How To Tell Stories To Children And Some Stories To Tell
Sara Cone Bryant
Part 2 out of 5
The Lark and the Daisy
The Ugly Duckling
The Seven Stories of the Snow Queen
The Little Match Girl
The Red Shoes
The Elf of the Rose
Five Peas in a Pod
The Portuguese Duck
The Little Mermaid (much shortened)
The Nightingale (shortened)
The Girl who trod on a Loaf
The Emperor's New Clothes
Another familiar and easily attainable type of story is the
classic myth, as retold in Kupfer's Legends of Greece and
Of these, again, certain tales are more successfully adapted to
children than others. Among the best for telling are:
Apollo and Daphne
Apollo and Hyacinthus
Latona and the Rustics
 A well-nigh indispensable book for teachers is Guerber's
Myths of Greece and Rome, which contains in brief form a
complete collection of the classic myths.
ADAPTATION OF STORIES FOR TELLING
It soon becomes easy to pick out from a
collection such stories as can be well told; but
at no time is it easy to find a sufficient number
of such stories. Stories simple, direct, and
sufficiently full of incident for telling, yet having
the beautiful or valuable motive we desire for
children, do not lie hidden in every book. And
even many of the stories which are most charming
to read do not answer the double demand,
for the appeal to the eye differs in many
important respects from that to the ear. Unless one
is able to change the form of a story to suit the
needs of oral delivery, one is likely to suffer
from poverty of material. Perhaps the commonest
need of change is in the case of a story
too long to tell, yet embodying some one beautiful
incident or lesson; or one including a series
of such incidents. The story of The Nurnberg
Stove, by Ouida, is a good example of the latter
kind; Ruskin's King of the Golden River will
serve as an illustration of the former.
 See Bimbi, by Ouida. (Chatto. 2s.)
The problem in one case is chiefly one of
elimination; in the other it is also in a large
degree one of rearrangement. In both cases I
have purposely chosen extreme instances, as
furnishing plainer illustration. The usual story
needs less adaptation than these, but the same
kind, in its own degree. Condensation and
rearrangement are the commonest forms of change
Pure condensation is probably the easier for
most persons. With The Nurnberg Stove in
mind for reference, let us see what the process
includes. This story can be readily found
by anyone who is interested in the following
example of adaptation, for nearly every library
includes in its catalogue the juvenile works of
Mlle. de la Ramee (Ouida). The suggestions
given assume that the story is before my
The story as it stands is two thousand four
hundred words long, obviously too long to tell.
What can be left out? Let us see what must
be kept in.
The dramatic climax toward which we are
working is the outcome of August's strange
exploit,--his discovery by the king and the
opportunity for him to become an artist. The
joy of this climax is twofold: August may stay
with his beloved Hirschvogel, and he may learn
to make beautiful things like it. To arrive at
the twofold conclusion we must start from a
double premise,--the love of the stove and the
yearning to be an artist. It will, then, be
necessary to include in the beginning of the
story enough details of the family life to show
plainly how precious and necessary Hirschvogel
was to the children; and to state definitely
how August had learned to admire and wish to
emulate Hirschvogel's maker. We need no
detail beyond what is necessary to make this
The beginning and the end of a story decided
upon, its body becomes the bridge from one to
the other; in this case it is August's strange
journey, beginning with the catastrophe and his
grief-dazed decision to follow the stove. The
journey is long, and each stage of it is told in
full. As this is impossible in oral reproduction,
it becomes necessary to choose typical incidents,
which will give the same general effect as the
whole. The incidents which answer this purpose
are: the beginning of the journey, the
experience on the luggage train, the jolting
while being carried on men's shoulders, the final
fright and suspense before the king opens the
The episode of the night in the bric-a-brac
shop introduces a wholly new and confusing
train of thought; therefore, charming as it is, it
must be omitted. And the secondary thread of
narrative interest, that of the prices for which
the stove was sold, and the retribution visited
on the cheating dealers, is also "another story,"
and must be ignored. Each of these destroys
the clear sequence and the simplicity of plot
which must be kept for telling.
We are reduced, then, for the whole, to this:
a brief preliminary statement of the place
Hirschvogel held in the household affections, and
the ambition aroused in August; the catastrophe
of the sale; August's decision; his experiences
on the train, on the shoulders of men, and just
before the discovery; his discovery, and the
This not only reduces the story to tellable
form, but it also leaves a suggestive interest
which heightens later enjoyment of the original.
I suggest the adaptation of Kate Douglas
Wiggin, in The Story Hour, since in view of the
existence of a satisfactory adaptation it seems
unappreciative to offer a second. The one I
made for my own use some years ago is not
dissimilar to this, and I have no reason to
suppose it more desirable.
Ruskin's King of the Golden River is somewhat
difficult to adapt. Not only is it long, but its
style is mature, highly descriptive, and closely
allegorical. Yet the tale is too beautiful and
too suggestive to be lost to the story-teller.
And it is, also, so recognised a part of the
standard literary equipment of youth that
teachers need to be able to introduce children
to its charm. To make it available for telling,
we must choose the most essential events of the
series leading up to the climax, and present
these so simply as to appeal to children's ears,
and so briefly as not to tire them.
The printed story is eight thousand words in
length. The first three thousand words depict
the beauty and fertility of the Treasure Valley,
and the cruel habits of Hans and Schwartz, its
owners, and give the culminating incident which
leads to their banishment by "West Wind."
This episode,--the West Wind's appearance in
the shape of an aged traveller, his kind reception
by the younger brother, little Gluck, and the
subsequent wrath of Hans and Schwartz, with
their resulting punishment,--occupies about two
thousand words. The rest of the story deals
with the three brothers after the decree of West
Wind has turned Treasure Valley into a desert.
In the little house where they are plying their
trade of goldsmiths, the King of the Golden
River appears to Gluck and tells him the magic
secret of turning the river's waters to gold.
Hans and Schwartz in turn attempt the miracle,
and in turn incur the penalty attached to
failure. Gluck tries, and wins the treasure through
self-sacrifice. The form of the treasure is a
renewal of the fertility of Treasure Valley, and
the moral of the whole story is summed up in
Ruskin's words, "So the inheritance which was
lost by cruelty was regained by love."
It is easy to see that the dramatic part of the
story and that which most pointedly illustrates
the underlying idea, is the triple attempt to win
the treasure,--the two failures and the one
success. But this is necessarily introduced by
the episode of the King of the Golden River,
which is, also, an incident sure to appeal to a
child's imagination. And the regaining of the
inheritance is meaningless without the fact of
its previous loss, and the reason for the loss, as
a contrast with the reason for its recovery. We
need, then, the main facts recorded in the first
three thousand words. But the West Wind
episode must be avoided, not only for brevity,
but because two supernatural appearances, so
similar, yet of different personalities, would
hopelessly confuse a told story.
Our oral story is now to be made out of a
condensed statement of the character of the
Valley and of its owners, and the manner of
its loss; the intervention of the King of the
Golden River; the three attempts to turn the
river to gold, and Gluck's success. Gluck is
to be our hero, and our underlying idea is the
power of love versus cruelty. Description is to
be reduced to its lowest terms, and the language
made simple and concrete.
With this outline in mind, it may be useful
to compare the following adaptation with the
original story. The adaptation is not intended
in any sense as a substitute for the original, but
merely as that form of it which can be TOLD,
while the original remains for reading.
THE GOLDEN RIVER
 Adapted from Ruskin's King of the Golden River.
There was once a beautiful little valley,
where the sun was warm, and the rains fell
softly; its apples were so red, its corn so
yellow, its grapes so blue, that it was called the
Treasure Valley. Not a river ran into it, but
one great river flowed down the mountains on
the other side, and because the setting sun
always tinged its high cataract with gold after
the rest of the world was dark, it was called the
Golden River. The lovely valley belonged to
three brothers. The youngest, little Gluck,
was happy-hearted and kind, but he had a hard
life with his brothers, for Hans and Schwartz
were so cruel and so mean that they were known
everywhere around as the "Black Brothers."
