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 Most of the books (especially in the fiction collection) have been withdrawn from other libraries.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.
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.
It is with an immense sense of excitement, gratitude and humility, that we announce the receipt of a $10,000 gift from the Heineman Foundation to help fund three Story Squad storytellers’ continued work to establish a Folktale Storytelling Digital Library (FSDL) that will provide public and school librarians, teachers, and the general public with access to folktale storytelling from around the world. Our goal is to create over 35 video storytelling performances that will reside on Youtube and be available, eventually, through an FSDL database and web portal. The Heineman funds will also help us reach out to try to establish a senior storytelling troupe, either in Chapel Hill (with our connection to Carol Woods Retirement Community) or in Raleigh (through the City of Raleigh, Community Engagement Division). We are very grateful for the support of the Heineman Foundation and will do our utmost to steward their investment wisely and to maximum benefit.
Story 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.”
Come 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.
Story 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:
- Select an object in nature (pine cone, feather, leaf, etc.)
- 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).
- Look for features of the object or larger entity that help you identify it or that are unusual.
- 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?”
- Answer your question(s) with a plausible but not necessarily logical (or scientifically acceptable) answer.
- Visualize a setting and several characters (your object need not be a character; it can be a result of story actions).
- Try to include some dialog, maybe a sound effect, or a character voice to spice up the narration.
- 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)
We 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.
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.
A new video overview of the Story Squad and Estes Hills Elementary School collaboration and grant from Scholastic’s Patterson Partnership is up and ready for viewing. Please take a moment to see the work we are doing there with kindergarten children: http://www.unc.edu/spotlight/a-squad-of-storytellers/