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Contents > Author > Sara Cone Bryant > Some Suggestions for the Story-Teller 1873- Unknown
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Sara Cone Bryant
Some Suggestions for the Story-Teller
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Concerning the fundamental points of
method in telling a story, I have little to
add to the principles which I have already
stated as necessary, in my opinion, in the
book of which this is, in a way, the
continuation. But in the two years which
have passed since that book was written, I
have had the happiness of working on
stories and the telling of them, among
teachers and students all over this country,
and in that experience certain secondary
points of method have come to seem more
important, or at least more in need of
emphasis, than they did before. As so
often happens, I had assumed that "those
things are taken for granted;" whereas, to
the beginner or the teacher not naturally
a story-teller, the secondary or implied
technique is often of greater difficulty than
the mastery of underlying principles. The
few suggestions which follow are of this
practical, obvious kind.

Take your story seriously. No matter
how riotously absurd it is, or how full of
inane repetition, remember, if it is good
enough to tell, it is a real story, and must
be treated with respect. If you cannot feel
so toward it, do not tell it. Have faith in
the story, and in the attitude of the children
toward it and you. If you fail in this, the
immediate result will be a touch of shame-
facedness, affecting your manner unfavorably,
and, probably, influencing your
accuracy and imaginative vividness.

Perhaps I can make the point clearer
by telling you about one of the girls in a
class which was studying stories last
winter; I feel sure if she or any of her fellow
students recognizes the incident, she will
not resent being made to serve the good
cause, even in the unattractive guise of a
warning example.

A few members of the class had prepared
the story of "The Fisherman and
his Wife." The first girl called on was
evidently inclined to feel that it was rather
a foolish story. She tried to tell it well,
but there were parts of it which produced
in her the touch of shamefacedness to
which I have referred.

When she came to the rhyme,--

"O man of the sea, come, listen to me,
For Alice, my wife, the plague of my life,
Has sent me to beg a boon of thee,"

she said it rather rapidly. At the first
repetition she said it still more rapidly; the
next time she came to the jingle she said it
so fast and so low that it was unintelligible;
and the next recurrence was too much for
her. With a blush and a hesitating smile
she said, "And he said that same thing,
you know!" Of course everybody laughed,
and of course the thread of interest and
illusion was hopelessly broken for everybody.

Now, any one who chanced to hear Miss
Shedlock tell that same story will remember
that the absurd rhyme gave great opportunity
for expression, in its very repetition;
each time that the fisherman came to the
water's edge his chagrin and unwillingness
was greater, and his summons to the magic
fish mirrored his feeling. The jingle IS
foolish; that is a part of the charm. But if
the person who tells it FEELS foolish, there
is no charm at all! It is the same principle
which applies to any address to any
assemblage: if the speaker has the air of
finding what he has to say absurd or
unworthy of effort, the audience naturally
tends to follow his lead, and find it not
worth listening to.

Let me urge, then, take your story

Next, "take your time." This suggestion
needs explaining, perhaps. It does
not mean license to dawdle. Nothing is
much more annoying in a speaker than too
great deliberateness, or than hesitation of
speech. But it means a quiet realization of
the fact that the floor is yours, everybody
wants to hear you, there is time enough
for every point and shade of meaning and
no one will think the story too long. This
mental attitude must underlie proper control
of speed. Never hurry. A business-like
leisure is the true attitude of the storyteller.

And the result is best attained by
concentrating one's attention on the episodes
of the story. Pass lightly, and comparatively
swiftly, over the portions between
actual episodes, but take all the time you
need for the elaboration of those. And
above all, do not FEEL hurried.

The next suggestion is eminently plain
and practical, if not an all too obvious one.
It is this: if all your preparation and
confidence fails you at the crucial moment, and
memory plays the part of traitor in some
particular, if, in short, you blunder on a
detail of the story, NEVER ADMIT IT. If it was
an unimportant detail which you misstated,
pass right on, accepting whatever you said,
and continuing with it; if you have been so
unfortunate as to omit a fact which was a
necessary link in the chain, put it in, later,
as skillfully as you can, and with as
deceptive an appearance of its being in the
intended order; but never take the children
behind the scenes, and let them hear
the creaking of your mental machinery.
You must be infallible. You must be in
the secret of the mystery, and admit your
audience on somewhat unequal terms;
they should have no creeping doubts as
to your complete initiation into the secrets
of the happenings you relate.

