Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fun with String (and handkerchiefs and paper)

The twenty or so grown women (and one man) who attended Anne Pellowski's storytelling workshop at UCLA last Friday went through several moments of feeling about eight years old as we tangled string around our fingers, folded up paper, and tried to turn handkerchiefs into bunnies and babies rather then grubby wads.

Between our bumbling but oh-so-satisfying attempts to tell stories with these objects, Anne told stories using Matrushka dolls, pencil and paper, felt figures, an mbira, and even vegetables (a tale from Japan that relates all the excuses various fruits and veggies have for not visiting poor, sick Tofu in the hospital). She also showed us Indonesian scroll stories, Kamishibi story sets from Japan, Indian story cloths, and palm leaf picture books.*

What is so enticing about the stories Anne taught us is that the combination of simple story and prop creates a magic that is almost mystifying. You should have heard us gasp when Anne created a mosquito out of a piece of string and then swatted it out of existence or when a handkerchief became two babies rocking in a cradle. And when we had learned (rather laboriously - we were not quick studies, I have to say) to do it ourselves, I think we all wanted to jump right up and go show someone our new trick.

My mother, who started out as a children's librarian herself, told me plenty of stories when I was a child, and I remember the exact day I began telling stories in earnest to my own kids, during a long walk in Yosemite when my older daughter Vivian was 2 years old and I wanted to keep her mind off her tired feet. We started with Little Red Riding Hood and went through every story I could think of until we arrived back at the lodge. That was excellent practice for telling stories at storytime, at family programs, and during visits to classrooms, and to this day, I practice telling stories to my younger daughter, who is now 15 but has always been an avid audience.

I'll be teaching Storytelling at UCLA's library school next spring - I can't wait to teach my students to make mosquitos and bunnies!

*To find these stories and more, check out the following books by Anne Pellowski:

1 comment:

  1. Anne Pellowski is a national -- no, an international -- treasure.