World Book Day 2016

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Stories stories stories

I absolutely love World Book Day celebrations.  Yes it’s for the children BUT we adults get a free pass to dress up (if we wish) and obsess about our favourite stories, characters and authors.

To be honest I do that quite a lot as a storyteller anyway but WBD 2016 is a week where I’m not alone, everyone around me is celebrating too.

This week I’m visiting primary schools across London and I’ve been in awe at the ideas and enthusiasm that goes into their Book Week.  I’ve mentioned one of my visits below and will update more at the end of the week!

Mitchell Brook Primary School

The minute I entered the school I was immersed in Roald Dahl.  They were celebrating his books in a BIG way.  Great big poster sized illustrated quotes, book reviews, brilliant artwork and every child had a copy of one of his books.

World Book Day 2016 - Roald Dahl poster

STOP DROP & READ

There was a distinctive buzz in the corridors.  Teachers were animated and children were carrying their books.  Suddenly a bell went off and there was mild chatter, giggling and a slight dash.  “What’s going on?” I asked.  Then I saw the sign: STOP DROP & READ. One of the teachers explained that when the bell rings, everyone stops what they’re doing, picks up a book and reads.  This meant that they needed to have their book nearby at all times.  It was brilliant and so much fun to see in action.

World Book Day 2016 - Roald Dahl Books

I was there to join in the Roald Dahl madness and decided to tell one of my favourite Roald Dahl stories: ‘The Enormous Crocodile’.  For me this story is all about about the ‘clever tricks’ and the fantastic way Dahl creates wonderful images with his rhymes and onomatopoeia.

Wendy Shearer at Mitchell Brook Primary School

We were CRUNCHING & MUNCHING & HONKING all through the story.  I even let one of the children throw my enormous crocodile toy around the room to show him WHIZZING off into space.  This ended in a mass bundle with the entire class jumping on it.  Ahem.. not to be repeated.

I’m at St Aidan’s Primary School tomorrow to join in their theme of ‘Where do stories take us?’ I plan to tell a few tales which will have us journeying to magical lands, shape-shifting and conjuring deadly spells. Can’t wait!

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Sharing Caribbean folktales

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This weekend I’ll not only be telling a couple of my favourite Caribbean folktales, but children will be able to record their own version of it with me.  This will happen at the Southbank Centre as part of the Imagine Children’s Festival on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th February.  It’s such a great idea and the first time I’ll be doing an audiobook with children.

Anansi the spider, tiger and snakeCrafty trickster stories

I plan to tell the tale of how ‘Anansi Claimed the stories’ and ‘Anansi & the Talking Melon’.  The first story is one of my favourites, first told to me by my Grandmother and then my mother when I was a young child.  There are a few strong characters involved to rival the trickster Anansi and 3 challenges for him to complete which always keep the listener on his/her toes. There are a couple of well known versions in print, but as a storyteller my recipe lets me add a few twists and turns of my own, have children throw  a few ideas into the mix, turn up the heat and enjoy what is created.

The second story, Anansi & the Talking Melon, is hilarious and although it’s for the younger end of listeners, I find a way of telling it which all ages love. There are lots of characters who are tricked, which builds on the suspense and amuses everyone listening.  There’s also lots of repetition which means everyone can participate and join in the joke.

Imagine Children’s Festival

For the workshops this weekend, we’ll have lots of percussion instruments for children to create sound effects and I’ll give children a few parts to say so that they can hear their voices on the audio recording too.  Hopefully it will be a beautiful souvenir of the day and a chance for me to share Caribbean folktales again.

If you’d like to come along on either Saturday 13th or Sunday 14th February, book your tickets on the Southbank Centre website.

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Storytelling and literacy

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Storytelling in schools

Most of my storytelling time is spent in schools. Teachers invite me to come along and join in celebrations for Book Week,  National Storytelling Week, World Book Day, Chinese New Year, Black History Month, International Week and many more.

