The Art of Storytelling for Young People

A well told story has the ability to stir emotions, trigger ideas and conjure images that will last a lifetime. If storytelling is such an enjoyable process, then it is also important for young people to be taught how to tell a story because it is they who will grow up to be consumers of stories in their adulthood. No matter what field they choose to build a career in, storytelling skills will always come in handy. By coaching them to tell stories, we also ensure that this ancient art form is preserved and passed on. Here are some reasons we need to teach storytelling to young people:

  • Storytelling is tradition. It is the oldest form of communication we know as humans. Wisdom was passed on in the form of stories for several generations until we became enveloped by technology and information was measured in kilobytes. With this access to data, young people often stop ‘wondering’ about the world they inhabit. Yet, when a story is told in an engaging manner, they listen. Spellbound. Regardless of age. By coaching young people to become storytellers, we can pass on essential skills and enable them to develop voices that will be heard. Most importantly, we ensure that the tradition of storytelling is kept alive.
  • Storytelling creates stronger family ties. When children make a conscious effort to mine stories from their relatives they learn about their roots. Almost everyone has at least one interesting family member or episode in their past. By telling and listening to stories of such people, young people get the opportunity to know about that uncle and that grandmother who may have passed much before their time. They draw tremendous strength from stories about adversity, loss and success that have taken place in their own homes.
  • Storytelling is an amalgamation of reading, writing, listening and speaking. When a child reads a story to retell it, he or she learns how to analyze its parts, look for hidden meaning in the metaphors, imagine the characters and their traits, reproduce in his/her own words, build sequence, memory and confident articulation.
  • Storytelling builds self esteem. When the audience claps at the end of the performance, the child’s self-worth soars sky-high. This confidence is then carried over to other aspects of life.
  • Storytelling develops good listening skills. In order for anyone, leave alone a child, to be able to tell a story well, it is necessary to observe the details in the environment closely to be able to reproduce it in the telling. For example, if a character speaks with a nasal twang, it is important that the storyteller does justice to this defining trait by imitating the tone of voice, which will add richness to the telling. Listening also helps build memory while recalling a story.
  • Storytelling builds good creative-writing skills. When children work with folktales, they are encouraged to recreate the story by changing some elements and making their own. They pay attention to the sensorial elements in the story and put their ideas into words that form new connections to the original.
  • Storytelling teaches how to engage. When a story is told, the audience are a part of the story. This is why there is no ‘fourth wall’ in the storytelling process. Children learn how to make their telling interesting to the audience by adding various elements such as music, dance, refrains, actions etc.
  • Storytelling drives away inhibition. The audience is a part of the storytelling, which means they’re on the storyteller’s side. They don’t threaten the teller by being disinterested, passive listeners; they tell the story along, sing the refrain and chants and give their responses. This makes the environment safe for the inhibited. Mistakes are alright because the teller learns how to quickly improvise and move on.
  • Storytelling is a lot of fun. Whether it’s a pourquoi story or a tall tale, a fable or a myth, storytelling opens up the imagination of both the teller and the listener. This can be a hugely enjoyable process, regardless of the end objective. Stories are told for fun as much as they are told to send home a message. Children love being different characters and displaying various emotions as they perform the story. It transports them to a risk-free world, where everything is beautiful. With all these benefits, stroytelling cannot be bad for anyone!

As storytellers we have often wondered why storytelling is not encouraged as an important skill to develop in young people in India. Among adults today, there is enough awareness about this skill; what with groups like Toastmasters, TED etc. making it popular and making them realize the need to build it into their repertoire for personal and professional success.

But adulthood also brings with it limitations—one may want to pick up storytelling at 35, but may not have the time nor the resources to do so. If we were to instill good storytelling skills from a young age, we’d only be making adult lives much easier, would we not?

