kids · reading · Robert Munsch · storytelling

Tell Me A Story – when the art of storytelling promotes reading

Robert Munsch is one of Canada’s best known storytellers.  I had the opportunity to see him live at Hamilton Place when my son was young; too young to appreciate the sheer genius of this person.  As my son grew older his admiration of Munsch grew and he looked forward to snatching his stories off the shelf at our local library.

So much of what Munsch says in a story is how he says it and that resonates with both children and their parents.  He is loud, he is ridiculous and most of all, he is honest in his books.  Children can relate to the characters and the situations that each of Munsch’s protagonist finds his or herself in.  For example in Mortimer this young boy promises to go to sleep but chaos ensues with his love of noise or as some might see it, his singing voice.  Given the right amount of enthusiasm, this can be a hilarious selection for bedtime.  My son loved that song and laughed each time I sang it to him in my loudest singing voice.  Further Munsch’s story Makeup Mess is so absurd that the listener cannot help but laugh at Julie who is just trying to find the right way to express herself.  The story is very clever in the sense that it teaches indirectly about financial literacy or saving your pennies and the importance of believing in and loving oneself.    

If I tell those Munsch stories and others like them in a dramatic, enthusiastic way, I am encouraging my children to read.  They want another story or for me to tell it again!  If you have ever had the chance to visit a really good children’s section of your local public library or observe a JK – Grade 3 class in action during story time it can be captivating seeing all those little bums move closer and closer to the reader, eyes wide and giggling as the story unfolds.  This is a skill that these librarians and teachers have.  They are natural and the flow of the story keeps those children listening.

“Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, often with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values” (Wikipedia, 2017).  When one examines our different cultures there is almost always some sort of history of oral storytelling that reveals who and where we came from. When I was teaching the older grades, we would study the ballad.  This form of writing was genius for its time period.  We studied The Highway Man by Alfred Noyes, The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot and another by Eliot, The Love Son of J. Alfred Prufrock.  These poems, spoken with dramatic flair and feeling made each protagonist come alive.  This was always one of my favourite sections to study as both teacher and student.  The stories would provoke questions and invitations to study that particular writer further thereby promoting more reading.

As both a parent, a teacher and former teacher-librarian, I have the highest regard for master storytellers like Robert Munsch who can captivate a reader with the greatest of ease.  It is a difficult skill to possess and not everyone is a natural storyteller like Munsch. But don’t be discouraged.  Read to your children in your silliest voice, loudest or quietest tone and with your best facial expressions.  Your children will be delighted!

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