Gateway to the Classics: How To Tell Stories to Children by Sara Cone Bryant
 
How To Tell Stories to Children by  Sara Cone Bryant

The Child-Mind; and How To Satisfy It

"It is the grown people who make the nursery stories," wrote Stevenson, "all the children do is jealously to preserve the text." And the grown person, whether he makes his stories with pen or with tongue, should bring two qualities at least to the work—simplicity of language and a serious sincerity. The reason for the simplicity is obvious, for no one, child or otherwise, can thoroughly enjoy a story clouded by words which convey no meaning to him.

The second quality is less obvious but equally necessary. No absence of fun is intended by the words "serious sincerity," but they mean that the story-teller should bring to the child an equal interest in what is about to be told; an honest acceptance, for the time being, of the fairies, or the heroes, or the children, or the animals who talk, with which the tale is concerned. The child deserves this equality of standpoint, and without it there can be no entire success.

As for the stories themselves, the difficulty lies with the material, not with the child. Styles may be varied generously, but the matter must be quarried for. Out of a hundred children's books it is more than likely that ninety-nine will be useless; yet perhaps out of one autobiography may be gleaned an anecdote, or a reminiscence which can be amplified into an absorbing tale. Almost every story-teller will find that the open eye and ear will serve him better than much arduous searching. No one book will yield him the increase to his repertoire which will come to him by listening, by browsing in chance volumes and magazines, and even newspapers, by observing everyday life, and in all remembering his own youth, and his youthful, waiting audience.

And that youthful audience? A rather too common mistake is made in allowing overmuch for the creative imagination of the normal child. It is not creative imagination which the normal child possesses so much as an enormous credulity and no limitations. If we consider for a moment we see that there has been little or nothing to limit things for him, therefore anything is possible. It is the years of our life as they come which narrow our fancies and set a bound to our beliefs; for experience has taught us that for the most part a certain cause will produce a certain effect. The child, on the contrary, has but little knowledge of causes, and as yet but an imperfect realisation of effects. If we, for instance, go into the midst of a savage country, we know that there is the chance of our meeting a savage. But to the young child it is quite as possible to meet a Red Indian coming round the bend of the brook at the bottom of the orchard, as it is to meet him in his own wigwam.

The child is an adept at make-believe, but his make-believes are, as a rule, practical and serious. It is credulity rather than imagination which helps him. He takes the tales he has been told, the facts he has observed, and for the most part reproduces them to the best of his ability. And "nothing," as Stevenson says, "can stagger a child's faith; he accepts the clumsiest substitutes and can swallow the most staring incongruities. The chair he has just been besieging as a castle is taken away for the accommodation of a morning visitor and he is nothing abashed; he can skirmish by the hour with a stationary coal-scuttle; in the midst of the enchanted pleasuance he can see, without sensible shock, the gardener soberly digging potatoes for the day's dinner."

The child, in fact, is neither undeveloped "grown-up" nor unspoiled angel. Perhaps he has a dash of both, but most of all he is akin to the grown person who dreams. With the dreamer and with the child there is that unquestioning acceptance of circumstances as they arise, however unusual and disconcerting they may be. In dreams the wildest, most improbable and fantastic things happen, but they are not so to the dreamer. The veriest cynic amongst us must take his dreams seriously and without a sneer, whether he is forced to leap from the edge of a precipice, whether he finds himself utterly incapable of packing his trunk in time for the train, whether in spite of his distress at the impropriety, he finds himself at a dinner-party minus his collar, or whether the riches of El Dorado are laid at his feet. For him at the time it is all quite real and harassingly or splendidly important.

To the child and to the dreamer all things are possible; frogs may talk, bears may be turned into princes, gallant tailors may overcome giants, fir-trees may be filled with ambitions. A chair may become a horse, a chest of drawers a coach and six, a hearthrug a battlefield, a newspaper a crown of gold. And these are facts which the story-teller must realise, and choose and shape the stories accordingly.

Many an old book, which to a modern grown person may seem prim and over-rigid, will be to the child a delight; for him the primness and the severity slip away, the story remains. Such a book as Mrs Sherwood's Fairchild Family is an example of this. To a grown person reading it for the first time, the loafing propensities of the immaculate Mrs Fairchild, who never does a hand's turn of good work for anyone from cover to cover, the hard piety, the snobbishness, the brutality of taking the children to the old gallows and seating them before the dangling remains of a murderer, while the lesson of brotherly love is impressed are shocking when they are not amusing; but to the child the doings of the naughty and repentant little Fairchilds are engrossing; and experience proves to us that the twentieth-century child is as eager for the book as were ever his nineteenth-century grandfather and grandmother.

