Storytelling Sessions

My Very First Outdoor Storytelling Session

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Yes, I finally did it! A storytelling session after our move here to Georgia 🙂 I did my first one in a preschool. There weren’t any pictures so I didn’t write any updates. And also, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures in the school. My second session was in an open space, near our church, St Thomas Aquinas. They organized a little Trunk N’ Treat in conjunction with Halloween and the storytelling was at the end of their Trunk N’ Treat route, where they also had their s’mores and apple ciders.

I decided to tell ‘The Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything” hence my old lady get-up. There were 3 short sessions altogether and were done in an ‘Open House’ manner. So it was pretty flexible, timing wise. Storytelling has never been thrown into the Trunk N’ Treat program before, so this is the first, and I’m so glad to be part of it 🙂 It was my dearest hubby’s idea. He saw the announcement in the church’s newsletter about Trunk N’ Treat and suggested that I offer my storytelling services since I love it so much and I’m crazy about Halloween haha So I did. After a few emails, the slot is confirmed 🙂

Honestly, outdoor storytelling is a whole different ballgame altogether. It has its own set of challenges. I’m writing this to remind myself of what I learned from it.

Firstly, I HADN’T THE FAINTEST IDEA, what ‘Open House’ meant, and it was my fault for not asking. So, I went there, totally CLUELESS. I sat and waited for the organizers but neither of them came. So I waited for crowd to arrive for the first session, but the crowd which came, didn’t seem to be waiting for one. I didn’t want to continue waiting, so I approached the crowd myself, (who already busied themselves at the campfire, with their s’mores and apple ciders), and just made the announcement (in a rather clumsy way, I must add. Thinking back, I think I made a fool of myself haha)

Then some of them responded and walked with me to where I wanted to tell the story.

All these caught me off guard, hence whatever I prepared for my introduction, just flew out the window. To top that all, that evening was really chilly. I was shivering (due to the cold) and shaking (due to the jitters), and now I can hardly recall what I said in the beginning LOL Thank goodness I remembered every part of the story haha 😛

Despite all that, I was quite surprised by the kind, positive feedback from the parents. Some of them sat for all 3 sessions! One hugged me and thanked me for such a great session (they and their children sat for 2 sessions), another said I was really good and the children couldn’t keep their eyes off me, another lady jokingly said the story was so spooky she had to call her mom to sit next to her haha! And one dad asked if I was an actor 😀

So anyway, these were some of the lessons I learned:

1) Outdoor – noises from your surroundings

2) Voice – definitely gotta improve this if I were to do another outdoor session

3) Work more on my gestures and facial expressions – need to be clearer and with better timing

Am I taking this too seriously? If I am, that’s because I love doing it and I want to do better each time 🙂

Ben didn’t manage to take many pictures because it got pretty dark and many of the pictures turned out blurry… 😦 So here are some of the clearer ones


Telling ‘The Magic Porridge Pot’

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The Magic Porridge Pot Storytelling (Poster prepared by Times Bookstore)

This session was held in Times Bookstore in Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur.

I tweaked ‘The Magic Porridge Pot’  from Usborne’s Magical Stories for Little Children a little. In that version, it tells of Hannah, a kind and generous girl who was given a magic porridge pot by an old woman when she was out collecting honey one day. The old lady taught her the magic words that would make the pot cook porridge and stop when she wants the pot to stop cooking. Hannah was happy when she got the pot because it means she wouldn’t go hungry anymore.

When she got home, she said the magic words and the pot started cooking. A greedy boy smelled the porridge and followed his nose to Hannah’s cottage. He saw what happened, learnt the magic words that made the pot cook, but he didn’t learn how to make it stop. When Hannah was fast asleep, he crept into her house and stole the pot. He got the pot to cook porridge but couldn’t get it to stop because he didn’t know the right magic words. So the porridge started to fill the entire pot, then the entire village. When Hannah saw what happened, she said the magic words stop the pot from cooking, and it did. The greedy boy returned the pot to Hannah. From then on, the greedy boy never stole anything again.

