Tag Archives: storytelling for schools

Verity and her Daddy review “Peace at Last” (Father Reading Every Day).

Verity turned two on Valentine’s Day (where has the time gone?) and I thought that this would be an ideal moment to reflect on her love of stories and our family’s reading routines. For the past few months I have been following Father Reading Everyday; an award winning blog about the importance of Dad’s reading with their children. I decided to write a contribution…

Storytelling resources for schools and families – Storytime Magazine

I have been lucky enough to tell published stories by the likes of Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, Jeremy Strong and Terry Deary but traditional stories, fairy and folk tales remain the backbone of my work and the sessions I offer are always incredibly popular with children, schools and families. It’s not surprising as these stories are timeless, inter-generational and appear on most academic curricula. They are also a fabulous way of introducing reading. Over the years through my work with schools, libraries and literature events I have seen wonderful versions of stories like The Gingerbread Man, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs but last summer I was reccommended a magazine devoted to folk stories for children and when I received my first copy I was completely enchanted.

Storytime Magazine is a fantastic resource for schools and families and can be enjoyed by any child (or story enthusiast) of any age. Rather than adverts, issues are crammed with beautiful illustrations and stories from around the world, so as well as rediscovering old European folklore favourites readers are introduced to new tales from other cultures and continents. The magazine promotes reading for pleasure and grows with a child as they make great self readers or can be used as guided or shared reading material. Since the magazine was recommended to me I have seen it in school libraries and people’s homes. I think a subscription would make a lovely gift and that this publication would work as an alternative to a regular comic.  To find out more about Storytime Magazine follow this link to their website.

To find out more about my traditional tale, fairy and folk tale offer to schools, libraries and festivals contact me.

Postcard from Swansea

So for the third time in as many months I’m away from home for work.  This time I’m in south Wales to tell The Twits.  As I write this it is almost 2am on Monday morning and I have recently arrived at my waterfront Premier Inn (the room is reminiscent of the rooms in Sheffield, Hemel Hempstead, Poole and just about every other Premier Inn I’ve ever stayed in!).  The original plan had been that Lauren, VBz and I would come down together but a combination of circumstances (those being that I worked on Saturday and am working in Horsham on Wednesday and that our camper van is in the garage being serviced) has meant that I am here alone although the cot in the corner of the room is already a constant reminder of the family I left in London.

It’s not my first visit to Swansea; I worked down here a couple of years ago when I was telling Terry Deary’s “The War Game”.  I only did a day with the library service on that occasion but I have such fond memories of the library staff and the children we worked with that when the opportunity to return came up I jumped at it.  Over two days I will work with Swansea Libraries and the Literacy Trust to deliver stories to five local primary schools.

The reason I’m so late is that I got the last train out of London.  This was an interesting experience in itself.  It took four and a half hours, which when I think about it means that had the van not been in the garage I could probably have actually driven here quicker.  The people on the train were an eclectic bunch; the last train from London it turns out is also the last train from Bristol and Cardiff.  What started out as a regular inter city service becomes the slow stopping service for revellers.  Fall Down Drunk fell on in Cardiff and fell off in Neath.  Then there were the colour runners still covered in powder paint and the anarchist sporting a pair of garish yellow tartan bermuda shorts.  By the time I got off the train it was spitting with rain.  I dashed past the bars and clubs of Wind Street over the sail bridge and into the hotel.

Anyway it’s getting late.  Time to get some sleep and dream of what might be tomorrow…

Monday afternoon

Today was a lovely day.

I met with Carole Billingham from Swansea Libraries and Irene Picton from the Literacy Trust just before 8.30am.  Carole is our host and chauffeur for the next couple of days.  This makes a huge difference because not only does she understand the geography of Swansea so we won’t get lost but she also knows the schools we’re working with and the children recognise her during our visits.  Like me, Irene is London based and is running the Young Readers Programme in towns and cities across the country.  The programme is a brilliant initiative to encourage reading for pleasure rather than as just as a means for academia.  At the beginning of each session Irene speaks to the group about their participation in the project and the children’s responses show that it’s been making a difference to their exposure to literature.