Good Mrs Timmin's History of the Robins, too, is a continuous delight; and from its pompous and high-sounding dialogue a skilful adapter may glean not only one story, but one story with two versions; for the infant of eighteen months can follow the narrative of the joys and troubles, errors and kindnesses of Robin, Dicky, Flopsy and Pecksy; while the child of five or ten or even more will be keenly interested in a fuller account of the birds' adventures and the development of their several characters and those of their human friends and enemies.

From these two books, from Miss Edgeworth's wonderful Moral Tales; from Miss Wetherell's delightful volume Mr Rutherford's Children; from Jane and Ann Taylor's Original Poems; from Thomas Day's Sandford and Merton; from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, and from many another old friend, stories may be gathered, but the story-teller will find that in almost all cases adaptation is a necessity. The joy of the hunt, however, is a real joy, and with a field which stretches from the myths of Greece to Uncle Remus, from Le Morte d'Arthur to the Jungle Books, there need be no more lack of pleasure for the seeker than for the receiver of the spoil.


* * * * * *

The following is a list of valuable sources for the story-teller, all yielding either good original material for adaptation, or stories which need only a slight alteration in the telling.

THE BIBLE.

MOTHER GOOSE'S MELODY. (Bullen.)

THE STORY HOUR, by Kate Douglas Wiggin. (Gay & Hancock.)

STORIES FOR KINDERGARTEN. (Ginn.)

ST NICHOLAS MAGAZINE, bound volumes. (Warne.)

LITTLE FOLKS, bound volumes. (Cassell.)

FABLES AND NURSERY TALES, edited by Prof. Charles Eliot Norton. (Heath.)

STORIES TO TELL THE LITTLEST ONES, by Sara Gone Bryant. (Harrap.)

MOTHER STORIES, by Maud Lindsay. (Harrap.)

MORE MOTHER STORIES, by Maud Lindsay. (Harrap.)

ĘSOP'S FABLES.

STORIES TO TELL TO CHILDREN, by Sara Cone Bryant. (Harrap.)

THE BOOK OF STORIES FOR THE STORY-TELLER, by Fanny Coe. (Harrap.)

SONGS AND STORIES FOR THE LITTLE ONES, by Gordon Browne. (Harrap.)

CHARACTER TRAINING (stories with an ethical bearing), by E.L. Cabot and E. Eyles. (Harrap.)

STORIES FOR THE STORY HOUR, by Ada M. Marzials. (Harrap.)

STORIES FOR THE HISTORY HOUR, by Nannie Niemeyer. (Harrap.)

STORIES FOR THE BIBLE HOUR, by R. Brimley Johnson. (Harrap.)

NATURE STORIES TO TELL TO CHILDREN, by H. Waddingham Seers. (Harrap.)

OLD TIME TALES, by Florence Dugdale. (Collins.)

THE MABINOGION. (Dent.)

PERCY'S RELIQUES. (Warne.)

TOLD THROUGH THE AGES SERIES. (Harrap.)

LEGENDS OF GREECE AND ROME, by G.H. Kupfer, M.A.

FAVOURITE GREEK MYTHS, by L.S. Hyde.

STORIES OF ROBIN HOOD, by J.W. McSpadden.

STORIES OF KING ARTHUR, by U.W. Cutler.

STORIES FROM GREEK HISTORY, by H.L. Havell, B.A.

STORIES FROM WAGNER, by J.W. McSpadden.

BRITAIN LONG AGO (stories from old English and Celtic sources), by E.M. Wilmot-Buxton, F.R.Hist.S.

STORIES FROM SCOTTISH HISTORY (selected from "Tales of a Grandfather"), by Madalen Edgar, M.A.

STORIES FROM GREEK TRAGEDY, by H.L. Havell, B.A.

STORIES FROM THE EARTHLY PARADISE, by Madalen Edgar, M.A.

STORIES FROM CHAUCER, by J.W. McSpadden.

STORIES FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT, by Mrs S. Platt.

TOLD BY THE NORTHMEN (stories from the Norse eddas and sagas), by E.M. Wilmot-Buxton, F.R.Hist.S.

STORIES FROM DON QUIXOTE, by H.L. Havell, B.A.

THE STORY OF ROLAND AND THE PEERS OF CHARLEMAGNE, by James Baldwin.

(Teachers in need of good stories should keep themselves acquainted with the development of this series, as fresh volumes are constantly added. The material is precisely the right kind for the story-teller, since the stories have come to us from distant days when, as the national inheritance of this race or that, they were told in homely cabins by parents to their children, or sung by bards to festive companies.)

STORIES OF THE ENGLISH, by F. (Blackwood.)

OLD GREEK FOLK STORIES, by Josephine Peabody. (Harrap.)

RED CAP TALES, by S.R. Crockett. (Black.)

A CHILD'S BOOK OF SAINTS, by Wm. Canton. (Dent.)

CUCHULAIN, THE HOUND OF ULSTER, by Eleanor Hull. (Harrap.)

THE HIGH DEEDS OF FINN, by T.W. Rolleston, M.A. (Harrap.)