They were hard to their farm hands, hard to
their customers, hard to the poor, and hardest
of all to Gluck.
At last the Black Brothers became so bad
that the Spirit of the West Wind took
vengeance on them; he forbade any of the gentle
winds, south and west, to bring rain to the
valley. Then, since there were no rivers in it,
it dried up, and instead of a treasure valley it
became a desert of dry, red sand. The Black
Brothers could get nothing out of it, and they
wandered out into the world on the other side
of the mountain-peaks; and little Gluck went
Hans and Schwartz went out every day,
wasting their time in wickedness, but they
left Gluck in the house to work. And they
lived on the gold and silver they had saved
in Treasure Valley, till at last it was all gone.
The only precious thing left was Gluck's gold
mug. This the Black Brothers decided to melt
into spoons, to sell; and in spite of Gluck's
tears, they put it in the melting pot, and went
out, leaving him to watch it.
Poor little Gluck sat at the window, trying
not to cry for his dear golden mug, and as the
sun began to go down, he saw the beautiful
cataract of the Golden River turn red, and
yellow, and then pure gold.
"Oh, dear!" he said to himself, "how fine
it would be if the river were really golden!
I needn't be poor, then."
"It wouldn't be fine at all!" said a thin,
metallic little voice, in his ear.
"Mercy, what's that!" said Gluck, looking
all about. But nobody was there.
Suddenly the sharp little voice came again.
"Pour me out," it said, "I am too hot!"
It seemed to come right from the oven, and
as Gluck stood, staring in fright, it came again,
"Pour me out; I'm too hot!"
Gluck was very much frightened, but he
went and looked in the melting pot. When
he touched it, the little voice said, "Pour me
out, I say!" And Gluck took the handle and
began to pour the gold out.
First came out a tiny pair of yellow legs; then
a pair of yellow coat-tails; then a strange little
yellow body, and, last, a wee yellow face, with
long curls of gold hair. And the whole put itself
together as it fell, and stood up on the floor,--the
strangest little yellow dwarf, about a foot high!
"Dear, me!" said Gluck.
But the little yellow man said, "Gluck, do
you know who I am? I am the King of the
Gluck did not know what to say, so he said
nothing; and, indeed, the little man gave him
no chance. He said, "Gluck, I have been
watching you, and what I have seen of you,
I like. Listen, and I will tell you something
for your good. Whoever shall climb to the
top of the mountain from which the Golden
River falls, and shall cast into its waters three
drops of holy water, for him and him only shall
its waters turn to gold. But no one can
succeed except at the first trial, and anyone who
casts unholy water in the river will be turned
into a black stone."
And then, before Gluck could draw his breath,
the King walked straight into the hottest flame
of the fire, and vanished up the chimney!
When Gluck's brothers came home, they beat
him black and blue, because the mug was gone.
But when he told them about the King of the
Golden River they quarrelled all night, as to
which should go to get the gold. At last,
Hans, who was the stronger, got the better
of Schwartz, and started off. The priest would
not give such a bad man any holy water, so
he stole a bottleful. Then he took a basket of
bread and wine, and began to climb the mountain.
He climbed fast, and soon came to the end
of the first hill. But there he found a great
glacier, a hill of ice, which he had never seen
before. It was horrible to cross,--the ice was
slippery, great gulfs yawned before him, and
noises like groans and shrieks came from under
his feet. He lost his basket of bread and wine,
and was quite faint with fear and exhaustion
when his feet touched firm ground again.
Next he came to a hill of hot, red rock,
without a bit of grass to ease the feet, or a
particle of shade. After an hour's climb he
was so thirsty that he felt that he must drink.
He looked at the flask of water. "Three drops
are enough," he thought; "I will just cool my
lips." He was lifting the flask to his lips when
he saw something beside him in the path. It
was a small dog, and it seemed to be dying
of thirst. Its tongue was out, its legs were
lifeless, and a swarm of black ants were crawling
about its lips. It looked piteously at the
bottle which Hans held. Hans raised the bottle,
drank, kicked at the animal, and passed on.
A strange black shadow came across the
Another hour Hans climbed; the rocks grew
hotter and the way steeper every moment. At
last he could bear it no longer; he must drink.
The bottle was half empty, but he decided to
drink half of what was left. As he lifted it,
something moved in the path beside him. It
was a child, lying nearly dead of thirst on the
rock, its eyes closed, its lips burning, its breath
coming in gasps. Hans looked at it, drank,
and passed on.
A dark cloud came over the sun, and long
shadows crept up the mountain-side.
It grew very steep now, and the air weighed
like lead on Hans's forehead, but the Golden
River was very near. Hans stopped a moment
to breathe, then started to climb the last height.
As he clambered on, he saw an old, old man
lying in the path. His eyes were sunken, and
his face deadly pale.
"Water!" he said; "water!"
"I have none for you," said Hans; "you have
had your share of life." He strode over the old
man's body and climbed on.
A flash of blue lightning dazzled him for an
instant, and then the heavens were dark.
At last Hans stood on the brink of the cataract
of the Golden River. The sound of its roaring
filled the air. He drew the flask from his
side and hurled it into the torrent. As he did
so, an icy chill shot through him; he shrieked
and fell. And the river rose and flowed over
The Black Stone
When Hans did not come back Gluck grieved,
but Schwartz was glad. He decided to go and
get the gold for himself. He thought it might
not do to steal the holy water, as Hans had done,
so he took the money little Gluck had earned,
and bought holy water of a bad priest. Then he
took a basket of bread and wine, and started off.
He came to the great hill of ice, and was as
surprised as Hans had been, and found it as hard
to cross. Many times he slipped, and he was
much frightened at the noises, and was very glad
to get across, although he had lost his basket of
bread and wine. Then he came to the same hill
of sharp, red stone, without grass or shade, that
Hans had climbed. And like Hans he became
very thirsty. Like Hans, too, he decided to
drink a little of the water. As he raised it to
his lips, he suddenly saw the same fair child that
Hans had seen.
"Water!" said the child. "Water! I am
"I have not enough for myself," said Schwartz,
and passed on.
A low bank of black cloud rose out of the
When he had climbed for another hour, the
thirst overcame him again, and again he lifted
the flask to his lips. As he did so, he saw an
old man who begged for water.
"I have not enough for myself," said Schwartz,
and passed on.
A mist, of the colour of blood, came over the
Then Schwartz climbed for another hour, and
once more he had to drink. This time, as he
lifted the flask, he thought he saw his brother
Hans before him. The figure stretched its arms
to him, and cried out for water.
"Ha, ha," laughed Schwartz, "do you suppose
I brought the water up here for you?" And he
strode over the figure. But when he had gone
a few yards farther, he looked back, and the
figure was not there.
Then he stood at the brink of the Golden
River, and its waves were black, and the roaring
of the waters filled all the air. He cast the
flask into the stream. And as he did so the
lightning glared in his eyes, the earth gave way
beneath him, and the river flowed over
The two Black Stones.
When Gluck found himself alone, he at last
decided to try his luck with the King of the
Golden River. The priest gave him some holy
water as soon as he asked for it, and with this
and a basket of bread he started off.
The hill of ice was much harder for Gluck
to climb, because he was not so strong as his
brothers. He lost his bread, fell often, and was
exhausted when he got on firm ground. He
began to climb the hill in the hottest part of
the day. When he had climbed for an hour
he was very thirsty, and lifted the bottle to
drink a little water. As he did so he saw a
feeble old man coming down the path toward
"I am faint with thirst," said the old man;
"will you give me some of that water?"
Gluck saw that he was pale and tired, so he
gave him the water, saying, "Please don't drink
it all." But the old man drank a great deal, and
gave back the bottle two-thirds emptied. Then
he bade Gluck good speed, and Gluck went on
Some grass appeared on the path, and the
grasshoppers began to sing.