Plainly, there can be lapses of memory
so complete, so all-embracing, that frank
failure is the only outcome, but these are
so few as not to need consideration, when
dealing with so simple material as that of
children's stories. There are times, too,
before an adult audience, when a speaker
can afford to let his hearers be amused with
him over a chance mistake. But with children
it is most unwise to break the spell of
the entertainment in that way. Consider,
in the matter of a detail of action or
description, how absolutely unimportant the
mere accuracy is, compared with the effect
of smoothness and the enjoyment of the
hearers. They will not remember the detail,
for good or evil, half so long as they
will remember the fact that you did not
know it. So, for their sakes, as well as for
the success of your story, cover your slips
of memory, and let them be as if they were

And now I come to two points in method
which have to do especially with humorous
stories. The first is the power of initiating
the appreciation of the joke. Every natural
humorist does this by instinct and the
value of the power to story-teller can
hardly be overestimated. To initiate
appreciation does not mean that one
necessarily gives way to mirth, though even that
is sometimes natural and effective; one
merely feels the approach of the humorous
climax, and subtly suggests to the hearers
that it will soon be "time to laugh." The
suggestion usually comes in the form of
facial expression, and in the tone. And
children are so much simpler, and so much
more accustomed to following another's
lead than their elders, that the expression
can be much more outright and unguarded
than would be permissible with a mature

Children like to feel the joke coming, in
this way; they love the anticipation of a
laugh, and they will begin to dimple, often,
at your first unconscious suggestion of
humor. If it is lacking, they are sometimes
afraid to follow their own instincts.
Especially when you are facing an audience
of grown people and children together, you
will find that the latter are very hesitant
about initiating their own expression of
humor. It is more difficult to make them
forget their surroundings then, and more
desirable to give them a happy lead. Often
at the funniest point you will see some
small listener in an agony of endeavor to
cloak the mirth which he--poor mite--
fears to be indecorous. Let him see that it
is "the thing" to laugh, and that everybody
is going to.

Having so stimulated the appreciation
of the humorous climax, it is important to
give your hearers time for the full savor
of the jest to permeate their consciousness.
It is really robbing an audience of its rights,
to pass so quickly from one point to
another that the mind must lose a new one if
it lingers to take in the old. Every vital
point in a tale must be given a certain
amount of time: by an anticipatory pause,
by some form of vocal or repetitive
emphasis, and by actual time. But even
more than other tales does the funny story
demand this. It cannot be funny without it.

Every one who is familiar with the theatre
must have noticed how careful all comedians
are to give this pause for appreciation
and laughter. Often the opportunity
is crudely given, or too liberally offered;
and that offends. But in a reasonable degree
the practice is undoubtedly necessary
to any form of humorous expression.

A remarkably good example of the type
of humorous story to which these principles
of method apply, is the story of "Epaminondas."
It will be plain to
any reader that all the several funny crises
are of the perfectly unmistakable sort children
like, and that, moreover, these funny
spots are not only easy to see; they are easy
to foresee. The teller can hardly help sharing
the joke in advance, and the tale is
an excellent one with which to practice for
power in the points mentioned.

Epaminondas is a valuable little rascal
from other points of view, and I mean to
return to him, to point a moral. But just
here I want space for a word or two about
the matter of variety of subject and style
in school stories.

There are two wholly different kinds of
story which are equally necessary for
children, I believe, and which ought to be
given in about the proportion of one to
three, in favor of the second kind; I make
the ratio uneven because the first kind is
more dominating in its effect.

The first kind is represented by such
stories as the "Pig Brother," which has now
grown so familiar to teachers that it will
serve for illustration without repetition here.
It is the type of story which specifically
teaches a certain ethical or conduct lesson,
in the form of a fable or an allegory,--it
passes on to the child the conclusions as to
conduct and character, to which the race
has, in general, attained through centuries
of experience and moralizing. The story
becomes a part of the outfit of received
ideas on manners and morals which is an
inescapable and necessary possession of the
heir of civilization.

