Wednesday, December 30, 2009

National Storytelling Network

I'm not a great group member, but there's one of which I've been a member since 1991: the National Storytelling Network. No, that's not exactly accurate. I began as a member of the National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling, known as NAPPS. Then there was a divorce. That is, the organization split in two, with joint custody of the National Storytelling Festival. Now we have the International Storytelling Center and the National Storytelling Network, two worthy organizations.

I'm not just a member of NSN, I'm the Kansas Liaison to NSN. In maintaining a mailing list for Kansas storytellers (others are welcome), I pass along news from NSN and other storytelling organizations, I publicize other storytellers' events and I encourage folks to join NSN.

So why join NSN? Here are my reasons:
  • This is the best organization in the country that represents storytelling. It's member-driven, not a top-heavy organization (there's a small staff, but tons of the work is done voluntarily by members).
  • NSN publishes Storytelling Magazine quarterly. The magazine always has a guest editor who pulls together articles on a specific theme. I was guest editor a few years ago and can attest to the cat-herding aspect of getting storytellers to write about our artform. Somehow it works. The magazine is a rich source of inspiration and information on storytelling. I've saved every issue I've ever received.
  • The NSN Conference is a gathering of the tribe, a place where storytellers gather to learn from each other, hang out together, listen and talk about what we love. This conference (different from the National Storytelling Festival, which is performance driven and held in Jonesborough TN every October) travels around the country. Next summer it will be in Los Angeles. Members get a good discount on conference registration.
  • NSN has an excellent grants program. Lots of great projects have been funded through NSN grants. The Sponsored Member Program allows storytellers to use NSN as an umbrella nonprofit.
  • There are lots of special interest groups of NSN, including Healing Story Alliance, Environmental Stories, Storytelling in Higher Education and more.
  • NSN members can use the Greenwood World Folklore and Folklife Database for free. It's a huge resource!
  • The NSN Directory is one more way I can get my name out into the world as a storyteller.
  • NSN is the parent organization for Tellabration, the night of storytelling in November held all over the world. As a brand-new storyteller, I attended the very first Tellabration back in 1988 in Chester, CT and participated in the second and many subsequent events. This event reminds people that storytelling is NOT a dying art.
There are plenty more reasons for joining. Maybe some of you have others to add?

By the way, this is a great time to give a year-end donation to NSN. The organization can definitely use your help!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Auntie Alice

Christmas is a season for telling family stories. Tomorrow I'll travel to another state to visit my sweetie's family, and I know for certain I'll hear his family stories.

On Saturday I found myself telling him about my great-aunt, Alice Margaret Schuyler Lighthall. I've been thinking of telling some of her story for years, but I'm not sure which part or where to begin.

Every year at Christmas, she and my grandmother (her sister) would arrive at our house, Auntie Alice from Westmount, an English-speaking city now within Montreal, and Gran from Springfield, MA. This picture would have been one of their last visits with us. Auntie Alice is reading, Granny is contemplating the prospect of a cup of tea, I'd guess.
Where do I begin? Auntie Alice was born in 1891 and lived to two months shy of 100. She told me once she didn't want to live to be 100, and so she didn't. She was mentally sharp until the end. I visited her a month before she died, so I can attest to this.

Here are some of the pieces of her life:

Auntie Alice wanted to go to McGill to study law, but her father didn't want any "bluestockings" in the family.

In 1916, she joined the St. John's Voluntary Aid Detachment, which took her briefly to England and then on to General Hospital No. 5 in Rouen, France, where she was a nurse through to the end of WWI. I have a copy of her journal from those two years. It doesn't reveal much of her feelings, as she was an intensely private person and my mother says she was afraid her parents would be too inquisitive. The journal includes photocopies of watercolors she painted while there (though she didn't actually have much time to paint). Here are a couple:
(Chateau near Petit Couronne, Rouen and No. 5 British General Hospital, Rouen. Wards 19 and 20 and air raid trenches.)

She was instrumental in the Canadian Guild of Crafts, started by her mother. According to the Guild website, this organization "was founded in 1906 in an effort to conserve, encourage and promote Inuit art, Amerindien art and fine crafts of Canada." I was present in about 1983 when she was honored by the Guild of Crafts for her lifetime of dedication.

Because of her work with the Guild of Crafts and other organizations, she was appointed to the Order of Canada.

Auntie Alice was a published poet and was the president of the Poetry Group of Montreal in the 1960s, according to an article in the Westmount Examiner in 2008.

She wrote a Christmas pageant set in France, which had Druids as well as Christians in it.

She was fascinated by archaeology and civilization. She was one of the founders of the Westmount Historical Association, and it was due to Auntie Alice that the Hurtubise House was saved from demolition in 1955. This house was built in 1739 and is now owned by the Canadian Heritage of Quebec.

She listened, really listened, to children.