At the end of another hour, Gluck felt that he
must drink again. But, as he raised the flask,
he saw a little child lying by the roadside, and
it cried out pitifully for water. After a struggle
with himself Gluck decided to bear the thirst a
little longer. He put the bottle to the child's
lips, and it drank all but a few drops. Then it
got up and ran down the hill.
All kinds of sweet flowers began to grow on
the rocks, and crimson and purple butterflies
flitted about in the air.
At the end of another hour, Gluck's thirst
was almost unbearable. He saw that there
were only five or six drops of water in the
bottle, however, and he did not dare to drink.
So he was putting the flask away again when he
saw a little dog on the rocks, gasping for breath.
He looked at it, and then at the Golden River,
and he remembered the dwarf's words, "No
one can succeed except at the first trial"; and
he tried to pass the dog. But it whined
piteously, and Gluck stopped. He could not bear
to pass it. "Confound the King and his gold,
too!" he said; and he poured the few drops of
water into the dog's mouth.
The dog sprang up; its tail disappeared, its
nose grew red, and its eyes twinkled. The next
minute the dog was gone, and the King of the
Golden River stood there. He stooped and
plucked a lily that grew beside Gluck's feet.
Three drops of dew were on its white leaves.
These the dwarf shook into the flask which Gluck
held in his hand.
"Cast these into the river," he said, "and go
down the other side of the mountains into the
Treasure Valley." Then he disappeared.
Gluck stood on the brink of the Golden River,
and cast the three drops of dew into the stream.
Where they fell, a little whirlpool opened; but
the water did not turn to gold. Indeed, the
water seemed vanishing altogether. Gluck was
disappointed not to see gold, but he obeyed the
King of the Golden River, and went down the
other side of the mountains.
When he came out into the Treasure Valley,
a river, like the Golden River, was springing
from a new cleft in the rocks above, and flowing
among the heaps of dry sand. And then fresh
grass sprang beside the river, flowers opened
along its sides, and vines began to cover the
whole valley. The Treasure Valley was becoming
a garden again.
Gluck lived in the Valley, and his grapes were
blue, and his apples were red, and his corn was
yellow; and the poor were never driven from
his door. For him, as the King had promised,
the river was really a River of Gold.
It will probably be clear to anyone who has
followed these attempts, that the first step in
adaptation is analysis, careful analysis of the
story as it stands. One asks oneself, What is
the story? Which events are necessary links in
the chain? How much of the text is pure
Having this essential body of the story in
mind, one then decides which of the steps toward
the climax are needed for safe arrival there, and
keeps these. When two or more steps can be
covered in a single stride, one makes the stride.
When a necessary explanation is unduly long, or
is woven into the story in too many strands, one
disposes of it in an introductory statement, or
perhaps in a side remark. If there are two or
more threads of narrative, one chooses among
them, and holds strictly to the one chosen,
eliminating details which concern the others.
In order to hold the simplicity of plot so
attained, it is also desirable to have but few
personages in the story, and to narrate the action
from the point of view of one of them,--usually
the hero. To shift the point of view of the
action is confusing to the child's mind.
When the analysis and condensation have
been accomplished, the whole must be cast in
simple language, keeping if possible the same
kind of speech as that used in the original, but
changing difficult or technical terms to plain,
and complex images to simple and familiar ones.
All types of adaptation share in this need of
simple language,--stories which are too short,
as well as those which are too long, have this
feature in their changed form. The change in a
short story is applied oftenest where it becomes
desirable to amplify a single anecdote, or
perhaps a fable, which is told in very condensed
form. Such an instance is the following anecdote
of heroism, which in the original is quoted in
one of F. W. Robertson's lectures on Poetry.
A detachment of troops was marching along a valley,
the cliffs overhanging which were crested by the enemy. A
sergeant, with eleven men, chanced to become separated from
the rest by taking the wrong side of a ravine, which they
expected soon to terminate, but which suddenly deepened
into an impassable chasm. The officer in command signalled
to the party an order to return. They mistook the signal for
a command to charge; the brave fellows answered with a
cheer, and charged. At the summit of the steep mountain
was a triangular platform, defended by a breastwork, behind
which were seventy of the foe. On they went, charging up
one of those fearful paths, eleven against seventy. The
contest could not long be doubtful with such odds. One
after another they fell; six upon the spot, the remainder
hurled backwards; but not until they had slain nearly twice
their own number.
There is a custom, we are told, amongst the hillsmen, that
when a great chieftain of their own falls in battle, his wrist is
bound with a thread either of red or green, the red denoting
the highest rank. According to custom, they stripped the
dead, and threw their bodies over the precipice. When their
comrades came, they found their corpses stark and gashed;
but round both wrists of every British hero was twined the
This anecdote serves its purpose of illustration
perfectly well, but considered as a separate
story it is somewhat too explanatory in diction,
and too condensed in form. Just as the long
story is analysed for reduction of given details,
so this must be analysed,--to find the details
implied. We have to read into it again all that
has been left between the lines.
Moreover, the order must be slightly changed,
if we are to end with the proper "snap," the
final sting of surprise and admiration given by
the point of the story; the point must be prepared
for. The purpose of the original is equally
well served by the explanation at the end, but
we must never forget that the place for the
climax, or effective point in a story told, is the
last thing said. That is what makes a story
"go off" well.
Imagining vividly the situation suggested, and
keeping the logical sequence of facts in mind,
shall we not find the story telling itself to boys
and girls in somewhat this form?
THE RED THREAD OF COURAGE
 See also The Red Thread of Honour, by Sir Francis Doyle,
in Lyra Heroica,
This story which I am going to tell you is a
true one. It happened while the English troops
in India were fighting against some of the native
tribes. The natives who were making trouble
were people from the hill-country, called
Hillsmen, and they were strong enemies. The
English knew very little about them, except
their courage, but they had noticed one peculiar
custom, after certain battles,--the Hillsmen had
a way of marking the bodies of their greatest
chiefs who were killed in battle by binding a red
thread about the wrist; this was the highest
tribute they could pay a hero. The English,
however, found the common men of them quite
enough to handle, for they had proved themselves
good fighters and clever at ambushes.
One day, a small body of the English had
marched a long way into the hill country, after
the enemy, and in the afternoon they found
themselves in a part of the country strange
even to the guides. The men moved forward
very slowly and cautiously, for fear of an
ambush. The trail led into a narrow valley with
very steep, high, rocky sides, topped with woods
in which the enemy might easily hide.
Here the soldiers were ordered to advance
more quickly, though with caution, to get out
of the dangerous place.
After a little they came suddenly to a place
where the passage was divided in two by a big
three-cornered boulder which seemed to rise
from the midst of the valley. The main line
of men kept to the right; to save crowding the
path, a sergeant and eleven men took the left,
meaning to go round the rock and meet the rest
They had been in the path only a few minutes
when they saw that the rock was not a single
boulder at all, but an arm of the left wall of the
valley, and that they were marching into a deep
ravine with no outlet except the way they came.
Both sides were sheer rock, almost perpendicular,
with thick trees at the top; in front of
them the ground rose in a steep hill, bare of
woods. As they looked up, they saw that the
top was barricaded by the trunks of trees, and
guarded by a strong body of Hillsmen. As the
English hesitated, looking at this, a shower of
spears fell from the wood's edge, aimed by
hidden foes. The place was a death trap.
At this moment, their danger was seen by the
officer in command of the main body, and he
signalled to the sergeant to retreat.
By some terrible mischance, the signal was
misunderstood. The men took it for the signal
to charge. Without a moment's pause, straight
up the slope, they charged on the run, cheering
as they ran.
Some were killed by the spears that were
thrown from the cliffs, before they had gone
half way; some were stabbed as they reached
the crest, and hurled backward from the precipice;
two or three got to the top, and fought
hand to hand with the Hillsmen. They were
outnumbered, seven to one; but when the last
of the English soldiers lay dead, twice their
number of Hillsmen lay dead around them!
