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The child's connections to the universal power of story.

The storyteller is a powerful symbol in Pueblo lore. in figurative art, the storyteller may be female or male, but is always covered from head to toe with children who are drawn to the story. What is so compelling about story that an ancient culture and a modern world fashion a doll to symbolize the experience and tradition?

The Story of the Storyteller Doll

Many years ago, a little girl of the Cochiti Pueblo listened to Santiago Quintana, her beloved grandfather, as he told stories. Quintana was known as a gifted storyteller who shared true stories about his life and the tribal traditions he sought to preserve. His rich clear voice drew the children to him as he said, "Come children, it's time" (Babcock, Monthan & Monthan, 1990). Helen Cordero, his granddaughter, cherished these storytelling events. In 1964, at the age of 45, Cordero created her first storytelling doll as a tribute to her grandfather. While Cordero's storyteller forms were original, she was also reviving the ancient Cochiti tradition of figurative art (Babcock, Monthan & Monthan, 1990).

Cordero's symbolic representation of her grandfather depicts him telling stories with children sitting on his shoulders, knees, arms and legs. The success of Cordero's work inspired other Pueblo artists to make storyteller figures. This proliferation of storyteller dolls suggests that the other artists also remember a grandmother, grandfather or other important adult relating beloved stories of their culture.

The storyteller figures represent the power of story. Some people are blessed with a special gift for story, but the power of story is not totally dependent upon the storyteller's talent. Nor is it unique to Native American cultures. It is a universal power to remember, entertain, teach, inspire, create and know. The Power To Remember

"The power to remember" that we find in stories was well known to our ancestors, who passed along information by word of mouth. Folktales, legends and myths of the past have been passed down for centuries--preserved primarily because they were organized as easy-to-remember stories that could be told again and again. Children who are privileged to hear these stories internalize each story's structure. They can listen safe in the knowledge that after the second wish, a third will always come; after the witch performs some wickedness, a rescuer will save the day; after the fateful event, the animal is changed forever; and after the wrath of the powerful one, goodness will prevail. These ancient tales have endured because their tellers knew that the "mind organizes best in story form" (Egan, 1986).

Today's children remember these powerful old tales because adults have shared the "oft-told" stories over the centuries. Similarly, we link children to their elders by capturing the adults' "power to remember." Teachers everywhere are indebted to Eliott Wigginton and the Rabun GapNacoochee School in Georgia for the Foxfire series, a collection of lore and practical ideas gathered from the older residents of the North Georgia hills. Wigginton's students interviewed, photographed, observed and recounted the lives of a generation of "remember-ers," ensuring that their stories would not be forgotten. Wigginton's oral history and journalistic approach has been replicated many times in rural areas of Appalachia, Western pueblos, city barrios and ethnic neighborhoods. Through interviews and written accounts, the present generation has preserved the past generation's stories and learned the power of story as a way to remember.

The Power To Entertain

Laughing out loud or chuckling to himself, Pop always has a story ready. The phrase "That reminds me of the time ..." serves as a signal that he is about to begin a story. As the tale progresses, the children participate in the ritual by asking "And then what happened, Pop?" The tale might describe two young boys escaping hot summer farm work by dashing for the pond or an escapade in search of some sure-fire way to make money for the county fair. Regardless of the plot, Pop's humor, good-natured teasing, gestures and pauses draw the listeners into the story. A simple story becomes an entertainment event. The tales do not just entertain, however; they also capture another time and place that children would not and could not understand unless the storyteller tried to entertain. Entertaining stories in print are also used to entice young readers and capture their attention. The adventures of Frog and Toad (Lobel, 1972), the mischief of Curious George (Rey, 1941) and the mayhem of Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia (Parish, 1977) inspire the young child to read more. When a teacher pauses at an expectant moment, she encourages participation by her listeners, who ask, "And then what happened?" When young children begin to read, they often imitate their parents or teachers. Pretending to read, children tell about the picture or retell a memorized version and use the inflection and ritual they hear the adults use. They often pause and ask "And then what happened?" Drawn into the story by its entertainment value, the young child predicts how the story will unfold. The reader knows that Frog and Toad will always be friends, Curious George will always get into trouble and Amelia Bedelia will always get things confused. The stories consistently entertain and entice by building predictable structures, content and characters. Listeners and readers alike own the power of story to entertain.

The Power To Teach

Although storytelling is widely recommended as an effective teaching practice, it is not used on a regular basis (Cooter, 1991; Medina, 1986; Morrow, 1979; Nelson, 1989; Nessel, 1985; Peck, 1989; Roney, 1989). On the first weekend in October, however, thousands of teachers flock to historic Jonesborough, Tennessee, for the annual storytelling festival of the National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling (NAPPS). Jimmy Neal Smith (1992), a former teacher and executive director and founder of the festival, explains that the annual gathering is a celebration of story.

Inside a huge multicolored tent, teachers, families with children, librarians and scholars gather to hear an Irish storyteller with a Celtic harp, an Appalachian Jack tale spinner, an African American historian, a Western cowboy poet and South Carolina Gullahs. Beginning storytellers gather at "the swapping place" in the center of town and volunteer to tell stories to all passersby. Teachers timidly, then with increasing confidence, practice and refine their storytelling techniques.

