Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why should I read or tell old folk stories and fairy tales to children?

Reading to children is very important and there is that attribution to Einstein, about the importance of fairy tales. Research has informed me that Rita McDonald wrote an article: “Children’s Reading in the Space Age,” in Montana Libraries, in July 1958.

In the current New Mexico Library Bulletin, Elizabeth Margulis tells a story of a woman who was a personal friend of the late dean of scientists, Dr. Albert Einstein. Motivated partly by her admiration for him, she held hopes that her son might become a scientist. One day she asked Dr. Einstein’s advice about the kind of reading that would best prepare the child for this career. To her surprise, the scientist recommended ‘Fairy tales and more fairy tales.’ The mother protested that she was really serious about this and she wanted a serious answer; but Dr. Einstein persisted, adding that creative imagination is the essential element in the intellectual equipment of the true scientist, and that fairy tales are the childhood stimulus to this quality.

 
It is almost like Whispers/Telephone! I heard it from the internet, which states Rita McDonald in Montana Libraries heard it from New Mexico Library Bulletin that Elizabeth Margulis said...
This is the story which led to the saying: “If you want a child to be smart, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be smarter, read them more fairy stories.” If Einstein thinks it is important, I am totally on board! And more about this later.

 
The idea of reading to children is very important for a couple of reasons, more so if English is a second language, but it applies to all of us. One, is that picture books often contain words which are not normally used on a day-to-day basis. To take examples from four books:

Original sketch for Dragon and the Monkey's Heart, Rob Brookes, copyright 2006
 Puss in Boots, by Philip Pullman (ISBN: 0-375-81354-3) 2000
property, monsieur, fortune, impressive, saluted, meadows, astrologer, villains, hermit, marquis, sleeplessness, onward, dungeon
Merlin and the Dragons, by Jane Yolen (ISBN: 0-525-65214-0) 1995
gazed, knowingly, withdrawing, companionship, troubled, predictions, planetary, revolt, emblazoned, Welshmen, banners, consulted, reported, knowledge, emerged
The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, by Neil Gaiman ((ISBN: 0-06-058701-6) 1997
penny whistle, brilliant, swap, splashes, mumf, humf, doorbell, gorilla, escaping, darling, attention, present, caught, butler, whom, ginger beer, tickled, fussed

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
, by Dr. Suess (ISBN: 90129-80527-8) 1990
congratulations, steer, direction, decide, frequently, fliers, sights, slump, unpleasant, magical, scare, hither, creek, prowl, dexterous, deft
These are just a few words taken from part of the books, apart from Dr. Suess' Oh, The Places... which I went all the way through as it is one of my favourites. Now I admit, some of these we do use, but not usually on a daily basis. Seeing these words in books on a regular basis (you know how children love to hear the same story over and over again) puts them in context and makes it easier to spell the words, or recognize them when they see them later. Reading any children’s book will therefore increase vocabulary. 
The other reason to read (or tell a story) is to sit down, turn off the phone and to remove any distractions (like the television). Reading or telling tales to someone provides intimate one-on-one time, creating a strong and lasting bond. Distraction free one-on-one time with children in this day and age is rare indeed. Sharing folk and fairy tales can also provoke meaningful conversations and discussions. When these children grow up, no matter what happens to them, they will have this special bond, and memories of time spent with loved ones. And if you are reading Grimm to anyone, it provides an ample supply of topics on all sorts of subject matter!
Elves and the Shoe Makers
Should you read all of Grimm’s stories to young children? Some of them, yes. Although obviously there are some which are not for young ears. There are some wonderful stories collected by the Grimm Brothers, and most, if not all, end with hope. There isviolence in these stories, and some dreadful things which happen, but nothing a child has not seen on the evening news, or heard on the radio or playground at recess. The thing with these stories, is that there is hope (which is rarely given on the news). And when we are surrounded by doom and gloom, hope is a big thing, not just for a child, but for adults, too. Children who have issues at home, or at school, such as bullying, or abuse, which may feel are insurmountable, can find hope and support in some tales, and will find escapism and laughter in others.
These stories are needed now more than ever. If we were to take Hansel and Gretel, for example, this is a story where the children are abandoned in the woods by their parents, and have to survive the encounter of a predator – the witch - on their own. At the time (in history) of when this story takes place, abandonment was a very real threat if a family was on the brink of starvation. Small children and elders were left in the woods to ‘fend for themselves.’ Although these reasons are no longer valid, children can feel they are being abandoned, no matter how well it is dealt with, when parents get divorced, or have to travel a lot. Sadly there are families where a parent gets imprisoned, or parents are just too busy for their children. Little Red Riding Hood can help young children process events they might hear on the news about predators*. There are many ways tales can help, as well as entertain. 
As tools to understand the world around us, the old stories are as relevant today as when they were first told. And a good majority of the ancient, dark stories should be read to young people, and discussed. Just because a book is for children, does not mean only children should read them! I never stopped buying children’s books or getting them from the library and reading them, and I doubt I will. Read to your children, your grandchildren, your wards, and tell the gritty Grimm stories! They’ll become favourites.
Artwork by Rob Brooks, copyright 2017. For the cover of Under the Oaken Bough
by Simon Brooks, copyright 2017
The above text was taken and modified from parts of my forthcoming collection of retold folk and fairy tales, Under the Oaken Bough. Due out in November 2017
*See my article on LinkedIn – The Old Tales, and Personal Stories
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/old-tales-fairy-folk-myth-legend-personal-story-simon-brooks
For more of Rob's artwork, or to commission his work, visit his website:
http://brookesandbrookes.com/

