…then we had a story: ‘In Dacres Wood there lived two tiny children: Ena and Tibs…
…They lived in a little wooden house under the trees. At first, the house had nothing inside:
“Waaa! Where will we sit to eat?” cried Ena.
“Where will we sleep? Waaaa!” cried Tib.
But Old Man Elf had left them a bag full of furniture.’
The bag went around our little circle and one by one, a chair, a table, a bunk bed were brought out and carefully put in place by the children: a bedroom upstairs, a kitchen-diner downstairs – such sureness in these little homemakers, such care as they made a cosy little home for Ena and Tibbs to eat a supper of sausages, eggs and baked beans
I had wondered if involving the audience in arranging props might not be a distraction, instead it seemed to pull them in closer into the reality of the tale. The magic of a dolls house, however simple! The real and the imagined blur so seamlessly.
Soon there was a party attended by the Woodland Creatures:
And the story went on, until a little Gnome baby had been reunited with his lost cradle and finally went to sleep while his Gnome Mama had a nice cup of hot chocolate and sat gazing at the milky white moon as the night grew quiet over Dacres Wood.
In the morning we invented people to inhabit the woods:
…like Baba Yaga in her hut on chicken legs:
We made puppets of our people and made a story together:
Once upon a time there was a girl who met a fairy who invited her to a fairy party, but the fairy flew too fast ahead and soon the girl was lost. She walked and walked until she came to a hut… Did she knock on the door? Of course, she did! And was there a fierce old woman inside who might be a witch? Yes, there was!
Several of the children were quite sure that the girl should avoid the hut.
“But she would stay lost in the woods,” I protested.
So, anxiously together we persevered – just as heroes and heroines do in stories, moving deeper into discomfort and danger, probing the unseen and unknowable – and seeing in our watchful fearful progress into the story how to have faith striving to meet challenges and overcoming obstacles to where a place of greater contentment and security awaits.
The storyteller’s daring in exploring the continents of unknown tales gives their child listeners the bravery to face the world. For storytelling takes courage to reach out to the new… uncertainty is always creative.
Horst Kornberger, ‘The Power of Stories’
In the afternoon we made people who changed bodies and changed places – like the Goose Girl and her maid (‘The Goose Girl’, Brothers Grimm) whose story I told later.
Legs, heads, bodies were swapped (as in Consequences) and strange new characters emerged
Where would such people live? Of course there were many possibilities…
“Birds can fly into your stories, bringing a sense of upliftment and airy freedom… Invite the benevolence of birds into your story world.” Nancy Mellon
In the lovely Grow Mayow Community Garden we made birds to hang near our story circle.
The birds watched over us as I began a story with a wooden girl, some chocolate coins and a paperweight bird…
… and they inspired a fabulous tale of a girl finding golden coins in the forest and a bird that helps her when she is transformed into a little dog.
The story grew and grew with the big clever children and the tiny ones joining together with incredible suggestions, me following, linking scenes, all of us gently probing forward into our unfolding adventure. This is the point in all of our Story Hug workshops where I see the children most completely engaged – adults too, so present in the moment of making our story. And while the writer in me searches for the plot and a convincing ending, I know now to hold back and trust that a story made with the free, unbounded minds of children can fly – anywhere! The story will always reach further, higher than it ever would have.
Such is the joy of spontaneous storytelling – and its challenge – riding the unexpected and binding the sparks, the shining offerings of ideas into a satisfying whole.
“…story-makers leave the familiar ground of the known, the security of established tales and premeditated plots. They put all their trust in the new, the unknown and unexpected.… practise on children – they are your best audience. They know that a fresh tale comes straight from the heart. They relish the moments of imaginal bonding, the meeting of what is most creative in us.”
The book our daughter chose to take to school this year was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden, a story of a motherless little girl, Nona, and two Japanese dolls – all three lonely, miserable, displaced and searching for home. In lovingly creating a Japanese dolls house for the two dolls, Nona finds belonging and acceptance among family and friends in her own new home.
There is something deeply satisfying about making a house for a doll, (however simple!). Perhaps it is the making of a whole other world, or a way of discovering an ideal and practising creating the one true home we search for from our earliest days.
If you are lucky enough to find the 1961 edition of Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, as well as the wonderful illustrations by Jean Primrose you will get plans for the dolls house at the back – so you can make your own! The latest edition unfortunately omits the plans, but it is a wonderful story nonetheless. The sequel, where the dolls meet another little Japanese doll and another little girl is cheered up, is Little Plum.
We made masks in the community garden from cereal packets, petals, leaves, sticks, herbs and old egg boxes.
Such great teamwork! And what joyful and unique results:
I told the story of the Thief and the Mask – the extraordinary case of a man becoming his mask.
An old Chinese tale, it involves a thief who is forced to act like a handsome, kind, honest, intelligent man because of a mask, only to find that after a year of pretence he has become just such a man.
The story made me think of the storyteller mask I wear each time I sit in the lovely warm circle of responsive open minds and hearts, able to lose the fear of my story not being enough, of not connecting with anyone… one of the many strange and wonderful ways in which storytelling transforms, providing us with a way of sharing a part of ourselves and of being together; a magical mask to grow beneath and beyond.
In blazing unexpected sunshine at the beautiful Mayow Park Community Garden we gathered to make story props…
…we made trees of recycled card, leaves, flowers, herbs…
…and we made magical people to hang in the branches of an enchanted wood:
These were to be our ‘props’ for our storytelling session later, and it was fascinating to see the care and concern and intensity of focus that went into the fixing of each petal of a fairy skirt:
…the fine detailed drawing of a wizard:
… the carefully considered contribution of a trio of imps based on the young artist and his two brothers:
The fact that these beautifully unique creations were to be used in our stories seemed to lend a deeper significance to them, the children looked so pleased with their work and so proud as I arranged the little handmade forest and hung the magical beings on branches, and they were very deeply engaged in the stories we made together.
Working with our hands and the imagination is a way into the deeper quiet where story parts lie; people and places waiting for their stories to be woven, to be spoken out loud into the open.
At the end, the children sat on their logs in our story circle under the trees, looking thoughtful and dreamy, still lingering in the world we had made together, gazing up at the magical folk above us in the trees…