During my childhood, my father was the storyteller of the family. He always put me to bed at night once I grew from babyhood. I used to love that reassuring time, when he would tell me stories which he made up, and which, in actual fact, were very limited in their content. The important thing was that I was involved in them every step of the way.
The usual stories involved a pair of badgers. Bill was the male and Myrtle the female. Their adventures were things my Dad and I planned together. He would say something like: ‘Bill and Myrtle went out one night and …’ I helped fill in the blanks. They might meet a fox, or be chased by dogs or see owls – any number of wonderful events to challenge my active imagination and language development.
I realised years later that Dad offered the same stories to my daughter and she remembers these times with great affection. Those stories encouraged us both to think creatively and through them and the physical contact with my Dad, we both appreciated that special time just before sleep and I can’t think of a better way to settle down for the night.
My grandchild does not have the benefit of her great granddad but I try to do a similar thing for her. Most nights we have a story. She is still too young to really use her imagination and her speech development is delayed, but we make fantastic progress.
She loves the stories about Hairy Maclary, who is a dog of undetermined stock. He has adventures and lots of friends. The language rhymes and has lots of repetition. There is Hercules Morse as big as a horse, Muffin Maclay like a bundle of hay, Bottomly Potts covered in spots, Schnitzel Von Krumm with a very low tum, Muffin Maloney all skinny and bony. The dogs get into scrapes and things happen in a most logical manner so the child can predict the next sentence. Scarface Claw is the toughest cat in the world and he often features in the stories. I love to share this time with my grandchild, who is developing a wonderful sense of humour as well as excellent comic timing.
It is a skill to be able to write a successful story for children. Those who manage to do it are highly thought of and respected by children and parents alike. We would all love to do it, I am sure, but I imagine it is actually more difficult than writing a story for adults. I have tried on a number of occasions to do this and always end up minus a significant plot line or lose a character along the way.
When I worked as a lecturer, I encouraged my child care students to develop skills and confidence in story-telling. It is important that we do not always rely on books. On one occasion I set them a challenge, to tell a story to their group making use of visual aids but no book. It was wonderful. Despite their self-consciousness, each one produced a unique way of delivering a story.
Some used pictures they had drawn, others brought in props – for example a packet of seeds and a rope make excellent props for the tale of the enormous turnip. Some told stories in their home language and it was amazing to see how understandable they became. We had Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Urdu and some African languages. Everyone joined in and I think they were all heartened to think how well this form of communication was received.
At home we are sharing The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I am having a lovely time.
Dodd, Lynley (1983) Hairy Maclary
Viking Kestrel Picture Books
ISBN-13 : 978-1582460598
Kerr, Judith (1992) The Tiger Who Came to Tea