When the relief party reached the spot, later
in the day, they found the bodies of their
comrades, full of wounds, huddled over and in the
barricade, or crushed on the rocks below.
They were mutilated and battered, and bore
every sign of the terrible struggle. BUT ROUND
BOTH WRISTS OF EVERY BRITISH SOLDIER WAS BOUND
THE RED THREAD!
The Hillsmen had paid greater honour to
their heroic foes than to the bravest of their
own brave dead.
Another instance is the short poem, which,
while being perfectly simple, is rich in suggestion
of more than the young child will see for
himself. The following example shows the
working out of details in order to provide a
satisfactorily rounded story.
THE ELF AND THE DORMOUSE
 Adapted from The Elf and the Dormouse, by Oliver
Herford, in A Treasury of Verse for Little Children.
(Harrap. 1s. net.)
Once upon a time a dormouse lived in the
wood with his mother. She had made a snug
little nest, but Sleepy-head, as she called her
little mousie, loved to roam about among the
grass and fallen leaves, and it was a hard task
to keep him at home. One day the mother went
off as usual to look for food, leaving Sleepy-
head curled up comfortably in a corner of
the nest. "He will lie there safely till I
come back," she thought. Presently, however,
Sleepy-head opened his eyes and thought he
would like to take a walk out in the fresh
air. So he crept out of the nest and through
the long grass that nodded over the hole in
the bank. He ran here and he ran there, stopping
again an again to cock his little ears for
sound of any creeping thing that might be close
at hand. His little fur coat was soft and silky
as velvet. Mother had licked it clean before
starting her day's work, you may be sure. As
Sleepy-head moved from place to place his long
tail swayed from side to side and tickled the
daisies so that they could not hold themselves
still for laughing.
Presently something very cold fell on Sleepy-
head's nose. What could it be? He put up
his little paw and dabbed at the place. Then
the same thing happened to his tail. He
whisked it quickly round to the front. Ah, it
was raining! Now Sleepy-head couldn't bear
rain, and he had got a long way from home.
What would mother say if his nice furry coat
got wet and draggled? He crept under a bush,
but soon the rain found him out. Then he ran
to a tree, but this was poor shelter. He began
to think that he was in for a soaking when
what should he spy, a little distance off, but
a fine toadstool which stood bolt upright just
like an umbrella. The next moment Sleepy-
head was crawling underneath the friendly
shelter. He fixed himself up as snugly as he
could, with his little nose upon his paws and his
little tail curled round all, and before you could
count six, eight, ten, twenty, he was fast asleep.
Now it happened that Sleepy-head was not
the only creature that was caught by the rain
that morning in the wood. A little elf had
been flitting about in search of fun or mischief,
and he, too, had got far from home when the
raindrops began to come pattering through the
leafy roof of the beautiful wood. It would never
do to get his pretty wings wet, for he hated to
walk--it was such slow work and, besides, he
might meet some big wretched animal that could
run faster than himself. However, he was
beginning to think that there was no help for it,
when, on a sudden, there before him was the
toadstool, with Sleepy-head snug and dry underneath!
There was room for another little fellow,
thought the elf, and ere long he had safely
bestowed himself under the other half of the
toadstool, which was just like an umbrella.
Sleepy-head slept on, warm and comfortable
in his furry coat, and the elf began to feel
annoyed with him for being so happy. He
was always a great mischief, and he could not
bear to sit still for long at a time. Presently
he laughed a queer little laugh. He had got
an idea! Putting his two small arms round
the stem of the toadstool he tugged and he
pulled until, of a sudden, snap! He had broken
the stem, and a moment later was soaring in air
safely sheltered under the toadstool, which he
held upright by its stem as he flew.
Sleepy-head had been dreaming, oh, so cosy
a dream! It seemed to him that he had
discovered a storehouse filled with golden grain
and soft juicy nuts with little bunches of sweet-
smelling hay, where tired mousies might sleep
dull hours away. He thought that he was
settled in the sweetest bunch of all, with
nothing in the world to disturb his nap, when
gradually he became aware that something had
happened. He shook himself in his sleep and
settled down again, but the dream had altered.
He opened his eyes. Rain was falling, pit-a-pat,
and he was without cover on a wet patch of
grass. What could be the matter? Sleepy-
head was now wide awake. Said he,
"DEAR ME, WHERE IS MY TOADSTOOL?"
From these four instances we may, perhaps,
deduce certain general principles of adaptation
which have at least proved valuable to those
These are suggestions which the practised
story-teller will find trite. But to others they
may prove a fair foundation on which to build
a personal method to be developed by experience.
I have given them a tabular arrangement below.
The preliminary step in all cases is
Analysis of the Story.
The aim, then, is
to REDUCE a long story or to AMPLIFY a short one.
For the first, the need is
ELIMINATION of secondary threads of narrative,
For the second, the great need is of
For both, it is desirable to keep
Close Logical Sequence,
Single Point of View,
The Point at the End
HOW TO TELL THE STORY
Selection, and, if necessary, adaptation--these
are the preliminaries to the act of telling. That,
after all, is the real test of one's power. That
is the real joy, when achieved; the real bugbear,
when dreaded. And that is the subject of this
chapter, "How to tell a story."
How to tell a story: it is a short question
which demands a long answer. The right
beginning of the answer depends on a right
conception of the thing the question is about; and
that naturally reverts to an earlier discussion of
the real nature of a story. In that discussion it
was stated that a story is a work of art,--a message,
as all works of art are.
To tell a story, then, is to pass on the message,
to share the work of art. The message may be
merely one of humour,--of nonsense, even;
works of art range all the way from the "Victory"
to a "Dresden Shepherdess," from an
"Assumption" to a "Broken Pitcher," and
farther. Each has its own place. But whatever
its quality, the story-teller is the passer-on, the
interpreter, the transmitter. He comes bringing
a gift. Always he gives; always he bears a
This granted, the first demand of the story-
teller is not far to seek. No one can repeat a
message he has not heard, or interpret what he
does not understand. You cannot give, unless
you first possess. The first demand of the story-
teller is that he possess. He must FEEL the
story. Whatever the particular quality and
appeal of the work of art, from the lightest to
the grandest emotion or thought, he must have
responded to it, grasped it, felt it intimately,
before he can give it out again. Listen, humbly,
for the message.
I realise that this has an incongruous sound,
when applied to such stories as that of the little
pig at the stile or of the greedy cat who ate up
man and beast. But, believe me, it does
apply even to those. For the transmittable
thing in a story is the identifying essence, the
characterising savour, the peculiar quality and
point of view of the humour, pathos, or interest.
Every tale which claims a place in good fiction
has this identifying savour and quality, each
different from every other. The laugh which
echoes one of Seumas McManus's rigmaroles is
not the chuckle which follows one of Joel
Chandler Harris's anecdotes; the gentle sadness
of an Andersen allegory is not the heart
searching tragedy of a tale from the Greek; nor
is any one story of an author just like any other
of the same making. Each has its personal
likeness, its facial expression, as it were.
And the mind must be sensitised to these
differences. No one can tell stories well who
has not a keen and just feeling of such emotional
A positive and a negative injunction depend on
this premise,--the positive, cultivate your feeling,
striving toward increasingly just appreciation;
the negative, never tell a story you do not feel.
Fortunately, the number and range of stories
one can appreciate grow with cultivation; but
it is the part of wisdom not to step outside the
range at any stage of its growth.
I feel the more inclined to emphasise this
caution because I once had a rather embarrassing
and pointed proof of its desirability,--which I
relate for the enlightening of the reader.
There is a certain nonsense tale which a
friend used to tell with such effect that her
hearers became helpless with laughter, but which
for some reason never seemed funny to me. I
could not laugh at it. But my friend constantly
urged me to use it, quoting her own success.