Children do not object to these stories
in the least, if the stories are good ones.
They accept them with the relish which
nature seems to maintain for all truly
nourishing material. And the little tales
are one of the media through which we
elders may transmit some very slight share
of the benefit received by us, in turn, from
actual or transmitted experience.

The second kind has no preconceived
moral to offer, makes no attempt to affect
judgment or to pass on a standard. It
simply presents a picture of life, usually
in fable or poetic image, and says to the
hearer, "These things are." The hearer,
then, consciously or otherwise, passes judgment
on the facts. His mind says, "These
things are good;" or, "This was good, and
that, bad;" or, "This thing is desirable,"
or the contrary.

The story of "The Little Jackal and the
Alligator" is a good illustration
of this type. It is a character-story. In the
naive form of a folk tale, it doubtless
embodies the observations of a seeing eye, in a
country and time when the little jackal and
the great alligator were even more vivid
images of certain human characters than
they now are. Again and again, surely, the
author or authors of the tales must have
seen the weak, small, clever being triumph
over the bulky, well-accoutred, stupid
adversary. Again and again they had laughed
at the discomfiture of the latter, perhaps
rejoicing in it the more because it removed
fear from their own houses. And probably
never had they concerned themselves particularly
with the basic ethics of the struggle.
It was simply one of the things they
saw. It was life. So they made a picture
of it.

The folk tale so made, and of such
character, comes to the child somewhat as an
unprejudiced newspaper account of to-
day's happenings comes to us. It pleads
no cause, except through its contents; it
exercises no intentioned influence on our
moral judgment; it is there, as life is there,
to be seen and judged. And only through
such seeing and judging can the individual
perception attain to anything of power or
originality. Just as a certain amount of
received ideas is necessary to sane development,
so is a definite opportunity for
first-hand judgments essential to power.

In this epoch of well-trained minds we
run some risk of an inundation of accepted
ethics. The mind which can make independent
judgments, can look at new facts
with fresh vision, and reach conclusions
with simplicity, is the perennial power in
the world. And this is the mind we are
not noticeably successful in developing, in
our system of schooling. Let us at least
have its needs before our consciousness,
in our attempts to supplement the regular
studies of school by such side-activities as
story-telling. Let us give the children a
fair proportion of stories which stimulate
independent moral and practical decisions.

And now for a brief return to our little
black friend. "Epaminondas" belongs to
a very large, very ancient type of funny
story: the tale in which the jest depends
wholly on an abnormal degree of stupidity
on the part of the hero. Every race which
produces stories seems to have found this
theme a natural outlet for its childlike
laughter. The stupidity of Lazy Jack, of
Big Claus, of the Good Man, of Clever
Alice, all have their counterparts in the
folly of the small Epaminondas.

Evidently, such stories have served a
purpose in the education of the race. While
the exaggeration of familiar attributes
easily awakens mirth in a simple mind,
it does more: it teaches practical lessons
of wisdom and discretion. And possibly
the lesson was the original cause of the

Not long ago, I happened upon an
instance of the teaching power of these
nonsense tales, so amusing and convincing
that I cannot forbear to share it. A
primary teacher who heard me tell "Epaminondas"
one evening, told it to her pupils
the next morning, with great effect. A
young teacher who was observing in the
room at the time told me what befell.
She said the children laughed very heartily
over the story, and evidently liked it
much. About an hour later, one of them
was sent to the board to do a little problem.
It happened that the child made an
excessively foolish mistake, and did not
notice it. As he glanced at the teacher for
the familiar smile of encouragement, she
simply raised her hands, and ejaculated
"`For the law's sake!'"

It was sufficient. The child took the cue
instantly. He looked hastily at his work,
broke into an irrepressible giggle, rubbed
the figures out, without a word, and began
again. And the whole class entered into
the joke with the gusto of fellow-fools, for
once wise.

It is safe to assume that the child in
question will make fewer needless
mistakes for a long time because of the wholesome
reminder of his likeness with one
who "ain't got the sense he was born with."
And what occurred so visibly in his case
goes on quietly in the hidden recesses of
the mind in many cases. One "Epaminondas"
is worth three lectures.