All over the picturesque town, circus tents dot the hills and valleys. One tent houses hundreds of resource books on using stories to teach, collections of stories, and tapes of famous storytellers. One recent visitor, a father and teacher, purchased ten tapes of storytellers for his 8-year-old daughter to enjoy on their return journey.

The renewed interest in storytelling has led educators to think of story as a means to teach descriptive language, visual imagery, cultural appreciation, effective communication and emotional understanding. The story is valued for its aesthetic and creative influences on the learner. Teachers and children gain confidence from telling stories to an appreciative audience. At the same time, they teach the audience about history, story form and structure and the story's value as literature.

The Power To Inspire

From the pulpit, political podium and conference speaker's platform, stories inspire people. Newspaper editors and television journalists cover human interest stories in order to inspire the human race and remind us that violence, crime and disaster are not all that exists in our world. Teachers often relate inspiring stories to encourage specific qualities in their students. Stories of persistence, cooperation and bravery may inspire young children to accomplish difficult tasks, following the example of a real or imagined character. Stories are ways to teach morals in an entertaining and memorable format without preaching.

The Power To Create

Stories in and of themselves are creative ventures. Many young children's first adventures in storytelling are sketches of real life, embellished and told with breathless excitement. As children learn to be writers, they write the story as it actually happened and then enhance it for entertainment value. In these colorful, "embellished" versions of an event, children use realism and fantasy while maintaining the central theme and characters. Although the unique and original is valued, variations are accepted as appropriate for the sake of the story. Adults often tell "fish stories" that may be more exciting or amusing than the reality. Children's creative stories also require a willing suspension of disbelief.

Northrop Frye (1964) determined that stories are a primary means of developing an educated imagination. Stories may refine observations, change perceptions of the world and develop sensitivities. These expanded capabilities make the child aware of greater possibilities and provide the confidence needed to accept challenges. A good story engages children in a created world--providing a unique aesthetic experience (Vandergrift, 1980).

The Power To Know

Stories provide a way of knowing. A personal experience that evolves into a story helps children gain a sense of identity, control and connection with others. The story provides a means of exploring the world, as well as extending and exerting power over experiences. Through story, children learn how to organize the experiences that bombard them every day. Bettelheim (1976) explains that story provides the material children use to form their concepts of the world and the ideas they use to function in society.

In many Native American cultures, young children and adults sit together in the presence of a storyteller. The story is interpreted by the listener rather than the teller. The young Cherokee child who hears how the opossum got his skinny tail simply appreciates the humor. The older listener, however, understands the lesson about the peril of false pride. Interpretation depends upon the mind and life experiences of the listener. The story symbolizes a greater truth that the listener will grow to understand. After hearing the story many times at different ages, the listener will use the lesson to understand human nature. Summary

Helen Cordero's storyteller figures are a powerful tribute to her grandfather and a visible representation of the storyteller. We connect one generation to the next and thus strengthen cultures through traditional stories, poems, jokes and riddles. Stories teach values, bring reassurances and help children understand themselves. Through story, we charm, delight and captivate the imagination. Stories represent the power to remember, entertain, inspire, teach, create and know. They connect children to culture, past generations and truth. References

Babcock, B., Monthan, G., & Monthan, D. (1990). The Pueblo storyteller. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press.

Bettelheim, B. (1976). The uses of enchantment: The meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Cooter, R. B., Jr. (1991). Storytelling in the language arts classroom. Reading Research and Instruction, 30(2), 71-76.

Egan, K. (1986). Teaching as story telling: An alternative approach to teaching and curriculum in elementary school. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Frye, N. (1964). The educated imagination. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Lobel, A. (1972). Frog and Toad together. New York: Harper and Row.

Medina, E. B. (1986). Enhancing your curriculum through storytelling. Learning, 15(3), 58-61.

Morrow, L. (1979). Exciting children about literature through creative storytelling techniques. Language Arts, 56(3), 236-243.

Nelson, O. (1989). Storytelling: Language experience for meaning making. The Reading Teacher, 42(6), 386-390.

Nessel, D. (1985). Storytelling in the reading program. The Reading Teacher, 38(4), 378-381.

Parish, P. (1977). Teach us, Amelia Bedelia. New York: Greenwillow.

Peck, J. (1989). Using storytelling to promote language and literacy development. The Reading Teacher, 43(2), 138-141.

Rey, H. A. (1941). Curious George. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Roney, R. C. (1989). Back to the basics with storytelling. The Reading Teacher, 42(7), 520-523.

Smith, J. N. (1992). Telephone interview with Rebecca Isbell. Jonesborough, TN: National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling (NAPPS).

Vandergrift, K. (1980). Child and story: The literary connection. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Wigginton, E. (1968). The Foxfire Series. Garden City, NY: Anchor.

Shirley C. Raines is Professor and Chairperson, Department of Childhood/Language Arts/Reading Education, University of South Florida, Tampa. Rebecca T. Isbell is Professor, Human Development and Learning, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City.
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Author:Isbell, Rebecca T.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Mar 22, 1994
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