Auntie Alice spent much of her time reading. At her old house in Westmount, she had stacks of books by her easy chair, sporting flags of bookmarks throughout. In her later years, she'd sometimes fall asleep at our house while reading a massive tome, woken only by the clunk of the book on the floor.

She was funny and smart, as well as tremendously dignified. She favored swoopy dresses with multiple folds and patterned scarves. I believe she made the dresses. When she arrived at Christmas, she was festooned with small tote bags.

She lived with her parents until they died. Auntie Alice never married. Because she was the last of her generation in Montreal, her cellar was full of the belongings of relatives who had died. It was an amazing treasure trove! There were fourteen trunks down there at one point. Once I was rummaging around down there (with her permission), and opened a small box to find a set of false teeth. I guess you don't just throw those away.

If you had breakfast at her house, you had to be prepared to have a boiled egg that was closer to raw than cooked. She must have just waved it over the boiling water and called it done. Because we were expected to be polite, we ate everything we were served, no matter what. I put lots of salt and pepper on my raw egg.

We loved her dearly.

P.S. I know my family, especially my mother, will have plenty of comments to add! Suggestions on where to begin?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tips for Hosting a Family Story Night at Your School

Every now and then I like to write a how-to article for teachers, librarians and PTA/PTO members. Here's one!

Looking for a family event to build listening and literacy skills, encourage parent involvement, build the school community, and make the school library a more welcoming space for students and parents? Why not try a Family Story Night? Invite the students, their families, staff and a storyteller for an evening event in the library or the gym.

Family Story Nights can be great fun. Be prepared for some chaos, though. Kids are excited to be in school when it’s not regular school time. It’s natural for them to want to show their friends off to their parents and their parents off to their friends. The schoolday restrictions are easily forgotten. I clearly remember running full tilt down the hall at an evening event in fifth grade, something that was absolutely forbidden during school time. Students may need a little extra guidance about how to behave.

Who’s in charge? Be very clear from the start about who is in charge of the children. Parents often assume teachers are, while teachers assume parents are. It’s not the job of the storyteller, in any case.
  • During the main event, request that families sit together.
  • If parents start chatting among themselves, remind them gently that they need to be good examples to their children. Do not expect the storyteller to do this.
  • If younger children create a disturbance, suggest the parents take them out of the performance for a short while.
Here are some ideas for Family Story Night. No need to do all of these; pick a few that will work for your school:
  • Hire a professional storyteller with experience at this kind of event. Be sure you discuss the details, including payment, venue, contact info, sound system, estimated size of the audience and length of time the storyteller will perform. Usually 30-45 minutes is appropriate, depending on the attention span of the audience. Remember that there will be a range of ages, from preschoolers up through grandparents at the event.
  • Invite the kids to come in pajamas and to bring blankets or sleeping bags. (Not all storytellers enjoy this, so be sure you’ve discussed it in advance.) Teachers and librarians may join in. Kids think it’s funny to see their teachers in bathrobes.
  • Suggest that the students bring a favorite book, and for about 15 minutes before the storytelling, invite the family groups to read together—kids reading to parents, parents reading to kids, kids reading to younger siblings. Have extra picture books available.
  • Give tours of the school library before or after the storytelling.
  • Allow students attending to borrow extra books from the school library. Be sure you have enough staff or parent volunteers available to check the books out at the time.
  • Ask the students to decorate the school in advance with hand-drawn posters of books they love.
  • Take pictures of teachers with their favorite books to decorate the gym or library.
  • Invite the public librarian to come and say hello.
  • Provide snacks for the very end of the program, as the kids are going out the door. Please, don’t serve snacks before or during the stories!
  • Solicit local businesses for funds to provide a book for every family.
  • Give out bookmarks.
  • Invite the local TV and newspaper reporters to cover the Family Story Night.
  • Make sure the event is over by 8 p.m. so children will be rested for school the next day!
For another take on Family Story Nights, check out storyteller Sue Black’s blog post, Pajama Night Delight.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New video on Youtube

I've been working on another blog post, but it's taking time to gather my thoughts. As a stopgap, here's the latest video I put up on my Youtube channel:

This is from my DVD The Bully Billy Goat. I use the song in many of my programs as a way to give kids a wiggle break, and also as a way for us all to release emotions. I had a really cool kid at San Roberto school in Monterrey make fake tears on his face with his water bottle for the sad verse (I didn't get a chance to tell his mother how happy I was to have Joe in the front row--he was the best listener in that audience).

I don't bill myself as a singer--my hope is that I can encourage other storytellers, teachers and librarians to sing with kids, no matter the quality of their singing voices.

In light of the H1N1 flu, it's not such a good idea to encourage kids to put their fingers in their mouths. They'll do it anyway, but since I was in Mexico (and had one class not be able to attend a performance because they were in quarantine) I've changed the way I do this song, just making my voice sound like I'm underwater without using my finger. Not as funny, and not as good a photo opportunity, but there it is.