Tall stories and telling tales

27th June 1997 at 01:00

From earliest times every culture seems to have told itself stories - a hugely significant fact. But why? Margaret Meek recently wrote: "We would die if we did not." Who, then, was the storyteller? Why did the storyteller want to be the storyteller? Were they all storytellers? Was this crucial act of definition and understanding essential for the self as well as for the whole tribe?

Tessa Grainger practises and writes, believing that sharing, expressing - not just in words -and exploring folk tales, myths and legends passed orally through many generations has immense value for young children. Not only is it potent in developing language and literacy, but it breeds curiosity, imagination, creativity, aesthetic discipline and a sense of form. But, like everything worthwhile in schools, it needs careful nurturing and teaching.

Traditional Storytelling in the Primary Classroom is an engaging mixture of theory, information and practicality. Examples of the stories Tessa Grainger writes about areinterspersed between each chapter: native American ("Ladder to the Sky"), Russian ("The End of Baba Yaga", the legendary witch with iron teeth), African ("The Children of Wax"), Inuit ("The Final Victory"), Caribbean ("How the Crab Got its Back"), Australasian ("How the Sun Came into the World"), Chinese ("The Weaving of a Dream").

Drawing on the work of critics, storytellers and teachers, and backed with classroom experience, she presents a pro-gramme that requires sensitive enthusiasm from the teacher and a bringing together of music, art and drama as well as English. Schemes of preparation, understanding, interpretation and presentation are considered in enough unpedantic detail to give confidence to the most apprehensive teacher. There are compre-hensive lists of sources and resources.

This sort of thing is not a luxury. The work of people such as Carol Fox has shown that the formal language demands of the curriculum are better met from an early immersion in language at its most creative, and that assimilation of the nature of narrative to the level of habitual thought leads to love of and achievement in reading and writing.

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