Friday, May 05, 2017

Personal Development and Why an Artist Should Be Paid!

It is Friday.
We have a couple of electricians working on our stove, putting new wiring in, banging and crashing.
I am exhausted.
Some of my equipment at a gig

A few weeks ago I was working all weekend at a conference with the delightful Doug Lipman on sound for the Sharing the Fire storytelling conference of Northeastern Storytelling.
I have set up bands before, in my youth. I have set up sound in rooms for small presentations and story performances, but never done sound for a conference.
First of all, I have to say I was approached to do this as a volunteer, as was Doug. We were pooling equipment to create a soundscape for the presenters and audiences to ensure a great conference. I think we did that. It was a lot of fun.  I present a workshop called 'Be Loud, Be Loud, But Not Too Loud', so I had better know what I do!

Then last weekend I went to the Northlands Confabulation. I am just recovering!

So often in the arts, people ask one to work for free. It rarely, if ever, is asked of a contractor, or lawyer, but artists get asked all the time to work gratis. I think some of it is that people assume you never went to college. Or that you don't have bills! But all professional artists have bills and on-going expenses. When my computer breaks down, I don't hand it over to my IT person - I don't have one! Well, it's me and I can only do a certain amount. When I need a new publicity campaign, I don't wander the hall to the PR department. Wait! That's me again and I pay for the paper, ink and mailing costs for all that stuff. And training and on-going professional development has to be organized and booked by me.

I just spent this past weekend (29th and 30th of April, 2017) at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. I was presenting a workshop on microphones, PA systems and how to use and set them up to get the best sound for someone that presents stories. There are a few technophobes in my profession, although I love tech stuff, especially sound. Although I got a stipend to be at the conference and deliver my workshop (Be Loud, Be Loud, But Not Too Loud), I had to get myself there, pay for the hotel, and registration fee. The advantage is that the stipend off-set some of the costs of driving the 2,096 miles there and back and I got to attend other workshops.

Ready to present Be Loud... at Nothlands, 2017
After watching some storytellers perform on Friday night I made my mind up whose workshops I wanted to attend, where I wasn't sure before. I went to Ingird Nixon''s workshop on 'Story Evolution By Way of Creative Selection.' The title alone had intrigued me but when I saw her perform, I knew I would learn from her.

Some of the things we did, were reminders of what I used to do and worked well. We get into habits, get out of others, so reminders are very important, and prevent our work getting stale. She introduced me to some techniques I had not tried which sparked some great ideas for stories I am working on right now. It was very well timed.

Another presenter I had to see was Susan O'Halloran, presenting 'Storytelling and the Culturally Relevant Classroom.' I recently saw Susan presenting at Sharing the Fire, the North Eastern Storytelling Conference where I was doing sound with Doug Lipman. There is a lot of misunderstanding about culture and how it effects what we do. My wife told about a training her workplace had on culture in the workplace. This was my own version! Susan does a fabulous job.

On Sunday I went to Antonio Rocha's workshop - 'A Conversation with Antonio.' It is always interesting to see how other storytellers work, and find out what makes them tick. Antonio is a remarkable storyteller who uses mime in his work. I do too, but not to the extent that Antonio does. He is a trained mime, and to watch him tell stories is like watching a human being being poured into different the invisible containers of his characters. What he does is pure magic and to learn from him is a gift.

When you think about asking an artist to work for free, please see the value in what they do as their art, and realize they are also their own IT department, PR company, booking agent, trainer, and office manager and pay them for what they do, just as you would an electrician, real estate agent, or doctor. After all, you don't see too many artists with multiple homes, a few cars and a boat, wearing Prada, or Rolex watches.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rumi and Storytelling

If you have been to one of my 'grown-up' gigs, or even one of my family gigs, you might know I am a fan of Rumi. Rumi is a poet, and came from Persia, originally from the Balkh, in present-day Afghanistan. He lived in the 1200's.
Rumi once said to his soul brother, Shams of Tahris: "stories are reshaped in the light of the tellers own concerns." Stories change.
Often we talk about the original source when we are asked where we got the story from from. Or we say the 'oldest source we can find'. But in my brief life span, I know stories shift and change. Who can know what the original source is, and how different it is from how that story was first heard? When I teach the art of storytelling, I mention that when we tell a story we part of ourselves into it. Something in our life resonates with the story, and it might put a spin on how we tell it. Something in the story becomes more important than another part, so we emphasis it.
We can read all the stories we want, we can read all the self-help books, but we need to put ourselves into the story, and into life.
Rumi taught the texts as his father before him did. He would read from them to his students. Shams took the sacred books and through them into the pool of a fountain. Shams told Rumi to live the words he was teaching. He asked Rumi to "surrender the literature" for living.
To me, storytelling is just that. It has to be to be able to ride the elusive dragon. I want to surrender myself to the story, not the words, and be that conduit for the story. And I also hope to live life that way.






Words and photo copyright Simon Brooks, © 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stories, and more stories - Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman and Patakin by Nina Jaffe

 Fact - I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. Fact - I am a huge fan of the Norse myths. So when Neil came out with his retelling, I was thrilled, excited and pre-ordered his book, Norse Mythology. I waited months, and months, and months. And it arrived in February. I dove into the book with great abandon. And I was a little surprised.

 You KNOW Neil Gaiman knows his myths. Not just the Norse myths, but also the Greek myths, Japanese myths, the list could go on forever. You can see it in the layers of his graphic novels The Sandman. You can feel it in Neverwhere, and taste the Norse myths in Odd and the Frost Giants. Neil Gaiman is one of the most talented writers out there. His characters are deep, the mood is intense, even in some of his picture books (Wolves in the Walls). There is humour in his writing, great style, and knowledge.

 I was sorely disappointed in Norse Mythology. At times the writing is geared to young readers, but in the next moment it seems aimed at an older readership. He talks about poop, then says piss.The writing is choppy, in the way Oscar Wilde can be choppy - Neil Gaiman is not choppy!
Having said all this, the book is a fairly good retelling of the Norse myths, but it is not Gaiman's best writing. I ask myself if this book was edited, and if so does the editor still have a job?
Would I recommend it? Sort of. Not the hardcover. Get the paperback. If you are a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, maybe. If you have young readers or listeners who want to know more about the Norse gods, probably. Otherwise I highly recommend one of my favourite books of the Norse stories - Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths. It has everything the Gaiman book does and more. It might not be as cute as Gaiman's, but the Norse stories are not meant to be cute. Funny in places? Yes. Cute? No. Crossley-Holland's might be a little more dry, but they are myths and the book is well written.

Another book I finished this year was originally published 2001 and written by storyteller, folklorist, and drummer Nina Jaffe: Patakin, World Tales of Drums and Drummers. (Pronounced pah-tah-KEEN, the sound of hand hitting a drum.) As a drummer this book was of great interest to me and was recommended by Tim Van Egmond for a bodhrán tale it contained. Although most of these wonderful stories are traditional I discovered the bodhrán tale from Ireland was not a traditional tale, but one created 'for the drum' by Nina and features the legendary drummer Stevie Mac! The edition I got included a CD of some of the tales (not all ten). The introduction, five tales and epilogue are well told by the author and are augmented by the percussion featured in the story, and flute and vocals. The amount of research that obviously went into this book must have been great. You know there is more that was not included, and I for one, would be interested in seeing all the notes and research that went into this wonderful little book. Drums and their stories hail from Ghana, Fiji, Korea, India, Ireland, Haiti,Venezuela, Mexico and include a tale from te Inuit people and a Jewish story. With explanatory notes, a glossary, bibliography, discography, recommended resources and publications and further reading, if you like drums and folk tales, this is a must have book! If you are, or know a music teacher who love their drums, compliment their collection of books by adding this one! A well researched, nicely illustrated collection of tales indeed.