I have now told The Twits well over 150 times at schools, libraries and festivals across England and Wales (as well as Swansea I was in Conwy last July) as well as in Germany and the UAE but I never fail to find delight in telling it or seeing children finding the story for the first time.  The three schools we visit are outwardly very different but at each we quickly discover a shared love of stories and an enthusiasm for the project.  The feedback from the groups to my story is positive and enthusiastic (after the final presentation 50 children stay behind to watch me pack my suitcase!).  I feel like the children I have met valued the work we have done but what’d be really wonderful is if as a result of the intervention today any of the children were inspired to visit the library or read the story for themselves.  Unfortunately if this happens then I’ll only hear about it on the grapevine because my time in Swansea has flown by and all too soon I’ll be heading back to London.

So far Swansea hasn’t disappointed; the people are as warm as the glorious weather.  I look forward to seeing what day two holds for us but for now though, it a lovely evening and I’m starving.

Tuesday evening – on a train back to London

Last night I had a wander into Swansea.  I walked from the hotel over the Sail Bridge, past The Dylan Thomas Centre up to Swansea Castle before heading through town and down onto the beach.  It has always struck me as very appropriate that the Civic Centre which houses the library overlooks the coastline.  I’m sure Wales’ great writers and poets of the past would’ve found inspiration by gazing out the library window onto such an impressive vista.  Stood on the beach looking out toward Mumbles or Port Talbot with the hills and town behind you it is simply awesome.  After filling my boots with the scenery I headed back to Wind Street for dinner (that’s wind like curl although in a Welsh accent you’d be forgiven for thinking this street of many pubs, clubs and bars was aptly called Wine Street!).

Unfortunately the wifi in my hotel room wasn’t working so I went to the hotel reception to do some work.  It turned out that the receptionist’s sister went to one of the schools we’d visited.  Talk about a small world!

Today we visited two more schools and once again the children we met really responded to my storytelling.  What’s been fascinating has been the way in which five very different groups of children and five different schools engage with the same story.  Live presentation is often a unique experience for all concerned; sometimes a group of children will sit very quietly and listen very politely and sometimes you are thrown into the chaos of school life and end up chasing a child around the building with a water pistol!

So my flying visit to south Wales is over.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it which is good because I’ll be back next week to work with a sixth primary school we couldn’t squeeze in this week.  Two days isn’t a very long time; it’s certainly not long enough to improve my Welsh pronunciation which is still woeful but I do feel I’ve made an impact.  As I ride the train back to the big smoke I find myself in reflective mood.  My involvement in the Literacy Trust’s Young Reader’s Programme although its been brief has highlighted a few things:

  1. Public libraries do wonderful and important work in their communities which is all too easily overlooked.
  2. The Literacy Trust’s programmes, with the support of businesses like Boots and WH Smith, really do inspire young readers.
  3. In spite of everything modern life may throw at children, they still value books and stories.
  4. Wales is fab-a-lous!

Seasonal offering 2016

gingerbread-man-4Tis the season to be jolly (almost) and this year (once again) I have decided to expand my repertoire of seasonal traditional tales.  This is something of a side step away from my usual offering of A Christmas Carol which after three years I am taking a break from presenting.  Here are the tales I have selected for my seasonal offering:


Dick Whittington

Jack and the Beanstalk

The Snow Queen

The Elves and the Shoemaker

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

This represents a mix of offbeat European folk tales and popular British panto stories for schools and families this Christmas time.

For more information about booking contact me.

Spooky stories in Redbridge

cvtnkikwyaeyapSo for the past 3 months I have been trying to prepare a spooky story session for an old mansion house in East London.  Great, you might think but its never as simple as that.

Over the years I have told a variety of stories in a plethora of settings but I rarely tell scary stories because a) nobody ever asks b) I personally dislike being scared c) its a minefield.  I used to tell Dracula and The Unlucky Mummy which were about ghosts but weren’t scary and many moons ago we made a gothic horror beach hut – those were the days!

tomb-robberTo prepare the session I spent a bit of time reading through potential material.  To make the task slightly more tricky the brief was that the stories should in some way feature a house.  Now, if you look on paranormal websites and read through folklore there are hundreds of ghostly goings on said to be happening up and down the country in stately homes and houses but many tend to be unexplained.  “A blue lady haunts the top corridor” needs the how or why to become a great story.  I also pondered the ghost story’s relationship with the ghost.  Is it enough to say “this place is haunted because…” or do we need to encounter the ghost during the story and learn how it makes things go bump in the night?  I plumped for the latter because it’s more frightening.