THE BOOK OF THE EPIC, by H.A. Guerber. (Harrap.)

THE MYTHS OF GREECE AND ROME, by H.A. Guerber. (Harrap.)

MYTHS OF THE NORSEMEN, by H.A. Guerber. (Harrap.)

MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE MIDDLE AGES, by H.A. Guerber. (Harrap.)

HERO-MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE BRITISH RACE, by M.I. Ebbutt, M.A. (Harrap.)

THE MINSTRELSY OF THE SCOTTISH BORDER.

GLEANINGS IN BUDDHA-FIELDS, by Lafcadio Hearn. (Kegan Paul.)

THE GOLDEN WINDOWS, by Laura E. Richards. (Allenson.)

HANS ANDERSEN'S FAIRY TALES.

GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES.

ENGLISH FAIRY TALES, by Joseph Jacobs. (Nutt.)

FOLK-TALES FROM MANY LANDS, by Lilian Gask. (Harrap.)

CELTIC FAIRY TALES, by Joseph Jacobs. (Nutt.)

INDIAN FAIRY TALES, by Joseph Jacobs. (Nutt.)

WEST AFRICAN FOLK-TALES, by W.H. Barker and C. Sinclair. (Harrap.)

RUSSIAN FAIRY TALES, by R. Nisbet Bain. (Harrap.)

COSSACK FAIRY TALES, by R. Nisbet Bain. (Harrap.)

THE HAPPY PRINCE, by Oscar Wilde. (Nutt.)

DONEGAL FAIRY TALES, by Seumas McManus.

IN CHIMNEY CORNERS, by Seumas McManus.

THE ARABIAN NIGHTS.

THE BLUE FAIRY BOOK (and others), by Andrew Lang. (Longmans.)

FAIRY STORIES, by John Finnemore. (S.S. Union.)

THE JAPANESE FAIRY BOOK. (Constable.)

FAIRY TALES FROM FAR JAPAN, translated by Susan Bollard. (Religious Tract Society.)

IN THE CHILD'S WORLD. (Philip.)

LEGENDS FROM FAIRYLAND, by Holme Lee. (Warne.)

THE KING OF THE GOLDEN RIVER, by John Ruskin. (Grant Allen.)

THE WELSH FAIRY BOOK, by Jenkyn Thomas. (Unwin.)

AT THE BACK OF THE NORTH WIND, by George Macdonald. (Blackie.)

TELL-ME-WHY STORIES ABOUT ANIMALS, by C.H. Claudy. (Harrap.)

TELL-ME-WHY STORIES ABOUT GREAT DISCOVERIES, by C.H. Claudy. (Harrap.)

UNCLE REMUS, by Joel Chandler Harris. (Routledge.)

MACAULAY'S LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME.

LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, by Sir Thomas Malory. (Macmillan.)

THE BOY'S FROISSART, by Henry Newbolt. (Macmillan.)

STORIES FROM DANTE, by Susan Cunnington. (Harrap.)

THE JUNGLE BOOKS, by Rudyard Kipling. (Macmillan.)

JUST SO STORIES, by Rudyard Kipling. (Macmillan.)

WOOD MAGIC, by Richard Jefferies. (Longmans.)

AMONG THE FARMYARD PEOPLE, by Clara D. Pierson. (Murray.)

AMONG THE NIGHT PEOPLE, by Clara D. Pierson. (Murray.)

AMONG THE MEADOW PEOPLE, by Clara D. Pierson. (Murray.)

THE ANIMAL STORY BOOK, by Andrew Lang. (Longmans.)

WILD ANIMALS I HAVE KNOWN, by Ernest Thompson Seton. (Nutt.)

A BOOK OF NATURE MYTHS, by Florence Holbrook. (Harrap.)

MORE NATURE MYTHS, by F.V. Farmer. (Harrap.)

PARABLES FROM NATURE, by Mrs A. Gatty. (Bell.)

NORTHERN TRAILS, by W.J. Long. (Ginn.)

THE KINDRED OF THE WILD, by Chas. G.D. Roberts. (Duckworth.)

RAB AND HIS FRIENDS, by Dr John Brown.

A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES, by R.L. Stevenson. (Longmans.)

A TREASURY OF VERSE FOR LITTLE CHILDREN, compiled by Madalen Edgar, M.A. (Harrap.)

A TREASURY OF VERSE FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, compiled by Madalen Edgar, M.A. (Harrap.)

A TREASURY OF BALLADS, compiled by Madalen Edgar, M.A. (Harrap.)

BIMBI, by Ouida. (Chatto.)

STORIES FROM SHAKESPEARE, by Dr Thomas Carter. (Harrap.)

STORIES FROM THE FAERIE QUEENE, by Laurence H. Dawson. (Harrap.)

MORAL TALES, by Maria Edgeworth. (Macmillan.)


 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Story of Christmas 
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2019   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.