At last, with much curiosity and some trepidation,
I included it in a programme before people
with whom I was so closely in sympathy that
no chill was likely to emanate from their side.
I told the story as well as I knew how, putting
into it more genuine effort than most stories
can claim. The audience smiled politely,
laughed gently once or twice, relapsed into the
mildest of amusement. The most one could
say was that the story was not a hopeless failure,
I tried it again, after study, and yet again; but
the audiences were all alike. And in my heart
I should have been startled if they had behaved
otherwise, for all the time I was telling it I was
conscious in my soul that it was a stupid story!
At last I owned my defeat to myself, and put
the thing out of mind.
Some time afterward, I happened to take out
the notes of the story, and idly looked them
over; and suddenly, I do not know how, I got
the point of view! The salt of the humour was
all at once on my lips; I felt the tickle of the
pure folly of it; it WAS funny.
The next afternoon I told the story to a
hundred or so children and as many mothers,--
and the battle was won. Chuckles punctuated
my periods; helpless laughter ran like an under-
current below my narrative; it was a struggle
for me to keep sober, myself. The nonsense
tale had found its own atmosphere.
Now of course I had known all along that
the humour of the story emanated from its very
exaggeration, its absurdly illogical smoothness.
But I had not FELT it. I did not really "see the
joke." And that was why I could not tell the
story. I undoubtedly impressed my own sense
of its fatuity on every audience to which I gave
it. The case is very clear.
Equally clear have been some happy instances
where I have found audiences responding to a
story I myself greatly liked, but which common
appreciation usually ignored. This is an
experience even more persuasive than the other,
certainly more to be desired.
Every story-teller has lines of limitation;
certain types of story will always remain his or
her best effort. There is no reason why any
type of story should be told really ill, and of
course the number of kinds one tells well
increases with the growth of the appreciative
capacity. But none the less, it is wise to
recognise the limits at each stage, and not try to
tell any story to which the honest inner
consciousness says, "I do not like you."
Let us then set down as a prerequisite for
good story-telling, A GENUINE APPRECIATION OF THE
Now, we may suppose this genuine appreciation
to be your portion. You have chosen a
story, have felt its charm, and identified the
quality of its appeal.
You are now to tell it in such wise that your
hearers will get the same kind of impression
you yourself received from it. How?
I believe the inner secret of success is the
measure of force with which the teller wills the
conveyance of his impression to the hearer.
Anyone who has watched, or has himself
been, the teller of a story which held an audience,
knows that there is something approaching
hypnotic suggestion in the close connection of
effort and effect, and in the elimination of self-
consciousness from speaker and listeners alike.
I would not for a moment lend the atmosphere
of charlatanry, or of the ultra-psychic, to the
wholesome and vivid art of story-telling. But
I would, if possible, help the teacher to realise
how largely success in that art is a subjective
and psychological matter, dependent on her
control of her own mood and her sense of direct,
intimate communion with the minds attending
her. The "feel" of an audience,--that
indescribable sense of the composite human soul
waiting on the initiative of your own, the
emotional currents interplaying along a medium
so delicate that it takes the baffling torture of
an obstruction to reveal its existence,--cannot
be taught. But it can and does develop with
use. And a realisation of the immense latent
power of strong desire and resolution vitalises
and disembarrasses the beginner.
That is, undoubtedly, rather an intangible
beginning; it sets the root of the matter somewhat
in the realm of "spirits and influences."
There are, however, outward and visible means
of arriving at results. Every art has its
technique. The art of story-telling, intensely
personal and subjective as it is, yet comes under
the law sufficiently not to be a matter of sheer
"knack." It has its technique. The following
suggestions are an attempt to state what seem
the foundation principles of that technique.
The general statements are deduced from many
consecutive experiences; partly, too, they are
the results of introspective analysis, confirmed
by observation. They do not make up an
exclusive body of rules, wholly adequate to
produce good work, of themselves; they do
include, so far as my observation and experience
allow, the fundamental requisites of good work,
--being the qualities uniformly present in
successful work of many story-tellers.
First of all, most fundamental of all, is a rule
without which any other would be but folly:
KNOW YOUR STORY.
One would think so obvious a preliminary
might be taken for granted. But alas, even
slight acquaintance with the average story-teller
proves the dire necessity of the admonition.
The halting tongue, the slip in name or incident,
the turning back to forge an omitted link in the
chain, the repetition, the general weakness of
statement consequent on imperfect grasp: these
are common features of the stories one hears
told. And they are features which will deface
the best story ever told.
One must know the story absolutely; it
must have been so assimilated that it partakes
of the nature of personal experience; its essence
must be so clearly in mind that the teller does
not have to think of it at all in the act of telling,
but rather lets it flow from his lips with the
unconscious freedom of a vivid reminiscence.
Such knowledge does not mean memorising.
Memorising utterly destroys the freedom of
reminiscence, takes away the spontaneity, and
substitutes a mastery of form for a mastery of
essence. It means, rather, a perfect grasp of
the gist of the story, with sufficient familiarity
with its form to determine the manner of its
telling. The easiest way to obtain this mastery
is, I think, to analyse the story into its simplest
elements of plot. Strip it bare of style, description,
interpolation, and find out simply WHAT
HAPPENED. Personally, I find that I get first
an especially vivid conception of the climax;
this then has to be rounded out by a clear
perception of the successive steps which lead
up to the climax. One has, so, the framework
of the story. The next process is the filling in.
There must be many ways of going about
this filling in. Doubtless many of my readers,
in the days when it was their pet ambition
to make a good recitation in school, evolved
personally effective ways of doing it; for it is,
after all, the same thing as preparing a bit of
history or a recitation in literature. But for
the consideration of those who find it hard to
gain mastery of fact without mastery of its
stated form, I give my own way. I have always
used the childlike plan of talking it out. Sometimes
inaudibly, sometimes in loud and penetrating
tones which arouse the sympathetic curiosity
of my family, I tell it over and over, to an
imaginary hearer. That hearer is as present
to me, always has been, as Stevenson's "friend
of the children" who takes the part of the
enemy in their solitary games of war. His
criticism (though he is a most composite double-
sexed creature who should not have a designating
personal pronoun) is all-revealing. For
talking it out instantly brings to light the
weak spots in one's recollection. "What was
it the little crocodile said?" "Just how did
the little pig get into his house?" "What
was that link in the chain of circumstances
which brought the wily fox to confusion?"
The slightest cloud of uncertainty becomes
obvious in a moment. And as obvious becomes
one's paucity of expression, one's week-kneed
imagination, one's imperfect assimilation of
the spirit of the story. It is not a flattering
But when these faults have been corrected
by several attempts, the method gives a
confidence, a sense of sureness, which makes the
real telling to a real audience ready and
spontaneously smooth. Scarcely an epithet or a
sentence comes out as it was in the preliminary
telling; but epithets and sentences in sufficiency
do come; the beauty of this method is that it
brings freedom instead of bondage.
A valuable exception to the rule against
memorising must be noted here. Especially
beautiful and indicative phrases of the original
should be retained, and even whole passages,
where they are identified with the beauty of
the tale. And in stories like The Three
Bears or Red Riding Hood the exact phraseology
of the conversation as given in familiar
versions should be preserved; it is in a way
sacred, a classic, and not to be altered. But
beyond this the language should be the teller's
own, and probably never twice the same. Sureness,
ease, freedom, and the effect of personal
reminiscence come only from complete mastery.
I repeat, with emphasis: Know your story.
The next suggestion is a purely practical one
concerning the preparation of physical conditions.
