Storytelling to Teach Academic Subjects

As Deeptha Vivekanand, Founder, Ever After, prepares to deliver a workshop on ‘Storytelling to Teach Academic Subjects‘ on February 6th at the Chennai Storytelling Festival 2015, here’s a look at what makes stories and storytelling so relevant and important in a classroom. This post also seeks to challenge the notion that storytelling is only for the very young. Stories in all forms–oral histories, books, films, art–are powerful tools to enrich the teaching of a subject. Read on to find out how:

There’s something really enduring about a story. Maybe it’s the fact that the words and images that go into it are chosen with such care. Maybe it’s the fact that it has progression, from one event to another, from one idea to another. Maybe it’s the way stories and characters emotionally engage us. We go from one place to another with these characters, watching them, listening to them, investing in them, remembering them. This is the strength of a story. What you get from it stays with you, tucked away in a complex web of associations and emotional reactions and experiences.

Stories can have a great positive impact on education methods and can increase the level of student involvement in a subject. While acknowledging that syllabus-prescribed texts nowadays are probably more colourful and anecdotal than the material she remembers from her school days, Deeptha, talks about the shortfalls of a textbook based learning system: Students “don’t feel challenged to go beyond the given text, look for information and draw their own conclusions. But when we ask them to write a story based on a topic, they get the chance to both look up the facts and express their thoughts creatively, hence engaging both sides of the brain”. There is, for instance, something mechanical about the conventional curriculum approach to social studies and science, a fixation with memorising in learning. Engaging with the narratives of a concept gives students a chance to see it as more interesting than what is presented in the text. They suddenly see the opportunity to use creativity
and active thinking in the learning process.

One significant example of a story that can be effectively used in teaching social studies and history is Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. This is a well-known book that children often come across outside the educational context. Its strong narrative thrust and moving emotional content give it all the qualities of a novel. However, it is actually a real-world account of the persecution of Jews during WWII. It is grounded in the political and social backdrop of war-torn Europe. It can be used as a way to study and discuss the events of history, the impact of political turmoil on individuals and to understand the importance of basic human rights in any context. In studying such a rich and personal account of the war, students will find themselves understanding historical events at an emotional level, remembering them not just for the dates and political manoeuvres, but for the human trauma they represent. A contemporary equivalent of the Anne Frank story is Malala Yousufzai, whose tale captures the suffering of schoolgirls in militancy-affected Pakistan.

Narratives of science are also becoming increasingly relevant to understanding the scientific method and the discoveries that it has spawned. Visual media, like the new production of the Cosmos series (presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson) incorporate snippets of biographical information about the astronomers, physicists and chemists behind the discoveries that make our conception of the universe what it is. Students retain information about rules and processes by associating them with the dynamic, brilliant individuals who make up the field of science. Examples of popular (and important) written word narratives include The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and The Double Helix by James D. Watson (chronicling the research and intrigue that led to the discovery of DNA). Skloot’s story about Henrietta Lacks discusses the ethical questions that emerged when the cancer cells of a poor Black American woman were used, without the knowledge and sanction of her family, to fuel a scientific endeavour and create an immortal line of cancer cells which are used in medical research till date. Skloot also provides information about what exactly biologists learned about the disease from Lacks’ cells. These are, effectively, the stories of the units that make up human life.

Stories have incredible scope. Deeptha feels that if they had used textbooks in their sessions, the learning of students “would have been limited to only the basics—who, what, when, where. The whys and hows would have been ignored because there isn’t much to ponder over.”

