Story Squad met with nearly 30 environmental educators, teachers, and government resource people to share ideas about the benefits of storytelling in environmental education. Conversation was lively, as we shared “pourquoi” tales (stories of why things are as they are) from around the world to show how stories, despite not being “factually accurate” by modern scientific standards, are perceptions of the way nature works. Isn’t “science” the same thing…our current story about how nature works? We’re constantly changing this science story as we gain new knowledge, so it’s not “fact.” It’s just our best understanding at the moment. Perhaps that’s what folklore is, too? Our best understanding at that moment. So, while we can’t necessarily teach science with folktales, we CAN offer children a vibrant new perspective on their world with these stories, and they can introduce basic STEM concepts that will help children look at their world with new eyes and deeper vision!
We finished up our weekly storytelling visits to Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill and Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet in Durham this week. What a marvelous time it’s been. The first graders at Estes Hills were a wonderful audience. They listened carefully, participated, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the magical journeys we took them on. In particular they liked the African Anansi stories because “he’s such a trickster.” Trust children to love mischief! Brer Rabbit was another favorite for similar reasons. One of the joys of many folktales is that the underdog, outcast, powerless creature triumphs; children adore this particular metaphor to how they experience life (organized, told what to do, given rules, etc.). When the powerless character wins, the child listeners feel vindicated.
We told LOTS of stories at these two schools over the course of the year. Some of them are listed below:
- Origin of the Hopi (Native North America) – how the Hopi emerged from the underworld to life in this one
- One Day, One Night (Native North America) – how frog won the shouting contest over bear and others, so that we have one day followed by one night
- Ox and the Frog (Greece) – how frog tried to make himself as large at ox, with disastrous results
- Coyote’s Crying Song (Native North America) – when coyote keeps forgetting her song, Little Dove tricks him into biting a rock; coyote howls to this day
- Anansi and Guinea Fowl (Africa) – Trickster Anansi tries to get Guines Fowl to say “five,” but she’s too smart for him
- Mother of the Tides (East Africa) – how removing a plug in the bottom of the ocean causes the tides
- Abiyoyo (Africa) – how a clever boy and his grandfather use a guitar and a magic “disappearing” stick to overcome a ravenous giant
- Pheasants and the Bell (Korea) – an old woodcutter’s kindness in saving baby birds is repaid when the birds give their lives to save his
- Fishhook of Maui (New Zealand) – how the culture hero Maui fishes up the island of New Zealand using his grandmother’s magic jawbone for a hook
- Origin of Fire (Native North America) – coyote enlists the help of friends to steal fire from the monsters guarding it so people can stay warm
- Senor Coyote and the Dogs (Mexico) – coyote escapes from dogs chasing him until his pride causes his downfall
- Origin of Shoes (India) – when the king realizes the land is dirty, his advisor must find a way to keep the king’s feet clean
- Dancing Hyena (Africa) – Rooster uses an mbira to save his wife, Hen, from hungry hyena by making him dance
- Shark in the Milky Way (Hawaii) – the Milky Way is the remains of a giant shark thrown into the sky by culture hero, Ka-ulu
- Origin of the Rainbow (Native North America) – people and animals work together to blow spider into the Sky Kingdon to ask Old Man Above to stop the rain
- Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock (Africa) – Trickster Anansi again tries to get animals to say special words so he can steal their food, but Mouse Deer outwits him.
