How To Tell Stories To Children And Some Stories To Tell
Sara Cone Bryant

Part 5 out of 5

been prepared. They were written on clean,
new slips of paper, and they were:--

France: Alsace.
France: Alsace.

All up and down the aisles they hung out from
the desks like little banners, waving--

France: Alsace.
France: Alsace.

And everybody worked with all his might,--
not a sound could you hear but the scratching
of pens on the "France: Alsace."

Even the little ones bent over their up and
down strokes with their tongues stuck out to
help them work.

After the writing came the reading lesson,
and the little ones sang their ba, be, bi, bo, bu.

Right in the midst of it, Franz heard a curious
sound, a big deep voice mingling with the
children's voices. He turned round, and there,
on the bench in the back of the room, the old
blacksmith sat with a big A B C book open on
his knees. It was his voice Franz had heard.
He was saying the sounds with the little
children,--ba, be, bi, bo, bu. His voice sounded
so odd, with the little voices,--so very odd,--it
made little Franz feel queer. It seemed so
funny that he thought he would laugh; then he
thought he wouldn't laugh, he felt--he felt
very queer.

So it went on with the lessons; they had
them all. And then, suddenly, the town clock
struck noon. And at the same time they heard
the tramp of the Prussians' feet, coming back
from drill.

It was time to close school.

The master stood up. He was very pale.
Little Franz had never seen him look so tall.
He said: "My children--my children"--but something
choked him; he could not go on. Instead he
turned and went to the blackboard and took up
a piece of chalk. And then he wrote, high up,
in big white letters, "Vive la France!"

And he made a little sign to them with his
head, "That is all; go away."


There was once a nation which was very
powerful, very fortunate, and very proud. Its
lands were fruitful; its armies were victorious
in battle; and it had strong kings, wise lawgivers,
and great poets. But after a great many
years, everything changed. The nation had no
more strong kings, no more wise lawgivers; its
armies were beaten in battle, and neighbouring
tribes conquered the country and took the
fruitful lands; there were no more poets except
a few who made songs of lamentation. The
people had become a captive and humiliated
people; and the bitterest part of all its sadness
was the memory of past greatness.

But in all the years of failure and humiliation,
there was one thing which kept this people from
despair; one hope lived in their hearts and kept
them from utter misery. It was a hope which
came from something one of the great poets of
the past had said, in prophecy. This prophecy
was whispered in the homes of the poor, taught
in the churches, repeated from father to son
among the rich; it was like a deep, hidden well
of comfort in a desert of suffering. The prophecy
said that some time a deliverer should be born
for the nation, a new king even stronger than
the old ones, mighty enough to conquer its
enemies, set it free, and bring back the splendid
days of old. This was the hope and expectation
all the people looked for; they waited through
the years for the prophecy to come true.

In this nation, in a little country town, lived
a man and a woman whose names were Joseph
and Mary. And it happened, one year, that
they had to take a little journey up to the town
which was the nearest tax-centre, to have their
names put on the census list; because that was
the custom in that country.

But when they got to the town, so many
others were there for the same thing, and it was
such a small town, that every place was crowded.
There was no room for them at the inn. Finally
the innkeeper said they might sleep in the stable
on the straw. So they went there for the night.

And while they were there, in the stable, their
first child was born to them, a little son. And
because there was no cradle to put Him in, the
mother made a little warm nest of the hay in
the big wooden manger where the oxen had
eaten, and wrapped the baby in swaddling
clothes, and laid Him in the manger, for a bed!

That same night, on the hills outside the
town, there were shepherds, keeping their
flocks through the darkness. They were tired
with watching over the sheep, and they stood or
sat about, drowsily, talking and watching the
stars. And as they watched, behold, an angel
of the Lord appeared unto them! And the
glory of the Lord shone round about them!
And they were sore afraid. But the angel said
unto them, "Fear not, for behold I bring you
good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all
people. For unto you is born, this day, in the city
of David, a saviour,--which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find
the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying
in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel a
multitude of the heavenly host, praising God,
and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and
on earth peace, good will toward men."

When the angels were gone up from them into
heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let
us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this
thing which is come to pass, which the Lord
hath made known unto us." And they came,
with haste, and they found Mary, and Joseph,
and the babe lying in a manger. And when
they saw Him in the manger, they knew that
the wonderful thing the angel said had really
happened, and that the great deliverer was born
at last.


"It is the grown people who make the nursery
stories," wrote Stevenson, "all the children
do is jealously to preserve the text." And the
grown person, whether he makes his stories
with pen or with tongue, should bring two
qualities at least to the work--simplicity of
language and a serious sincerity. The reason
for the simplicity is obvious, for no one, child or
otherwise, can thoroughly enjoy a story clouded
by words which convey no meaning to him.