Whether we use the Jataka Tales to learn about Buddhism, the Akbar-Birbal stories to discover the of culture Mughal India, or the glamourous classic stories of Greek heroes and polymaths to uncover the meaning life in the ancient civilizations, there is no limit on what we can glean from the stories around us. None of this is to undermine the values of traditional education systems, but only to suggest that the introduction of narratives can create a window for imagination, memory and understanding to manifest in broader and more exciting way. Also, Nisha Abdulla, Co-founder of Ever After believes that stories can be used to encourage linking ideas across disciplines, as this might be the “need of the hour.” She describes a lesson in which the term ‘physical features’ of a country was studied as a combination of science, geography and economic trade. She also describes instances of stories providing the opportunity for discussions about values and dialogue: “In a recent history session we were looking at the legacy a strong leader leaves behind and the influence it has on a country and its people. We compared the legacies left behind by Mandela and Hitler in South Africa and Germany respectively in the form of stories written about that time. The children were then challenged to flip the narrative.” Students then find themselves raising questions about “democracy and rights, nation building in a diverse country like India with its own history of marginalisation.”

Narratives are conducive to the retention of academic concepts, and they encourage adopting stances through slow deliberation and a deep, detailed knowledge of multiple perspectives. Perhaps, as Nisha suggests, “children need to go through this process – only then will they become adults who are comfortable with various perspectives in others.” In a world where rigidity and intolerance are prevalent in human attitudes, the construction of mentalities that value dialogue and thoughtfulness and celebrate the growing multiplicity of identities, ideas, and knowledge can only be a good thing.

Finally, perhaps it is also important to understand our own roles in the universe of stories. We, as individuals have a place in the larger scheme of things, and initiatives like the Big History Project discuss the history of the world not just by drawing emotional and other parallels between students’ lives and the stories they come across, but by locating us, as people and as lifeforms in the much bigger story of planets, societies and our place in the universe. History is then conceptualised as a narrative that includes the minute filigree of our lives, as well as the larger sweeping social and natural phenomena that shape us. The stories that we learn through become our own stories—of origins, processes and extinction.

-Dakshayini Suresh, for Ever After

 

 

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Reading Nature Writing with Children: Nature’s Spokesman

Nature’s Spokesman is a charming collection of short essays, drawings and poems by M. Krishnan, the eminent naturalist and nature photographer. It is a lovely way to introduce young people to the natural world around them. The book covers an extensive range of birds, animals and landscapes, describing them in flawless, detailed prose. The sentences are stunning, sparing, beautifully worded, and perfectly accessible to readers of all ages.

Krishnan writes based on everyday observations of the environment. These include fleeting anecdotes about the seemingly mundane lives of pigeons and house geckos; brief sketches of mythological animals; discussions around climate change and deforestation; precious encounters with some of India’s most exotic wildlife; and stories of clashes between humans and the natural world. He depicts nature as a dynamic element of our own routine lives, rather than presenting the environment as a static system with elements that must be understood from a purely scientific point of view. The stories of Krishnan’s interactions with nature draw attention to the importance of empathy in learning about other life forms. His gentle humour and understated anthropomorphism convey his genuine affection for the world he describes. The essays encourage young readers to be emotionally engaged with nature.

The author dedicates essays to simple analyses of phenomena that we, in our daily lives, pay little attention to. Images of sleeping dogs, felled sidewalk trees, rain… these seem so ordinary to us. We rarely experience curiosity, feel the urge to open our eyes and stare at a fallen wild fruit or a crow perched on a compound wall. Krishnan, in his descriptive language, reveals the pleasures of minute observation, and teaches his readers to feel fascination even for the most “boring” aspects of nature. His brief pieces express wonder and sorrow and frustration, all provoked by the smallest, most incongruous comings and goings.

The credibility and actual information value of this collection is high. The author was, after all, a naturalist, and an expert in his field. However, he imparts his knowledge in beautiful, unintimidating prose and invites his readers to draw as much solace from mere observation as he did. Children will find facts in this book, but they will also discover an enthusiasm and a mild protective instinct for nature within themselves. This collection will manufacture many Nature’s Spokesmen.

Similar titles:

Of Birds and Birdsong, M Krishnan

My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell

Three Singles to Adventure, Gerald Durrell

For younger readers:

A Boy and a Jaguar, Alan Rabinowitz

The Lorax, Dr Seuss

The Tree Lady, H. Joseph Hopkins

-Dakshayini Suresh for Ever After

8 steps in the digital storytelling process as illustrated in edtechteacher.org

The Power of Storytelling across the Curriculum: The Role of Digital Storytelling

In our Learning through Stories program that we conduct across schools in Bangalore, we use different tools to tell a story – books, oral storytelling and most important of all, digital storytelling.

