Darren does. He’s read aloud the Little House books, James Herriot stories, P.G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters, and (for years and years, from Bookgirl to Ranger) Go Dog Go, Are You My Mother?, Green Eggs and Ham, and Ten Apples Up on Top. He and I take turns putting Sparkler to bed, and together we took her through all seven Narnia books. We just finished the first Harry Potter.
But I’d rather just tell a story.
I’ve had to put some real practice into storytelling. When I first began, I discovered pretty big gaps in my memory. I know Bible stories pretty thoroughly, but I’d get halfway through, say, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and wonder…how does this end? Does a lumberjack rescue her? Does she get eaten by a wolf? Stuck to a golden goose? Forced to spin straw into gold? So I checked out books of fairy tales and nursery rhymes to refresh what I thought I knew. (Do you know how Goldilocks ends?)
Then I had to learn to tell the story. It’s a different skill from reading aloud. Very easy to forget key details: “Oh, wait, the beanstalk grew because Jack got five beans for a cow.” “So then Gideon told the men to break the pitchers and yell… Did I mention that they had torches and pitchers? No?” Fortunately I had an eager and forgiving audience.
I got better. I even got good. I ended up with a large repertoire of well-polished stories, all of which are part of the fabric of our culture. This is education here!
Emboldened by my success, I branched out by making up my own stories. It proved to be a real mental exercise. I learned to:
- Keep the stories short.
- Tell stories from my life or the children’s lives. It’s the age-old way to pass on a heritage, plus it’s almost always crowd-pleaser.
- Rework an existing story, Veggie Tales-style. Tell the story of Queen Esther… but with horses instead of people. (Not sure how the gallows would work in that case, but that’s the storyteller’s problem.) It’s The Three Billy Goats Gruff—but with kids…who are spies……trying to get past the bad guys!
- Use a basic formula. Young children prefer this type of story anyway. I told all my kids a series of stories that involved very, very naughty people called “the J’s” (all their names started with J, for reasons now lost in the mists of time). Each story went along the lines of:
One day, Ranger got a call from the library. The librarians said, “Help! The J’s are here and they’re doing really bad things!” So Ranger grabbed his blue and silver sword and jumped on his really fast horse, and dashed off to stop the J’s!
Do you know what those J’s were doing? They were tearing up all the books! Ripping out pages and stomping on them and throwing mud on them! Ranger ran inside and said, “J’s, you stop that!”
The J’s said, “We don’t want to!”
“Okay, then, I’ll make you stop!”
[Then I’d tell a pretty sketchy description of an action scene, which usually involved throwing something and knocking all the J’s down. Action scenes are not my strong point.]
The police came and got the J’s. The librarians were so happy that they gave Ranger twenty books about monster trucks.
These simple stories have it all for young kids. Heroism, really terrible behavior, fighting and conquering, and a reward at the end. Variations on this theme could fill up a month’s worth of bedtimes.
Older children like serial stories. I end on a cliffhanger, telling a new installment the next bedtime. It’s very exciting, since even I don’t know how the story is going to end.
If you’re a reader, taking time to read aloud to your family creates memories that will last their whole lives. If you’re a storyteller, your voice and your imagination will inspire your children and even your grandchildren. Both are entertaining, educational, and creates bonds that draw a family together.
And, in the case of Goldilocks, teaches children that if you’re going to break and enter, you’d best be prepared to hustle your bustle when the homeowners show back up.
What are your favorite books to read? What stories do you like to tell?
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka