This is the third in my series of posts about storytelling for children by their parents. The first post was a review of the book Tell Me A Story by Chase Collins. The second post was “How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children.” In that post, I warned you that I might get brave enough to share one of my stories with you! Well, guess what? I’m giving you two!
With these stories I would like to illustrate something that Chase Collins taught me in her book. When you are thinking “what the heck am I going to tell a story about?” she suggests that you look at what is going on with your child at that moment. Did they do something special that day? Is there something that they are into? When we were on vacation in Chicago this summer, my son took his first subway ride, so I told him a story about some children riding on a subway and meeting a subway monster (not a scary monster)! Right now my son is into snakes, so you can guess that many of my recent stories have snakes in them.
She also said that if you can get your child to give you an idea, then go with that! Sometimes my son says, “Just tell me a story,” and I know he doesn’t want to contribute an idea. But lately he has been saying, “Can you tell me a story about Jack and Piper? And it could be about how Jack goes walking to the river and finds a rainbow snake who is lost?” (That was my son’s prompt tonight!)
The following story is one I told last month before my boy’s birthdays, and while I usually forget my stories by the next day, this one stuck with me because I was kind of proud of it. But I don’t always tell good stories! Usually I start one and then struggle to come to a conclusion. After telling this tale, I later I realized it has a similar theme to a book that I’ve read to my son….but I promise I am not plagiarizing! My story is very different, yet perhaps I subconsciously got something out of that storybook. I think this is okay when making up stories for kids. We are not telling these stories to sell them. It’s a one-time love offering to our children. Get your ideas anywhere! It doesn’t have to be original or told with perfect diction. If it’s a bad story, don’t worry. You’ll forget it and tell another one the next day.
The beginning paragraph is how I usually start out my “Jack and Piper” stories. My main character is Jack, but since I told this story right before my son’s birthday, it seemed better to make Piper the main character in this one.
Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jack who lived in a forest in a log house, and he had a big garden full of vegetables and flowers. And he also had a friend named Piper who was a troll with big feet and shaggy hair, and he lived down the path in a tree. Piper couldn’t talk, but he had no problem communicating with his friend Jack.
Well, tomorrow was going to be Jack’s birthday, and Piper was at home thinking about what to get for his friend. That morning he walked outside his treehouse and noticed how beautiful the first morning light was glowing through the trees. Oh, it would be wonderful to get Jack something as beautiful as that morning light, he thought. Later, he was walking along the river, and he noticed how good the morning air smelled. He breathed deep and sighed. It would be wonderful to get Jack something that smelled as good as the morning air. Then he walked up a small hill to one of his favorite places. There, he sat in the grass and watched the sunrise while he ate some warm bread for breakfast. Oh, he thought, I would love to get something that Jack would love as much as I love this morning sunrise!
Piper sat there all day feeling kind of blue because he couldn’t think of anything he could give to Jack. He didn’t have any money to buy anything, and he wasn’t very good at making things. He went to bed feeling sad, but he woke up early in the morning, determined to be the first person to wish Jack a happy birthday! He warmed up some bread in the oven and though he still felt bad about not having a present for Jack’s birthday, he knew it would be worse to not wish Jack happy birthday at all. So he went to Jack’s house early. It was barely light, and Piper snickered because he knew his friend liked to sleep late. He would wake him up and be the first person to say “Happy Birthday!”
When Piper got to Jack’s house, he knocked on the door, and a very groggy Jack answered it. ”Aw, Piper!” Jack whined. ”You woke me up!” Jack clapped and jumped up and down. ”You want to wish me happy birthday?” Jack asked. Piper nodded and held up the warm bread. ”Okay,” Jack said, “Just a minute.” It didn’t take long for Jack to get dressed, and very soon the two friends were walking along the river. ”Wow,” Jack said, “It’s a beautiful morning. Smell that fresh air!” The first light was easing its way through the branches. The fog was gently lifting off the water. Soon they were on top of the hill where Piper liked to eat his breakfast. They ate the bread and watched the sunrise together.
“I haven’t been up to see the sunrise in such a long time,” Jack said. ”I forgot how amazing it is! Thank you, Piper!”
When Jack said that, Piper became very happy! Suddenly he realized that he did give Jack something as beautiful as the morning light, that smelled as good as the morning air, and something that he loved as much as the sunrise!
Currently, for a several nights in a row, my son keeps asking me to tell him a story about Jack and Piper AND an animal that gets lost. I have no idea why he chooses this theme. We did not have any occurrence when he got lost, and to my knowledge he has not watched a television show with this theme, but maybe he did. Who knows? For whatever reason, I believe it is important to him, so I am indulging him with stories about an animal getting lost and Jack and Piper helping the animal get home. For the first couple of stories, I just had Jack and Piper help the critter home, but then I wised up. I used the opportunity to tell my son what he could do to find his way home, if he got lost. So in my third story, I had Jack instruct the animal to remember what landmarks he passed on his way down the river. They followed them back up the river, and helped him find his way. In the fourth story, which I’ll share below, I gave the advice we always hear: If you get lost, stay put! (Tonight I told a similar story, and I’m starting to think I need to encourage him to think of a new theme.)
Another note before I share the story: As I mentioned before, my son usually tells me what kind of animal gets lost. For the story below, he pointed to a snake on his “Snakes of Georgia” poster that he has on the wall next to his bed. The snake he pointed to was a Yellow Rat Snake. (Yes, you know you love your child when you let him have a poster full of snake photos and are willing to tell him a story about a Yellow Rat Snake!) Here it is:
One morning Jack decided to take a walk down by the river. When he got there, he sat down on a rock and enjoyed watching the river, listening to the gurgling sound of the water. Suddenly he saw a baby yellow rat snake slithering by on the path very fast!
“Little snake!” he said. ”Where are you going so fast?”
“I’m looking for my mother!” the little snake said. ”I’m lost!”
“Oh no!” Jack said. ”I’ll help you! I’m very experienced at helping lost animals.” (At this point my son asks me where Piper is, so I have to go get him.) ”But first we need to go get my friend Piper. He’ll help us.”
Relieved, the baby snake went along to Piper’s house. When Jack told Piper that the snake needed help finding his mother, Piper nodded and came along.
“First,” said Jack, “We’ll go back to where I found you.” Soon they were at the place where Jack was sitting that morning. ”Now, Little Snake, where were you when you lost your mother?”
“Not far from here,” said the snake. ”Over there!” He looked in the direction of a big boulder that was sitting on the bank of the river. “My mommy took my sister and I out to find food, and she found me a cricket. Then she went off with my sister to find her some food. And I was so busy eating that I didn’t notice that they were gone!” The little snake cried. He wanted his mama.
“Ah,” said Jack. ”You know what? I bet your mama isn’t far off. The best thing to do when you’re lost is to stay right where you are. Let’s go back to the boulder and wait. I bet your mama will find us!”
“Okay,” said the little snake. So Jack, Piper and the snake sat down by the big rock and waited. The snake was still worried, but he was glad he had Jack and Piper to be with him.
After a few minutes, the little snake’s mama and his sister came around a big tree that was close by. ”Mama!” the little snake cried. ”I thought I lost you!”
“I’m sorry you were scared,” said Mama. ”I was right over there with your sister.”
Jack and Piper were very happy that they were able to help the little snake. They waved good-bye and watched as the snake family slithered down the trail. Then they went back to Piper’s house and played together for the rest of the day.
Okay, so it won’t win any awards, but it made a 5-year-old very happy. I hope you’re inspired to tell stories to your child. If I can do it, you can do it! Just let your imagination go wild!
Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.