The second quality is less obvious but equally
necessary. No absence of fun is intended by
the words "serious sincerity," but they mean
that the story-teller should bring to the child an
equal interest in what is about to be told; an
honest acceptance, for the time being, of the
fairies, or the heroes, or the children, or the
animals who talk, with which the tale is
concerned. The child deserves this equality of
standpoint, and without it there can be no entire

As for the stories themselves, the difficulty
lies with the material, not with the CHILD. Styles
may be varied generously, but the matter must
be quarried for. Out of a hundred children's
books it is more than likely that ninety-nine will
be useless; yet perhaps out of one autobiography
may be gleaned an anecdote, or a reminiscence
which can be amplified into an absorbing tale.
Almost every story-teller will find that the open
eye and ear will serve him better than much
arduous searching. No one book will yield him
the increase to his repertoire which will come to
him by listening, by browsing in chance volumes
and magazines, and even newspapers, by observing
everyday life, and in all remembering his own
youth, and his youthful, waiting audience.

And that youthful audience? A rather too
common mistake is made in allowing overmuch
for the creative imagination of the normal child.
It is not creative imagination which the normal
child possesses so much as an enormous credulity
and no limitations. If we consider for a
moment we see that there has been little or
nothing to limit things for him, therefore
anything is possible. It is the years of our life as
they come which narrow our fancies and set a
bound to our beliefs; for experience has taught
us that for the most part a certain cause will
produce a certain effect. The child, on the
contrary, has but little knowledge of causes, and as
yet but an imperfect realisation of effects. If
we, for instance, go into the midst of a savage
country, we know that there is the chance of
our meeting a savage. But to the young child
it is quite as possible to meet a Red Indian
coming round the bend of the brook at the
bottom of the orchard, as it is to meet him in
his own wigwam.

The child is an adept at make-believe, but his
make-believes are, as a rule, practical and serious.
It is credulity rather than imagination which
helps him. He takes the tales he has been TOLD,
the facts he has observed, and for the most part
reproduces them to the best of his ability. And
"nothing," as Stevenson says, "can stagger a
child's faith; he accepts the clumsiest substitutes
and can swallow the most staring incongruities.
The chair he has just been besieging as a castle is
taken away for the accommodation of a morning
visitor and he is nothing abashed; he can skirmish
by the hour with a stationary coal-scuttle;
in the midst of the enchanted pleasuance he can
see, without sensible shock, the gardener soberly
digging potatoes for the day's dinner."

The child, in fact, is neither undeveloped
"grown-up" nor unspoiled angel. Perhaps he
has a dash of both, but most of all he is
akin to the grown person who dreams. With
the dreamer and with the child there is that
unquestioning acceptance of circumstances as they
arise, however unusual and disconcerting they
may be. In dreams the wildest, most improbable
and fantastic things happen, but they are
not so to the dreamer. The veriest cynic amongst
us must take his dreams seriously and without
a sneer, whether he is forced to leap from
the edge of a precipice, whether he finds himself
utterly incapable of packing his trunk in time
for the train, whether in spite of his distress at
the impropriety, he finds himself at a dinner-
party minus his collar, or whether the riches of
El Dorado are laid at his feet. For him at the
time it is all quite real and harassingly or
splendidly important.

To the child and to the dreamer all things are
possible; frogs may talk, bears may be turned
into princes, gallant tailors may overcome giants,
fir-trees may be filled with ambitions. A chair
may become a horse, a chest of drawers a coach
and six, a hearthrug a battlefield, a newspaper
a crown of gold. And these are facts which the
story-teller must realise, and choose and shape
the stories accordingly.

Many an old book, which to a modern grown
person may seem prim and over-rigid, will be
to the child a delight; for him the primness
and the severity slip away, the story remains.
Such a book as Mrs Sherwood's Fairchild Family
is an example of this. To a grown person
reading it for the first time, the loafing
propensities of the immaculate Mrs Fairchild, who
never does a hand's turn of good work for anyone
from cover to cover, the hard piety, the
snobbishness, the brutality of taking the children
to the old gallows and seating them before the
dangling remains of a murderer, while the lesson
of brotherly love is impressed are shocking
when they are not amusing; but to the child
the doings of the naughty and repentant little
Fairchilds are engrossing; and experience proves
to us that the twentieth-century child is as eager
for the book as were ever his nineteenth-century
grandfather and grandmother.

Good Mrs Timmin's History of the Robins,
too, is a continuous delight; and from its
pompous and high-sounding dialogue a skilful
adapter may glean not only one story, but one
story with two versions; for the infant of
eighteen months can follow the narrative of the
joys and troubles, errors and kindnesses of
Robin, Dicky, Flopsy and Pecksy; while the
child of five or ten or even more will be keenly
interested in a fuller account of the birds'
adventures and the development of their several
characters and those of their human friends and

From these two books, from Miss Edgeworth's
wonderful Moral Tales; from Miss Wetherell's
delightful volume Mr Rutherford's Children;
from Jane and Ann Taylor's Original Poems;
from Thomas Day's Sandford and Merton; from
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Lamb's Tales
from Shakespeare, and from many another old
friend, stories may be gathered, but the story
teller will find that in almost all cases
adaptation is a necessity. The joy of the hunt,
however, is a real joy, and with a field which
stretches from the myths of Greece to Uncle
Remus, from Le Morte d'Arthur to the Jungle
Books, there need be no more lack of pleasure
for the seeker than for the receiver of the spoil.

End of


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