14 Oct, 2016
10 : 00
This past Wednesday, in a second annual collaboration with DreamOn studios, the Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing) invited storyteller Priscilla Howe to share some of her most exciting and entertaining tales with ECE and Primary School students. Following her enthralling storytelling sessions, Ms. Howe offered parents and teachers some effective methods to tell inspiring and impactful stories that stimulate a child’s creativity and passion.
Please introduce yourself.
I’m a native New Englander now living in Lawrence, Kansas, with my cat, Francis Bacon. A former children's librarian, I’ve been a full-time storyteller and puppeteer since 1993. I travel around the country and abroad, telling stories in schools, libraries, conferences, festivals and special events. I’m always searching for new stories to tell, as well as for the best restaurant pie on earth!
How did you become a storyteller? What inspired you?
In 1988, I discovered storytelling. I was a children's librarian in Middletown, Connecticut (after a stint as a Slavic Librarian, but that's another story) and my colleagues invited me to tell stories at a school. One of them suggested a book by Philippa Pearce, Lion at School. I flipped through and found the perfect story: "The Crooked Little Finger." I was born with crooked fingers! I told that one, as well as a story I'd made up when I was a teenage babysitter. The kids at the school liked it. I could feel that connection. I was hooked.
What are the key ingredients to a good spoken word story?
One of the structures I love is the “somebody wanted, but…so…” In most good stories, you have to have conflict of some kind and resolution of that conflict. You have to have tension and release of tension. Oftentimes the story will feature a likeable character that faces trouble, resolves it, and receives insight at the end.
How do you choose which stories to tell?
The main thing is I must love the stories I tell. If I don’t like or love the stories, the audience will pick up on this and won’t be engaged. In my mind, that’s the only major rule in storytelling: tell stories you love. That’s the singular hard and fast rule to me.
I also want audiences to get whatever they get out of it; I don’t like to have an agenda or intended message. A storytelling idol of mine, Donald Davis, said that “meaning is the property of the listener;” I’m not in charge of how the audience reacts, which is part of the fun! I love to see the reactions and discussions these stories provoke.
What are some of the most effective ways parents can improve story time with their own children?
There are a few fun storytelling games that I love. When I was a kid, one game we would play was called “Mailbag”, a passaround story. One person starts the story, and then after a few sentences says “mailbag,” or any other keyword, which prompts the next person in the circle to start speaking. Another similar game is called “Magic Box.” Find a box and put some small random objects in it. Players pass the box around and draw items out as they pass, creating a story from the items they pull out.
I also encourage parents to tell stories from their own lives: times they got in trouble, times they didn’t get in trouble but should have, or maybe a time that they almost won something but didn’t. If you can set up that kind of tension it makes for an interesting story.
The essential part of all of these activities is connection. It’s a connection of the storyteller with the listeners and the story, the listeners among themselves, the listeners and the story, and so on. Storytelling is a fantastic way to strengthen an intra-family connection.
What are your favorite stories to tell children?
Because I only tell stories I love, the story I love most is the one I’m telling at the moment. The favorite of the listeners is “The Ghost with the One Black Eye.” Kids love this story; they want to hear it over and over again and can even retell it themselves! The story is about a baby who wants their apple juice, but all the characters are too scared to go and get it because of this ghost. In the end, it’s the baby who finally goes and retrieves the juice.
I think this story is popular among children because normally babies (and children) are the powerless ones, but in this case it’s the baby who vanquishes the ghost. The listeners gain power through that!
What kind of benefits do you think this form of communication gives young children?
In the example of the story I mentioned just now, it gives the child listeners a little extra power, self-esteem, and encouragement. Listeners in a group also have a shared history through hearing stories; they can remember stories that they hear and have a stronger connection between them. Passaround stories like the ones mentioned before also enhance children’s creativity.
Please recommend a lesser known book or story to parents for the following age groups:
For ECE and preschool-aged children, I recommend any work by Robert Munsch. He has some great picture books whose stories are very fun to tell and retell.
For slightly older Primary School students, Phillipa Pearce’s stories are really great. I particularly enjoy telling Lion at School and the short story collection Who’s Afraid?