Professional Storyteller

Share a Story - Change the World

To tell or not to tell? - that is the question

I recently was preparing for a storytelling concert in which the theme was kindness and Bucket Filling. For those of you that don’t know what Bucket Filling is, it is based on a book by Carol McCloud, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? To fill a bucket one does things that makes others feel good about themselves. It can be anything from complimenting them to just smiling at them. You can fill your own bucket also. That usually happens by filling someone else’s bucket. The opposite of a bucket filler is a bucket dipper. That happens when you take away from someone’s good feelings. Bullies are bucket dippers.

With that as the theme for my program I did my usual research to find stories that I already tell and new ones that fit the theme. One of those new stories I chose was ‘More Than a Match’ by Aaron Shepard. Aaron gives permission for storytellers to tell this story. The story takes place on the road between the cities of Here and There. A giant blocks the road. When the king’s most powerful warriors are defeated by the giant, the Wise One discovers the giant’s true power (the giant’s father is the wind and mother a curved mirror so he shows whatever he sees reflected back) and through kindness learns how to defeat the giant and get his help. Aaron states on his website that this story is suited for ages 5-12 and adult.

As is my usual practice when learning and telling new material, I go to my local schools and practice on willing classes. Since this performance was going to be for grades 1-2 and 3-4, I decided to practice on classes within that age range.

The first class I practiced with was a 3rd grade class. After telling the story the teacher asked the class how the giant was defeated and with a little prompting was able to get the mirror analogy from a student. My second class was also a 3rd grade class. They however could not get the analogy and therefore did not understand the underlying meaning of the story. There were two reasons that they didn’t get the story. One was that the analogy of a mirror was probably too abstract for them. And two, I used a wrong term when describing how the giant helped the Wise One.

When the Wise One figures out that the giant is just a reflection of what is shown him, he offers the giant a ride the rest of the way to There. The giant then responds by lifting up the Wise One, his horse and wagon and transporting them to There (having reflected back and outdoing the offer of a ride). My mistake with this class was that I said that the Wise One offered ‘a lift’ to the giant to There. Offering a lift and offering a ride are synonymous to me. What I didn’t plan on was that 3rd graders had never heard the phrase, “Can I give you lift?” Especially when you put it in the context of the giant’s reaction, which was to lift up the Wise One and take him to There. This compounded the abstractness of the story, which is why when asked, “What would you do to defeat the Giant?” we got answers such as: “Wrestle him”, “Sneak around him”, and “Challenge him to a hockey game.”

Now comes the dilemma. Both classes loved the story. It was too abstract for them. Is it worth the telling of a story that is above the level of most kids understanding? This promoted a wide range of opinions on the Storytell listserv. Everything from only using this story with older students because it is more suited to them to tweak the envelope; let the students enjoy the story and someday they’ll get it.

Though I agreed that the abstract meaning was above younger children, I remembered back to my teaching days, when I did lessons that were clearly above students’ heads. The foundations for that learning were planted by my lessons. Years later as those ideas were taught again through other venues by other teachers, my lessons were remembered. The connections were made and they realized it. So why not with story. Remember, the kids liked the tale.

I tried the story again with a 2nd grade and a 1st grade class. This time I did some activities before I told the story where I had the students become mirrors and mirror my actions. I didn’t tell them that it was important to the story I was going to tell; it was just a fun thing to do.

The reaction this time when I told the story was different. In two different classes, individual students made the connection while I was telling the story about what the giant was doing. One student called out “That’s why we did the mirror stuff” and in the other class a student called out, “the giant is a copy-cat”. Once verbalized by a student out loud, I could see little flickers of understanding in a number of other students. These students were younger than the first groups I had told to.

I did finally end up performing the story to my first and second grade audience. Did they all get it? Probably not. Did they connect the copy-cat piece to how the Wise One solved the problem? I would guess that most of them at that age didn’t. But they still loved the story. And someday, when they either hear it again or hear a similar story, I’m pretty hopeful that they will say, “Hey that is just like that story Mr. Heilbrun told us in first grade!”

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Tags: Storytelling, abstract, thinking

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