See that the children are seated in close and
direct range of your eye; the familiar half-circle
is the best arrangement for small groups of
children, but the teacher should be at a point
OPPOSITE the centre of the arc, NOT in its centre:
it is important also not to have the ends too far
at the side, and to have no child directly behind
another, or in such a position that he has not
an easy view of the teacher's full face. Little
children have to be physically close in order to
be mentally close. It is, of course, desirable
to obtain a hushed quiet before beginning; but
it is not so important as to preserve your own
mood of holiday, and theirs. If the fates and
the atmosphere of the day are against you, it
is wiser to trust to the drawing power of the
tale itself, and abate the irritation of didactic
methods. And never break into that magic
tale, once begun, with an admonition to Ethel
or Tommy to stop squirming, or a rebuke to
"that little girl over there who is not listening."
Make her listen! It is probably your fault if
she is not. If you are telling a good story, and
telling it well, she can't help listening,--unless
she is an abnormal child; and if she is abnormal
you ought not to spoil the mood of the others
to attend to her.
I say "never" interrupt your story; perhaps
it is only fair to amend that, after the fashion of
dear little Marjorie Fleming, and say "never--if
you can help it." For, of course, there are exceptional
occasions, and exceptional children; some
latitude must be left for the decisions of good
common sense acting on the issue of the moment.
The children ready, your own mood must be
ready. It is desirable that the spirit of the
story should be imposed upon the room from the
beginning, and this result hangs on the clearness
and intensity of the teller's initiatory mood. An
act of memory and of will is the requisite. The
story-teller must call up--it comes with the
swiftness of thought--the essential emotion of
the story as he felt it first. A single volition
puts him in touch with the characters and the
movement of the tale. This is scarcely more
than a brief and condensed reminiscence; it is
the stepping back into a mood once experienced.
Let us say, for example, that the story to be
told is the immortal fable of The Ugly Duckling.
Before you open your lips the whole
pathetic series of the little swan's mishaps should
flash across your mind,--not accurately and in
detail, but blended to a composite of undeserved
ignominy, of baffled innocent wonderment, and
of delicious underlying satire on average views.
With this is mingled the feeling of Andersen's
delicate whimsicality of style. The dear little
Ugly Duckling waddles, bodily, into your consciousness,
and you pity his sorrows and anticipate
his triumph, before you begin.
This preliminary recognition of mood is what
brings the delicious quizzical twitch to the mouth
of a good raconteur who begins an anecdote the
hearers know will be side-splitting. It is what
makes grandmother sigh gently and look far over
your heads, when her soft voice commences the
story of "the little girl who lived long, long
ago." It is a natural and instinctive thing with
the born story-teller; a necessary thing for anyone
who will become a story-teller.
From the very start, the mood of the tale
should be definite and authoritative, beginning
with the mood of the teller and emanating therefrom
in proportion as the physique of the teller
is a responsive medium.
Now we are off. Knowing your story, having
your hearers well arranged, and being as
thoroughly as you are able in the right mood,
you begin to tell it. Tell it, then, simply,
directly, dramatically, with zest.
SIMPLY applies both to manner and matter.
As to manner, I mean without affectation,
without any form of pretence, in short, without
posing. It is a pity to "talk down" to the
children, to assume a honeyed voice, to think
of the edifying or educational value of the work
one is doing. Naturalness, being oneself, is the
desideratum. I wonder why we so often use a
preposterous voice,--a super-sweetened whine,
in talking to children? Is it that the effort to
realise an ideal of gentleness and affectionateness
overreaches itself in this form of the grotesque?
Some good intention must be the root of it
But the thing is none the less pernicious. A
"cant" voice is as abominable as a cant phraseology.
Both are of the very substance of evil.
"But it is easier to SAY, `Be natural' than to
BE it," said one teacher to me desperately.
Beyond dispute. To those of us who are
cursed with an over-abundant measure of self-
consciousness, nothing is harder than simple
naturalness. The remedy is to lose oneself in
one's art. Think of the story so absorbingly
and vividly that you have no room to think of
yourself. Live it. Sink yourself in that mood
you have summoned up, and let it carry you.
If you do this, simplicity of matter will come
easily. Your choice of words and images will
naturally become simple.
It is, I think, a familiar precept to educators,
that children should not have their literature
too much simplified for them. We are told that
they like something beyond them, and that it
is good for them to have a sense of mystery and
power beyond the sense they grasp. That may
be true; but if so it does not apply to story-
telling as it does to reading. We have
constantly to remember that the movement of a
story told is very swift. A concept not grasped
in passing is irrevocably lost; there is no
possibility of turning back, or lingering over the
page. Also, since the art of story-telling is
primarily an art of entertainment, its very object
is sacrificed if the ideas and images do not slip
into the child's consciousness smoothly enough
to avoid the sense of strain. For this reason
short, familiar, vivid words are best.
Simplicity of manner and of matter are both
essential to the right appeal to children.
DIRECTNESS in telling is a most important
quality. The story, listened to, is like the
drama, beheld. Its movement must be unimpeded,
increasingly swift, winding up "with a
snap." Long-windedness, or talking round the
story, utterly destroys this movement. The
incidents should be told, one after another,
without explanation or description beyond what
is absolutely necessary; and THEY SHOULD BE TOLD
IN LOGICAL SEQUENCE. Nothing is more distressing
than the cart-before-the-horse method,--nothing
more quickly destroys interest than the failure
to get a clue in the right place.
Sometimes, to be sure, a side remark adds
piquancy and a personal savour. But the
general rule is, great discretion in this respect.
Every epithet or adjective beyond what is
needed to give the image, is a five-barred gate
in the path of the eager mind travelling to a
Explanations and moralising are usually sheer
clatter. Some few stories necessarily include
a little explanation, and stories of the fable
order may quaintly end with an obvious moral.
But here again, the rule is--great discretion.
It is well to remember that you have one
great advantage over the writer of stories. The
writer must present a clear image and make a
vivid impression,--all with words. The teller
has face, and voice, and body to do it with.
The teller needs, consequently, but one swiftly
incisive verb to the writer's two; but one
expressive adjective to his three. Often, indeed,
a pause and an expressive gesture do the whole
It may be said here that it is a good trick of
description to repeat an epithet or phrase once
used, when referring again to the same thing.
The recurrent adjectives of Homer were the
device of one who entertained a childlike
audience. His trick is unconscious and
instinctive with people who have a natural gift
for children's stories. Of course this matter
also demands common sense in the degree of its
use; in moderation it is a most successful device.
Brevity, close logical sequence, exclusion of
foreign matter, unhesitant speech,--to use these
is to tell a story directly.
After simplicity and directness, comes that
quality which to advise, is to become a rock of
offence to many. It is the suggestion, "Tell
the story DRAMATICALLY." Yet when we quite
understand each other as to the meaning of
"dramatically," I think you will agree with me
that a good story-teller includes this in his
qualities of manner. It means, not in the
manner of the elocutionist, not excitably, not
any of the things which are incompatible with
simplicity and sincerity; but with a whole-
hearted throwing of oneself into the game,
which identifies one in a manner with the
character or situation of the moment. It means
responsively, vividly, without interposing a blank
wall of solid self between the drama of the tale
and the mind's eye of the audience.
It is such fun, pure and simple, so to throw
oneself into it, and to see the answering
expressions mimic one's own, that it seems
superfluous to urge it. Yet many persons do
find it difficult. The instant, slight but
suggestive change of voice, the use of onomatopoetic
words, the response of eyes and hands,
which are all immediate and spontaneous with
some temperaments, are to others a matter of
shamefacedness and labour. To those, to all
who are not by nature bodily expressive, I
would reiterate the injunction already given,
not to pretend. Do nothing you cannot do
naturally and happily. But lay your stress on
the inner and spiritual effort to appreciate, to
feel, to imagine out the tale; and let the
expressiveness of your body grow gradually with
the increasing freedom from crippling self-
consciousness. The physique will become more
mobile as the emotion does.
The expression must, however, always REMAIN
SUGGESTIVE RATHER THAN ILLUSTRATIVE. This
is the side of the case which those who are
over-dramatic must not forget. The story-
teller is not playing the parts of his stories;
he is merely arousing the imagination of his
hearers to picture the scenes for themselves.
