Storytelling: Ready, Set, Go – to Literacy!

Storytelling, Learning and the Information Age

A Story to Tell: “A Very Smart Rabbit” and How to Tell It

Note to Teachers

Motivated to Learn

Useful Resources

Language Arts Standards
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Where in The World is Glenda Bonin?

Glenda is always ready to share a story

For information about Glenda, click here to review her website.

I hope you will consider contacting me if you are on the school selection committee for artists to present a residency, assemblies, parent/teacher workshops or other special events.  I have years of experience, and would very much enjoy an opportunity to bring one of my programs to your school.

As a roster artist in the states of Arizona, Nevada and North Dakota you can be assured that I have passed rigorous evaluation procedures, and I know how to coordinate what I do with your need to address specific learning standards.   I can be contacted by phone at 520-629-0270.  To send me an email, just click here.

Stories start with listening

A few years ago when I did a month-long residency at a rural elementary school in Nevada, I was alerted to a third grade boy (I will call him John in this article) who had been an underachiever and seemed to have lost all motivation to learn. The teacher told me not to be concerned if John didn’t want to do much, since that was how he was.  After my third visit to the classroom, this teacher noticed that when I was telling stories, John seemed to be paying more attention in class than he had all year long. The next day, when I asked the students if anyone wanted to tell a story, John’s hand shot up.  He came to the front of the class and had a great time telling a story to his appreciative classmates.  He was a great talker.  I found myself thinking that this kid was a natural storyteller.
At the end of the session, John asked me where I got my stories, and I told him most of my stories come from library books.   When I left the class that day, the teacher took me into the hall and told me she had never been able to get John to read or do much of anything during class.  She said he was such a bad reader that she had given up hope that he would ever read well enough to pass third grade reading goals. She was shocked at his sudden interest and response.  
The next day, the school librarian told me John had stayed after school to ask her if he could check out some of the “storyteller’s books.”  She said this was the first time he had asked her about taking books home, and she was thrilled. During the lunch period that day, he found me in the library and asked if he could “practice” a story with me.  As I sat there listening to John read his selected story out loud, I could tell it was not easy for him.  His desire to tell a story was so strong that he hardly noticed the difficulty he had reading and pronouncing some of the words.   
When I talked with him about storytelling, he said everyone in his family always told stories, and he never knew that anyone other than his family liked to hear stories.  John told me that if he could, he would like to be a “real” storyteller one day, and if that meant he needed to do better in school, he’d try harder.  
At the end of my month at that school, my core group of third graders presented some of their stories during an assembly.
John, the boy who was identified as an underachiever when I first arrived, had written a story of his own and told it during the school assembly in the multipurpose room.  He could not have been happier.

As I drove away from the school, I was struck with the idea that somehow through the gift of story, this little boy had finally been motivated to read and try his hand at writing.  It is a memory I will never forget.

Spend some time reading with your children



This free, comprehensive booklet published in 2007 by Jackie Baldwin and Kate Dudding, provides descriptions of a wide variety of educational programs (K-college) to demonstrate the value of using storytelling and storytelling techniques across the curriculum in traditional classrooms.
Davis, Donald.  Writing as a Second Language: from experience to story to prose. August House, Little Rock, AK, 2000. ISBN 0-87-483-567-4
I cannot recommend this book enough.  If I had my way, every school principal would have a copy. Teachers will find this book to be a great resource when trying to convince others about why storytelling is such an important component to literacy in the classroom.
Johnson, Philip E., PhD.  Fifty Nifty Ways to Help Your Child Become a Better Learner. Ghost River Images, Tucson, AZ, 2004. ISBN 0-9749676-0-2
This handbook about learning to learn just came to my attention, and I am impressed with the common sense and logical ideas put forth by Dr. Johnson. His no-nonsense approach is wonderfully refreshing, and I wish a publication like this had been available to me when I was raising my kids.

Nose to the Grindstone
Reading Can Take You to Another World 
As a rule, I schedule some travel in the spring every year.  This year, however, I will be working in and around Arizona until mid-June, when I take the RV toward the state of Washington to deliver eleven programs at different locations in the Timberland Library System.
What does this mean for you? Since my travel will take me north from Tucson through Nevada, northern California and Oregon between June 14th and June 26th, I am open to booking shows en route at my “home base” rate. With no added travel cost, this represents a considerable savings to you. I am accepting bookings now (1-888-252-3033). Don’t miss this opportunity to add a great summer show to your line-up at a rate you can afford!
Once my work is finished in the Pacific Northwest, I will be traveling east between July 15th and July 22nd through Spokane and on to Kalispell, Montana to see customers there.  If your library or summer program is located along this route, please contact me to see if my schedule and yours can come together to add to the fun you have in mind for your community.  I plan to stay in Montana until August 9th before driving back to Tucson.
There are several different programs for you to consider, and I have put together a special show to complement the 2010 summer library theme of “Make a Splash @ Your Library.”  This program is called “Squirrely Shirley Makes Waves,” and features a wonderful little squirrel in a tree trunk. Squirrely Shirley and I interact with audiences, and she already has fans in Arizona and Nevada where she made her debut last summer.  For more information about this show, please check out the library page on my website: .