 

Wendy Shearer at Mitchell Brook Primary School

Supporting literacy

My aims are usually to inspire children with the pleasure of stories, capture their imagination and demonstrate how to tell a good story. It’s my job to use a variety of vocabulary & rhythm with my voice to help with this.  What I love most is how well the children respond, using their speaking and listening skills to shape the story with me.

Speech & language skills

I recently visited Summerside Primary School where some of the children are deaf or have challenges with their speech and language skills. I knew that assistants would be on hand to either sign or help children according to their additional needs, but I am always careful to make sure I have ways of including everyone in the storytelling experience.

Get everyone involved

Here are some of my storytelling techniques that I use to get everyone involved in the story regardless of their abilities:

Repetition – using a word or phrase which everyone hears and can repeat with me

Similes – describing a a character and asking children to add to the description

Questions – a good way to make sure they are listening! Ask what they think will happen next, what the character should do next, how they think the character can solve a problem

Role play – this does not always involve speech, some children can physically demonstrate how the character acts or looks

Actions – again this does not always involve speech or sound – everyone can copy my physical expression or movement

The end of the story

Sometimes I stop telling my story just before the end.  When it’s going well, everyone in the room is gripped, hanging onto my every word including the adults. The suspense is simply stifling the air.  No one can skip to the end, turn a page or ask their friend.

They have to just wait…. for the storyteller to continue. It’s a risk but I sometimes take it.  I ask the children to tell me what they think happens next.  I run through a few scenarios just to recap the characters and dilemmas. I ask them if they need some time but usually they don’t.

Their hands are shooting up in the air, bursting with storytelling scenarios, phrases, endings, twists and turns.  I absolutely love hearing every single one (if there’s time!).  I do always conclude afterwards and by the end of the session, we’ve re-told several endings to my story.

If children are not able to speak well, they may simply share a word – a description to add to the next stage or show me how the character feels.  It’s a great way for them to use their listening skills and have a chance to tell the story before they write it and read it again.

The National Literacy Trust explains that speaking and listening skills underpin all learning.  I couldn’t agree more. Visiting schools where children have additional needs has highlighted even more for me how vital storytelling is at supporting literacy.

 

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Winter stories at Southbank

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The gift of giving

It’s been a wonderful lead up to Christmas 2015 telling magical winter stories at Southbank. I was really pleased to be part of their charitable season of giving where Natwest were fundraising for the Evelina Children’s Charity in their Natwest Family Fun Zone.

Wendy Shearer Winter storytelling - Southbank Centre Winter Festival

Every day in the run up to Christmas, I was storytelling in a festive white dome with children of all ages.  The theme was ‘the gift of giving’.  Two of the stories I told are quite well known: The Golden Goose’ where the youngest son shares his food with a hungry old man. ‘The Princess and the White Bear King’ where she uses determination and great courage to rescue a Prince and share her gifts with hungry children.

Wendy Shearer storytelling at Southbank

Wendy Shearer revealing the giant castle of the White Bear King

The last story was set in London, right there on the Southbank.  As I’d previously done when storytelling at Tower Bridge, I wrote a tale based in London with the themes of giving, courage and determination.  My story was called ‘The Magical London Journey’ and was inspired by Aaron Becker’s beautifully illustrated story ‘Journey’.

I loved telling this story because I encouraged children to imagine what they would draw with a magic pen if they could travel around London as part of the story.  Their answers were always magical and it was so much fun to have them create the story with me.  We were trying to rescue a beautiful bird that had been captured in the Tower of London and so in my story we journey around the Southbank and visit lots of London attractions.

Singing bird - prop used by Wendy Shearer

The caged bird used as one of Wendy Shearer’s props

Every day, children from as young as 2 and as old as 12, would sit mesmerised and engaged with whichever story I was telling.  I always make the tales interactive and ask children what they would do, in this way we create the stories together.  Younger children love coming and helping with a small prop and at one point, I had 6 children attached to my golden goose, marching around the white dome!  It was so much fun and good to know that we were also raising lots of money from all of your donations.  Thank you to everyone that came along and joined in.  You made the winter season of giving, even more special.