One element of the dual consciousness of the
tale-teller remains always the observer, the
reporter, the quiet outsider.
I like to think of the story-teller as a good
fellow standing at a great window overlooking
a busy street or a picturesque square, and
reporting with gusto to the comrade in the rear
of the room what of mirth or sadness he sees;
he hints at the policeman's strut, the organ-
grinder's shrug, the schoolgirl's gaiety, with a
gesture or two which is born of an irresistible
impulse to imitate; but he never leaves his
fascinating post to carry the imitation further
than a hint.
The verity of this figure lies in the fact that
the dramatic quality of story-telling depends
closely upon the CLEARNESS AND POWER WITH WHICH
THE STORY-TELLER VISUALISES THE EVENTS AND CHARACTERS
HE DESCRIBES. You must hold the image before
the mind's eye, using your imagination to
embody to yourself every act, incident and
appearance. You must, indeed, stand at the window
of your consciousness and watch what happens.
This is a point so vital that I am tempted
to put it in ornate type. You must SEE what
It is not too much, even, to say, "You must
see more than you say." True vividness is lent
by a background of picture realised by the
listener beyond what you tell him. Children
see, as a rule, no image you do not see; they
see most clearly what you see most largely.
Draw, then, from a full well, not from a supply
so low that the pumps wheeze at every pull.
Dramatic power of the reasonably quiet and
suggestive type demanded for telling a story
will come pretty surely in the train of effort
along these lines; it follows the clear concept
and sincerity in imparting it, and is a natural
consequence of the visualising imagination.
It is inextricably bound up, also, with the
causes and results of the quality which finds
place in my final injunction, to tell your story
WITH ZEST. It might almost be assumed that
the final suggestion renders the preceding one
superfluous, so direct is the effect of a lively
interest on the dramatic quality of a narration;
but it would not of itself be adequate; the
necessity of visualising imagination is paramount.
Zest is, however, a close second to
this clearness of mental vision. It is entirely
necessary to be interested in your own story,
to enjoy it as you tell it. If you are bored and
tired, the children will soon be bored and tired,
too. If you are not interested your manner
cannot get that vitalised spontaneity which
makes dramatic power possible. Nothing else
will give that relish on the lips, that gusto,
which communicates its joy to the audience
and makes it receptive to every impression.
I used to say to teachers, "Tell your story
with all your might," but I found that this
by a natural misconception was often interpreted
to mean "laboriously." And of course
nothing is more injurious to the enjoyment of
an audience than obvious effort on the part
of the entertainer. True zest can be--often
is--extremely quiet, but it gives a savour
nothing else can impart.
"But how, at the end of a hard morning's
work, can I be interested in a story I have told
twenty times before?" asks the kindergarten or
primary teacher, not without reason.
There are two things to be said. The first is
a reminder of the wisdom of choosing stories in
which you originally have interest; and of having
a store large enough to permit variety. The
second applies to those inevitable times of weariness
which attack the most interested and well-
stocked story-teller. You are, perhaps, tired
out physically. You have told a certain story
till it seems as if a repetition of it must produce
bodily effects dire to contemplate, yet that
happens to be the very story you must tell.
What can you do? I answer, "Make believe."
The device seems incongruous with the repeated
warnings against pretence; but it is necessary,
and it is wise. Pretend as hard as ever you can
to be interested. And the result will be--before
you know it--that you will BE interested. That
is the chief cause of the recommendation; it
brings about the result it simulates. Make
believe, as well as you know how, and the
probability is that you will not even know when the
transition from pretended to real interest comes.
And fortunately, the children never know the
difference. They have not that psychological
infallibility which is often attributed to them.
They might, indeed, detect a pretence which
continued through a whole tale; but that is so
seldom necessary that it needs little consideration.
So then: enjoy your story; be interested in
it,--if you possibly can; and if you cannot,
pretend to be, till the very pretence brings
about the virtue you have assumed.
There is much else which might be said and
urged regarding the method of story-telling, even
without encroaching on the domain of personal
variations. A whole chapter might, for example,
be devoted to voice and enunciation, and then
leave the subject fertile. But voice and enunciation
are after all merely single manifestations of
degree and quality of culture, of taste, and of
natural gift. No set rules can bring charm of
voice and speech to a person whose feeling and
habitual point of view are fundamentally wrong;
the person whose habitual feeling and mental
attitude are fundamentally right needs few or no
rules. As the whole matter of story-telling is
in the first instance an expression of the complex
personal product, so will this feature of it
vary in perfection according to the beauty and
culture of the human mechanism manifesting it.
A few generally applicable suggestions may,
however, be useful,--always assuming the story-
teller to have the fundamental qualifications of
fine and wholesome habit. These are not rules
for the art of speaking; they are merely some
practical considerations regarding speaking to
First, I would reiterate my earlier advice, be
simple. Affectation is the worst enemy of voice
and enunciation alike. Slovenly enunciation is
certainly very dreadful, but the unregenerate
may be pardoned if they prefer it to the
affected mouthing which some over-nice people
without due sense of values expend on every
syllable which is so unlucky as to fall between
Next I would urge avoidance of a fault very
common with those who speak much in large
rooms,--the mistaken effort at loudness. This
results in tightening and straining the throat,
finally producing nasal head-tones or a voice
of metallic harshness. And it is entirely
unnecessary. There is no need to speak loudly.
The ordinary schoolroom needs no vocal effort.
A hall seating three or four hundred persons
demands no effort whatever beyond a certain
clearness and definiteness of speech. A hall
seating from five to eight hundred needs more
skill in aiming the voice, but still demands no
It is indeed largely the psychological quality
of a tone that makes it reach in through the ear
to the comprehension. The quiet, clear, restful,
persuasive tone of a speaker who knows his
power goes straight home; but loud speech
confuses. Never speak loudly. In a small room,
speak as gently and easily as in conversation;
in a large room, think of the people farthest
away, and speak clearly, with a slight separation
between words, and with definite phrasing,--
aiming your MIND toward the distant listeners.
If one is conscious of nasality or throatiness
of voice, it certainly pays to study the subject
seriously with an intelligent teacher. But a
good, natural speaking-voice, free from extraordinary
vices, will fill all the requirements of
story-telling to small audiences, without other
attention than comes indirectly from following
the general principles of the art.
To sum it all up, then, let us say of the method
likely to bring success in telling stories, that it
includes sympathy, grasp, spontaneity: one
must appreciate the story, and know it; and
then, using the realising imagination as a
constant vivifying force, and dominated by the
mood of the story, one must tell it with all one's
might,--simply, vitally, joyously.
SOME SPECIFIC SCHOOLROOM USES OF STORY-TELLING
In Chapter II., I have tried to give my conception
of the general aim of story-telling in school.
From that conception, it is not difficult to deduce
certain specific uses. The one most plainly
intimated is that of a brief recreation period, a
feature which has proved valuable in many
classes. Less definitely implied, but not to be
ignored, was the use of the story during, or
accessory to, the lesson in science or history.
But more distinctive and valuable than these,
I think, is a specific use which I have recently
had the pleasure of seeing exemplified in great
completeness in the schools of Providence,
Some four years ago, the assistant superintendent
of schools of that city, Miss Ella L.
Sweeney, introduced a rather unusual and
extended application of the story in her primary
classes. While the experiment was in its early
stages, it was my good fortune to be allowed to
make suggestions for its development, and as
the devices in question were those I had been
accustomed to use as a pastime for children, I
was able to take some slight hand in the formative
work of its adoption as an educational
method. Carried out most ably by the teachers
to whom it was entrusted, the plan has evolved
into a more inclusive and systematic one than
was at first hoped for; it is one from which I
have been grateful to learn.
Tersely stated, the object of the general plan
is the freeing and developing of the power of
expression in the pupils.
