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Sally Ann's onionsSomething to try: Play with language by creating metaphors and similes that engage the senses. Stay away from the obvious, and dare to explore and stretch your imagination!

These socks smelled like ____.
She buried the secret like a ____.
His voice grated like a ____.
The clouds scowled like ____.
His temper raged like ____.
She sang like ____.
Home is ____.
An empty house smells like____.
Friendship is ____.
I am a ____.

This Writing Tip: Finding Your Folklore Voice with Bobbi Miller, and similar writing exercises may be found on Lynne Pisano's blog, My Word Playground.

Telling a story is like singing a song. A good story has its rhythms and its refrains. Words sway and swing and slide across the page.

When we read a good story, it feels like we're dancing.” ~Bobbi Miller

spread from Davy Crockett

Once upon a storytime…

We are homo narratus, story animals, offers Kendall Haven. We have told our stories for over 100,000 years. Not every culture has developed codified laws or written language, but every culture in the history of the planet has created myths, legends, fables and folk tales.

Evolutionary biologists now believe we are hardwired to think in story forms. Cognitive scientists now know that stories help us understand and remember information for longer periods. Researchers have found that telling stories at an early age helps develop math abilities and language literacy. Using stories in the classroom create four fundamentals needed for effective learning: meaning, context, relevance, and empathy.

Folklore in Action

Remember the child's game, Telephone? Everyone sit in a circle. Teacher, you begin: Back Cover of One Fine Tradewhisper a joke or a story to the student next to you. That student whispers the same story to the one sitting next to her. That student whispers the same story to the one next to her until the story makes its way around the circle. The last student recites the story to the group. That's the folklore process in action: someone tells a story. That story is told and retold, and with every telling, the story changes as the teller makes it her own.

Vignette from Davy Crockett gets Hitched

In my folktelling process, language becomes as much a character as the protagonist. In my picturebook Davy Crocket Gets Hitched (Holiday House, 2009), the language, like the characters, is rambunctious and bodacious. The language defies the tidy, restrictive, even uptight structure of formal grammar. It mocks it, in fact, using pseudo-Latinate prefixes and suffixes to expand on the root. The result is a teetotaciously, splendiferous reflection of a wild frontier too big for mere words to capture. By creating such a grand language, the frontier storyteller found a means to make an unknown frontier less scary. The grander language captured the bigger ideas.

Asking Good Questions

How many versions of the same story (Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, for example) can you find? How do these stories differ?

What is your favorite folktale? Some of my favorites are written by Eric Kimmel and Rafe Martin, but there are many to enjoy. Who is the hero? What does the hero want? What does he have to do to get what he wants? Retell the story, creating your own tall tale. Who can tell the biggest whopper?

What's your favorite fairy tale? Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk or Hansel and Gretel? Retell the tale from the perspective of the antagonist (the wolf, the giant or the witch, for example!) Can a witch be a hero, too?

Who's your favorite fairy tale character? Snow White, or one of the dwarves? Cinderella, or one of her sisters? The youngest of the Three Little Pigs? You're a reporter for your school paper. Interview this character about the events of her story. Ask her why she did what she did. Ask her about her childhood. What secrets does she have to tell you? Write your newspaper report about your discoveries!


Want to know more?

See my "Conversation of Many: Where have all the Folktales Gone?" for more ideas and favorite books!

Blatt, Gloria. Once Upon a Folktale: Capturing the Folklore Process with Children. NY: Teachers College Press, 1993.

Haven, Kendall. Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story. Westport, CT: Libraries, Unlimited, 2007.

Mooney, Bill, and David Holt. The Storyteller's Guide: Storytellers Share Advice for the Classroom, Boardroom, Showroom, Podium, Pulpit and Center Stage. Little Rock, AR: August House, 1996.