 

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Storytelling at Tower Bridge

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Bringing stories to life

The team at Tower Bridge asked me to bring the history of Tower Bridge to life for children over the summer.  It was an exciting task – to develop a story about Tower Bridge and perform storytelling for early years. It was called ‘Tots  at Tower Bridge’.  To add to the excitement, the storytelling sessions would be taking place on the wonderful glass floor walkway.

I set about doing some initial research on the history of Tower Bridge and noted a few interesting facts:

  • The glass floor is 42 metres above the River Thames.
  • Before the bridge people used a 410 metre underground tunnel.
  • Tower Bridge took 8 years to build (1886-1894)
  • In 1952, the bridge began to open while a double-decker bus was still on it!
Professional Storyteller Wendy Shearer storytelling on theTower Bridge glass floor Walkway

Early Years storytelling on Tower Bridge

There are a few dare devil stories about the history of Tower Bridge and lots of numerical facts but I thought the best way to bring these stories to life was to create a story where the children journeyed back in time with me.  Together (aided by one of my large puppets) we explored the theme of ‘how to get across the River Thames’.  The glass floor walkway provided breathtaking views of the river, Tower Bridge, moving traffic and the people below.

Wendy Shearer storytelling on the glass floor Walkway at Tower Bridge

View through the glass Floor at Tower Bridge.

I quickly got everyone used to the physical space (parents were far more cautious than their children!) and whilst using a few sensory props, children listened to me storytelling.  The story was about a boy whose challenge through the years was to get from one side of the river to the other.  We raced through decades including a time when people walked UNDER the river through the tunnel which was called ‘Tower Subway’; walked OVER the river via London Bridge, sailed DOWN the river in boats carrying lots of imported goods and finally ACROSS the river sailing through the raised bascules of Tower Bridge. Occasionally we sang rhymes which tied into the story. It was energetic and lots of fun.  Afterwards there was time for children to play with the props and build their own towers, sail mini boats and watch real barges going under Tower Bridge. I can’t wait to do it all again.

 

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Black History Month Workshops for schools

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Black History Month 2015

The summer is barely through and Story Boat is already nearly booked up for Storytelling Events at Schools.  I’m really excited to be preparing Black History Month Workshops for schools.  Quite a few teachers have asked me to prepare workshops around Black British citizenship and culture.  Other schools are keen for me to retell Anansi stories and other Caribbean folk-tales.

It’s an additional treat for me to be able to join in events that celebrate our diverse culture because I not only get to revisit familiar stories and themes, but I get to have a good chin-wag with my and Grandmother her husband about being Black and Caribbean in the 60s which is when they arrived in the UK.

Grandmother Cleo and Cyrus

Grandmother Cleo and Cyrus have many stories to share for Black History Month

Rather than just talking about hardships or challenges, they both find amusing and side-splitting stories to share from that period.  I like to call it their ‘Caribbean English tales’ because my Grandmother is the best oral storyteller! I’ll share a few of the gems in my next post.

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Night of Festivals

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Storytelling in Barking

Last weekend Abbey Green and Barking Town Centre was transformed for the Night of Festivals.  There was a vibrant carnival parade, Samba and Latin American Music, and performers including myself throughout the day.

Carnival procession for the Night of Festivals

Carnival procession for the Night of Festivals

Art Reach had organised the event to celebrate values of freedom through artistic innovation as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham.

My time was spent during the festival inside of a unique Yurt in the middle of Abbey Green.  Adorned with soft cushions and mats, the atmosphere inside the Yurt was intimate and relaxing.  Just perfect for an afternoon of telling folk tales from around the world.

The storytelling Yurt for the Night of Festivals

The storytelling Yurt for the Night of Festivals

It was a beautiful sunny day but that didn’t stop people heading inside the storytelling Yurt.  My challenge for the day was going to be, telling tales to a mixed age-group of audiences.  There would be children, toddlers, teenagers and of course adults.

Being a mum to two young girls, I know how agonising it can be to sit in a group where your children are being entertained but you are bored stiff.  So I was determined that somehow there was going to be something for EVERYONE in my storytelling sessions.