Digital Storytelling is a very powerful method of teaching and learning that uses the narrative, digital pictures, animation, audio and video to create a digital media that talks about, narrates, explains and above all tells a an engaging story that the digital storyteller wanted to convey.

Steps in digital storytelling Here’s what digital storytelling requires a storyteller (the student, the teacher or both together) to do. This illustration from edtechteacher.org explains eight important steps in digital storytelling.

8 steps in the digital storytelling process as illustrated in edtechteacher.org

Steps in the digital storytelling process

Benefits of using digital storytelling in the classroom

Creating a digital story requires the students to apply thought and reasoning in order to tell their point of view about a topic. It urges them to use their imagination and get creative. Digital storytelling compels the students to thoroughly probe, explore, question and examine a topic before they can develop it into a digital story.

The power of storytelling in the curriculum

At the center of a digital production is the story – the script of the film. When a class gets down to write a script for a digital story, they are actually constructing several different stories – all based on individual perspectives and viewpoints. This means that the students are dwelling deep into the topic, getting a good grasp of it, understanding it before putting forth their arguments or taking a stand about the topic.

Bottom-line: using storytelling in the classroom improves reading and writing skills, augments visual comprehension, guarantees better retention and recall of the concept, promotes logical thinking and boosts imagination.

University of Illinois’ Community Informatics Initiative website, prairienet.org explains the power of stories in the curriculum:

“Children who are exposed to storytelling learn the process of creating and sharing an effective story. Students learning digital storytelling learn how to express and share emotions with their audience in the 21st century…In order for their story to be effective students must be able to express their emotion using and piecing together video, pictures and sound.

This learning process can help them express their feelings, views and creativity using new modes of communication…In order to develop a story, the child must first understand who he or she is creating the story for, developing their ability to empathize with others and improving their conflict resolution skills.”

How do we do it – the Ever After edge

In our Learning through Stories program that we conduct for the Amaatra Academy, Bangalore, we teach their Social Sciences curriculum for grades 6 to 9. We liberally use stories from folktales, myths, books and films to teach about the Mughal Empire, French Revolution, Early Humans, Democracy and so on.

One such lesson was on King Akbar for 7th graders. One of the topics that we touched upon and discussed was his heroic conquests, accomplishments and his greatness. As assignment, we asked the students to reflect back on the story of Akbar and explain what greatness meant to them. This is what one student had to say:

Ever After's Learning through Stories  program in school impact

Such profound thoughts and all prompted by a story! Now you know why storytelling can be such a powerful tool in learning and teaching. The class is currently working on a digital story project on Water. We’ll upload those stories soon!

To know more about Ever After’s story-based services and program, go to www.ever-after.co.in or email us to info@ever-after.co.in. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and resources about using storytelling in education. We also invite you to join our Facebook Group – #learningthroughstories (#Learning through Stories). And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly newsletter. Just drop us a mail telling us that you’d like to subscribe and we’ll make sure you get all of our next issues.

 

Creative Educator Contest – First Place: Rajeswari Devadass

Rajeswari Devadass’s entry – a lesson plan based on a wordless picture book – has been adjudged the best entry in our Creative Educator contest. Rajeswari, we confer the title of ‘CREATIVE EDUCATOR’ on you! And you also win a Flipkart voucher of Rs. 1500!

Well done and many congratulations, Rajeswari! It was a comprehensive lesson plan, indeed.

Here is Rajeswari’s winning lesson plan:

Name of the book: Journey (A wordless picture book – first in the trilogy series), A 2014 Caldecott Honor Book.

Author : Aaron Becker

Theme/Topic: Travel, creativity and imagination

Lesson Objectives:

Through listening, discussing, and participating in the given story-based activities students will demonstrate –

  • How to read and interpret a wordless picture book in their own way.
  • Their imagination to extend the story.
  • Their ability to illustrate in pictures.

