Telling Stories

One of the things I really love seeing develop in my son is his storytelling. He’s got an imagination that is taking wings right now and he spends a great deal of time either ‘reading’ the books that he knows and loves or else making up stories with his toys.

He seems to understand that stories need protagonists, antagonists, conflict and resolution. He even understands that characters need distinctive voices – he varies his voice to suit the character he is pretending to be. From some of my reading, there are adults who don’t understand that yet! (I am, of course, desperately hoping that I don’t fall into that category. We’ll see.)

What I really hope for is that he doesn’t lose that love of stories, that soaring imagination, as he gets older. Storytelling is a hugely important part of a person’s life. It helps you escape your day-t0-day life, it helps you work through problems and experiences, it helps you explore language and emotions in a safe way. It’s the reason I want to write for children, after all; to tell them stories and hope that I can help them do all of those things for a short time.

Storytelling has been around since the beginning of humanity, as far as I can see. And it’s as important now as it has ever been. Whether it’s the Young Adult books that may, or may not, be dark and dismal and depressing (cue *eye roll*) or fairytales, or repulsive yet engaging little boys or a child’s first introduction to picture book stories, the best stories engage children totally for a short time and take them somewhere else. It doesn’t matter what their own experiences are, when they are engrossed in a story; the bad experiences fade and the good experiences are put aside to go into this new and imaginary world where they are in control.

Stories are a great leveller, too. There’s a huge gulf between a child from a wealthy family who goes on holiday, has good quality clothing, the latest toys and a child from a poor family who may never have left their home town, who feels the embarrassment of shabby clothing next to their friends, who has few toys. In their imaginations though, there are no such barriers. And stories are free – to read at at the library or to make up at home. You don’t need to be a great writer to engage a child happily for a long time with this happened and then this happened, just playacting with a few toys.

It’s for reasons like this, among many others, that we should be encouraging our children to make up stories, to act out, role play, dress up, dream, imagine, escape. Then one day, when life gets a bit too much as it has a tendency to do, they can flee into their own world for a while, working through their problems or escaping from them.

Book Review: You Choose!

Pippa Goodhart & Nick SharrattDaniel’s nursery have a book loan scheme and we brought home our first book from this yesterday, chosen by Daniel; I presume based on the fabulously bright and cheerful cover.

It’s not a story book but it could keep a child entranced for hours. On every double page you have to choose what you would like to visit/wear/live in… the list goes on and on. The illustrations are absolutely amazing – incredibly detailed without being fussy or difficult for three year-old-eyes to discern and filled with friendly characters; even Dracula is a very friendly vampire! The choice on every page is vast and there are more every time you look; you certainly won’t see everything the first time through, or even the second.

Another thing I loved about the illustrations is how cleverly they’re done. Nick Sharratt has somehow made it normal for a pirate ship to be sailing past a space rocket or a poodle to be sitting next to a dragon, and the range of things covered in the book is excellent. There’s a double spread covering jobs that people do, my favourite one which is all sorts of food, one for children who love to dress up offering a variety of clothes…again, it just goes on forever. There are clothes, houses, food items etc from all sorts of cultures (even the undead…) giving opportunities to discuss other cultures.

This book is so versatile, it can be used in many different ways. I’ve been straight through it with Daniel, just choosing what he would like; we’ve also branched out to choose things for other members of the family; we’ve talked about what jobs his grandparents did, and what he would like to do. It’s a brilliant introduction to asking “What if…?” and thinking in timescales or tenses other than the present or immediate future. It’s a great springboard for the imagination as children can make lots of choices safely – Daniel has no problem with his imagination but I think that if a child is struggling in this area, this is a great way to encourage them to explore. There’s no right or wrong, they can make as many choices as they like, but there’s a guide to help them until they have the confidence to use their imagination on their own, in free play. It also introduces new vocabulary and new concepts without children ever realising it. If your child is a bit younger, don’t bother with the “What if..” use, it’s just a great first word and picture book. If you’re really confident, you could even use it as a primer into other languages. One use which I intend to explore soon is helping Daniel to make his forays into storytelling. He’s three and a half at the minute – I can see this being a favourite for years.

I have to return the book to school this week, but I’ll be straight onto Amazon to buy my own copy. And I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You Choose! – Nick Sharratt & Pippa Goodhart. ISBN 978-0552547086

Available from here.