Over 150 people joined in the annual Winter Stories tradition this year to enjoy storytelling of folktales from around the world, including Canada, Korea, Greece, Africa, and China. Cliff Missen did a marvelous job playing the Hausa/Fulani cow horn xylophone, and the children were enthralled by the buzzy sound it created. Cliff told us that the ends of the cow horns are cut off and covered with spider webs to create that unusual sound. ALL of the hot chocolate disappeared over the course of the evening and most of the candy and treats. We heard from one happy parent that his four-year-old daughter lent over in the middle of the storytelling and beamed, “I LOVE this time of year!” That’s what it is all about!
Thanks to all who made this another delightful evening of stories and songs.
Please join Story Squad for the 25th annual Winter Stories program, “Toasty Tales & Hot Cocoa” on Thursday, December 7, 2017 from 5:00pm – 6:30pm in Wilson Library’s Pleasants Room. There will be hot chocolate and sweet treats at 5:00pm, Hausa cow horn xylophone music at 5:15pm, and the storytelling and singalong program begins at 5:30pm. This is free and open to the public, so all are welcome, but please know that very young children (under 3 years old) may not be able to sit still for the storytelling program.
Story Squad Director, Brian W. Sturm, was interviewed for UNC Campus Radio, WXYC 89.3FM in November, talking about the power of storytelling, the mission of Story Squad, and the place of story in modern life. The one-hour show included a storytelling performance by Tim Lowry and an interview with William R. Ferris, professor of history, and it can be heard here; the Story Squad piece of the show is at the beginning.
The annual collaboration between the storytellers at the School of Information and Library Science and the UNC Morehead Planetarium has taken a “giant step” forward. Past attendance at the event has hovered around 85 people for the past several years, but this year we shattered that number with over 218 in attendance and more than 40 turned away at the door for fire safety reasons. This event seems to have finally gained the traction we have been hoping for, whether due to extensive publicity, marvelous storytellers, or social media engagement, we are not sure, but we reveled in a capacity crowd for the first time, and we are now wondering whether next year will involve two shows instead of just one. We’ll await the planning meetings for next year.
This year we had six storytellers from the INLS 558: Principles and Techniques of Storytelling class. Jeremy Frye told the Greek story of the fall of the titans as Zeus overthrows Cronos, and the first constellation of the She-Goat Capricorn in commemoration of her nursing Zeus as an infant. Amanda Girelli kept the Greek theme going with the beautiful story of Orpheus using his lyre to appeal to Hades for the return of his beloved Eurydice, and the ensuing sadness when he looks back too soon and loses his love (the constellation Lyra represents his musical instrument). Brianna Davis, then told a Japanese story of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, who fall in love and neglect their heavenly duties, inciting the Lord of Heaven to destroy the celestial bridge that connects the two lovers on either side of the heavenly river (Milky Way). Once each year, he forms a bridge of birds so they can be reunited. Jim Curry continued the Greek theme with the story of the Queen’s Vanity, a story that explains many of the fall constellations (Cassiopeia, Perseus, Cepheus, Cetus, and Andromeda); the story, briefly, is that Cassiopeia bragged she was more beautiful than the gods, who punished her by demanding she sacrifice her daughter, Andromeda, to the sea monster Cetus. Perseus saves her with the head of the gorgon, Medusa, turning Cetus to stone. The gods them place Cassiopeia in the heavens but in a throne that circles the north star, so she is sometimes upside down in a most undignified position. Ellen Cline then told a Native American (Assiniboine) story about the seven brothers who want to remain together always, and who choose to be stars. Jessica Kincaid finished the evening with a Hopi tale about the Boy Who Went to the Sun to find out who his father was, creating a path (Milky Way) of cornmeal and seashells to get there. The Sun says the boy needs to learn more and sends him back to earth, where he pays attention to everything and learns patience. On his next visit (traveling partway by comet), his father, the Sun, welcomes him.