I wish there were more of such funny
little tales in the world's literature, all
ready, as this one is, for telling to the
youngest of our listeners. But masterpieces
are few in any line, and stories for
telling are no exception; it took generations,
probably, to make this one. The
demand for new sources of supply comes
steadily from teachers and mothers, and
is the more insistent because so often met
by the disappointing recommendations of
books which prove to be for reading only,
rather than for telling. It would be a
delight to print a list of fifty, twenty-five,
even ten books which would be found
full of stories to tell without much adapting.
But I am grateful to have found even
fewer than the ten, to which I am sure the
teacher can turn with real profit. The
following names are, of course, additional
to the list contained in "How to Tell Stories
to Children."

Milton Bradley Co., Springfield, Mass. Valuable
for kindergartners as a supply of realistic
stories with practical lessons in simplest form.

OLD DECCAN DAYS. By Mary Frere. Joseph
McDonough, Albany, New York. A splendid collection
of Hindu folk tales, adaptable for all ages.

THE SILVER CROWN. By Laura E. Richards.
Little, Brown & Co., Boston. Poetic fables with
beautiful suggestions of ethical truths.

Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, New York,
and Chicago. A classified collection, in ten
volumes, of fairy, folk tales, fables, realistic,
historical, and poetical stories.

and Clara Lewis. Milton Bradley Co., Springfield.
A general collection of popular stories, well

THE SONS OF CORMAC. By Aldis Dunbar. Longmans,
Green & Co., London. Rather mature
but very fine Irish stories.

For the benefit of suggestion to teachers
in schools where story-telling is newly
or not yet introduced in systematic form,
I am glad to append the following list of
stories which have been found, on several
years' trial, to be especially tellable and
likable, in certain grades of the Providence
schools, in Rhode Island. The list is not
mine, although it embodies some of my
suggestions. I offer it merely as a practical
result of the effort to equalize and extend
the story-hour throughout the schools. Its
makers would be the last to claim ideal
merit for it, and they are constantly
improving and developing it. I am indebted
for the privilege of using it to the primary
teachers of Providence, and to their supervisor,
Miss Ella L. Sweeney.


Chicken Little The Dog and his Shadow
Barnyard Talk The Hare and the Hound
Little Red Hen Five Little Rabbits
Little Gingerbread Boy The Three Bears
The Lion and the Mouse The Red-headed Wood-
The Hungry Lion pecker
The Wind and the Sun Little Red Riding-Hood
The Fox and the Crow Little Half-Chick
The Duck and the Hen The Rabbit and the Turtle
The Hare and the Tortoise The Shoemaker and the
The Three Little Robins Fairies
The Wolf and the Kid The Wolf and the Crane
The Crow and the Pitcher The Cat and the Mouse
The Fox and the Grapes Snow-White and Rose-Red

The North Wind The Lark and her Little
The Mouse Pie Ones
The Wonderful Traveler The Wolf and the Goslings
The Wolf and the Fox The Ugly Duckling
The Star Dollars The Country Mouse and the
The Water-Lil City Mouse
The Three Goats The Three Little Pigs
The Boy and the Nuts Diamonds and Toads
The Honest Woodman The Thrifty Squirrel
The Pied Piper How the Robin's Breast
King Midas became Red
The Town Musicians The Old Woman and her
Raggylug Pig
Peter Rabbit The Sleeping Apple
The Boy who cried "Wolf" The Cat and the Parrot

The Crane Express How the Mole became
Little Black Sambo Blind
The Lantern and the Fan How Fire was brought to
Why the Bear has a Short the Indians
Tail Echo
Why the Fox has a White Piccola
Tip to his Tail The Story of the Morning-
Why the Wren flies low Glory Seed
Jack and the Beanstalk The Discontented Pine
The Talkative Tortoise Tree
Fleet Wing and Sweet Voice The Bag of Winds
The Golden Fleece The Foolish Weather-Vane
The Little Boy who wanted The Shut-up Posy
the Moon Pandora's Box
Benjy in Beastland The Little Match Girl
Tomtit's Peep at the World

Arachne The First Snowdrop
The Porcelain Stove The Three Golden Apples
Moufflou Androclus and the Lion
Clytie The Old Man and his
The Legend of the Trailing Donkey
Arbutus The Leak in the Dike
Latona and the Frogs King Tawny Mane
Dick Whittington and his The Little Lame Prince
Cat Appleseed John
Dora, the Little Girl of the Narcissus
Lighthouse Why the Sea is Salt
Proserpine The Little Hero of Haarlem
The Miraculous Pitcher
The Bell of Justice


I have to speak now of a phase of
elementary education which lies very close to
my warmest interest, which, indeed, could
easily become an active hobby if other
interests did not beneficently tug at my skirts
when I am minded to mount and ride too
wildly. It is the hobby of many of you who
are teachers, also, and I know you want to
hear it discussed. I mean the growing
effort to teach English and English literature
to children in the natural way: by speaking
and hearing,--orally.