Wendy Shearer Inside the storytelling Yurt for the Night of Festivals

Wendy Shearer storytelling inside the Yurt

Tales of freedom

I’d decided to tell some trickster tales of Anansi.  They are my favourite and although some of the stories contain animals, the actions of the characters reflect human traits of vanity, deceit, stubbornness and more.

I began each tale addressing the adults, sharing with them the history of this genre – from people who may have been oppressed and enslaved.  It was their way to trick their oppressors by having characters who were animals whilst telling tales about the weak and insignificant overcoming the powerful.

I told tales of impossible challenges being attempted against all odds.  At times, I was talking to the adults, whilst they nodded in recognition of the situation.  Then suddenly the children would also start nodding and yelling ‘yes you should always give it a try!‘  I was so surprised at this reaction and realised that tales of difficult challenges and courage, are relevant to all ages. Not just adults!

Wendy Shearer in the storytelling Yurt - Night of Festivals

Wendy Shearer storytelling with children for the Night of Festivals

Inspiring the next generation of storytellers, readers & writers

Throughout the day, some children and adults returned to hear and take part in more of my storytelling.  Thankfully I’d prepared plenty of stories so that they always heard something new.  But there were a few children who came back to hear the same story if they hadn’t had a chance to take part previously.  Children as young as 4 and 10 years old then felt confident to take the lead and repeat various chants and actions because they’d heard one of my stories earlier that day.

Some Year 6 children asked me where they could get hold of the stories and everyone agreed to share the tales they’d heard with their friends and family. One of the nicest things I witnessed during the day was hearing:

I’m waiting to hear another story mum (said one boy when his mum tried to leave the Yurt).

Carnival Procession and live singing - Night of Festivals

Carnival Procession and live singing – Night of Festivals

It was a fun packed day and I’m glad that I had a chance to catch the Carnival parade with their amazing costumes.  I’ll be storytelling at the Night of Festivals in Leicester later this year which will be lots of fun.

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Passing down folktales

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Telling stories in Crouch End

We’ve been having a few warm, balmy nights  lately.  Coupled with the sun setting way into the evening hours, we had the perfect recipe for storytelling for grown-ups outdoors.

Adventure & fitness community FlyCrew invited me to be part of their summer launch by telling a few Caribbean folktales.  We set up outside of the Pavilion, North Middlesex Cricket Club in Crouch End.

We created an intimate story circle and after a few introductions, I told the tale of Anansi and the Unknown Assignment.  My version of this tale for grown-ups is a little bit chilling with the potential for Anansi to end up on the dark side of the character ‘Death’ after stealing his treasured ‘staff’.  Being outside under the stars helped create a slightly spooky, sinister atmosphere!

Bajan wooden staff

Bajan, wooden carved staff used during storytelling.

For me, chatting between stories was just as much fun as telling the tales themselves.  One lady shared that she was hoping to remember the tale I told so that she could re-tell it to her 8 year old son.  That was such a joy to hear.

Another lady shared a memory of her mother passing down folktales and I was able to recall my own memories of this.  Both my Grandmother and Mother told me Caribbean folktales they’d heard in Guyanese villages and towns growing up.

Passing down folktales in the local community is a wonderful thing to be part of. In this way, I get to share cultural traditions and spark imagination through the power of oral storytelling.

 

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Storytelling in different cultures

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A visit to the International School of London

‘Stories express beliefs, values and ideas’.  This was one of the cenral ideas being explored at the International School of London near Gunnersbury.  I was really pleased to be invited to run storytelling workshops at their school.  We looked at the role of storytelling in different cultures and storytelling techniques.

My class were culturually diverse and some children had English as their second language.  This was a great opportunity to bring in folk tales from around the world using different storytelling techniques.

 

Wendy Shearer creating story maps at a London School

Wendy Shearer creating story maps at a London School

We looked at a tale from Arabia much to the delight of one of the pupils from that part of the part of the world.  In keeping with their oral storytelling traditions, my story began with a tale about the story, contained lots of drama and grand sweeping gestures.