Both of these book reviews were unsolicited.
© 2017 Simon Brooks

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Here's To 2017, and a book review - Gossip From the Forest

The book I am going to review, is a must have for anyone who loves forests, fairy tales, and/or storytelling. But first...

Last year was pretty amazing. We got a dog - oh wait. That was late 2015. I performed at 100 venues. Some of these venues were multiple performances. I presented again at the National Storytelling Network Conference and met some truly wonderful people there. I have seen some very talented storytellers from all over the USA.

I moved my studio out of my office, to a more sound tight location. I got to see, with some friends, David Francey perform in New Hampshire and got to visit family back in the UK.

I fell in love with the Ramayana, read Stephen Mitchell's free translation of Gilgamesh along with a slew of other great (and not so great) books. And I started on my own book which we are hoping will be out in September.

One book I have not quite finished yet, which I am greatly enjoying, is Gossip from the Forest: the tangled roots of our forests and fairy tales, by Sara Maitland. I have not read anything else by her yet, and her writing is superb. I think I can it is mouth watering. The book is about forests in the UK and Grimm fairy tales. Starting in March, Maitland visits a different forest each month (per chapter) and talks about its ecology and/or culture and how (European) fairy tales are of the forest. At the end of each chapter, she retells one of the Grimm fairy tales. Sometimes the stories are a simple retelling with a new riff, but others are very different. Fans of Angela Carter will notice an echo, but these retellings are all Maitland. Those who are not fans of Carter, you may well like these.

Last night I finished Chapter 9: November - Kielder Forest, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. The Keilder Forest is in the very north of England, on the border of Scotland. Kielder is a heavily managed forest, Maitland talks about how the Forestry Commission, established in 1919 after World War One, has changed their mandate over the years and have not done a terribly good job up until recently. She talks about clear cutting, or clear felling, and it's pros and cons in these British forests. She writes how the forests are managed and how recently the way they are looked after is similar, in a way, to how forests were managed in the Middle Ages, only with very modern technology.
Burley in the New Forest, 1991, © Simon Brooks, 2017
Sara Maitland seemed to have a slight fear of forests, which she puts down, in some respect, to the love of the old fairy tales. She shows how we were once very connected to the woods, and the woods themselves are not to be feared. Indeed not all the animals and people there are to be feared either. Often there are helpers, it is a place to escape to. There is no need for panic on entering a forest, but there are things in the woods to be fearful of.

Maitland discusses how people are still deeply connected to some forests in their work, and how communities still use them. The work Maitland has done in research is thorough. The things I have learned from this book has been and will be useful to my work as a storyteller and writer. The history in this book is far from dry. Being born and raised in the UK I have spent a great deal of time in three of these forests - the Forest of Dean, the New Forest and Epping Forest. I know these woods and their vibe, if you will. It was wonderful to revisit them through Maitland's words.

If you like woods and fairy tales, then this is a must-have book. Sara Maitland's writing is, as I have said, superb and her reasoning and research is impeccable. The retellings of the stories (Thumbling, The White Snake, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Little Goosegirl, The Seven Swan's Sister, The Seven Dwarves, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, The Four Comrades, Dancing Shoes, and The Dreams of Sleeping Beauty) are creative and powerful. These alone will have you look at folk and fairy tales in a new light and might inspire you to retell stories in a new way. Her points of view and how they can be used to make a tale come to life, should inspire you to give a different spin on a story or go deeper with it.

My copy came from the UK and was first published in 2012. My 2013 paperback has the ISBN number 978-184708-430-9 and can be found at Amazon
https://www.amazon.com/Gossip-Forest-Sara-Maitland-ebook/dp/B009NXUYGA
Start the year off with a great book!

Peace,
Simon