I think there can be no need of dwelling on
the desirability of this result. The apathy and
"woodenness" of children under average modes
of pedagogy is apparent to anyone who is
interested enough to observe. In elementary
work, the most noticeable lack of natural
expression is probably in the reading classes; the
same drawback appears at a later stage in
English composition. But all along the line
every thoughtful teacher knows how difficult it
is to obtain spontaneous, creative reaction on
Story-telling has a real mission to perform in
setting free the natural creative expression of
children, and in vitalising the general atmosphere
of the school. The method in use for
this purpose in Providence (and probably elsewhere,
as ideas usually germinate in more than
one place at once) is a threefold GIVING BACK of
the story by the children. Two of the forms of
reproduction are familiar to many teachers; the
first is the obvious one of telling the story back
It is such fun to listen to a good story that
children remember it without effort, and later,
when asked if they can tell the story of The
Red-Headed Woodpecker or The little Red Hen,
they are as eager to try it as if it were a personal
experience which they were burning to
Each pupil, in the Providence classes, is given
a chance to try each story, at some time. Then
that one which each has told especially well is
allotted to him for his own particular story, on
which he has an especial claim thereafter.
It is surprising to note how comparatively
individual and distinctive the expression of
voice and manner becomes, after a short time.
The child instinctively emphasises the points
which appeal to him, and the element of fun in
it all helps to bring forgetfulness of self. The
main inflections and the general tenor of the
language, however, remain imitative, as is
natural with children. But this is a gain rather
than otherwise, for it is useful in forming good
habit. In no other part of her work, probably,
has a teacher so good a chance to foster in her
pupils pleasant habits of enunciation and voice.
And this is especially worth while ill the big
city schools, where so many children come from
homes where the English of the tenement is
I have since wished that every city primary
teacher could have visited with me the first-
grade room in Providence where the pupils were
German, Russian, or Polish Jews, and where
some of them had heard no English previous
to that year,--it being then May. The joy that
shone on their faces was nothing less than
radiance when the low-voiced teacher said,
"Would you like to tell these ladies some of
They told us their stories, and there was
truly not one told poorly or inexpressively; all
the children had learned something of the joy
of creative effort. But one little fellow stands
out in my memory beyond all the rest, yet as
a type of all the rest.
Rudolph was very small, and square, and
merry of eye; life was one eagerness and
expectancy to him. He knew no English beyond
that of one school year. But he stood
staunchly in his place and told me the story
of the Little Half Chick with an abandon and
bodily emphasis which left no doubt of his
sympathetic understanding of every word. The
depth of moral reproach in his tone was quite
beyond description when he said, "Little Half
Chick, little Half Chick, when I was in trubbul
you wouldn't help me!" He heartily relished
that repetition, and became more dramatic each
Through it all, in the tones of the tender little
voice, the sidewise pose of the neat dark head,
and the occasional use of a chubby pointing
finger, one could trace a vague reflection of
the teacher's manner. It was not strong
enough to dominate at all over the child's
personality, but it was strong enough to suggest
In different rooms, I was told The Half Chick,
The Little Red Hen, The Three Bears, The Red-
Headed Woodpecker, The Fox and the Grapes,
and many other simple stories, and in every
instance there was a noticeable degree of
spontaneity and command of expression.
When the reading classes were held, the
influence of this work was very visible. It had
crept into the teachers' method, as well as the
children's attitude. The story interest was still
paramount. In the discussion, in the teachers'
remarks, and in the actual reading, there was
a joyousness and an interest in the subject-
matter which totally precluded that preoccupation
with sounds and syllables so deadly to any
real progress in reading. There was less of the
mechanical in the reading than in any I had
heard in my visits to schools; but it was
The second form of giving back which has
proved a keen pleasure and a stimulus to growth
is a kind of "seat-work." The children are
allowed to make original illustrations of the
stories by cutting silhouette pictures.
It will be readily seen that no child can do
this without visualising each image very
perfectly. In the simplest and most unconscious
way possible, the small artists are developing
the power of conceiving and holding the concrete
image of an idea given, the power which
is at the bottom of all arts of expression.
Through the kindness of Miss Sweeney, I
am able to insert several of these illustrations.
They are entirely original, and were made without
any thought of such a use as this.
The pictures and the retelling are both
popular with children, but neither is as dear
to them as the third form of reproduction of
which I wish to speak. This third kind is
taken entirely on the ground of play, and no
visibly didactic element enters into it. It
consists simply of PLAYING THE STORY.
When a good story with a simple sequence
has been told, and while the children are still
athrill with the delight of it, they are told they
may play it.
"Who would like to be Red Riding Hood?"
says the teacher; up go the little girls' hands,
and Mary or Hannah or Gertrude is chosen.
"Who will be the wolf?" Johnny or Marcus
becomes the wolf. The kind woodchopper and
the mother are also happily distributed, for in
these little dramatic companies it is an all-star
cast, and no one realises any indignity in a
"Now, where shall we have little Red Riding
Hood's house? `Over in that corner,' Katie?
Very well, Riding Hood shall live over there.
And where shall the grandmother's cottage be?"
The children decide that it must be a long
distance through the wood,--half-way round
the schoolroom, in fact. The wolf selects the
spot where he will meet Red Riding Hood, and
the woodchopper chooses a position from which
he can rush in at the critical moment, to save
Red Riding Hood's life.
Then, with gusto good to see, they play the
game. The teacher makes no suggestions;
each actor creates his part. Some children
prove extremely expressive and facile, while
others are limited by nature. But each is left
to his spontaneous action.
In the course of several days several sets of
children have been allowed to try; then if any
of them are notably good in the several roles,
they are given an especial privilege in that
story, as was done with the retelling. When
a child expresses a part badly, the teacher
sometimes asks if anyone thinks of another
way to do it; from different examples offered,
the children then choose the one they prefer;
this is adopted. At no point is the teacher
apparently teaching. She lets the audience
teach itself and its actors.
The children played a good many stories
for me during my visit in Providence. Of
them all, Red Riding Hood, The Fox and the
Grapes, and The Lion and the Mouse were most
It will be long before the chief of the Little
Red Riding Hoods fades from my memory.
She had a dark, foreign little face, with a
good deal of darker hair tied back from it,
and brown, expressive hands. Her eyes were
so full of dancing lights that when they met
mine unexpectedly it was as if a chance
reflection had dazzled me. When she was told
that she might play, she came up for her riding
hood like an embodied delight, almost dancing
as she moved. (Her teacher used a few simple
elements of stage-setting for her stories, such
as bowls for the Bears, a cape for Riding
Hood, and so on.)
The game began at once. Riding Hood
started from the rear corner of the room,
basket on arm; her mother gave her strict
injunctions as to lingering on the way, and she
returned a respectful "Yes, mother." Then
she trotted round the aisle, greeting the wood-
chopper on the way, to the deep wood which
lay close by the teacher's desk. There master
wolf was waiting, and there the two held
converse,--master wolf very crafty indeed, Red
Riding Hood extremely polite. The wolf then
darted on ahead and crouched down in the
corner which represented grandmother's bed.
Riding Hood tripped sedately to the imaginary
door, and knocked. The familiar dialogue
followed, and with the words "the better to eat
you with, my dear!" the wolf clutched Red
Riding Hood, to eat her up. But we were
not forced to undergo the threatened scene of
horrid carnage, as the woodchopper opportunely
arrived, and stated calmly, "I will not
let you kill Little Red Riding Hood."
All was now happily culminated, and with
the chopper's grave injunction as to future
conduct in her ears, the rescued heroine tip-
toed out of the woods, to her seat.
I wanted to applaud, but I realised in the
nick of time that we were all playing, and
held my peace.
The Fox and the Grapes was more dramatically
done, but was given by a single child.
He was the chosen "fox" of another primary
room, and had the fair colouring and sturdy
frame which matched his Swedish name. He
was naturally dramatic. It was easy to see
that he instinctively visualised everything, and
this he did so strongly that he suggested to
the onlooker every detail of the scene.
He chose for his grape-trellis the rear wall
of the room.
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