Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Magic of Storytelling - Joanne Rock

During a recent writing snap in a local Starbucks, I fell into conversation with a man curious about my flying fingers and my AlphaSmart. He gave me a nice compliment after hearing what I did for a living. Toasting me with his coffee cup on the way out the door, he said, “Wow! I love storytellers!”

Well, I liked that sentiment. To be described as a “storyteller” was a special treat for me, since I quite like storytellers too. I tend to think of storytellers as people who relate stories orally. They draw their audience in with the same techniques ancient cultures used when they shared tales around a campfire. Hearing a story was often a shared event, and the task of the telling was given to someone who could create magic with words to hold their audience spellbound.

Chances are you know someone who can do this. Who in your life tells stories with flare? Someone in your family or in your office? It’s the person who can find an interesting anecdote about most anything, the person who can read an audience so that they spice up the details for some listeners, and play up the humor for others.

My dad is like this. I’ve heard the story of how he and his childhood friend Freddy tried to fix an old rowboat that washed up on the shore of the river near my dad’s house. I could summarize the highlights in a sentence or two. The plot isn’t the point. It’s the fun of how they get there, the details of two WWII-era kids whipping up something out of nothing, using hot tar pilfered off nearby asphalt to patch the cracks in a hopelessly cracked vessel.

It’s a story I don’t get tired of. And while I’ve never felt like the kind of storyteller who can hold a live audience captive, I like to think I inherited a bit of dad’s magic applied to paper.

One of my favorite descriptions of what a storyteller does comes at the end of the gorgeous book, Women Who Run with the Wolves. Author and cantadora Clarissa Pinkola Estes explains, “Whenever a fairy tale is told, it becomes night. No matter where the dwelling, no matter the time, the telling of tales causes a starry sky and a white moon to creep from the eaves and hover over the heads of the listeners.” Beautiful, isn’t? I love storytellers.

***Is there a story a friend tells that you know by heart... and you still enjoy hearing? How about a book that was read out loud to you as a child that still brings you pleasure to hear or to tell aloud? (All in favor of Goodnight Moon??) I'll giveaway a signed copy of one of my 2009 releases -- winner's choice-- to one random poster this week.***


Donna Alward said...

Joanne - I saw an interview with Debbie Macomber last night where she talked about being good at storytelling and learning the writing. It really hit a chord because I think of myself more as a storyteller in a lot of ways.

I don't think I have favorite read-aloud books because there are simply too many. My eldest is 11 and so I have been reading out loud to my kids for 11 years. I love it. I love spending that time with them, love how they laugh when I change my voice for characters, or drama, or humor...

Great post!

Cherie J said...

Wonderful post! I can think of one book off the bat that I treasured so much as a child that I had to get a copy to read to my kids. The book is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I want my 6 year old son and 2 year old daughter to enjoy it as much as I did. I am hoping when they have children of their own they will want to read it to them since it is a timeless story about giving out of love for someone.

Virginia said...

I love to listen to the older people tell their the tails of the past. I knew and old lady that that past away last year at the age of 93, I could listen to her for hours telling her tails of the past. She had a lot to talk about.

Caroline said...

I'm with Virginia. I love to hear stories from people who have "lived". I used to listen for hours to my gran's who used to talk about the "good old days" - although not all of them were of course! Tales about WWII. One of the most salient facts was how my gran (on my father's side) was so poor (she worked in the cotton mills from the age of 12) that when rationing of food came in during WWII she actually had a BETTER diet than before! Jam, chocolate, sugar, all things her family couldn't afford before rationing! Wow! It doesn't seem real in this day and age does it? Take care. Caroline x

cheryl c said...

I taught kindergarten and first grade for 30 years, and my favorite time of the day was story time. I have a huge collection of children's books, and it was so much fun to read these aloud to the children. There is no way that I could pick just one favorite book. I just hope that I started the children on a lifelong love affair with reading.

Jane said...

I still remember and enjoy the fairy tales I read as a child. "Beauty and the Beast" and "Cinderella" are still fresh in my mind.

gigi said...

A couple of favorite stories are Sleeping Beauty , Twelve Dancing Princess's
I love all fairy tales.
I have all my kids Golden books in the attic probably 200 or more. Most are in great condition except for one or two books that they teethed on.

Liza said...

My dad read to us when we were young at bedtime every night. He would read one chapter and night and I can tell you it takes forever to get through Little Women and all the Little House books that way. But the best stories he would tell, would be when he took a fairy tale and added stuff from our lives into the story. My nieces still crack up when Granddaddy tells them about the 3 little pigs going to the county fair to see me turn green with pink dots. Those were his best stories, although I still love to hear Harry the Dirty Dog and A Bargin for Francis being read out loud.

I get to read Goodnight Moon whenever I'm with my youngest niece. She is 5, but still likes to have it read to her every night. Of course, she can pretty much "read" it herself by now.

Maureen said...

I enjoyed listening to fairy tales as a child but really enjoyed reading Dr. Suess to my kids. My favorite line is, "I do not like that Sam-I-Am."

vintage fan said...

The best story teller I ever met was my German grandmother, Lela Wilhelm who sang stories to us. She taught us some of these old folk ballads (all stories about fair maidens and the men who wanted to win them). These were ballads she had been taught when she was very young. To me, these were the best stories I heard as a very young child.

Mary said...