- Cat’s Purr (West Indies) – cat accidentally swallows his special drum in anger over his friend rat’s lying
- Stonecutter (Indonesia) – When the stonecutter wants to be the most powerful creature in the world, he realizes he already is
- Ice Bear Child (Native North America) – when an old couple asks their polar bear child to hunt for them, their greed is finally their downfall
- Love Crystal (Vietnam) – a sad story of how love goes awry when it is based on pure fantasy
- Legend of Knockmany Hill (Ireland) – how Finn Macool defeats the giant Cuchullain by following his wife’s advice
- Dance for Water (Africa) – how rabbit is caught by a “tar baby” when he steals water during a drought (similar to the Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby story)
- Anansi and Turtle (Africa) – Anansi won’t share his dinner with Turtle, so Turtle repays him in kind
- Lizard Loses His Farm (Africa) – Anansi makes a path to Lizard’s garden, claims ownership of it, then gives it back in exchange for a cloak made out of flies
- Rooster and the Diamond Button (Hungary) – Rooster gets his diamond button back from the Turkish Sultan with the help of his magic stomach
- Brer Alligator Meets Trouble (African American) – Brer Rabbit tricks Brer Alligator into meeting fire (trouble), charring his skin
- Why Heron Has a Crooked Neck (Africa) – Jackal bends Heron’s neck in anger of his saving Dove’s babies
- Peacock and the Puhuy (El Salvador) – Puhuy bird gives Peacock his beautiful feathers so he’ll be king, Peacock won’t give them back
- Senor Coyote Settles a Quarrel (Mexico) – When Rabbit takes rock off Rattlesnake and then wants to eat Rabbit, Coyote makes them replay the scene until Rattlesnake is again trapped
- Why Rabbit’s Tail is Short (Native North America) – Rabbit helps Wildcat capture Turkeys, and in revenge, Turkeys bite off Rabbit’s tail
- Origin of Butterflies (Native North America) – Creator makes butterflies from all the world’s colors, but lets birds keep songs; butterflies are beautiful but silent
- Origin of Maple Syrup (Native North America) – when people get too lazy eating maple syrup straight from the tree, Gluskabe adds water the trees; we must now work for our syrup
- Grandfather Bear is Hungry (Russia) – Chipmunk gets his stripes as a reward for feeding Grandfather Bear in the middle of winter
- It Could Always Be Worse (Jewish) – When a man believes his life is terrible, the rabbi helps him realize that it could be even worse
- Enormous Turnip (Russia) – the entire family can’t pull out an enormous turnip until they get the help of their animal friends
- Old One-Eye (North America) – woman outwits a band of robbers with the help of a dried up old fish she calls “Old One-Eye”
- Young Mouse and the Elephant (Africa) – Mouse believes he is stronger than Elephant, even after being shown otherwise
- Snow Bunting’s Lullaby (Siberia) – the bird snow bunting must fight to get his song back from crow so that his children will go to sleep
- Frog’s Hairball (China) – frog escapes tiger by challenging him to – and winning – a vomiting contest
- Green Gourd (North America) – woman gets thumped by a gourd that she picked too early, learning that ” you never pick a green gourd before it’s time or it’ll witch you sure.”
- Mother Scorpion Country (Honduras) – Naklili follows wife, Kati, into land of the dead, but cannot be happy there; unhappy alone in land of living, too, so he dies to rejoin his wife
Story Squad performed for the International Night celebration at Wiley International Humanities Magnet in Raleigh on May 9th. Three storytellers shared tales from:
- Germany: “The Three Spinners” is a story much like Rumpelstiltskin, in which a girl’s mother claims the girl loves spinning straw. When confronted with rooms full of straw, she enlists the help of three old women: one with a huge thumb, one with a huge lower lip, and one with an enormous foot. They spin the straw in exchange for her promise to invite them to the wedding. When the prince learns that they are disfigured from spinning, he insists that his new bride never spin again, and so the three spinners save the day.
- Africa: “Counting Leopard’s Spots” tells the tale of how vain leopard wants to know how many spots he has. Several animals try, but none can count high enough. Finally rabbit says that leopard has only two spots (light ones and dark ones).
- Russia: “Grandfather Bear is Hungry” is the story of a little chipmunk who gets his black stripes from Grandfather Bear’s claws after feeding him in the middle of winter when no other food could be found.
The kids thoroughly enjoyed the tales as part of the larger experience of International Night.
Yesterday, April 6th, Story Squad was featured in the main auditorium of the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library on the campus of North Carolina State University as part of the North Carolina Literary Festival. We regaled the audience with stories from around the world, including the Chinese story of Liang and the Magic Paintbrush in which an artist’s drawings come to life until the emperor steals his paintbrush; the Norwegian story called Butterball in which a young boy and his mother outwit a troll-hag; the African story of Anansi and Turtle, in which the spider won’t share his dinner with turtle so turtle repays his “kindness” in kind; the Russian story of Grandfather Bear (a pourquoi tale of how chipmunk got its stripes); and a Hungarian tale, Rooster and the Diamond Button, in which a rooster with a magic stomach recovers his diamond button (and much more) from the Turkish sultan who has stolen it.
We had a wonderful time sharing stories and were delighted when one audience member said, “The highlight of the event for us was the storytelling session. THANK YOU so much for making our day special!”