Whilst telling my story, I shared a few props as visual aids linked to the tale.  As one of my stories was about a fisherman, I brought along a beautiful shell which is incredibly heavy to hold.  We passed it around and everyone had fun trying to hear the ‘sea’ from the shell.

Shell used as a prop by Wendy Shearer Storytelling in London

We also looked at a trickster tale from Africa, where the animal characters traditionally mirror behaviour seen in mankind. Someone weak, or less powerful often comes out as the victor, with the badly behaved character being taught a lesson or defeated in some way.

In keeping with traditional African oral storytelling techniques, the children particpated in the story and had a chance to repeat chants and responses to my phrases.  It was lots of fun and always a real pleasure to see their eyes open wide, listening intently for the next part of the story.

As it was a storytelling workshop,  I got the class to take part in a few story making activities which led to them retelling a version of the tale themselves.  They made some wonderful story maps with a Story Boat template of each stage of the story.  This helps them to retell the story later.  Some children like to draw symbols or pictures of the story and write words and sentences.

A story map from a pupil at a London School

A story map from a pupil at a London School

 

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Guyanese folklore stories in Crouch End

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Storytelling at the Crouch End Festival

The Crouch End Arts Festival began on Friday and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in to as many events as I could over the weekend.

My Caribbean storytelling session took place on Saturday at Moors Bar.  I told a couple of Caribbean folk tales which I’d adapted to include Guyanese folklore stories.  Although Guyana is in South America it is considered part of the Caribbean region.  My parents and Grandparents were born there and so I’m very familiar with the culture.  Many myths and legends have been retold to me during my childhood here and during visits to Guyana.

Storytelling at Moors Bar Sat 6th June for Crouch End Festival

When I was preparing which tales to tell, I really wanted to experiment with different styles of storytelling to reflect the landscape of Guyana and the nature of the people.  I set my first tale in the heart of Essequibo territory (which is where my father was born) and described the interior highlands and magnificent Kaieteur Falls.

This beautiful waterfall is on the Potaro River in central Guyana, located in the Kaieteur National Park.  It empties out into the Essequibo River.  In an attempt to share scale and strength, my story had the Essequibo River rising up and overflowing  onto the banks.  It is after all, the longest and widest river in South America.

Wendy Shearer storytelling for Crouch End Festival - Guyanese folklore

One of the characters in my story was a malevolent spirit called a ‘Duppy’ or as we say in Guyana ‘a Jumbie’.  So how do you take on the characteristics of a Jumbie?  Well mine was extremely tall, with very long arms and legs.  As I was wearing a floaty long dress I think I was able to imitate an evil spirit!

Wendy Shearer storytelling at Moors Bar - Guyanese folklore in Crouch End

One of my stories included a fierce tiger but I made him toothless.  He was called  the ‘no-toot tiger’ so that everyone could join in with his name.  I also had a really long snake who we called ‘laaang laaaang snake’.  Although the characters were scary and intimidating, they had comedy names.  This, coupled with a sprinkling of my Guyanese dialect was an attempt to reflect the familiar way Guyanese people can make a joke or smile in the face of adversity.  I think everyone enjoyed listening to some Guyanese folklore and taking part in the storytelling.  Andy who runs Moors Bar was also a great host, letting me use his venue to take part in the Crouch End Festival.

Patchwork squares used by Spinning Top Tales The Crouch End Festival is jammed packed with so many events to see and I started by taking my daughter along to Pickled Pepper Books Shop to take part in a storytelling and crafts workshop run by Rebekah from Spinning Top Tales.

Rebekah’s retelling of Goldilox and the Three Bears was adapted to GoldiFOX and the The Three Pears.  All beautifully complimented by her hand made puppets and patchwork squares.

 

My other daughter was singing with her school choir and other local schools in-front of the Hornsey Town Hall.  Just before that, we clapped and danced along with Hornsey School’s Steel Pan group.  It’s been a lovely weekend and great start to the Crouch End Festival.

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