I had one book that I loved so much and my mom would read it to me when I was a kid. It was "Where the wild things are". So when I had a baby I went and bought that book and read it to her and even though it's not her favorite, she still has the book hidden amongst her things and she is 18 now. :)

Joanne Rock said...

Caroline, I'm so glad you saved up some of your grandmother's stories to share with others. I think we start to appreciate the art of oral storytelling when we realize we've been entrusted with those tales from our grandparents and old friends who didn't write them down. If we don't tell their tales, who will? Thank you for sharing a little with us!

Joanne Rock said...

vintage fan... you hit on an interesting point! Stories that are sung are certainly more easily rememebered, aren't they? When they aren't written down, that's a great way to remember them.

I really like Click-Clack Moo, Cows that Type for reading aloud, and the follow up, Duck for President. Of course, having grown up on a farm, I really enjoy the characters too. Also like the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books to read aloud. My favorites as a child were the Dr. Seuss books. I remember the one... is it Put Me in the Zoo? With all the spots? I had my mother read it and read it and read it. My boys liked Go, Dog, Go the best.

new at writing said...

One of my all time Favorite books from my childhood is a chapter book that my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Fox first read to us I've read it many times and recently bought it for my daughter to read. The book is Judy Blume's Tales Of The Fourth Grade Nothing. I also like Super Fudge.

Laney4 said...

It must be tough coming up with all these original questions to post! I don't envy you that!
Unfortunately, I never had books read to me as a child. (Quite a dysfunctional family I now realize as an adult....) I read them to myself, so using that as my basis, I loved reading the Noddy books by Enid Blyton, both as a child and as a young adult. I bought one at a yard sale years ago and don't want to part with it; there is a series of books, so if I ever see others, I'll be sure to scoop them up too!
As for reading books to my children, even though I LOVE books, they did not inherit that gene; in fact, they both have learning disabilities. Instead, they preferred that I make up stories at bedtime (and I obliged). I have a favourite story, though! Most stories began, "It was a cold and stormy night." That's it. Pretty unoriginal, eh? Didn't matter. My kids and those I babysat always loved those stories, as the kids in the stories were usually THEM!
Have a great week, Joanne, and thanks for offering up another one of your super books.

stacey said...

my grand father was like that you never new when he was telling a true story or not the thing he has said about are faimly tree some times makes me think thats he has to be making things up if not we had some very intresting family tree.he's not here now so i will never no what was the true story about some of are family but i liked his story better enyway.

Cookie Brett's Blog said...

Wow! I loved this blog. As far as storytellers, I love the story my friend has told numerous times. He's been asked to tell it to so many people. It's about a time in high school when a teacher went out of town and asked him and his friends to take care of a pig and during that pig-sitting the pig got stuck in a muddy pond. Great story! And I love Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and reading it to my kids that I've memorized it myself. I never get tired of picking up and reading "Little Women" and am in fact looking forward to my daughter getting a little older so I can read it with her.

Michele L. said...

Hi Joanne,

Your blog sure brought back some memories to me about my grandmother. She used to recite poems to me that she learned as a little girl in school. I can remember some but not all of them. Here is a couple that I will share because they are just so funny and reminiscent of olden times.

It was a misty, meisty, morning,
and cloudy was the weather,
I met an old man,
all clothed in leather.
He began to compliment,
and I began to grin,
How do you do?
and how do you do?
and how do you do again.

In the days of old,
when knights were bold,
and toilets were not invented,
they laid their load,
by the side of the road,
and went on merrily contented.

My grandma taught me these as a kid. Can you imagine? She was a great story-teller and recited so many stories of my ancestors that I never met. How I wish I could have met my grandma's parents!

I remember asking her one time as a kid what my nationality was and she replied, "You are German, English, Czechslovakian and a wee bit Irish." My dad is Czechoslavakian.(Hope I spelled it right.) The rest came from my mom's side.I have green eyes but my mom and dad both have dark brown eyes. She sure loved me and always made me feel so good about myself! She was the best Grandma!

Michelle Styles said...

Joanne --
I got to the end of the blog and immediately thought -- In the great green room...All my children went through a Goodnight Moon stage.

When I read Robert McKee's Story, he said something that hit home -- there are two types of talent -- literary and storytelling. Of the two, storytelling is much rarer.

Alison said...

My mother tells stories about the Second World War, when her father was a Warden and they were bombed. Now my baby daughter is older, I'm hoping she'll tell them to a new generation.

Laurie said...

I know that I read a lot as a child but I don't remember being read to. My favorites that we read to our children were EB White's: Charlotte's Web, Louis the Trumpeter Swan and Stuart Little. I also enjoyed A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden and CS Lewis' Narnia series..

CrystalGB said...

I always loved fairy tales when I was a child. All of the Grimms fairy tales and the Richard Scary tales were my favorites.

Joanne Rock said...

Thank you all so much for sharing your favorite stories and storytellers! I've very much enjoyed it :-).

The thread winner is gigi! If you will email me at with a shipping address, I will drop your prize package in the mail before the end of the week.

cheryl c said...

Congrats, Gigi! :-)

Lee said...

I have a small story for you, but it's like 5-6 pages long. I wrote it from a story shared with me through an interview with a professional rescuer that I did back in college. It's powerful. I'll drop it into a link note on my facebook, if your interested. "Professional Pains" is the title.

gigi said...

Thank you so much Joanne.
This is such a surprise.

I am sending you my address right now.