Thanks to Amy Sayle, educator at the Morehead Planetarium, for coordinating and championing the event, and to all the staff at the planetarium who made it such a rousing success. We look forward to next year and continuing this marvelous community tradition.
Story Squad just finished a storytelling session in UNC Hospitals, in the hospital school and in the rooms with the children who couldn’t attend at the school. One child was in a lot of pain after whatever procedure he had to have to help him recover, and he was moaning and crying quietly to himself. When I asked if he would like a story, I got no response, so I took that as an invitation to try. I know that storytelling can help transport listeners to the story world, and I thought this might help him get over his pain. So….I started out. “Once upon a time, there lived a lion…” After about 2 minutes, this beautiful child stopped moaning; after three minutes he was no longer crying, and when I left, he was quiet and drowsy, and ready to fall asleep. I don’t know whether the effect lasted, but I do know that the storytelling took him out of his pain for the duration of the story. It’s not scientific evidence; it’s not research or generalizable, but it was certainly effective in this instance. The power of story to enchant and take us out of ourselves never ceases to amaze me! -Brian, Director of Story Squad
Brian Sturm, Director of Story Squad, spent 27 days this summer, touring eastern China and sharing the art of storytelling in public libraries with Chinese librarians and students. He gave presentations and workshops in 7 different cities (Tianjin, Baoding, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Ningbo, Shenzhen, and Zhongshan) with the help of wonderful translators (university students and faculty colleagues). He visited many children’s libraries (in China, they give children their own library buildings rather than a separate room or wing of a public library building) most of them younger than 20 years old and in beautiful, modern structures with whole floors for different collections. Storytelling, despite a long history of marvelous Chinese folktales, is not a common practice in Chinese children’s libraries, so it was a delightful opportunity to try to generate excitement for this art form and share what Story Squad is doing. “I hope,” said Brian, “that I might have the same impact on China that Marie Shedlock had on American public libraries in the early 1900s – to galvanize interest in public library storytelling.”
Shenzhen Children’s Library
Fuzhou Children’s Library
Story Squad provided a storytime for the E. O. Young Jr. Elementary school from Middleburg, NC. The children were treated to a Russian folktale about Grandfather Bear, a Jewish folktale that explains how things can always get worse than they currently are, and an authored picture book The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven. What a delightful group of children: good listeners, active participants, and creative thinkers. One child gave storyteller, Brian Sturm, a run for his money. After the stories were done, Mr. Brian commented, “you are the youngest college students I have ever seen!” Having a different opinion of her future career goals, one little girl raised her hand and, when called upon, announced, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a doughnut!” Now there’s imagination for you!
We just got word that the first box of books Story Squad helped deliver to Mzuzu International Academy in Malawi, Africa has arrived. Mary Grace, our colleague there, posted the following on her blog: “The contrast between these books and the other donations we’ve weeded from the collections is stunning. It’s such a joy to receive and then pass along current books in great condition, worthy of the effort it takes to get things here.” Story Squad is thrilled we could be part of this endeavor.
Our work with the UNC Hospital School is immensely rewarding, though perhaps the most difficult storytelling one can do. It is so fulfilling as a performer to see the delight on the faces of these children who are struggling for their health as they listen to the antics of greedy, lazy Anansi the Spider from African folklore, or “see” the Scandinavian winter landscape unfold before their mind’s eye while hearing about how Old Man Winter captured Spring in his dungeon. For those brief moments, these children are freed from the confines of their hospital rooms to explore the vividness of their own imaginations. And the rewards are subtle…no applause…no raucous laughter! It’s a gentle, tired smile or a mischievous glint in their eyes as they imagine frolicking with the story characters, that shows their engagement with the stories. We believe that stories can open doors, can offer coping strategies, and, in their own way, they can heal spirits. We hope we can offer such things to these incredibly courageous children and their families.
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:
“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 recently 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.