Saturday, February 11, 2012


I am a storyteller. I just didn't know it for many years. I was under the mistaken impression for a long time that you had to be born knowing how to do certain things or be passionate about them from an early age. But I have learned that many things in life just have to grow.

I have always loved stories. Books were my best friends as a kid, and my best memories of my parents are when they read or told bedtime stories to me. My father, in particular, was a great storyteller, and now tells my kids stories about all kinds of things when they visit. And when I look back on my own childhood faith and spiritual development, my happiest memories are of the Bible stories that were told me with flannelgraph figures at church. I was riveted by tales of people like Moses, Deborah and the Apostle Paul. I never tired of hearing about Jesus feeding the 5,000 or his meeting with Zaccheus. Sometime after the third grade, the stories stopped and our Sunday School lessons became "topical" in nature.  I became bored with them, and in hindsight, I became bored with God. For many years afterward, "God" in my childhood understanding was a set of rules rather than a Person within whose grand story I was living. (Please understand me, I am not placing blame on the "topical" lessons, but somehow they did not help my particular spiritual style further develop.)

I fell in love with Godly Play, because it was a form of storytelling that brought faith in God to life for children. It helped me see the familiar stories in a new way each time I told them and helped me to explain them to children in a way that honored their own exploration process. 

But the idea of telling spontaneous stories always scared the pants off of me. When my kids were small, I started to hear, "Will you tell me a story?" on a regular basis. Even after I had just read several books. For a long time, I was afraid to even try. I would get tongue-tied. I was afraid of failing or disappointing them. But when my son was going through a particularly difficult time, he begged for stories and I began to try. Since he was into dinosaurs and the Corythosaurus (how many adults even know this dinosaur??!!) was his favorite, I made up silly stories about the Corythosaurus family whose adventures paralleled our own. There was a Mom, Dad, Big Brother and Little Sister Corythosaurus who were often running from T-rexes and always got saved by Bob the Pterodactyl's father who swooped down to save them in the nick of time. These stories led to ones for my daughter about "the littlest matryoshka" who is always getting lost and then found, and a little fairy who shoots fire out of her wings and feet when she gets mad and accidentally sets the house on fire. (That paralleled some of my daughter's temper tantrums!)

Little by little, my courage and talent in telling stories has grown. Stories of all kinds.  I recently read a wonderful book called Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon that has encouraged me even more. (If you read my quote of the week on Sunday, you may have guessed what one of my posts would be about this week!)

There were many valuable things that I read in this book. One is that most everyone is afraid to tell stories at first!! Whether you are doing scripted ones like in Godly Play, telling a fairy tale or making up a story spontaneously, it takes practice. But the more you do it, the more your confidence rises and the more fun it gets. Hence the quote on Sunday, about not giving up! 

Nancy Mellon has so many wonderful ideas for stories and suggestions of how to start. She talks about the importance of telling children stories from your own childhood, because it helps your children to form a sense of identity. She writes that even if your childhood wasn't happy, there are still things that you can see anew through a child's eyes and tell stories about. I grew up in suburbia and never thought there was anything very interesting about my childhood. But spurred on by this encouragement, I have come across some simple memories that do indeed make good stories. 

In Storytelling for Children, there are good suggestions for creating stories from memories and everyday experiences or how to create stories to help a child through difficult situations like illness or death. There are also ideas about how to use props or incorporate songs and finger games. While I really loved this book, there are times when Mellon's opinions get a bit too esoteric for me. But if  you can "swallow the gnats and spit out the camels", so to speak, I highly recommend it.

Since the beginning of the year, I've found myself telling more stories (rather than reading them) to the children in my English classes as I have been reading this book. The oral stories sharpen the children's listening skills and their expressions as they listen are treasures that I will keep with me as long as I live. And it gets easier the more I do it. 

I am also gaining more confidence in telling my children unscripted Bible stories.  There is not, for example, a Godly Play story about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and this is my daughter's favorite Bible story that she has been asking for lately. So I am working on props to tell it very soon in children's church. 

I also have a story that I have been working on about my children's experiences in Uganda. I dream about finishing it someday, having it published, and giving any proceeds from it to the children of the family that we spent so much time with there.  

How has storytelling with the children in your life developed? Did it come naturally or was it something that you had to work at?


  1. The book looks like something I am going to have to read. I still have a long ways to go as far as storytelling, but like you my kids have helped me out a great deal in this deparment. I can tell stories about my life easily, but making one up about dinosaurs,well you definetly got me beat. Thank you for sharing so much.

    1. Pat yourself on the back, because you have at least started telling stories.: ) Would love to hear your thoughts after you have read the book!