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Articles About Storytelling

Children as Storytellers: Katerina the Storyteller
By: Leslie Slape

She’s 3 years old, but she already belongs to a venerable company practicing one of the world’s most ancient arts.

My daughter’s a storyteller.

It would not impress her to be told that once upon a time, storytellers were revered as living treasures, storehouses of the myths, legends, epics, poetry and folklore of their people.

She only knows that her mother is one, and so she is too.

Nowadays, storytelling is considered primarily an amusement for children. But I became a storyteller long before I had children, and I prefer telling stories to adults.

By "storytelling" I don’t mean reading from a book and showing the pictures. I mean telling a tale in your own style and bonding with your listeners. The experience is never the same twice.

After I joined the local Storytellers Network a few years ago, I expanded my repertoire, but I still didn’t include preschool-level stories. I used my kids to rehearse on, though, because it was nice to have a live audience instead of telling stories to my shower or my car. The morning commute is a convenient time to rehearse, but my Toyota doesn’t know when to laugh.

My 5-year-old son, Logan, enjoyed the stories but didn’t consider them a substitute for books at bedtime. His little sister, Katerina, reacted differently.

It first happened one night as I was tucking her into bed. "Tell me the story of ’The Firebird and Princess Vasilissa, " she begged, "and I will be the horse."

The horse had five long speeches, all nearly identical. With each one I began, "and the horse said ..." and Katerina recited the horse’s lines without missing a word.

After this, I learned some preschool-level stories that we could play with. I’d tell a story, then she’d choose a part for herself and we’d tell it to each other. It wasn’t long before she began trading parts with me.

One day I went to wake her from her nap and discovered her whispering to herself. I’d caught her in rehearsal.

"Mommy, I know the whole story of Henny Penny’ all the way through!" she said. Then she told it to me -- and to anyone else who would listen.

The day I taught her the story of "The Little Red Hen," we told it together a few times, and then she stopped with a little frown. Something didn’t seem right to her.

The story begins as the Little Red Hen finds a grain of wheat and asks which of the other animals in the barnyard will help her plant it. Nobody will help. "Very well, then," she replies, "I will do it myself." No one helps her with harvesting, threshing, taking the wheat to the mill or baking bread. But she has her revenge: The fruit of her labors, fresh homemade bread, is shared with her chicks while the hungry animals look on in shame.

This disturbed Katerina. It wasn’t right, she said, that the hen didn’t share the bread. When I pointed out that it was because the other animals had not helped the hen, she decided to change it.

With this step, she did what storytellers through the ages have done: She made the story her own.

Here’s "The Little Red Hen," as told by Katerina Slape:

The Little Red Hen was scratching for food and found a grain of wheat. "Who will help me plant the wheat?" asked the Little Red Hen.

"I will," said the cat. "I will," said the dog. "I will," said the duck.

"Thank you," said the Little Red Hen. And they planted the wheat together.

(As her version continues, the cat, dog and duck cheerfully help the hen harvest and thresh the wheat, haul it to the mill and bring home the flour.)

"Who will help me bake some bread?" asked the Little Red Hen.

"I will," said the cat. "I will," said the dog. "I will," said the duck.

"Thank you," said the Little Red Hen. And they baked a delicious loaf of bread.

"Who will help me eat the bread?" asked the Little Red Hen.

"I will," said the cat. "I will," said the dog. "I will," said the duck.

And they got their babies and they all shared the bread.

(This story originally appeared in 1993 in the Longview (Wash.) Daily News)

Author Information:
Name: Leslie Slape
Website: http://www.storyteller.net/tellers/lslape
The contents expressed in any article on Storyteller.net are solely the opinion of author.


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