Keeping in mind all the above, Ever After intends to start a one-of-its kind workshop called the ‘Tribe of Tellers’ for children between 8 and 12 years that will create and nurture young storytellers and coach them to become performers; The workshop will achieve this through fun, yet structured, activities that involve listening, speaking, reading and writing; it will also teach children theatrical techniques such as visualization, voice modulation, body language and expression to enable them to tell a story in an engaging manner, while helping them understand and appreciate the various genres and techniques of storytelling. The camp will culminate in a performance of the stories that the participants will have learnt during the workshop period.

poster_forweb (3)The first edition of this workshop will commence on Apr 6th and go on until Apr 22nd, at Paradigm Shift in Koramangala. Timings are from 11 am to 1.30 pm on weekdays. Another round of this workshop will take place between May 11th and 24th at Jagriti Theatre’s Summer Carnival. 

Inspired by the work of organizations like the National Youth Storytelling Showcase, Youth Storytelling Foundation, Timpanogos Institute, U.S.A., and The Beauty and The Beast Storytellers (Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss) that work extensively in the area of coaching young storytellers, we also hope to have this Tribe of Tellers trained to perform at various venues through the year, if all goes well. It is our honest belief that these Tellers will grow to become strong voices of the future and carry on the tradition of oral storytelling.

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Learning About Otherness

Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl might be one of the most beautiful YA books ever written. But we won’t look at it here for its merits as a book about teen angst and young love. We’ll take the whole, lovely package and think about it in terms of what it teaches us about difference and non-conformity.

Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli Book Cover | Source: Wikipedia

Sixteen year old Leo Borlock is harmless and startlingly normal. He laughs, he has friends, he has a hobby. We have here, a character who is the very epitome of normalcy, a not-too-quiet not-too-loud person who floats through the corridors of his teeming, bubbling high school and, every now and then, gets swept by school-wide waves of excitement and intensity.

Then Stargirl Carraway enters, riding just such a wave. She’s new in school, and she’s crazy. She carries a pet rat to classes. She dresses like a gypsy. She strums an ukulele and sings to her schoolmates on their birthdays. She has the most gorgeous eyes Leo has ever seen. The students of Mica High are wary of her. Her energy is absurd, magical. They are captivated by her spirit, shocked by her principles. They love her when she cheers for the school team, they hate her when she celebrates someone else’s win. What is she anyway? What’s her deal?

And that’s what everyone, including the mildly lovesick Leo, wants to know. How can they define her when she doesn’t seem to fit into their definitions of anything?

Stargirl is a series of slow, spellbinding sequences. We watch as Stargirl shows Leo how ‘normal’ she really is, that she wants love and belonging as much as the next person. We follow them on long walks into the shining Arizona desert. Most painful of all, we watch as the vicious, confused, terrified teens of Mica High shun and shatter Stargirl.

Jerry Spinelli

Spinelli shows us something obvious in this book: we cannot tolerate otherness. We reject what we don’t know, what we cannot understand. And then he suggests something that suddenly appears equally obvious: beneath the outward differences we are all alike. And also: love and acceptance can exist even between people who cannot understand or categorise one another.

By crafting his novel such that the rejection, the difference, and the love are pinned only to delicate, half-magical characters inhabiting a delicate, half-magical world, Spinelli has created a starting point for discussions on real-world differences of all sorts. At one level Stargirl is the beautiful story of a single girl’s struggle to stay different, and of Leo’s struggle to stay in love with difference. But it’s also a story we can all use to think about acceptance and tolerance, to keep in mind as we navigate our perilous social worlds and watch differences of identity tear our societies apart.

ADDITIONAL READING

Similar Titles

  • Very Far Away From Anywhere Else by Ursula LeGuin
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sanchez
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Things Around Your Neck: Short Stories by Chimammanda Ngozi Adichie

For Slightly Younger Readers

  • Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio

For Young Readers

  • The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss
  • Dad David, Baba Chris and Me by Ed Merchant
  • Mukand and Riaz by Nina Sabnani

-Dakshayini Suresh for Ever After