Story Squad shared their love of world folklore at the Raleigh/Wake Young Authors Celebration on Sunday, March 2nd at Meredith College in Raleigh. What a marvel to see these proud young authors and their families, all dressed up and very serious, come together to celebrate writing and story. We talked about the values of story and then shared folktales from China and Indonesia, and a North American urban legend, and asked the young people to think about how the stories related to their lives and to their writing. Then we were able to hand out the anthology of their winning stories. These young people were justifiably proud of their work, which ranged from personal stories to short fiction to poetry. With a theme of “Happily Ever After – What’s Your Story?”, what more could a Story Squadder ask for?
The 21st annual Winter Stories festival delighted children of all ages with stories, music, sing-alongs, and an incredible spread of cookies, candy, and hot chocolate. Over a hundred people braved the 66 degree heat wave (one of the most unseasonally warm days this year) to eat, drink, and be merry together, in what has become a marvelous holiday tradition.
The cold stories featured Dawna Neil telling “The Little Snow Child” from Russia about a childless elderly couple whose wish for a child is granted with a child of snow who disappears when the weather warms up but returns every winter to share the joy of the cold season. Brian Sturm shared another Russian tale “Why Snow is White” describing how, in the beginning, the world was colorless and four fairy sisters (the Seasons) decided to paint it with rainbow colors; however, they couldn’t agree on the colors, so each took 1/4 of the year and was able to paint whatever she choose. Winter, the eldest , had to help her sisters with their colors, using up all of her paints, so when it was finally her turn and snow began falling, she had only white with which to paint it.
The cuddly stories showcased Hannah Easley telling “The Three Spinners,” a German variant of Rumpelstiltskin in which a girl must spin flax or die until she is helped by three old women, one with a huge foot (from pushing the treadle), one with a huge lip (from licking the flax), and one with an enormous thumb (from twisting the flax). When the prince realizes his beautiful wife might look like them if he forces her to spin, he forbids her to spin for the rest of her life, and the woman and the three sisters share a conspiratorial wink. Cameron Kania share a Dutch Colonies tale about the “Baker’s Dozen” and how a magical old woman turned a stingy baker into a generous one and established the tradition of bakers giving thirteen cookies instead of twelve when a dozen are ordered.
We also had a wonderful group of musicians who entertained the audience with traditional holiday songs and led a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells for the entire audience.
Story Squad shared stories of the night skies with four 3rd grade classes at Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet this week. The children were just beginning their study of space, and the stories introduced them to the folk origins of the stars, the moon, and the Milky Way. One child was overheard saying, “This is gonna be good!” We hope it was!
The 4th annual Storytelling Under the Stars program (an ongoing collaboration between Story Squad and the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, was a rousing success. We told folk stories about the night skies from the Native American and First Nations traditions, and from Estonia and Hawaii. Eight-five members of the planetarium and their guests enjoyed tales about fox and raven stealing the moon from sleepy bear; lazy coyote decorating the heavens with pieces of an unknown shiny material that becomes stars; six wives who eat wild onions and leave their unloving husbands (who can’t stand the smell) to live in the skies as the Pleiades; and two stories about the Milky Way: one about Lindu, daughter of the Sky King, who searches for a husband and decides on the Northern Lights. She weaves her wedding veil while waiting for her husband to arrive, but he never does, so her bridal veil spans the sky; and a Hawaii’an story of the hero Ka’ulu who vanquishes myriad foes as he rescues his kidnapped brother from the Chief of the Sharks, whom he throws into the sky to become the Milky Way. What a marvelous place to share stories….under the stars (and in climate controlled space, as it was mighty chilly under the real stars that night.
Photo Credit: Ivy Dawned
Story Squad storytellers will be visiting the Estes Hill Elementary School first grade classes each week to share stories of enchantment and wonder in the beginning of what will become an ongoing collaboration to help grow children’s literacy levels through story.
Story Squad storytellers shared stories from around the world with seniors at Charles House on Friday, November 15th, 2013. From Native American “pourquoi” (why things are as they are) tales of the stars and moon, to a Gullah tale about turtle’s cracked shell, to India for a story about the origin of shoes, to Japan for a tale of a stone cutter’s discovery of his true power, and on to Russia for a tale of a snow child who blesses a childless couple, the stories shared the delights of global culture and understanding. One of the storytellers summed up the experience, “Telling stories at Charles House was a lot of fun. The audience members and staff were very kind, and they even provided brownies as payment.” Everyone had a great time.