Stories in My Pocket: Tales Kids Can Tell by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss. Golden, Co: Fulcrum, 1996. .ISBN 1-55591-957-X $15.95 184 pp.
It's great to see another book by Hamilton and Weiss, a husband and wife storytelling duo known as Beauty and the Beast Storytellers. Their first, Children Tell Stories; A Teaching Guide (Richard C. Owen Publishers, 1990) is a wonderful book which I have recommended to more teachers and school boards than I care to count.
This book, although it has a section for adults who work with children, is aimed at the child. It begins with an introduction to storytelling, and tips on how to choose, learn, and tell stories. Much of this part will be familiar to anyone who has used their first book, but here, of course, it is written for the child teller. There are excellent tips, exercises, tricks and techniques suggested.
The main part of the book is devoted to thirty stories which Martha and Mitch have selected and divided into four sections: Starter Stories; Next Step Stories; Challenging Stories; and Most Challenging Stories. Most of them are familiar world folktales retold by the authors. The text of the tales appears on the left side of the page, and suggestions for telling appear on the right. The suggestions include gestures, ways to personalize a locale, and how to sound and look ascertain phrases are said.
Although they are written as instructions (Do this with your hands, say the line in this type of voice) the authors are careful to point out that these are suggestions only. Some people, they say, may want to use more, others less because each person has his/her own style. I'm glad they made that point, and I hope the children heed it. A lot of possible gestures are listed. If a child incorporates all of them into a story it might be overwhelming for the listeners. Following the suggestions as written will also result in the story being interpreted the same way by every child who chooses to tell it. Knowing how children will follow suggestions as if they were rules, I wonder if it might have been a good idea, from time to time, to put more in the hands of the teller. For instance, in the story Wait Till Whalem Balem Comes, the instruction is given "Say this slowly. Rub your hands together and sound evil." Perhaps the authors might have asked "How can you make this character look and sound threatening?" Used in conjunction with the other, more specific instructions, such questions might work as a powerful teaching tool.
There are brief introductions to each story which identify the genre of story, or give tips on when it might be told, or what it might inspire. Within the text, certain words are in bold print indicating that they may call for more emphasis.
A final section for the young readers is designed to help them choose other stories on their own. It lists the elements of a good story for telling and then provides a bibliography. The last thirty pages of the book provide guidelines for adults helping children tell stories. Some of this material reinforces the tips for children given at the beginning of the book. There is also information on dealing with stage fright, critiquing child tellers, teaching audience manners, use of props, settings for telling, creating storytelling events, and the all important page on fostering telling in the family.
At first I resented the inclusion of the material aimed at adults since thought it took away from the book as one which was designed and intended for child use. However, I am sure it will be invaluable to the teachers, parents and group leaders who will be making this book available to their children, and probably using it with them. School and public libraries will want to be sure to have this one on hand.
Fulcrum Publishing 350 Indiana Street, Suite 350, Golden, CO 80401 00992-2908 303277-1623
The Second Story Review, Vol 1, No. 4, December 1996