“What story should I tell?” “How do you pick stories?”
These are questions that face tellers all the time at every level of experience. The standard reply is to tell the stories that you love. And most of the time that actually works. I always remind new tellers that they will spending a lot of time with each story as they learn their tales, massage them and make them their own. So, finding the tale that truly speaks to your heart is always Rule #1.
But, it isn’t always the practical route. “Working Tellers” often have to meet client objectives. One of my earliest contracts as a professional teller was with our local WIC Program (Women, Infant, Children Nutrition Education). I started digging into stories that would help WIC spread their educational message of making good food choices. And I found lots of stories that ultimately worked. I used folk tales, like The Great Big Enormous Turnip, to present making alternative choices of nutritious vegetables. This fun cumulative tale invited lots of audience participation, a chance to chat about the garden. And, of course, I always brought along a TURNIP! Too many children, and a few adults, had no idea what a turnip was. My favorite story for this program was Russell & Lillian Hoban’s classic children’s book Bread and Jam for Frances. It has its playful chant and jumprope jingles. Then what a blast it was to finally reach the point where Frances was just SICK of jam. I loved saying, “What I am is tired of jam!” And oh, did those kids giggle.
So, Rule #2 must be “Find what you like best that will fill your programming needs.”
Then, we need to quickly address that all important issue: What does my audience need?
Any veteran teller will nod in agreement that The Buck Stops Here. If your audience cannot connect with the story, you’ll know. Nodding off, reading a book, texting…And that’s what adults do. Need I say what children will do when they’re not connected with your story? Oh, use that vivid imagination!
Then there are those times that a story speaks to us so deeply that we must learn it. It is as if the tale is a part of some deep-longing…a key for our locked up hearts. We have to bring those stories in, just for our own healing.
And I have that kind of tale. In the mid-1990’s my beautiful daughter went through the proverbial teen storm. It was tough on both of us because we had always been very close. Her dad died when she was 11 after a long bitter illness, a sorrowful time for all of us. By 14 she was on her way to finally expressing all that grief through a wad of anger and some curious choices.
Folks would ask about her, and I’d say (in storyteller style), “My daughter has been stolen away by the fairies. They’ve left me with a Changeling Child.” So, when I stumbled on Grimm’s “Goblins’ Child,” I knew that I had found MY story. A young mother’s child is whisked away by goblins, and they have left her with a lifeless block of wood ( by the by…my kid was no block of wood. Rather, fire and verve!). In the young mother’s frantic misery, she runs to the old woman of the village, who advises her that she must make that block of wood laugh. And so goes a priceless story of a child lost, and then by grace found again.
I clung to that story as I tried to support my daughter, to hold her and let her go simultaneously. I loved that story, and I still do. The tale gave me comfort, and helped me finally accept that this was her journey. I could not set her path for her. I also learned that I get along well with lots of teens, except my own sometimes. Why is that?
That daughter is a grown woman with three children of her own. And what an incredibly strong, devoted mother she is…A fierce woman, with great humor and a gentle soul. She is lovely and smart. I adore her. Thank you, fairies, for bringing her back. Changed, yes. But not completely.
So, have fun on The Searching Journey! It’s time consuming, but you’ll get a lot of good story traveling in along the way. And on that road, I hope you meet YOUR story.
B.Z.’s telling of “The Goblin’s Child” is on her premiere recording, “The Story Quilters: Cynthia Restivo & B.Z. Smith, joined by Folksinger Bill Roberson.” Recorded in 2000, it won a Parents’ Choice Gold, and is still a popular choice for families. It is available at CDBaby.com.