We are coming to a realization of the fact
that our ability, as a people, to use English
is pitifully inadequate and perverted. Those
Americans who are not blinded by a limited
horizon of cultured acquaintance, and who
have given themselves opportunity to hear
the natural speech of the younger generation
in varying sections of the United States,
must admit that it is no exaggeration to say
that this country at large has no standard
of English speech. There is no general
sense of responsibility to our mother tongue
(indeed, it is in an overwhelming degree
not our mother tongue) and no general
appreciation of its beauty or meaning. The
average young person in every district save
a half-dozen jealously guarded little
precincts of good taste, uses inexpressive, ill-
bred words, spoken without regard to their
just sound-effects, and in a voice which is an
injury to the ear of the mind, as well as a
torment to the physical ear.

The structure of the language and the
choice of words are dark matters to most of
our young Americans; this has long been
acknowledged and struggled against. But
even darker, and quite equally destructive
to English expression, is their state of mind
regarding pronunciation, enunciation, and
voice. It is the essential connection of these
elements with English speech that we have
been so slow to realize. We have felt that
they were externals, desirable but not necessary
adjuncts,--pretty tags of an exceptional
gift or culture. Many an intelligent
school director to-day will say, "I don't care
much about HOW you say a thing; it is WHAT
you say that counts." He cannot see that
voice and enunciation and pronunciation
are essentials. But they are. You can no
more help affecting the meaning of your
words by the way you say them than you
can prevent the expressions of your face
from carrying a message; the message may
be perverted by an uncouth habit, but it
will no less surely insist on recognition.

The fact is that speech is a method
of carrying ideas from one human soul to
another, by way of the ear. And these
ideas are very complex. They are not
unmixed emanations of pure intellect,
transmitted to pure intellect: they are
compounded of emotions, thoughts, fancies, and
are enhanced or impeded in transmission
by the use of word-symbols which have
acquired, by association, infinite complexities
in themselves. The mood of the moment,
the especial weight of a turn of
thought, the desire of the speaker to share
his exact soul-concept with you,--these
seek far more subtle means than the mere
rendering of certain vocal signs; they
demand such variations and delicate
adjustments of sound as will inevitably affect the
listening mind with the response desired.

There is no "what" without the "how"
in speech. The same written sentence
becomes two diametrically opposite ideas,
given opposing inflection and accompanying
voice-effect. "He stood in the front
rank of the battle" can be made praiseful
affirmation, scornful skepticism, or simple
question, by a simple varying of voice and
inflection. This is the more unmistakable
way in which the "how" affects the "what."
Just as true is the less obvious fact. The
same written sentiment, spoken by Wendell
Phillips and by a man from the Bowery
or an uneducated ranchman, is not the
same to the listener. In one case the sentiment
comes to the mind's ear with certain
completing and enhancing qualities of
sound which give it accuracy and poignancy.
The words themselves retain all
their possible suggestiveness in the speaker's
just and clear enunciation, and have a
borrowed beauty, besides, from the
associations of fine habit betrayed in the voice
and manner of speech. And, further, the
immense personal equation shows itself in
the beauty and power of the vocal expressiveness,
which carries shades of meaning,
unguessed delicacies of emotion, intimations
of beauty, to every ear. In the other
case, the thought is clouded by unavoidable
suggestions of ignorance and ugliness,
brought by the pronunciation and voice,
even to an unanalytical ear; the meaning is
obscured by inaccurate inflection and
uncertain or corrupt enunciation; but, worst
of all, the personal atmosphere, the aroma,
of the idea has been lost in transmission
through a clumsy, ill-fitted medium.