Time Taken: 40-50 minutes.

Grade Level(s) or Age Group:  Ages 6+.

Materials Required:

  • Aaron Becker’s picture book, Journey
  • Crayons or markers
  • Drawing papers or card paper

Instructional Plan:

Introduction/ Pre-reading:

  • Take out the Journey. Beneath the book jacket, on the hard cover of the book is a parachute. Ask the children what they think the book is about.
  • Discuss the jacket cover and probe the children to talk about the red crayon in the girl’s hand.
  • Explain to them that the book is about a journey that the girl with the read crayon is about to embark on.
  • Explain to them that this book is picture book without words and the story is meant to be interpreted by them in their own way using the pictures.

Read the story to the class:

  • This being a wordless picture book, allow for the illustrations to be seen clearly by all the children. Ask questions like “What do you think is happening on this scene” or “What are the characters other than the girl that you can see on each page?” or What emotions the characters on the page show? for each picture (illustration).
  • As you turn the pages, if the children fail to notice some obvious characters or elements, either give them sufficient hints or reveal what they missed them in the next subsequent read once the plot is uncovered.
  • Ask more questions urging the children to share their observations. For example –
    • What are the things that they notice on each page?
    • How do the soldiers welcome the girl when she enters the palace?
    • Is the girl scared when she about to fall off a cliff?
    • What do the soldiers feel when the girl runs away with the bird in cage?: Angry? Helpless? Defeated?
    • Do you notice the King watching over the girl?

Discussion questions for assessing students’ comprehension:

  1. Why did the girl decide to embark on this journey?
  2. The soldiers held a purple bird captive? How did the purple bird come into this palace?
  3. Did you notice on the very first page – a boy who was holding a purple crayon? If the children did notice that – did they think that he would be part of this story in this role?
  4. How did the girl save herself from the soldiers who tried to kill her? Who helped her in this?
  5. How did the girl meet the boy on her journey? Who led her to the purple door?
  6. How and when was the boy part of this place that she traveled to?

Subject/TopicTravel/ Creativity/ Imagination:

  • What have you done at home when you were bored – while mum and dad are busy? Things other than TV / Games?
  • The boy with purple crayon – did the child notice it in the first read? If they didn’t, where did they think the purple bird came from?
  • Why did they think the boy drew a cycle in the end? On the first page, the boy’s friend were on a cycle and he didn’t have one? Did he wish for a cycle?

Activities for sparking imagination and building a story:

Worksheet 1.1- Draw a Journey that you think the two friends will take on now.

  • Ask the children if they too have an imaginary dream or journey that they want to go on – a  place that they long to visit, an expedition that they dream of?
  • Ask them to tell you their imaginary dream or journey by drawing the same in the worksheet 1.1.

Worksheet 1.2: Draw the next scene or add details to the image to save/help the character.

  • Ask the children if they have encountered difficult situations like in the story – a bird kept captive, a hurt puppy, an old woman on a cold night without warm clothes – Have you helped in such a situation and how?
  • Hand over Worksheet 1.2 – To draw the next scene/ additional objects to the image to save/help the character.

How to use this worksheet?

Worksheet 1.2 includes some images or scenes (see below) from different picture books. These pictures are set in different stories in different picture books. Yet there is one thing similar to all these images: all of these pictures depicts a problematic situation in the course of the story – like a character needing help or rescue – so that the problem is resolved.

For example, image 2 is from the story, Brave Irene. The dress that Irene carries to the palace in a box gets whisked by the strong wind and it flies out of the box. Encourage the children to draw an object or the next scene so as to save the dress from flying off.

To conduct this activity, first print these scenes from different picture books on 6×6 card papers. Along with each picture give a blank card of the same size. In the blank card, ask the children to draw the next scene based on what they think would happen next.

IMAGE 1

My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann - Ever After's Creative Educator Contest Entry by Rajeswari Devadass

My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann

IMAGE 2

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett in a lesson plan by Rajeswari Devadass for Ever After's Creative Educator Contest

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

IMAGE 3

A Bit Lost by Chris Houghton in a lesson plan by Rajeswari Devadass for Ever After's Creative Educator contest

A Bit Lost by Chris Houghton

 

IMAGE 4

Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin in a lesson plan by Rajeswari Devadass for Ever After's Creative Educator contest

Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin

 

IMAGE 5

Brave Irene by William Steig

Brave Irene by William Steig

 

Further Reading:

Quest – Aaron Becker – The sequel to this.

‘The Creative Educator’ Contest Details

Are you an exciting educator? Do children listen to you with wonder? Do students look forward to your classes? Do you do magical things to make your teaching interesting? If yes, here’s a chance for you to win the ‘CREATIVE EDUCATOR’ contest!

All you have to do is:

Submit a lesson plan based on a story/narrative and stand a chance to win some cool prizes!female teacher writing various high school maths and science for

How to enter the contest

  • Pick a classroom topic/theme/subject/grade of your choice.
  • Pick a children’s/ young adult story (from a storybook/ the internet/ or any other source) that relates to the topic.
  • Think up a lesson plan using the story.
  • Send the completed lesson plan to info@ever-after.co.in on or before 25th Sep, 2014.

Don’t forget to

  • ‘Like’ our Facebook page and/or ‘Follow’ us on Twitter. If you already are connected to us, then jump to the next step.
  • Refer this contest to more teachers like you by sharing and tagging them in the poster. You can also tag friends, colleagues, family members who would love to take part in this contest.

Winners get

  • The title of ‘Creative Educator’ 🙂
  • Flipkart e-vouchers worth Rs.1500, Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500
  • Their plans featured on the Ever After blog/facebook page/twitter feed.
  • Discounted entry ticket to our ‘Teaching Through Story’ Workshop on Sep 27th and 28th at Atta Galatta. (First place winner only)

Contest Guidelines and Format for Submission

All teaching ideas submitted should include the following:

  • Story title, author, source
  • A gist of the story if it is not available in the public domain
  • Submit entries in MS Word or Google Doc format
  • Content Area(s) (if applicable, ex: language arts)
  • Lesson Objective (what do you want the students to be able to do, explain, discuss, etc., by the end of this lesson?)
  • Lesson Assesment (how will the students show that they “get it” or can do what you hope?)
  • Grade Level(s) or Age Group(s)
  • Duration (ex: one 45-minute period)
  • Theme/Topic (ex: Water, Ascending Order, Condensation, Mughal Empire etc.)
  • Materials Needed (ex: felt pens)
  • Supplementary Materials (any worksheets, video links, etc.)
  • Step-by-step activities
  • In these links you can VIEW, DOWNLOAD and use a suggested lesson template that includes all of the above requirements.

And remember

  • The lesson plan that you devise must be 100% original.
  • One contestant can submit only one lesson plan based on one topic and one story.
  • Winners will chosen by experts from the Ever After’s curriculum design team.
  • The contest is open to teachers, educators, parents and tutors.
  • This contest is open to residents of India only.
  • Ever After’s decisions will be final and binding with regard to the contest.

Go on. Create away!

The Art Of Storytelling: Why Should We Learn It?

 

“Storytelling comes naturally to humans, but since we live in an unnatural world, we sometimes need a little help doing what we’d naturally do.”

-Dan Harmon, Author

Storytelling is humanity in words said Jim Blasingame, one of the world’s leading experts on small business and entrepreneurship. And storytelling has been around since the first human beings roamed the earth. In fact, the earliest cave drawings and carvings are proof of their (and our) storytelling capabilities. These first stories helped archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists learn about the earth’s beginnings and early civilizations.

Why should we learn how to tell a story?

Well, storytelling is a powerful method of communication where the storyteller has an engaging conversation with his/her listeners or audience.

The fact is that we all have stories to tell; we were simply born with this ability. However, there is more to storytelling than just plain, passive reading or narration in reported speech.