The Pleasurable Path to Reading, Writing and Learning
It is no secret that listening to stories at an early age helps youngsters develop the language skills and vivid imaginations so important to learning how to read and write with confidence. When children listen to a parent or trusted adult read or tell a story, young imaginations are stimulated and important connections are made between words, pictures, emotions and understanding.  This is reading readiness in its primary form, and it should never be taken for granted.
Storytelling is an interactive activity, engaging both the teller and listener.  It is a person-to-person experience where the wisdom of the ages is shared through folklore and tales from around the world. This is one of the best methods for youngsters to become curious, learn about cultures and enjoy the collective knowledge that has endured for so many generations. It is rather like discovering the family tree of humanity – a way to help us understand how we are all connected.
Besides all this, storytelling is fun, and listening to stories is pure pleasure. Everyone enjoys a good story. I can’t think of a better way to introduce a child to the wonderful world of literacy.
Today’s parents are eager to have their children become familiar with computer activities and learning games to prepare them for new technology. Certainly understanding computers and programs helps set the stage for children to become better learners. Interacting with a computer gives the user information, assists in problem solving skills and develops quick hand-and-eye coordination.  But computer use is basically a singular and solitary experience with information directed to the user.  As astounding and seemingly unlimited technological learning possibilities become available, I believe the old ways of sharing ancient wisdom on a personal level must not be discounted.  Each holds an important place in the acquisition of knowledge, and I think educators would do well to find a way to ensure both are included in the learning matrix.
Over the years, I have found that stories work for all ages:  stories told not just to, but with, the listener(s).  I don’t think technological advances will ever replace the social and emotional exchange that takes place when one person tells a story to another, or to others.  All this is to say that much more goes on when a story is shared. When listening to a story, the senses (auditory, visual, kinesthetic and emotional) are actively engaged, so no matter what the listener’s learning style may be, no one is left out.
Notice what happens when you say “Once Upon a Time” to a child (or to any one else for that matter). There’s a good chance that unless you fail to follow through with a story, all activity will stop for a moment and you will perceive a shift to an “I’m ready to listen” mode.  As human beings, we are programmed to listen to and remember stories.  When youngsters hear a story, they use their imaginations and picture the events in their mind’s eye, much like a movie.  This exercise of the imagination and connection to story is critical for children as they develop reading, writing and vocabulary skills.
Another valuable aspect of enjoying stories “live” is the social value that comes from interacting with others in a group, a component sadly absent in the user/computer learning model. So, as we embrace what the information age offers, we would do well not to abandon the ancient art of storytelling. Storytelling has endured throughout the ages to help us understand, learn and communicate with one another in important and lasting ways.
A Very Smart Rabbit
Adapted by Glenda Bonin from a Burmese folktale, 2009
One day, Lion decided he needed an advisor – someone he could confide in and trust.
Lion announced his wish, and sent word out to all the creatures of the jungle to come to a special clearing in the forest so he could select his advisor.  Now, Lion had a reputation of being a mean and difficult King, and there were very few animals who wanted to have the job of advisor. Nevertheless, everyone met at the appointed place and time as Lion directed.
Lion roared, “Well, who will be my advisor? Will it be you, Bear? Come forth and I will ask you a question to see if you are trustworthy.”
Bear came forward and bowed. “What is it you wish to know, your majesty?”
“Smell my breath, Bear.  What is it like?”
Bear thought he would faint from the foul smell of Lion’s breath, but because he was afraid of Lion, Bear thought for a moment and said, “Oh, mighty one – your breath is as sweet as the flowers growing in a field.”
With that, Lion roared in anger and cuffed Bear on his ears, telling him to get out of his sight.  “You are lying, my breath makes flowers wilt – everyone knows this.  I could never trust you to advise me.  Be gone!”
Next, Lion called Fox to him.  “Fox, you are cunning and smart. What do you have to say about my breath?”
The Fox took one whiff of Lion’s stinking breath and since he had seen what had happened with Bear, Fox replied, “King Lion, it is true, your breath is foul, and I feel sick from the smell.”
“What,” roared Lion?  “I make you sick?  Here’s something to make you really sick.”  And with that, Lion chased the Fox away with a promise to eat him if he ever dared to return.
Then Lion called forth the little rabbit.  “So Rabbit, what do you have to say to me about my breath?”  By now, Lion was getting hungry and he had decided to make a meal of Rabbit if he didn’t like his answer.
Rabbit, knowing what had happened to Bear and Fox realized he was in a bad spot.  He sensed that his life was in danger. “My King,”responded Rabbit after he had taken several whiffs of Lion’s breath.  “I cannot tell if your breath is sweet or sour. You see, I have a bad cold and I cannot smell a thing.  May I go home until the cold is cured?  For only then will I be able to use my nose to say what sort of a smell comes from your royal mouth.”
Lion had no choice but to let Rabbit go home and, needless to say, Rabbit never went near the Lion again.
This story is fun to tell because it gives you an opportunity to take on different voices, attitudes and postures during the telling.  It may take a bit of practice to project five different voices (Storyteller, Lion, Bear, Fox and Rabbit), but the result will be worth it, I promise. Below, I have included a few hints that you might consider.  As you practice telling this tale, you will find that the voices, etc. you explore will start to firm up and feel “right”.
When speaking as the Storyteller, you will be talking directly to the audience.  This is when you engage your listeners as you establish the story and provide helpful information during the telling. You will be most relaxed and chatty when you are using your Storyteller voice.
When Lion speaks, you will want to shift into a strong and arrogant attitude by possibly altering the pitch of your voice. Pay attention to where you want to have Lion look as he speaks to each character. Try out different physical postures to help you show Lion’s attitude of power.  He is, after, all the King.
The character of Bear can be shown by adjusting the way you stand in order to establish a solid, large and ambling creature. Your voice will be deeper than other animals, and when you speak as Bear you will turn your head toward where you want your audience to imagine the King to be.
Think of Fox as a sly and rather self-assured personality.  The voice and characteristics you select should convey this.  Don’t forget to consider using your eyes and face when you experiment with how Fox might interact with Lion.
When Rabbit comes into the story, consider how small he is in relation to the other creatures introduced so far.  When Rabbit speaks, it makes sense if he has to look up to Lion. If you feel comfortable making Rabbit seem timid, your voice and physical stance should project this.
At the concluding line, you will be back again as the Storyteller talking directly to the audience. This line needs to be said with deliberation, a sense of humor and a twinkle in your eye.  If you deliver the final line this way, the audience will know the story has reached the end, and that they share with you the Rabbit’s little joke.