The thing said may look the same on a
printed page, but it is not the same when
spoken. And it is the spoken sentence
which is the original and the usual mode
of communication.

The widespread poverty of expression in
English, which is thus a matter of "how,"
and to which we are awakening, must be
corrected chiefly, at least at first, by the
common schools. The home is the ideal
place for it, but the average home of the
United States is no longer a possible place
for it. The child of foreign parents, the
child of parents little educated and bred in
limited circumstances, the child of powerful
provincial influences, must all depend
on the school for standards of English.

And it is the elementary school which
must meet the need, if it is to be met at all.
For the conception of English expression
which I am talking of can find no mode of
instruction adequate to its meaning, save
in constant appeal to the ear, at an age so
early that unconscious habit is formed. No
rules, no analytical instruction in later
development, can accomplish what is needed.
Hearing and speaking; imitating, unwittingly
and wittingly, a good model; it is to
this method we must look for redemption
from present conditions.

I believe we are on the eve of a real
revolution in English teaching,--only it is a
revolution which will not break the peace.
The new way will leave an overwhelming
preponderance of oral methods in use up to
the fifth or sixth grade, and will introduce
a larger proportion of oral work than has
ever been contemplated in grammar and
high school work. It will recognize the fact
that English is primarily something spoken
with the mouth and heard with the ear.
And this recognition will have greatest
weight in the systems of elementary teaching.

It is as an aid in oral teaching of English
that story-telling in school finds its second
value; ethics is the first ground of its
usefulness, English the second,--and after
these, the others. It is, too, for the oral uses
that the secondary forms of story-telling
are so available. By secondary I mean
those devices which I have tried to indicate,
as used by many American teachers, in the
chapter on "Specific Schoolroom Uses,"
in my earlier book. They are re-telling,
dramatization, and forms of seat-work.
All of these are a great power in the hands
of a wise teacher. If combined with much
attention to voice and enunciation in the
recital of poetry, and with much good reading
aloud BY THE TEACHER, they will go far
toward setting a standard and developing
good habit.

But their provinces must not be
confused or overestimated. I trust I may be
pardoned for offering a caution or two
to the enthusiastic advocate of these
methods,--cautions the need of which
has been forced upon me, in experience
with schools.

A teacher who uses the oral story as an
English feature with little children must
never lose sight of the fact that it is an aid
in unconscious development; not a factor
in studied, conscious improvement. This
truth cannot be too strongly realized.
Other exercises, in sufficiency, give the
opportunity for regulated effort for definite
results, but the story is one of the play-
forces. Its use in English teaching is most
valuable when the teacher has a keen
appreciation of the natural order of growth in
the art of expression: that art requires, as
the old rhetorics used often to put it, "a
natural facility, succeeded by an acquired
difficulty." In other words, the power of
expression depends, first, on something
more fundamental than the art-element;
the basis of it is something to say,
YIELDED TO WITH FREEDOM; only after this
stage is reached can the art-phase be of
any use. The "why" and "how," the
analytical and constructive phases, have no
natural place in this first vital epoch.

Precisely here, however, does the
dramatizing of stories and the paper-cutting, etc.,
become useful. A fine and thoughtful principal
of a great school asked me, recently,
with real concern, about the growing use of
such devices. He said, "Paper-cutting is
good, but what has it to do with English?"
And then he added: "The children use
abominable language when they play the
stories; can that directly aid them to speak
good English?" His observation was close
and correct, and his conservatism more
valuable than the enthusiasm of some of
his colleagues who have advocated sweeping
use of the supplementary work. But
his point of view ignored the basis of
expression, which is to my mind so important.
Paper-cutting is external to English,
of course. Its only connection is in its
power to correlate different forms of
expression, and to react on speech-expression
through sense-stimulus. But playing the
story is a closer relative to English than
this. It helps, amazingly, in giving the
"something to say, the urgent desire to say
it," and the freedom in trying. Never mind
the crudities,--at least, at the time; work
only for joyous freedom, inventiveness,
and natural forms of reproduction of the
ideas given. Look for very gradual changes
in speech, through the permeating power
of imitation, but do not forget that this is
the stage of expression which inevitably
precedes art.

