Friday, May 26, 2006

BJH: Tell Me a Story

The Columbus Dispatch recently ran an article about the importance of storytelling. One early childhood expert speculated that included among the many reasons for telling stories to children is the fact that storytelling is still the best way to convey what it means to be human. "We understand the world through the stories we tell and the stories we hear." (Karen Crockett, Ohio State University)

And yet storytelling is increasingly becoming an endangered art. Consider the competition, for example, at bedtime: sports and extra-curricular school activities; video games; cable television; homework. Busy family schedules often make it a challenge to create a slot for the bedtime story, and it’s especially difficult for the single parent who bears the entire responsbility of raising the children, managing a career, and maintaining the home to set aside a quiet time for storytelling or reading every night.

But video games eventually become old stuff. Television offers less and less of anything of real value. And while sports events are great for physical well-being and learning teamwork, nothing else can engage a child’s imagination or nurture his dreams or enlarge his understanding of the world in which he lives and the culture of which he’s a part like the story. And in addition to the obvious contribution to literacy, the fostering of a love for reading, and the opportunity for asking questions and making observations, "story time" also helps to make "bedtime" something to enjoy, a time to anticipate, rather than a late day tug-of-war session. Especially when storytelling becomes a creative, interactive experience, it can go a long way in problem solving and stress elimination.

In America, the storyteller has never been held in as high regard as in other countries. I suspect that's because we're such a young nation and peopled with such diverse cultures. In some countries, those with the gift of telling stories are revered and, in some cases, even sponsored financially. For generations, the Irish Seanchai (the Storyteller) was greatly esteemed. Every door was open in welcome to him as he traveled around the country, taking the oral tradition of story and poem with him to share along the way. To not offer hospitality to a Seanchai would have been tantamount to shunning royalty. ( Ireland's case, far worse, since shunning "royalty" was an okay thing to do, so long as you could run fast enough to escape the repercussions.)

When our daughters were small, we read to them or told them a story almost every night until they reached the age where they wanted to take over for themselves. Then they read to us. They loved to embellish some of their favorite stories, adding characters, and planting surprise endings. Today, as adults, they still love stories and and now read them to their children.

There’s something about reading to a child and telling stories that tends to become a tradition, and when you see your children carrying on that tradition with their own families–that’s when you realize that among the mistakes you undoubtedly made as a parent, you also did a few things right.

Don't believe it when someone says that "nothing lasts a lifetime." A good story will endure.

The author of A Distant Music, An Emerald Ballad series, the American Anthem series and other historical fiction, BJ Hoff still loves reading stories...and telling them.


At 12:14 PM, Blogger Sharon Goemaere said...

I loved this post.I am 44 and have loved stories and reading since early childhood.It saddens me to see this falling by the wayside in our culture.I wonder if my Irish roots on my dad's side has anything to do with it...LOL...I read to my granddaughter when I can.She seems to love it.Now if we could just get her mom to love it too and read to her.Great post!

At 12:32 PM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

This post reminded me of a wonderful piece of art by Erica Well called "Tell Me A Story". It really embellishes this thought: everyone wants to be told a story. You can view it at her website:

Scroll down just a bit on the page to see it.

At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely, BJ. The brain researach being done at Baylor University with post traumatic Stress disordered children tells us that music, movement, art and story are the four most powerful healing tools to give a child, especially when we don't know all they've gone through but want to help. Reading is healing. Thanks for this fine reminder.


Post a Comment

<< Home