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Book review
Storytelling with Children

Storytelling with Children

Second Edition 2009 (OUP)

By Andrew Wright

Review written by Wendy Arnold

As Liz Jones says in her review of the First Edition of ‘Storytelling with Children’ which was published in 1995 and reviewed in Developing, storytelling is not a new phenomenon in classrooms.  It has been an ‘effective and enjoyable’ activity, dare I say since the early days of man. It is still the main way of passing down culture/lore in many parts of the world where the spoken language does not have a written component e.g. some tribal languages in Africa.

The Second Edition of ‘Storytelling with Children’ is a ‘genuine’ new edition with at least 50% of the content changed. There are 13 new stories and lesson plans, as Andrew felt that there was a need to have more variety of cultural origin, as well as to introduce more mime and action drawing based stories (pages 62-133). If you fell in love with the First Edition, then the Second Edition of ‘Storytelling with Children’ will not disappoint!

At this point I will make a personal definition of ‘storytelling’ as contrasted with ‘story reading’. Storytelling is way beyond text on a page. It is the means of exploring concepts in many ways, which are personalized by the storyteller, thereby increasing understanding through various media e.g. voice, props, gestures etc. It is initially an absorbing listening activity which can then be developed into using the other linguistic skills. But foremost it engages the listener’s imagination and the more skillful the storyteller the myriads of ways to ‘tell a story’ (and retain the listeners attention) will be used (pages 20-28).  By contrast ‘story reading’ is usually decoding text/symbols on a page with no attempt to encode or make meaning with the listener/reader. One is multi-dimensional, whereas the other is rather flat.

Andrew says ‘The food we eat makes our bodies and the stories we hear make our minds’, this has powerful implications on what we as teacher/educators do in the classroom. We are one of the ‘mind shapers’ in a child’s life, Andrew goes on to imply that the act of making meaning of a story helps the child understand the world around them. How the child understands the world has consequences on how the child behaves in ‘his’ world. This again has strong inferences on our selection of materials/concepts to which the child is exposed.

Andrew has also included a ‘store of activities’ under the heading ‘purposes in activities’ at the beginning of the new edition (pages 31 -62), which can be used with any story. The key words being READINESS, FOCUSING, AND PREDICTING.

The guidelines section is the clearest addition in the new edition.  Each of the guideline sub sections is designed to introduce the ideas behind different types of activities which can be related to the use of stories. Some of these sub sections are simple, practical techniques related to stories, for example, ways of writing poems and of chanting, ways of using music, ways of dramatising.  There are also sub sections which offer practical suggestions for how stories can be placed at the centre of language learning for example, Cross-curricular topics and stories, Making a storyline (pages 133-179).

A wide range of language proficiency levels is catered for with special attention given to how children with a low language proficiency level in English can be helped to understand the stories and to respond to them reflectively and expressively (pages 11- 13, page 21, page 34 -37,  and others).

The characteristics which earned Storytelling with Children such acclaim and placed it in the category of ‘classic’ resource book for teachers of children have been kept.  There is…
- a rich and practical section of suggestions for how to tell and to read stories successfully (pages 9 -31)
- the store of activities (pages 31-62)
- the section of stories and lesson plans (pages 62 -133)

This quotation from an expert in the field (based on the First Edition of ‘Storytelling with children’) sums it all up:

…the stories were wonderful. I lent my copy to someone who didn’t return it. She returned all of the other books but not that one.  I also know that many of the teachers with whom I work have found it to be a ‘bible’ of sorts.
Caroline Linse

So keep track of your copy!

Another book by Andrew which dovetails perfectly includes:

Creating Stories with Children (OUP)


Wendy Arnold is a freelance teacher trainer and author. She is a specialist in reading for young learner literacy. She is also the IATEFL YLT SIG joint co-ordinator. Wendy

Storytelling with Children

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