All this will mean that no corrections are
made, except in flagrant cases of slang or
grammar, though all bad slips are mentally
noted, for introduction at a more favorable
time. It will mean that the teacher
will respect the continuity of thought and
interest as completely as she would wish an
audience to respect her occasional prosy
periods if she were reading a report. She
will remember, of course that she is not
training actors for amateur theatricals,
however tempting her show-material may be;
she is simply letting the children play with
expression, just as a gymnasium teacher
introduces muscular play,--for power
through relaxation.

When the time comes that the actors lose
their unconsciousness it is the end of the
story-play. Drilled work, the beginning of
the art, is then the necessity.

I have indicated that the children may be
left undisturbed in their crudities and
occasional absurdities. The teacher, on the
other hand, must avoid, with great judgment,
certain absurdities which can easily
be initiated by her. The first direful
possibility is in the choice of material. It is
very desirable that children should not be
allowed to dramatize stories of a kind so
poetic, so delicate, or so potentially valuable
that the material is in danger of losing
future beauty to the pupils through its present
crude handling. Mother Goose is a
hardy old lady, and will not suffer from the
grasp of the seven-year-old; and the familiar
fables and tales of the "Goldilocks"
variety have a firmness of surface which
does not let the glamour rub off; but
stories in which there is a hint of the beauty
just beyond the palpable--or of a dignity
suggestive of developed literature--are
sorely hurt in their metamorphosis, and
should be protected from it. They are for
telling only.

Another point on which it is necessary to
exercise reserve is in the degree to which
any story can be acted. In the justifiable
desire to bring a large number of children
into the action one must not lose sight of
the sanity and propriety of the presentation.
For example, one must not make a ridiculous
caricature, where a picture, however
crude, is the intention. Personally represent
only such things as are definitely and
dramatically personified in the story. If a
natural force, the wind, for example, is
represented as talking and acting like a
human being in the story, it can be imaged
by a person in the play; but if it remains a
part of the picture in the story, performing
only its natural motions, it is a caricature to
enact it as a role. The most powerful
instance of a mistake of this kind which I have
ever seen will doubtless make my meaning
clear. In playing a pretty story about
animals and children, some children in a
primary school were made by the teacher to
take the part of the sea. In the story, the
sea was said to "beat upon the shore," as
a sea would, without doubt. In the play,
the children were allowed to thump the
floor lustily, as a presentation of their
watery functions! It was unconscionably
funny. Fancy presenting even the crudest
image of the mighty sea, surging up on the
shore, by a row of infants squatted on the
floor and pounding with their fists! Such
pitfalls can be avoided by the simple rule
of personifying only characters that actually
behave like human beings.

A caution which directly concerns the
art of story telling itself, must be added
here. There is a definite distinction
between the arts of narration and dramatization
which must never be overlooked. Do
not, yourself, half tell and half act the
story; and do not let the children do it. It
is done in very good schools, sometimes,
because an enthusiasm for realistic and
lively presentation momentarily obscures
the faculty of discrimination. A much
loved and respected teacher whom I
recently listened to, and who will laugh if she
recognizes her blunder here, offers a good
"bad example" in this particular. She said
to an attentive audience of students that she
had at last, with much difficulty, brought
herself to the point where she could forget
herself in her story: where she could,
for instance, hop, like the fox, when she
told the story of the "sour grapes." She
said, "It was hard at first, but now it is a
matter of course; AND THE CHILDREN DO IT TOO,
WHEN THEY TELL THE STORY." That was the pity!
I saw the illustration myself a little later.
The child who played fox began with a
story: he said, "Once there was an old fox,
and he saw some grapes;" then the child
walked to the other side of the room, and
looked up at an imaginary vine, and said,
"He wanted some; he thought they would
taste good, so he jumped for them;" at
this point the child did jump, like his role;
then he continued with his story, "but he
couldn't get them." And so he proceeded,
with a constant alternation of narrative and
dramatization which was enough to make
one dizzy.