Storytelling is an art that uses several creative techniques including voice, expression and actions to successfully get across the story’s emotions in the most impactful way to the story’s audience. As individuals, we can personally use these storytelling techniques to make a point, to persuade, to inspire, to teach, to reflect upon and to facilitate action.

Photo courtesy: lifehacker.com/ Melanie Pinola/ Magenta Rose/

Photo courtesy: lifehacker.com/ Melanie Pinola/ Magenta Rose.

Learning how to tell a story: Many benefits

Storytelling is a great tool for effective, purposeful communication. When used correctly and in the right situations, storytelling has plenty of benefits to offer for everyone – team leaders, teachers, brand managers, corporate trainers, parents, artists, creative designers, writers et al.

For brands and business managers:

Thanks to the explosion of social media, brands today are closer to their target audience like never before. To help their brands stand out from the rest, brand managers need to master business storytelling – promoting brands in a way that engages their audience well, holds their attention and compels them to come back to you for more.

Learning how to tell your brand’s story allows you to master the 3 C’s of business storytelling which is: “Connect with your prospects, Convey your expertise and Create customer memories.”

For teachers:

National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), USA says this about the benefits of storytelling in education – “Story is the best vehicle for passing on factual information. Historical figures and events linger in children’s minds when communicated by way of a narrative. Any topic for that matter can be incorporated into a story form and made memorable if the listener takes the story to heart.”

Using stories to teach text book lessons promotes learning faster and facilitates better understanding of the concepts. Here is a great example of a science teacher using storytelling to innovate teaching-learning in school.

For team leaders, sales managers and corporate trainers:                                           

These are people who constantly need to tell their audience (team members or subordinates) how to perform, how to achieve a target and how to succeed. For someone who is always in need of effective ways to demonstrate, explain inspire and persuade, becoming storytellers is the best method by which leaders; managers, coaches and trainers can nurture trust and inspire the desired actions.

For parents:

Parents are not akin to storytelling. However, parents can make this pleasurable activity a learning resource by using stories to teach their kids about different cultures, explain essential life skills like sharing and empathy, help them discover world of science and nature, introduce them to the lives of important personalities and great men and women; the possibilities are limitless.

For individuals:

You could be someone who wants to enhance your communication skills or an aspiring author or creative designer or anybody interested in stories and storytelling. You all need a common starting point – a story. Therefore, learning the nuances of storytelling you learn how to effectively voice your thoughts, how to communicate clearly and how to reflect your experiences in your work.

Story Matters: Your chance to learn the art of storytelling

Now that you know how storytelling benefits us and understood why you should use storytelling in your work and life, here is a chance to learn the art of storytelling. Story Matters, a two day storytelling workshop for adults is being held on 10-11 May, 2014 at Rangoli Metro Art Centre, MG Road, Bangalore.

This one-of-a-kind workshop will tell you everything about storytelling and teach you how to become a master storyteller.

Story Matters will be curated by experienced, professional storytellers, Deeptha Vivekanand of Ever After Learning, Aparna Athreya and Soumya Srinivasan of Kid and Parent Foundation who share among them over 17+ years of storytelling experience and are known for their highly interactive, experiential and delightful storytelling sessions for kids and adults alike.

For registrations and more details about the workshop, please go to our Facebook page.

Of Trains And Cockroaches

Final-poster-jan2ndI think this is a great way to restart this blog that’s been lying in cold storage for almost a year. On Saturday, Jan 11th, 2014 I had  a cracker of a storytelling session at the Rangoli Metro Art Center (R-MAC). First up, it’s a big honour to have performed there, right in the heart of Bangalore city and just below the purple metro line. The folks at R-MAC are doing a fabulous job of promoting the Boulevard as the city’s cultural hotspot. Get this: in one day there was a ‘Coffee Santhe’, a photography exhibition, storytelling sessions and poetry reading, all in the same  stretch of Bangalore’s most famous, MG Road. Whether you’re an adult or child, you were spoilt for choice. The ambience was just what a storyteller wanted: people of all ages everywhere, lovely bright sunshine and the smell of fresh coffee.

