Library Column: November ’04 (II)

Storytelling, the Oldest “Media.”  

Wednesday morning at 10:30: a circle of children, faces excited, watch as Wrenn Compere begins to tell a story. She has props: a guitar, a book or two, a felt-board, but they are only props. The essential art of storytelling is in the voice, facial expression and gestures of the live human being sharing herself as she tells a tale and it is in the faces and bodies of the children who listen and participate.

The art of telling a tale goes back to the prehistory of humanity. Long before any of our modern forms of media were invented, human beings were telling each other stories. It may be the oldest art form. All known cultures have stories, folk tales, fairy tales, myths, legends. These original stories continue to surface in our modern literature, transformed over and over again to meet the cultural changes of each epoch.

My own childhood was rich in stories. My father told “made-up” stories, wild tales of unlikely adventures in mysterious lands, heroic or comic or sometimes merely silly. I adored them, and by the time I was 13, I was telling stories to my younger siblings and my cousins. Nowadays I tell stories to my grandchildren. My mother told stories about her childhood on a farm in Northern Indiana, about her family and especially, about her mother’s youth in Odessa, Russia. I took these stories into my inner being, building up a gradual picture of where I came from and what it meant to be a part of my family. I loved her story of her first meeting with my father: “He was 19 and I was 21. We met at a party. He said he was going to marry me. I thought he was young, silly and brash, but four years later we were married!”

When I decided to do a column on storytelling I did some research. I opened up the Vermont Online Library and typed in “storytelling for children.” Browsing through the large selection of articles that popped up, I chose three, one on storytelling for parents, one for teachers and one about the National Storytelling Festival. Articles can be saved, printed out or e-mailed and I chose to print them out. Copies are available at the library for anyone wanting further reading on the topic! The Vermont Online Library is a wonderful resource, please come in and try it out!

A brief excerpt from one of the articles, “Stories from the Heart” by Jennifer Geringer: “Parents instinctively talk to their children from the moment of birth, and storytelling is a natural outgrowth of that talk. Telling and sharing stories enhances the connection between parents and children. As they listen to imaginary stories, stories from our families, and traditional stories from our cultural backgrounds, children develop a rich foundation of language and experiences.”

Another resource is the Vermont Arts Council at http://www.vermontartscouncil.org/index.php . Go to Arts Directory, choose Search and type in storytelling.

Our library doesn’t have any books on storytelling, alas, but the Midstate Regional Library can supply a stack: books on how to tell stories, books of stories to tell, books for parents, books for teachers, introductory books and advanced books. I’ll bring back a few, next time I go.

New additions to our audio and video collections: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmond Morris on 8 CD disks; The Right Stuff on two VHS; White Teeth by Zadie Smith on 14 audio cassettes and The Ken Follett Collection, 3 abridged books by Ken Follett on 11 audio cassettes; Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen on 2 audio cassettes (abridged).

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