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The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is indeed an art. But once parents master this art, it pays to use one's imagination. I had evolved my own strategies of story telling, first for my children and later the grandchildren.

During my early school years, our grandmother told us stories from our epics.  My sister and myself would sit on the threshold of the kitchen door with a book in our hands, and she would narrate stories. It never bothered us that she was not sitting next to us or that the pictures in the books were not attractive. It was the story that mattered. Whenever we had a query, she used to cast a backward glance and continue the story. In the present context cultural, this is no storytelling. Eye contact is a must with today's children. My grandson demands that I sit next to him while telling the story from his book, which is very attractive and colourful. He also wants me to ask him questions. Further, he wants me to mimic while I am reading.

With the growth of nuclear families, parents find it difficult to come up with original ideas of telling good stories. However, Indian fables, myths, folktales and epics provide an incredible source of children's stories. Therefore, we must ourselves read enough stories to find what appeals to our children . We should not forget that voice modulation and mimicking is more enjoyable for children than the mere content.

One-lined picture book stories are the ones that are most appealing to the two to three year-old kids. There is paucity of such books in our country. The Dr Seuss Books (USA) and Scholastic Books for kids have become very popular in the United States, mainly due to eye-catchy visuals.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears (England),  Little Red Riding Hood (Germany) and Cinderella  (France) Punyakoti (India) are
examples of folktales. All these stories exist in many versions.  The
formula for all folktales is the same. Characters and  problems are introduced, an obstacle is set up, and a resolution ends the story. Usually folktales are devoid of long descriptive passages and concentrate almost entirely on plot. They rely on a single theme like triumph of good over evil or a poor man outwitting a rich man.

Repetitive tales:
Repetition is particularly popular with the young.  Typical of the repetitive story is the familiar Ginger Bread Man story.  The hero repeats, 'Run, run as fast as you can! You can't catch me I am the Gingerbread man'.  A similar story is told in our own country called The Crow and The Sparrow story. The crow asks the sparrow to open the door and the sparrow gives many reasons for not responding. 

Animal tales:
These deal with animal exhibiting human faults and qualities, so that children can identify with them easily. Nowadays many of the popular cartoon characters that have taken over Indian television are animals. Quick movements and violent actions of these characters have a hypnotic effect on children and I would not advise them to get addicted to
viewing them for more than 15 minutes at a stretch.

How and why stories:
These are called 'pourquoi' stories. Most of these stories are closely related to myths.  They tell us why an eclipse occurs, or why the sun and moon live in the sky etc.  While the eclipse story is taken from the Hindu mythology with Rahu and Ketu as characters, the latter one originates from Africa.  A charming Chinese story tells, `How the Camel Got His Proud Look' and a Norwegian story explains 'Why Sea Water is Salty'.

Literary tales: 
These stories are more appropriate for the older children. For instance, the fantasies of Hans Anderson or the Greek collection of Aesop's Fables are enjoyed by children and even adults the world over. Aesop was a Greek slave who lived about sixth century BC.
Fables of India:  The 'Panchatantra' stories contain the earliest recorded fables of India originating prior to sixth century BC.  The 'Hitopadesha' is another rearrangement of 'The Panchatantra' with a few additional stories that dates from the tenth century.  Next come the 500 'Jataka Tales' which are a series of animal stories describing the lessons of life that Gautama Buddha preached.

Myths are attempts of primitive people to explain the nature of the world around them. Many of them are a part of religions and ancient cultures. Since they relate to mythology and religion, they are a bit  heavy to understand. But, the interplay of human emotions in these myths have universal appeal. 

  • Hindu mythology:

  • The Ramayana and Mahabharata form the backbone of  Hindu heritage. They have many stories within themselves which immensely appeal to kids of all times. Every kid has a rough idea of  these epics. And parents can weave some original modern-day stories around them. 
  • Greek and  Roman mythology:

  • Stories of Gods and heroes of ancient Greece and Rome are among a storyteller's favorite myths. There is abundant action, complex characters in these myths which comment on human and divine foibles. They also explain the natural phenomena of birth and death.

  • English myths: 
    Robin Hood, the brave do-gooder, is one of the favourite icons of children. He is a popular myth appealing to kids of all ages. King Arthur is another hero in the long series of medieval romances.

A legend, close to a myth, relates to the history of a culture. The story usually revolves around an incident that is believed to have taken place in reality.

All these and much more!  We can enthrall children with stories made up at the spur of the moment. Stories which will inculcate the right values in them.

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