Tales with a twist

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Michael Thorn checks out the resources that will help bring your storytelling sessions to life.

Ever since people began scratching signs in the sand and using sticks or stones to represent characters or places in a narrative, the telling of a story has been embellished with extra cues beyond the words themselves.

Young children, in particular, respond to a multi-sensory approach to storytelling. As they take their first steps in beginning to read by themselves, they need as much experience as possible in matching words to pictures, and sounds to words, as well as participating in activities that require them to play around with physical representations of a story's cast and backdrop.

The various story resource packs included in this survey all attempt to help the teacher, parent or other adult provide this type of stimulation. They range from simple laminated sheets to bags filled with games, plush toys, audiotapes and landscape mats. In order to arrive at an overall verdict, I have awarded stars out of five for each of the categories. The final verdict, again with a star rating out of five, takes into account the publisher's intentions and therefore may not appear to penalise a resource's low score in a category if that has been judged irrelevant to the main purpose of the resource. The verdict commentary should clarify this further, where such a consideration arises.

Story

How good is the story on which the package is based? If a traditional story, what is the quality of the retelling. What format is the story available in?

Accessories

A description of the package contents with a comment on their suitability for the story and the target audience. Does the package provide storage for its contents or will this have to be purchased as an extra?

Design and value

Does the manufactured quality of the resource pack's contents reflect the price tag? If so, is the quality appropriate for the resource, or has it been under or over-produced?

Coverage and guidance

What is the range of storytelling activities that the pack will stimulate? Is there any form of guidance or help sheet provided? If there is, how helpful is it? Does the publisher provide supplementary information elsewhere? If the guidance is perfunctory, are the materials themselves sufficient to prompt ideas as to how they might best be used?

Final verdict

A summary of each resource pack's strengths and weaknesses and a final recommendation rating. The survey's five-star performer is Playstack's Jack and the Beanstalk, proving that cuddly hand puppets and plush toys are not essential features of a storytelling resource for young children.

Title

Jack and the Beanstalk

Age range: Foundation, KS1, Y3 Price: pound;25 for large pack (as reviewed) From: Playstack Tel: 0207 223 5428 www.playstack.com Story

Contains a slim but adequate story booklet in which the familiar tale is given an orthodox telling, with lively illustrations by Dom Mansell.

Accessories

A set of slotted story building cards invites children to assemble them in various ways. They might build them as a tall tower or form the story into a low train of events. The concept is a simple one but allows for much imaginative manipulation.

Design and Value

The cards come in an attractive and fairly sturdy box, with Velcro fasteners and a thick cord handle for carrying. The slotted cards are heavy duty and should withstand repeated use. A smaller set is available for half the price, but size is part of the attraction of this resource and the big pack is competitively priced.

Coverage and Guidance

The husband-and-wife team (Crail and Lucy Low) behind Playstack are promoting the packs as creative toys as much as educational resources. The lack of guidance for classroom use is, in this context, quite refreshing but creative teachers of the Early Years and KS1 will find that the pack supports many literacy objectives and is particularly helpful for narrative mapping.

Verdict

A terrific new-concept resource from a new company.

*****

BEST BUY

Title

ITCHYBEAR Age range: Foundation, KS1 Price: pound;80 From: Storysack Tel: 0161 763 6232 www.storysack.com.

Story

The sack contains a small picture book original story (about a bear with a recurring itch on various parts of its body) by Neil Griffiths, with illustrations by Judith Blake. Published independently, the book might not win any awards, but as a component in a storytelling package it is more than acceptable.

Accessories

Large and loveable deluxe cuddly bear; three gorgeous hand-puppets representing other animal characters in the story; finger-puppet butterfly and millipede; three felt apples; foldout card backdrop; snap card game; audio version of the book, read by the author; non-fiction title about apples.

Design and Value

The quality of production is superb. The cuddlies are adorably soft and strokeable, but their "sponge clean only" labels could make some schools wary of making the storypacks available for home use, which is part of their intention (see right). The concept of including a wide range of resources in one package is a very welcome one, and the printed drawstring sack is an eye-catching and durable holdall.

Coverage and Guidance

The pack contains a Guide for Parents booklet which is common to all the Storypacks, and also a title-specific Parent Prompt sheet. Experienced teachers, to whom most of the ideas will be second-nature, will still be glad to have them gathered together in an accessible format.

Verdict

An excellent storypack that comes a close runner-up.Consider buying to offer for parentloan.Children will cla our to give Itchy Bear a home for the weekend.

***

Title

KAGUYAHIME - PRINCESS MOONLIGHT Age range: KS1, KS2 Price: free loan, borrowing school pays cost of postage From: JFET Japan Festival Education Trust Tel: 020 7630 8696 www.jfet.org.uk.

