The magic of storytelling without books

These days we place a lot of emphasis on reading with our children, and rightly so. But I can’t help feeling that the art of telling stories to our children (as opposed to reading stories to them) has been a little bit pushed aside. Making up stories – whether we are reworking an old classic or inventing a quirky tale of our own – is a wonderful way to help our children experience the magic and immediacy of imagination in action. It also gives parents the chance to adapt stories to the themes and issues most relevant to our own children.

When we read a story to children, our eyes are on the book and we are bound to the words on the page. When we tell a story to children, we can make eye contact with them, our hands and faces are free to be much more expressive and there is a wonderful sense of suspense: “Where will this story go? How will it end?” Usually nobody knows! As a result, children who might squirm and get distracted when you read a book to them often listen with rapt attention to an unknown unfolding story.

But because time is short, and parents’ brains are stretched, and storytelling is a bit of a lost art, lots of parents back away from making up stories. They simply don’t know where to start. “Tell me a story, Daddy!” is followed by a blank brain, or a jokey rush-through, or a dull rendition of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Or just reaching for a book….

Which is where Bill Adler Jr’s wonderful book Tell Me a Fairy Tale comes in. This is a book to help parents make up stories confidently and tell them imaginatively. It focuses on fairy tales, giving quick plot and character summaries of common fairy tales (and lots of lesser-known ones too), so that parents have a secure place to start their story. But the focus is on how you can adapt and change each story to make it your own – the details you might want to add, the different directions you might take the story in, and how you could tailor the plot twists and characters for different ages and interests.

Parents are encouraged to use the plots loosely and to deviate as much as they want, adding colour and changing settings. The aim is to provide the bare bones of a tale and inspire parents with the confidence to elaborate and make it personal.

Nothing beats the wonderful intimacy of snuggling up with a child for a story. When we have stories in our heads (and the confidence to tell them), that intimacy is totally portable – it can be generated anywhere, any time. And because stories from our heads aren’t fixed by words on a page, children can join in too, asking questions and adding their own details and plot twists. (If you are stuck for an idea, always ask for suggestions: “What do you think she did next?” and who knows where your story will go!).

So, if you find yourself backing away from telling stories, or never quite feel that you’ve done a good job, this might be the book for you. It would also make a brilliant present for a new parent!

Bill Adler Jr. Tell Me a Fairy Tale: A parent’s guide to telling mythical and magical stories

This is not a sponsored post. I was sent a free copy of this book to review and genuinely liked it. It does however contain affiliate links – see Disclosure Notice for more info.

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