This week, I experienced one of the highlights of the year. Why? I was pushed into having a good old think and that’s always fun.
Asked to tell stories to 7 – 9 year olds, specifically ‘fables and myths – stories with morals’, I was at first flummoxed, as I don’t tell ‘stories with morals’ - a momentary glitch in my thinking. I mean … hang on a sec… what is it I’m doing when I choose a story to tell? My motives are not benign. It’s just that I rarely articulate my thoughts on this and when I try, the words get jammed in my throat and tangle my tongue. Why? Because I feel I’m exposing my beliefs. I feel vulnerable. Of course the stories I tell contain moral values, it’s just that I don’t close off with a neat epigram or a pithy wise saying. I tell stories of the transformative power of love, the value of difference and diversity, the fragility and complexity of the natural world, beauty, trust, kindness, compassion, generosity. Moralistic? Hmm … just a tad.
Well, the children I visited had been reading Aesop (whoever he was) - stories over two and half thousand years old (and probably older). I have a copy published in 1912, illustrated by Arthur Rackham and containing over 60 fables with a wonderful introduction by G.K. Chesterton. You can read it on The Project Gutenberg. I recommend it.
Obviously I wasn’t being asked to teach morals, the children were being introduced to the way stories are used to, manipulate, control, challenge the status quo and explain why the world is as it is. Big stuff. My role was to animate some stories and provoke a thinking session.
This leads me to Jack Zipes. You can google him. Here’s the Wikipedia link to get you started. I recommend this too.
In 2008 Jack Zipes visited Australia for the CBCA Conference. I couldn’t attend the conference however I attended a master class he gave in a Melbourne primary school. ‘…Zipes proposes an interactive storytelling that creates and strengthens a sense of community for students, teachers and parents while extolling storytelling as animation, subversion, and self-discovery.’ Working with middle primary, I was thrilled to observe the way he uses stories to stimulate debate and challenge – it was evident that thinking about big stuff is exciting and fun.
Well … ideas stew away in the brain and all in good time, when the moment is right, something will surface. And so it was for me this week. I know one visit to a class of grade 2s is probably no big deal but I also know that the students and I shared a magical hour and did some muscular thinking together.
The success of the session was largely due to the fact that the teachers had prepared the students well, so by the time I arrived to animate the stories, they were hungry. It also worked because I’d had an opportunity some years ago, to observe Zipes working with story and he got me pondering about my own practice …
Jack Zipes has written many books and essays and translated German folk tales but the book I have close by is Creative Storytelling: Building Community/Changing Lives.