My concern: If the boy had heard the magic words, and got the pot to stop cooking, he could have gotten away with stealing.

My version: Hannah lived with her grandma who was sick and old. Not only Hannah was an obedient girl, she was also very kind and generous. She shared everything she had with her friends and neighbours. One day, when she was out looking for food for her grandma, she met an old woman who gave her a present – a magic porridge pot, as a reward for being a good girl. When Hannah reached home, she successfully got the pot to cook and stop when there was enough porridge for her to share with her neighbours. A greedy boy (whom I named Little Johnny) saw what happened, wanted to steal the pot from Hannah so he could have it all to himself. He waited till Hannah and her grandma fell asleep before he stole the pot. As soon as he reached home, he recited the magic words and porridge began to fill the pot. When there was enough porridge, he told the porridge to stop cooking but to his surprise, the pot didn’t.

And the porridge began to fill the entire village. Little Johnny decided to ask Hannah for help, who of course, saved the day 🙂 Feeling guilty, Little Johnny returned the pot to Hannah. From then on, the greedy boy never stole anything again.

Ask the children: Why do you think the pot didn’t stop cooking even though Little Johnny said the magic words correctly?

Answer: Because he was naughty/he stole, he was greedy/selfish.

One of the girls who had read the story before told me later, ‘Your story is a little different. I like it! :)’ That really put a smile on my face. First – she noticed the difference. Second – she liked it 🙂

I hope the children had as much fun as I did that Saturday. Another session awaits me on 17th December! Looking forward to it 🙂

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My First Halloween Scare

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Oh yes..It was a real Halloween for me, all right. Why? Because I wasn’t prepared at all to ‘perform’ a story in front of a crowd in a mall, as I was expecting a much smaller ‘gathering’ doing my typical way of narrating a story i.e. sitting down. But I was caught by surprise when my hubby and I reached the destination, to find many families and children gathered on the 4th floor of Bangsar Shopping Centre (BSC). It was buzzing with activities! There was noise, people, music blaring in the background, and an emcee announcing the Halloween activities for the day. Totally not what I had in mind.

Then I was told there’ll be a ‘Trick and Treat Walk’ organised by the mall which will run concurrently with the storytelling session. Oh, so most of them will be going for the trick or treat walk. Phew…! Relieved, I then quickly try to visualise how I was going to conduct the session coz I’ve never been here before. I thought, okay, maybe I sit somewhere in the middle and have the children sit facing me.

When the crowd for the ‘Trick & Treat Walk’ left the vicinity for the activity, the non-participants stayed back. The emcee then announced the storytelling session. During his announcement, I had a quick discussion with Times bookstore liaison, Yuki, about how we should conduct the session – sitting in the middle using one of the stools/low tables or standing in front of the crowd. She quickly suggested in front of the crowd since most of them were comfortably seated already. That’s when I realised…I can’t escape from this. No excuses. That’s when the emcee handed me the mic. Honestly, I had no idea how I wanted to begin, but did it anyway. I think then, if I were to see myself, I’d dig a hole 6 feet under and hide myself from the world HAHA

‘Room on the Broom’ is a pretty long story as compared to ‘The Gruffalo’ and ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’. It’s about a witch who went on a ride with her cat, flying happily over rivers and mountains on her broomstick, until the strong wind blew away the witch’s hat, bow and wand. They had to fly back down to search for these things; each time meeting a new friend – a dog, a bird and a frog, who then also joined them on their ride. Their adventure brought them face to face with a red, mean, hungry dragon who wanted to eat the witch.

This was a Halloween scare for me, as it was my first time telling my story standing in front of a ‘crowd’, and not knowing what to expect from them. I had to think on my feet on what I want to do/say next and how as the story progresses. I kinda improvised the story a little bit as I told it, to suit the crowd and their response.

These are some of the pix my hubby took. Hope you like them! And here’s wishing you a HAPPY, HORROR-FYING HALLOWEEN! 😀

Thank you all for coming & joining us on this horrorfying day! 😀

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I forget to note: I was very touched when one of the children came to me, three times, just to say thank you. I have never felt such sincere appreciation before in my xx years of life. He looked me in the eye, with a smile on his face, palms facing each other, and said, “Thank you for everything.” Thank you Faris, for making my day. Thank you very much 🙂 *hugs*

Of witches and princesses!

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For Halloween week, I’ve been asked to do a storytelling session at Times Bookstore in Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur. And so, I’ve chosen the story, ‘Room on the Broom’, once again from one of my favourite children’s authors, Julia Donaldson. I decided to tell without pictures this time and replaced them with props – a witch’s hat (bought), a magic wand (handmade) and a ribbon (handmade).

I wasn’t sure if I made the right decision by going “picture-free” or not, because in this session, I got a very different audience. All of them conversed more comfortably in Chinese than in English and they were all girls who were pretty shy (though one came out of her shell during our activities session 😉 She is such a sweetie!).

So I had to make sure that they understood me every step of the way by using facial expressions, hand gestures and constant eye contact, plus lots of encouragement to try to get them to participate. To my amazement, they understood the story and could answer the questions later, though it took them some time… 🙂

Why did I decide to go ‘picture-free’? Well, very simply because I find children these days are being bombarded with too many pictures and graphics, telling them what certain things should look like, what and how to think, etc so much so that they aren’t given room to imagine and wonder; something that shouldn’t be taken away from a child. That’s what make them so beautiful and unique. Why stop their sense of wonder by throwing pictures and graphics and limit them from imagining that world and let them take ownership of it?

During our art & craft session, when we were to make our magic wands, I told them the magic wand that I have looks very boring and not very magical. So I asked them to make theirs as colourful and magical as they can, and they came up with their own versions 🙂

When it came to colouring, I told them the same thing. I asked one of them, if you had a magic frog, what colour would it be? She answered me purple, and she coloured her frog purple with a yellow head 🙂 We also had a very colourful witch who had a very colourful cauldron (a rainbow theme) 😉 As for one of them, who didn’t like colouring, I gave her a blank piece of paper to draw and she drew a magic tree which had little houses hanging from its branches 🙂 I encouraged her to show it off to her parents who were sitting nearby.  

Before the end of the session, I told the girls to remember to use their magic wands whenever they need to by saying the magic words they just learnt 😉

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The Joys of Storytelling

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Our friends showing off their fantastic work 🙂 They drew, coloured and spotted!

This week’s story is ‘The Gruffalo’s Child by Julia Donaldson’. To my surprise 3 boys from last week’s storytelling session, returned 🙂 I was extremely delighted to see all of them again! One of them even called out my name from afar while running towards the stage. I didn’t know it was him at first, because when I turned around looking for the person calling my name, he was no longer there. He startled me by appearing right in front of me. I was elated when I saw that it was him 🙂 After the session he told me, “You know, I was so afraid I’ll be late!” No wonder he ran so fast! Haha

When we were waiting for his mom to come get him, I asked him which story was smarter, ‘The Gruffalo or ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’. He said ‘The Gruffalo’. He said, “I told the story again to my mom and brother. They laughed and liked it too!” I was thrilled hearing that he retold the story, so I asked, “Do you think you can retell ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’?” He thought for a while and said, “If you give me enough time, I can!” with a big grin on his face 🙂

Have no idea which part of the story I was telling here haha

Two new friends joined us this round. The girl was 4 and her brother 6 and am so glad they didn’t leave half way through! 😀 This time round, the boys helped me with the storytelling too. And what wonderful storytellers they were 🙂 Thank you, champs!

Am really looking forward to HALLOWEEN!

These are the recreations of The Big Bad Mouse by Jia Liang & Jia Ler 🙂 Brilliant pieces boys. Well done!

Jia Le's Big Bad Mouse. Looks like the fleas didn't like the BBM! Haha
Jia Liang’s version of The Big Bad Mouse! Arrrr! Check out those muscles!

The Gruffalo-Inspired Artwork & Stories

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The storytelling sessions in SStwo Mall, Petaling Jaya

My very first storytelling session outside of a bookshop. The set up was definitely different, hence I was faced with different challenges. There weren’t many willing participants to come on stage to listen to a story, so we ended up having to beg some children to come onto the stage haha

I was very drawn to a young boy who was reading a book at the book sales nearby. So I approached him (the boy in the Angry Birds t-shirt). The conversation went like this:

Before storytelling session:
Me: Would you like to join us for a storytelling session?
J: No thanks (His exact words. Not impolitely, but with a cute smile on his face :))
Me: Why not?
J: ‘cuz I think it’s gonna be boring.
Me: Don’t worry, it’d be fun!
Boy still looked doubtful.
Me: Ok, why don’t we make a deal. If in anytime you find it boring, you can leave the session. Deal?
J: Ok! Deal!

After storytelling session.
J: Mom, can I come for the storytelling session again next week?
Mom: Did you enjoy it?
J: Yeah! I thought it’d be boring at first. But I enjoyed it! So can we come again?
Mom: Sure. As long as you remind me again next week.

Really hope he’d come again next week 😀

After the storytelling session, we had some activities, one of them was colouring. I told them they could recreate The Gruffalo if they want to. The two below were some of the creative ones. Thanks to their mommy, I can post them here 🙂

Jia Le's very own Gruffalo
This picture on the left is Jia Le’s recreation of the Gruffalo. He decided to make The Gruffalo as colourful as the rainbow 🙂 And those little speech bubbles there, were inspired by his brother (as you can see from the other artwork below). Jia Le’s Gruffalo is 20 years old. He loves tarts and poisonous mushrooms. His Gruffalo is constantly bothered by the fleas on his head (also inpsired by his older brother). Warning to those who haven’t met Jia Le’s Grufflo: He’s an angry and poisonous one! 
Jia Liang, his brother, drew his Gruffalo (the one below) because he doesn’t really like colouring. And he’s one very talented artist. When I first saw what he drew, I was drawn to the little bubbles he drew on top of the gruffalo’s head. When I read it, I realised they were indeed speech bubbles. He created a ‘mini story’ using his own drawing 🙂  
Jia Liang's very own Gruffalo

One of the fleas on the head: Living in the gruffalo’s fur isn’t that bad.
The other flea: I agree!

Horns: He always uses us when he charges at something. Aren’t you tired of that?
The other horn: Of course! What do you think I am?

Gruffalo’s brain: Get that berry! I’m famished!
The Gruffalo: As you can see, I’m just a figure to scare away predators!

The Gruffalo’s tongue: It’s a poisonous tongue, which is why it has those white spots.

The fingers: Isn’t it strange that this big-headed gruffalo have us – small hands and fingers?

The legs: Never! I’m sleeping. No, wait! I’m hibernating!

Tail: I always get sit on!

Aren’t they all creative? :)) Looking forward to posting more. They keep me inspired! 🙂

Children have such amazing minds and spirit. They keep me going, no matter how tired I am. They make my days meaningful 🙂

Group picture taken after the storytelling session

Malaysia International Storytelling Festival 2011 (Day 2)

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Sheila Wee from Singapore

(Continued from Day 1)

Day 2: Step into Storytelling – Storytelling for Beginners by Sheila Wee
I enjoyed Sheila’s workshop immensely. She was so well-prepared (she even prepared extra shawls for those who couldn’t stand the cold!), knew exactly what she wanted and needed to do; she even timed each session so that every minute in the workshop was well spent.

So, let me go straight to the meat of her workshop. When storytelling, you:
• use your own words
• make eye contact
• change the delivery of the story according to how the audience reacts (i.e. be spontaneous)
• choose a style that suits your personality; something you’re comfortable with

Storytelling is a ‘connective’ (not sure if I copied correctly) art. It is engaging and is the theatre of the mind. It transfers images from one mind to another through the bridge of oral language.

In a conventional communication, you only have one active participant, i.e. the speaker, while the listener’s passive. Whereas, in storytelling, both speaker and listener are active, because when listening to a story, your imagination is activated, and you create a ‘new’ story in your mind, therefore taking ownership of the messages in the story. I think this explains why many research have proven that storytelling contributes to brain development, imagination, problem-solving skills and perspective taking.

Participants sent on a Scavenger Hunt

Storytelling also improves your listening skills, comprehension, vocabulary and speech. It helps to bond two individuals or more (ever tried talking to someone you’ve just met and ask them about their background? You’d find, almost immediately, the ‘stranger’ isn’t a stranger anymore. This point was proven with the ‘Scavenger Hunt’ activity :)). Stories also create a sense of belonging, helps an individual to empathise; they also instil positive values and give hope.

For successful storytelling, choose a story that you really like that has a simple plot and choose a simple, clear, natural manner of telling. Here are some tips from Sheila:
– use your posture to illustrate the characters (remember to mind your distance from the audience.)

Sheila telling us about 'Truth & Stories'. I loved this story!

– use natural movement and gestures
– begin with confidence
– signal story coming to an end
– don’t worry about making mistakes (If you realised you missed an integral part of the story, you can try phrases like “What you didn’t know…”, or “I haven’t told you this…”

A major part of her workshop was dedicated to various activities that involved the participants, making the sessions very hands-on and more memorable. These sessions I find, answer the objectives of her workshop. They aren’t just sessions just to get the participants to do something, but sessions that help the participants achieve their goals and understand the reason for doing them. If you have the chance to attend a workshop by Sheila Wee, GO FOR IT.

Jeeva Raghunath from India

Talking Tales – Building Communication Skills by Jeeva Raghunath
Jeeva stressed the importance of communicating effectively and how to do so by:
• stressing key words in a story
• not swallowing your words
• pronouncing your consonants
• express is with the right emotion (face, body language, voice/volume, intensity) and intonation

Then she told a story in a very unique way. She tore a page from a newspaper into different shapes and sizes. She just tore and tore, letting some of us help her out too. Then, using the torn papers, she asked us to label the papers with names of objects/things/people. She chose 6 shapes and we labelled them as a car, fish, cat, shoe, knife and stairs.

Jeeva telling us a tale using newspaper

I came up with this story: The cat was eyeing the fish in the fish bowl near a window. Then he heard a honk from a car outside which startled him. It’s his master. Heard the keys at the door. The master took out his shoes and went up the stairs. The cat was relieved now that he could proceed with his plan. As he was about the pounce on the fish, suddenly a knife landed right in front of him. The cat meowed and ran out of the kitchen. “Crap! Me and my butter fingers!” cried the master’s wife.

You can also create a story using just one object. Jeeva used the example of the water bottle which could be a torchlight, a tower/building, a microphone, a dumbbell, etc.

To be a good and effective communicator, you’d have to be clear of what you want to say using the right emotion, expression, body language and tone of voice.

She also gave us each a handout about storytelling techniques that’d improve your communication skills: How?
* Begin with a familiar story (Repeat it as often as you like. It’d help improve your verbal skills)
* Listen to stories (to improve your listening skills. Listening is part of communication skills too)
* With some creativity, develop your own imagination to make your story more interesting (use different voices, add ‘meat’ to your character and settings)
* Draw charts with who, where, when, what, why and how and fill it with information from the story (this will help with your analyticial skills)

That’s the end of my Day 2 🙂

If you’d like to see more pictures from MISF 2011, you can find me on Facebook (Jee Wan).