The trouble in such work is, plainly, a
lack of discriminating analysis. Telling a
story necessarily implies non-identification
of the teller with the event; he relates what
occurs or occurred, outside of his circle of
consciousness. Acting a play necessarily
implies identification of the actor with the
event; he presents to you a picture of the
thing, in himself. It is a difference wide
and clear, and the least failure to recognize
it confuses the audience and injures both

In the preceding instances of secondary
uses of story-telling I have come some
distance from the great point, the fundamental
point, of the power of imitation in
breeding good habit. This power is less
noticeably active in the dramatizing than in
simple re-telling; in the listening and the re-
telling, it is dominant for good. The child
imitates what he hears you say and sees
you do, and the way you say and do it, far
more closely in the story-hour than in any
lesson-period. He is in a more absorbent
state, as it were, because there is no
preoccupation of effort. Here is the great
opportunity of the cultured teacher; here is
the appalling opportunity of the careless or
ignorant teacher. For the implications of
the oral theory of teaching English are evident,
concerning the immense importance
of the teacher's habit. This is what it all
comes to ultimately; the teacher of young
children must be a person who can speak
English as it should be spoken,--purely,
clearly, pleasantly, and with force.

It is a hard ideal to live up to, but it is
a valuable ideal to try to live up to. And
one of the best chances to work toward
attainment is in telling stories, for there you
have definite material, which you can work
into shape and practice on in private.
That practice ought to include conscious
thought as to one's general manner in the
schoolroom, and intelligent effort to understand
and improve one's own voice. I hope
I shall not seem to assume the dignity of
an authority which no personal taste can
claim, if I beg a hearing for the following
elements of manner and voice, which appeal
to me as essential. They will, probably,
appear self-evident to my readers, yet
they are often found wanting in the public
school-teacher; it is so much easier to say
"what were good to do" than to do it!

Three elements of manner seem to me
an essential adjunct to the personality of a
teacher of little children: courtesy, repose
vitality. Repose and vitality explain themselves;
by courtesy I specifically do NOT
mean the habit of mind which contents
itself with drilling children in "Good-
mornings" and in hat-liftings. I mean
the attitude of mind which recognizes in
the youngest, commonest child, the potential
dignity, majesty, and mystery of the
developed human soul. Genuine reverence
for the humanity of the "other fellow"
marks a definite degree of courtesy in the
intercourse of adults, does it not? And
the same quality of respect, tempered by
the demands of a wise control, is exactly
what is needed among children. Again
and again, in dealing with young minds,
the teacher who respects personality as
sacred, no matter how embryonic it be,
wins the victories which count for true
education. Yet, all too often, we forget the
claims of this reverence, in the presence
of the annoyances and the needed corrections.

As for voice: work in schoolrooms brings
two opposing mistakes constantly before
me: one is the repressed voice, and the
other, the forced. The best way to avoid
either extreme, is to keep in mind that
the ideal is development of one's own
natural voice, along its own natural lines.
A "quiet, gentle voice" is conscientiously
aimed at by many young teachers, with so
great zeal that the tone becomes painfully
repressed, "breathy," and timid. This is
quite as unpleasant as a loud voice, which
is, in turn, a frequent result of early
admonitions to "speak up." Neither is natural.
It is wise to determine the natural volume
and pitch of one's speaking voice by a
number of tests, made when one is thoroughly
rested, at ease, and alone. Find out
where your voice lies when it is left to
itself, under favorable conditions, by reading
something aloud or by listening to yourself
as you talk to an intimate friend. Then
practise keeping it in that general range,
unless it prove to have a distinct fault, such
as a nervous sharpness, or hoarseness. A
quiet voice is good; a hushed voice is
abnormal. A clear tone is restful, but a loud
one is wearying.

Perhaps the common-sense way of setting
a standard for one's own voice is to
remember that the purpose of a speaking
voice is to communicate with others; their
ears and minds are the receivers of our
tones. For this purpose, evidently, a voice
should be, first of all, easy to hear; next,
pleasant to hear; next, susceptible of
sufficient variation to express a wide range of
meaning; and finally, indicative of personality.

Is it too quixotic to urge teachers who
tell stories to little children to bear these
thoughts, and better ones of their own,
in mind? Not, I think, if it be fully
accepted that the story hour, as a play hour,
is a time peculiarly open to influences
affecting the imitative faculty; that this
faculty is especially valuable in forming
fine habits of speech; and that an increasingly
high and general standard of English
speech is one of our greatest needs
and our most instant opportunities in the
American schools of to-day.

And now we come to the stories!


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