So, ‘Tale Trail’, a series of storytelling sessions that will be held at Rangoli, every second and fourth Saturday of Jan and Feb will feature unusual and unheard of folk-tales from around the world. It’s a humble attempt to educate and entertain people about the different cultures of the world through fascinating narratives. I have partnered with two other wonderful storytellers and my dear friends, Aparna and Sowmya from Kid and Parent Foundation to run this initiative.

For the first session on Jan 11th, we decided to tell stories about trains and coffee, in keeping with the ‘Coffee Santhe’ theme and given the fact that we were performing at a train station. The show started with us playing the popular Karadi Tales song, ‘Train.‘ Once the audience was familiar with the beat, we had them sing another song—dedicated  to Bangalore Metro—with the same tune but with altered lyrics that went something like this: “Metro Metro, Namma Metro; Stand behind the line yellow, the train is here and in we go…”  Just a small but spirited way of showing our gratitude to the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation for encouraging art and performers like us.

The first two stories were about trains and  journeys. Aparna and Sowmya do a fantastic job of tandem telling. This time they presented Calabash Cat, a West-African folktale that talks about a cat’s journey to find out where the world ends. Out came the puppets as A & S, invited kids onto the stage to help them tell the story. There was laughter and happiness all around as every child wanted to be up on stage. At one point, all the kids–and that’s about 20–formed a huge train and circled the stage in their quest to find where the world ends! Right after this, Aparna presented a quick segment on the first steam engine and some factoids on George Stephenson, the father of the first steam locomotive. Sowmya then narrated the legend of John Henry, a worker on the railroads. In a poignant story that captured his struggles as a steel-driver in the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in the 1870s; he had to eventually give up his job to a steam powered machine that was capable of laying tracks faster than a human. It was a tale of his prowess with the hammer and his almost super-human strength that kept him going till the very end. Sowmya, known for her inclusion of music in all her tellings, played a clinking tune with a pair of spanners and a hammer, while singing a soft ballad about his life. A brilliant rendition that humanized the railways for the audience.

The final act was mine. I chose to tell the story of Martina, The Beautiful Cockroach, a Cuban folk-tale. I was scouring the internet for coffee-based stories when I found this. What a gem, this one turned out to be. I had to learn the Spanish accent to add authenticity to the story, so I had to listen to some Spanish speakers of English to understand the phonetics behind it. Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek helped! As I was reading the story, I realized I was opening tabs to look up information on coffee, Spanish, Cuba and cockroaches. Did you know Cuban cockroaches (Panchlora nivea) are green? And did you know Kaldi, a goatherd from Ethiopia accidentally threw coffee beans in the fire only to realize that it gave out the most beautiful aroma, which in turn led him to make the first cuppa. And that to me, is the power of story. These are not topics I would look up on a normal day. I mean, I do love my coffee but to scout around for in-depth information on these matters is another issue altogether. One simple story has such far-reaching applications. You can get involved at any level you want. On the face of it, it might seem like a simple, funny, children’s story but can give rise to deep, enriching discussions about related topics. So powerful is the trigger. The reason I ended up reading about all these associated topics is because I was emotionally involved in the story. It made a connection with me. And real learning takes place only when a meaningful relationship has been established. It works the same way for everyone: children to adults. To be able to appreciate something, it must talk to you. Only a story can do that! The quantum of research we have all done to put together this one-hour show has been tremendous. In the bargain we have learnt so much more about this world, about the story behind things we take for granted, about the magnificence in the mundane.

I assure you, once you’ve read about Martina, the roach, you’ll never look at those critters in your kitchen the same way again! This morning when I saw one in mine, I simply swept her out without hurting, while the words “Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha” rang in my head.

From trains to coffee, from cockroaches to Cuba, this Tale Trail journey has begun on an excellent note and has set the tone for the New Year. The next session is on 25th Jan at the Rangasthala auditorium, Rangoli Boulevard, MG Road, 5 to 6pm. Do come over for an evening of stories about freedom and liberty. You never know what you’ll take back home!

-Deeptha