Character Building - Story Telling
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE art of story-telling is almost as old as the race itself.
Turn to the history of whatever nation you will, its earliest activities cannot be separated from the tale that was told by poet, bard or minstrel. Nor would one want to make such a separation. What is there of interest and delight in the early records of Greece and Rome without Ulysses, Perseus, Æneas, Romulus, Remus and a host of other half-mythical characters hopelessly entwined with fact; what a wealth of charm the mystical doings of Arthur and the struggles of the princely Beowulf with the fire-spitting monster add to early English history.
In story-telling, as in every other relation between mother and child, the former should make herself assured that she is always extending the invitation "Come unto me." There is nothing that gives readier entrance to the innermost chambers of the heart, reveals the ideals budding therein, and gives greater opportunity for the mother to make herself in reality, instead of merely in sentiment, the child's most confidential friend than the simple story.
It is important that a literary taste should be acquired before the child is too old to yield to guidance. If not, for the same reasons as advanced above, he will invariably select for himself the blood-and-thunder sheet which can have but one result-the perversion of his morals, so thoroughly does his mind assimilate and cause to live again in its own thought and action that upon which it is fed. Incidental to the above feature is the development of a vocabulary and power of expressing one-self with accuracy and facility. Watch your child's growth in this direction for six months and you will be surprised how many words and phrases he has added to his original stock.
In this connection may be suggested stories which are generally overlooked by even the story-telling mother, those which ex-plain the derivation, or give the historical origin of words. The story of the naming of St. Christopher is a good example. Simple, yet wonderfully interesting, stories have been built upon the names of many of our common flowers, such as the field daisy, the daffodil and the forget-me-not.
Story-telling is unquestionably an art, just as much as is painting or music, and likewise the truly artistic story-teller is probably the exception. Nevertheless I am firmly of the opinion that she who is possessed of true mother-love can, with reasonable effort, acquire a degree of proficiency in the art which will enable her to develop in the minds of her children good, wholesome literary tastes.
In the case of the very young child the mother should select stories in which the action is rapid, scene follows scene in quick succession, and little time is given to detailed description or "filling in" of the background. "The Three Bears" illustrates this point in an admirable manner. By using Teddy Bears to build the "bear" concept, a few nursery toys to illustrate the other features of the story, any mother can make this simple tale intelligible to even a lisping two-year-old. As the little one's intuitive faculty develops through his having learned by experience or otherwise the concepts which belong to such words as obedience, honesty, love and other of the commonly used abstract nouns, and as new thought-images have been created within his mind through introduction to new objects of the natural world, you will find that he becomes ready for the story whose plot is a trifle involved, and the scenes are somewhat elaborated by description. Here the narrator can make valuable use of comparison, and the opportunity should be seized if you do not want the child to fall into the habit of letting words flit by as meaningless sounds. Of course it is not to be expected that you will leave him with as full comprehension of the story as you yourself have.
The best writers of stories for children to-day are happily omitting the shuddering tale of cruel treatment that befell the innocent child, and of the wicked boy who robbed the bird's nest, and in their places are selecting themes of positive value, such as the truths of nature; for example, botany and geology. Many entertaining and profitable stories have been written during recent years on animal life, and the popularity which they have attained proves that the writers have responded to a universal desire on the part of parent and child. To children who have acquired a slight knowledge of geography and been introduced to the history of their own country, the historical tale usually proves interesting. The story of Betsy Ross and the Flag, of the origin of Independence Day, the Pocahontas incident-these and many others that will readily occur to you can be made entertaining.
One great advantage that the telling of a story has over reading the same from the printed page is that the narrator has freedom of body and hand for gesticulating; this, however, demands that he should enter thoroughly into the feeling and spirit of the story, otherwise his movements will not be natural and the minds of his little auditors will be confused rather than clarified.
Chief among our references for the art of story-telling is "Embellishment" in Volume III. It is difficult to point out superior instances of narrative power in our Library, but in Volume I we ask the young student to analyze the beautiful stories of "The Fir Tree" and "Thumbelina." As useful work we encourage the reader to compare "The Old Man's Comforts, and How He Gained Them," in Volume I, with its parody "Father William" in Volume XI. Another somewhat similar task would be to compare the prose version of Sir Gala-had in Volume II with the poetic rendition in Volume XI. The fables in Volume I for their brevity, wisdom, and point are fine models of narration. We offer Volume IV as a complete course of story-study in itself. When the young student advances let him read the biographies of Carlyle, Tennyson, Irving, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Louisa M. Alcott in Volume IX. After reading let him prepare an essay. In Volume X we call attention to "Study of the Novel" and "How to Study Shakespeare." The section of Volume XI entitled "Stories and Tales in Verse" should be helpful.