The image that comes to mind with the word storytelling is that of an elder, a parent, a teacher, an “ate” or a “kuya” holding an open book to a listening child or to a group of young people. The story is read aloud from the book of choice that has illustrations aiding the storyteller in the dramatic narration of the story. The storyteller would then add body movements, a chant or a song, and would use the given space for theatrical effects. All of these efforts by the storyteller are directed to achieve engagement and interaction with the audience.
This storytelling technique is known as Book-Based Storytelling, a hybrid of storytelling and reading aloud. Thank you to the ingenious Filipino storyteller for this invention. Book-Based Storytelling as a means to promote the book and to model the reading habit, deriving entertainment or the element of fun in the process is here to stay. In recent years, Book-Based Storytelling has been the norm in many activities that promote reading and in events that campaign for literacy development. In storytelling contests in schools, libraries and book fairs, adult and child contestants hold a book while telling a story. This technique has indeed become an accepted practice, however, there are teachers and librarians who argue that it is reading aloud and not storytelling.
Storytelling is rooted from the oral tradition. It is a living art. Natural. Spontaneous. Unscripted. A Read Aloud is reading a story from a book loud enough for a listening child or a group of kids to hear the story. Storytelling is a way to preserve oral history and personal stories of peoples. A Read Aloud celebrates the written word and the dynamics of language structures. Storytelling is a performance art not limited to the narration of stories but inclusive of music, dance and theatre arts. A Read Aloud is a good technique to teach children how to read and to love the printed book at an early age. Each has a purpose and a function. A storyteller should be wise enough to know when to use one from the other.
Nonetheless, who are we to stop Filipino storytellers adept at combining both techniques in an experience that is educational and entertaining? Then again, here is a caveat. The frequent use of Book-Based Storytelling may lead the storyteller into complacency leaving the listener bored and disengaged. Instead of inspiring the listener to imagine, to create and to play with words and visuals that the mind can conjure, the storyteller’s execution of the storytelling becomes a canned production.
Storytellers are also artists who share the responsibility of keeping humanity’s sense of wonder alive and well.
I believe that Book-Based Storytelling has its benefits, but using a variety of styles and different manner of communicating a story, especially to children, is good for the soul. Allow me to share a selection of “out of the books” storytelling techniques. I learned them from storytellers I have met in festivals, conferences and book fairs here and overseas.
They are called “out of the books” because the techniques do not use printed books in storytelling. These techniques trace their origin in oral tradition, in folklore and in traditional games that children from around the world play and enjoy.
Storyknifing or Draw and Tell
A story knife is a blunt piece of wood used by young Eskimo girls to draw on the mud while talking about their drawings to friends around a story circle. Young Native American Indians use a knife to carve images on barks of trees that narrate their adventures and experiences in the fields or during hunting trips. In modern day classrooms, teachers use chalk or whiteboard markers on the blackboard or whiteboard to draw ideas and concepts that are too big or difficult to express in words.
Storyknifing or Draw and Tell is the technique where a storyteller draws while he or she tells a story. There are many patterns that can be used and these are available online. One Draw and Tell story I remember to this day is Bingo, the Dog. (Attached is the drawing and the accompanying story or text)
Cut and Tell
This technique makes use of paper, scissors and a story. For younger audiences, the storyteller can use his or her hands to tear away parts of the paper when telling. My favorite Cut and Tell story is Joseph and His Overcoat. I learned this story and technique from a dear friend, Fil-Am storyteller, Dianne de Las Casas (+)
Kami is Japanese for paper and shibai means play or drama. Kamishibai storytelling is the use of flashcards, 12-20 pieces inside a box known as Kamishibai Theatre box. The storyteller pulls out each card as he or she narrates the story. This style of storytelling was a fad in Japan in the 1920s but soon diminished as the tradition of visual storytelling using picture cards was replaced by television and video games.
Parents and early grades teachers can easily create story flashcards by first selecting a story for the listening child or for the class. Five to ten flashcards are a good starting point. Divide the story accordingly to the number of flashcards. Illustrate or draw each part of the story and color them. Many Kamishibai have story guides at the back. The idea, however, is for the storyteller to fluidly tell the story using the flashcards and the theatre box without looking at the guide written at the back of each card.
Use of props like handkerchief and malong
Remember the many folding games we played using handkerchiefs when we were children? Cat’s cradle. A bandana. A table napkin that looks like a candle. A folded boy or person which can be turned into a puppet. These can all be used in telling stories.
The malong is another tool for storytelling. Wrap it around your head as a cap or crown. Wear it around your body as clothes. Tie both ends and carry it like a bag. Place the malong around your waist like a skirt. Use them all to tell stories, especially those that come from Mindanao.
Use of hands and Finger Plays
When storytellers narrate a story, it is inevitable that they use their hands, arms and even shoulders. Body parts are props. The entire body is a tool for telling and communicating stories. Make use of your hands and fingers in the classroom or at home when telling stories. A well loved storytelling and Finger Play technique I use in my sessions is Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle. (See the illustrations/directions with accompanying story and text.)
These five “out of the books” storytelling are but a few of the many techniques available out there for use by teachers, parents and librarians during story time. Knowing different strategies keep the creative juices flowing. But, knowing your audience and the appropriate time, event or occasion to use these techniques can also spell the success of a storytelling session. Have fun!
de Las Casas, Dianne. Handmade Tales: Stories to Make and Take. Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.
Feldman, Jean. Best of Dr. Jean Feldman Puppets & Storytime: More Than 100 Delightful, Skill Building Ideas and Activities for Early Learners. New York: Scholastic, 2005.