Tag Archives: birthday storytelling

My work with the children of service families overseas

I have just been updating my calendar for March and as ever my schedule is bonkers. March begins in Warrington in the first 15 days I’ll go to Glasgow, Plymouth and Slough. I’m also heading back to Paderborn for what maybe the last time.

I have been visiting Bishops Park School in Paderborn, Germany for the past three years to work with the children of service families. It has always been a real highlight and privilege to spend time with the military community and I have always been made to feel very welcome by the staff and children.

In a lot of ways it’s just another day at the office but it’s the little differences that make my time in Germany special. For instance, the school day starts and ends earlier than a British school day so having reached my hotel bed at midnight I am in front of the children at what feels like 7.30am! Then there’s the fact that you are quite clearly working in a German building in a German town but as soon as you walk through the door you know you are in a British school whose population reflect the many nationalities who serve in our armed forces. For the children it’s there normal but when you think that whilst I prance about in the school hall the parents of the children I’m entertaining may be in some far flung dangerous corner of the world in the name of our national safety I find it very humbling.

The school has been really supportive and I have been able to do some crazy and ambitious stuff with the children. Some of the sessions were from my regular repertoire (eg The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog and The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!) but we’ve also done other stuff including a huge narrative poetry workshop and tiny sessions for children with additional needs and through the staff I’ve been introduced to some really high tech ideas. A lot of what I do is about access and exposure to high quality performance and storytelling. It always pleasing to be able to share a story or run a project with a small school but to work with a group of children so far from home who might not otherwise have such an experience is wonderful and I feel that I am a better storyteller and person for having had the opportunity.

The MoD previously announced that Germany is to close in 2019 and that service families were to return home or be redeployed around the world. I recently read that Paderborn may remain open until 2023 but I don’t know if I’ll be a part of the school’s future plans. Would I like to carry on going back? Of course but then, you know, there are schools in other parts of the world too… how does The Enormous Crocodile in The Falkland Islands, Shakespeare in Cyprus or Greek Mythology in Brunei sound to you, because to me it sounds amazing!!

I work in schools, museums and libraries in England, Scotland and Wales and have led storytelling sessions at the Guernsey Literary Festival and Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. If you looking to book a storyteller for an overseas school or festival or for work with international students in here the UK, contact me.

Partying into 2019!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a peaceful festive period and that the post Christmas blues haven’t set in just yet. This Christmas I had a run of children’s birthday parties. They were all so much fun and I’m just bursting with excitement to tell you more about them..

I started with a 1st birthday party in a play cafe in Islington. It was a bit of a tight fit but with shuffling tables (and parents) about we managed to create an adhoc performance space where I led a song, rhyme and storytime similar to the work I do for nurseries and libraries. I did a 30 minute set and tacted on some of my favourite global folk tales (Indian and Turkish) due to the wide age range at the party. Here’s the host feedback:

“I was a bit apprehensive as I had not seen John live however he was brilliant! and most of all the kids loved it just as much as the parents.”

Whilst the first party was fairly straight forward the second party was an absolutely bespoke project as I retold Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express for a book loving six year old in Greenwich. For reasons to do with preparation time and the difficulties I can have getting performance rights I decided quite early on that this would be a narrative storytelling (an abridged but interactive version of a far more elaborate story). Rather than just more drama roleplay activities, as it was a party I interspersed the storytelling elements with traditional party games like Follow my Leader, Blind Man’s Buff and Pass the Parcel. Here’s the hosts feedback:

“John managed to take a story we’ve read 1000 times and turn it in to a new and exciting adventure for my son and 20 of is friends. He held the audience of 3-6 year olds throughout and was energetic, innovative and entertaining throughout”.

For the last party I did something really quite exciting and at the same time really quite terrifying; I presented a who dunnit? for nine year olds. The party was held in a Pizzeria in Chingford and the eight guests were seated at a table. I shared a scenario about a missing birthday cake and then cast the guests as characters in the story. And do you know what? The children really got into it. They enjoyed playing the game of detectives and just as importantly I didn’t get thrown out of the restaurant for being a rabble rousing nuisance!

So three parties in two weeks. A very special first birthday, a retelling a family’s favourite story and a risky concept in a restaurant. Each had its challenges but they were a lot of fun and now the parties are over I want to do them all over again.

If you know somebody celebrating a birthday or are looking for party entertainment at affordable rates contact me to discuss how a storyteller can help deliver a unique and memorable event.

The (Birthday) Party season

At this time of the year I have usually downed tools for the festive period but with birthday party bookings to prepare for the Christmas week this year is a little bit different.  My usual feeling of triumphant relief at reaching the end of another year sane and solvent is still there but I can’t afford to get too demob happy as there’s still work to be done.

For me it seems birthday party bookings are like buses; you do none for ages and then three come along at once.  The three parties I’ll be entertaining at couldn’t be more different.  The first is a first birthday and will consist of songs, rhymes and stories, the second is for a six year old where I’m doing a narrative version of “The Polar Express” and the final one is for a nine year old and is to take place in a Pizzeria (I hope somebody warns the other customers!).

With every passing year I become more confident within my repertoire.  I know which stories will be winners and I understand the combinations to tell them in so that a set will be successful even if this means telling the same stories again and again but every so often I get a bespoke project; a new challenge, an excuse to develop new material.  Some bespoke projects will be more work than they are worth but just recently I worked up Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast and reworked the Elves and the Shoemaker for some traditional tales and Christmas storytelling sessions.  I have previously blogged about the session I ran retelling the story of the Prophet Yusuf but I also had the opportunity to work up some Russian folktales for a school in Hampshire.  Here is their feedback on what we got up to…

“The visit was brilliant. We all enjoyed the stories which were perfect for our topic. We felt that it was pitched perfectly and the participation of children made it memorable and thoroughly enjoyable. Our children went on to tell and write their own stories based on this experience.A huge thank you and assurance that we would be keen to book John again and recommend him to others schools”.

Teacher, Fareham, November 2018I 

Whenever I do a visit, whether it be to a school, a library or a literature festival the aim is to do the very best work possible and in recent years there has been a very definite correlation between the calibre of what I showcase and the plaudits I receive.  When I do a bespoke project I often only get one shot at getting it right and in the case of a birthday party there’s the added pressure of really not wanting to spoil the special day.  Making a good impression at a library may have more obvious rewards than making a good impression at a birthday party but you never know who is watching or where an encounter may lead so although it may be a private booking its as important as anything else I do (the last birthday party I did lead to two days of work at a school).  So this Christmas as I digest my turkey I’ll also be carefully chewing these projects over and thinking about how I can make them memorable, enjoyable and above all fun.

If you’re interested in a bespoke storytelling experience or are looking for a storyteller contact me.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous new year.