out, creating the Milky Way.  Brian told the story of Abiyoyo the giant, from Africa, which is about a little boy (and a guitar) and his grandfather (and a magic stick) and how they outwit the giant and make him “zoooooop,” disappear.

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24th Annual Winter Stories

winter_stories_programStory Squad continued its annual tradition of offering a free and open-to-the-public Winter Storytelling event on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in Wilson Library.  Sponsored by the Friends of the UNC Library, the event featured six storytellers and two musicians performing a delightful array of stories and songs for “children of all ages.”  And we DID have children of all ages, from infants and toddlers to senior citizens.  The stories came from all over the world (United States, New Zealand, Czech Republic, and Scandinavia), and the musicians enlivened traditional holiday favorites.  As always, this event brings a wonderful sense of community to the campus, as people unite to hear stories that “warm the heart.”  We even had a fire on the stage (well, a picture of one, as you can see in program here.  The stories were preceded by 30 minutes of candy, cookies, and hot chocolate, so how could it possibly go wrong, and we were even blessed with a cold evening to make our theme more enticing.  “It’s the first time I’ve been and brought my children,” said one mother, “but we all loved it, and we hope to be back next year.”

Storytelling Under the Stars 2016

storytelling-under-the-stars-2016Come join us for stories of the night skies UNDER the night skies (and yet in the comfort of the planetarium).  Enjoy the beauty of the night sky without the light pollution typical in downtown Chapel Hill, listen to folktales from around the world about how the various objects in the sky came to be.  SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13th from 4:30-5:30pm in the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

NC Department of Environmental Quality

p_ncgov-deqStory Squad met with administrators, educators, and scientists to discuss the power of storytelling to convey environmental messages. We told several “pourquoi” stories (French for “why”) about why things are as they are), and we explored a process for developing nature pourquoi stories quickly and easily using the following process:

  1. Select an object in nature (pine cone, feather, leaf, etc.)
  2. Look closely at the object to identify its physical qualities (texture, shape, color, size, etc.), then think about the larger object of which this is a part (feather to bird, acorn to oak tree, etc).
  3. Look for features of the object or larger entity that help you identify it or that are unusual.
  4. Ask, “why is it this way?” AND “how did it get this way?” or “how did it come to be?” AND “what was it like before?”
  5. Answer your question(s) with a plausible but not necessarily logical (or scientifically acceptable) answer.
  6. THEN…..
  7. Visualize a setting and several characters (your object need not be a character; it can be a result of story actions).
  8. Try to include some dialog, maybe a sound effect, or a character voice to spice up the narration.
  9. Use the following prompts to create your story:
    • “Once upon a time there was…” (stasis)
    • “One day…” (problem)
    • “Luckily…” (character resolves problem but changed)
    • “And that’s why…” (denouement/moral)

UNC Hospital School Collaboration

customLogoWe have begun a new collaboration to bring stories into the community, this time with the UNC Hospital School.  Stories are a way to share our lives, to escape into other worlds, to identify with characters who are going through similar experiences, or to learn from new experiences so that we can better understand and cope with life as it comes to us.  Stories heal!  Stories empower!  Stories connect us to each other!  We hope Story Squad will bring joy, laughter, and hope to the children at UNC Hospital School, just as we try to do with all of the children we meet.

Another Year of Adventure and Stories at Estes Hills Elementary

This year we tried something different in the first grades of Estes Hills Elementary.  Last year we told stories and mentioned to the children that the books could be found in the school or public library.  Circulation of those books didn’t change at all.  This year we brought in the book to share after we told the story.  We showed the cover and a few of the most important pictures from the book to draw a much tighter connection between the heard story and the book in which it could be found.  Circulation SKYROCKETED, in some cases as much as 1,800% from the prior year (we’re writing an article on this impact).  Talk about motivation to read!  Interestingly, librarians have known of – and exploited – this connection for over 100 years.  As librarian May Quigley claimed back in 1905, “The primary object of story-telling to children is to…cultivate a taste for good literature and direct them to those books which they would not otherwise read if left to themselves.”*

So, we only told stories this year that were in the school library collection, and our Scholastic Patterson Partnership grant will put another $3000 worth of easy reading folktale books into that collection for next year (see the video embedded in the March 1, 2016 post). All of these stories are appropriate for kindergarten and first-grade children.

  • Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock (Arfican)
  • Abiyoyo (African)
  • Crocodile and Hen (Africa: Bakongo)
  • It Could Always Be Worse (Jewish)
  • Stonecutter (Indonesian)
  • Anansi and Turtle (African)
  • Borreguita and the Coyote (Mexican)
  • Ox and the Frog (Greek: Aesop)
  • Badger and the Magic Fan (Japanese)
  • Origin of Shoes (Indian)
  • Anansi Goes Fishing (African)
  • The Mitten (Ukrainian)
  • Two of Everything (Chinese)
  • The Green Gourd (US: North Carolinian)
  • The Empty Pot (Chinese)
  • Rabbit and the Dried Persimmon (Korean)
  • The Name of the Tree (African)
  • Coyote’s Crying Song (Native American: Hopi)
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo (Japanese)
  • Legend of the Lady Slipper (Native American: Ojibwe)
  • Rooster and the Diamond Button (Hungarian)
  • Two Ways to Count to Ten (African: Liberian)
  • The Cat’s Purr (West Indian)
  • Anansi and the Talking Melon (African)
  • Coyote Steals the Blanket (Native American: Ute)
  • Anansi and the Box of Stories (African)
  • How Turtle’s Back Was Crackedl (Native American: Cherokee)
  • Rhinos for Lunch, Elephants for Dinner (African: Maasai)
  • How the First Rainbow Was Made (Native American: Shasta)
  • How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have (African)


*Quigley, May G. “Telling Stories to Children.” Public Libraries July 1905: 351-53.


Story Squad and Estes Hills Elementary School Win Prestigious Scholastic Grant

heroA grant submitted to the Scholastic Patterson Partnership in collaboration with Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill has been selected as one of 467 national winners in a pool of applications that exceeded 28,000!  

Our project will use the funds to:

  1. Develop the folklore collection at the school library with particular emphasis on books that are accessible to developing readers in kindergarten and first grades.
  2. Bring Story Squad storytellers into the kindergarten classrooms to tell the stories that have been added to the collection to motivate children to read the books.

Research shows that storytelling is a valuable method of building reading excitement and motivation, as children who may struggle to read the text may encounter the stories aurally first, building familiarity and easing the reading transition.  Storytelling also adds a layer of drama to the printed page, modeling the feeling of immersive reading.

We look forward to extending the relationship with Estes Hills (where we already share stories each week with first grade classes) into the kindergarten classrooms.

First International Education Week Celebration at SILS Features World Storytelling

Story Squad tellers Sarah Beth Nelson and Brian Sturm shared tales from the various countries where SILS has international exchange programs to highlight these cultural opportunities for students.  We told the stories:

  • How Pig and Bear went into Business Together (they buy each other’s food and find they’ve sold everything and have no money to show for it) from the Czech Republic
  • What the Old Man Does is Always Right (he trades down from a cow to a bag of rotten apples, but his wife is thrilled as she then had apples to trade with a neighbor) from Denmark
  • The Cat’s Tail (how the Singapore cat got its stumpy tail) from Singapore
  • The Origin of Fire (how an earthquake rattles flint stones into sparking the first fire) from Chile
  • Boudica’s Final Speech (about a queen of the British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying Roman forces from England
  • The Pheasants and the Bell (about a woodcutter who saves the life of some birds, who in turn save his life) from Korea