Story

This charming story comes as kamishibai - a series of laminated illustration sheets, arranged so that when one picture is turned over the reverse shows text appropriate for the next picture.

Accessories

Sixteen heavily laminated sheets.

Design and Value

Although not of professional-illustration standard, the artwork is colourful and child-friendly. A package of three kamishabai sets will cost more than pound;8 in postage in each direction.

Coverage and Guidance

Can be used to encourage sequencing and prediction and for investigating the special qualities of the Japanese setting.

Verdict

A useful resource, especially for schools considering a season of stories from different cultures.

***

Title

THE JOURNEY

Age range: Y1 - Y3 Price: pound;80 From: Storysack Tel: 0161 763 6232 www.storysack.com.

Story

A boy loses his toy sailing boat and eventually finds it watched up on a beach at the end of its long river journey.

Accessories

Padded felt and knitted representations of buildings; small wooden model of toy boat; sundry plastic waterbirds; set of gamecards; mat showing highly-simplified map of river journey; giftware light-house; non-fiction title.

Design and Value

A somewhat incongruous assembly of resources. While the padded buildings certainly demonstrate concern for health and safety, both the boat's sharply pointed sail and the almost-equally pointed top of the light-house could pose a danger to children stumbling on top of them.

Coverage and Guidance

As for Itchy Bear.

Verdict

A promising Storypack concept let down by choice of accessories.

***

Title

OLD MACDONALD LITERACY MATERIALS

Age range: Foundation, KS1 Price: pound;54.44 (also available separately) From: Child's Play Tel: 01793 616 286 www.childs-play.com.

Story

The well-known farm song comes as a "book with holes" in three formats: small board book, standard picture book and big book, all identical except for size.

Accessories

A kilted Old Macdonald soft toy, six finger puppets, counting card game and tape containing a selection of songs.

Design and Value

The Farmer Macdonald figure has been designed to perch on a table edge while children take turns waving the finger puppets around him. Represents an excellent stimulus to participation. No box or sack for containment.

Coverage and Guidance

According to the Child's Play catalogue, these materials are "brilliant for Early Years literacy and word play". That may be, but a few examples and suggestions would have been helpful.

Verdict

Best approached in a pick-n-mix frame of mind.

***

Tile

THE 3 GOATS GRUFF

Age range: Foundation, KS1 Price: pound;39.95 From: MagneTale (distributed by Geometrix) Tel: 01543 452 424 www.geometrix.co.uk www.magnetale.com

Story

MagneTale stories "aim to be sensitive and thoughtful"; the storyteller is exhorted to "treat the goats as equals... We do not wish for Big Goat to dominate the story." All very well-intentioned, but it's an approach that runs the risk of deflating the essential tensions of the story.

Accessories

Seventeen picture pieces and 32 word pieces, all made from corrugated plastic with magnetic attachments.

Design and Value

The pieces will attach to any metallic surface. No special board is required. They are durable and the word and phrase pieces use large yellow text on a blue background. They come in an inconvenient house-shaped box which allows the pieces to fall out of the lid.

Coverage and Guidance

Includes a useful breakdown of the way in which the materials and the story can be used in all six areas of learning in the Foundation Stage.

Verdict

The kind of material teachers often spend hours preparing themselves. Use alongside different versions of the story, including Ted Dewan's (Scholastic).

***

Title

3 LITTLE PIGS Story BOARD

Age range: Foundation, KS1 Price: pound;29.99 for the figures; pound;15.95 for the felt board From: TTS Tel: 01623 447 800 www.tts-group.co.uk.

Story

The conventional form of the story is reproduced on seven A4 laminated sheets with Velcro pads for fixing to the felt board. The font is big enough for use with small group rather than the whole class. Accessories

The set of Velcro-backed, lightly-padded figures is well-produced and consists of the three pigs, the wolf, and representations of the three houses. However, the relative sizes of each means that it can be difficult to manipulate meaningful vignettes on the board, especially when wanting to display one of the pages from the story at the same time.

Design and Value

The set of figures is delivered inside nothing more elaborate than a polythene bag. A board similar to the one TTS provide as a separate order could be procured more cheaply elsewhere, and the set of figures, while well-designed, represent something of a costly luxury.

Coverage and Guidance

It would surely help TTS promote such storyboard sets for them to include some form of information sheet emphasising the value of telling a story using visual clues. A good deal of imagination and initiative would be needed to get the most out of these unadorned materials.

Verdict

An off-the-shelf resource that many will prefer to make for themselves.

**

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