DraculaThen there is the thorny question of how suitable ghost stories are for young children.  I have used this blog to talk about suitability and innocence in the past but in my view a truly scary, spooky or unnerving story must risk something and I didn’t want to shy away from death, murder, ghosts and evil too much for the sake of being overly sensitive.  In the end what’s scary is subjective and what one person finds traumatic may barely register with another.  As one parent said to me, her children would struggle to sleep if they watched “Horrid Henry”!

So the challenge was set – a session for 4+ containing spooky stories set around houses.  This is how I dealt with it.  I’ll happily confess to telling stories I find in books or hear and love; none of the ideas below are original.

The Tale of the Skull House – a story about a woman who haunts a new house after her family refuse to move her skull in with them.

The Ghost Hotel – a short tale about some tourists who visit a hotel and its owner only to discover it was demolished years before.

cvh7blbwcaagudu-1The Seven Swans – a folk tale about a hunter who wounds and captures a swan princess before meeting his grizzly end in a lake.

The Talking Skull – a personal favourite because of its macabre humour, this story deals with the peasant who ignores a talking skull’s advice to stay quiet.

The Boy Who Vanished – a family lose their child when a fateful prophecy is fulfilled.  This one has a happy ending!

The Monster and the School Teacher  a variation of a Devil Tale in which the School Master outwits Satan.

The White Doe – again a personal favourite about love, witchcraft and the Lancashire moors.

I also told a story The Son Returned but scrapped it because it dealt with murder a little too directly and whilst I could disguise the death in The Seven Swans and The Talking Skull with metaphors and talking around them, this proved more difficult in a story where a man returns to his family home hours after being killed.

So there it is, a set for Halloween.  It was a lot of fun to do and the response from parents on the sessions was positive.  This was a lovely opportunity for me to do something different and I always like a challenge but I doubt that I’d be asked to tell Spooky Stories in a school setting!  I hope this project becomes something I can hone year on year but it may also be something that is never repeated (like a gothic horror beach hut).  Bizarrely I hope that I failed to scare anybody significantly and that dressed as I was in my cape, I provided enough atmosphere for to be suitably chilling without any real nightmares!

It not (quite) all about Roald Dahl …

Twits islingtonThis summer has been terrific.  As discussed at length in this blog I have been more or less everywhere and few places besides but there is a down side to being Mr Twit.  Now before I go any further I don’t want anybody to think that I’m complaining because I’m honestly not.  I have loved every second of presenting “The Twits”, I’ve met lovely people and the story has opened doors that I thought would remain forever locked but the truth is, there’s more to me than a single 40 minute story.

Having presented “The Twits” almost 130 times and having received pretty much universally positive feedback I have had days when I feel like a sort unofficial Roald Dahl cheerleader.   I used to get a similar feeling when I was presenting Michael Morpurgo’s “Private Peaceful” as part of Cityread 2014.  When you live with a story day in and day out it can take over your life and its easy to forget that you do do others too.

War GameLast week I was invited to take part in Norfolk Libraries’ storytelling festival.  When they contacted me I assumed it was because, like so many other authorities, they’d heard about and wanted me to tell “The Twits” but they didn’t, they wanted me to tell folk tales.  Now to some people folk tales may sound dull but I love them and devised (and continue to research) a tour of Britain where the route is dictated by the folk tale (ie a tale might start in one part of the country and finish in another allowing me to tell a story from another region).  For someone who loves travel, myth and mystery this was a liberating process and it exposed me and my audiences to stories from Norfolk, London, Warwickshire, Wales, Northern Ireland and my homeland, Lancashire.  It also gave me a brand new 45-50 minute presentation which I’m sure will evolve with time.

I have also been approached about a session of spooky Halloween tales and am having a lot of fun reading about ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night.  This only came about because of Dracula which like many of the stories in my established repertoire hasn’t had an airing for a good long while.

SHAKES RBKTAs summer gives way to autumn “The Twits” are taking a well earned rest as I am now involved in library presentations for #Shakespeare400, a national celebration of the life and work of William Shakespeare for which I am presenting All the World’s a Stage!  a 45 minute retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and A Mid Summer Night’s Dream.  Like #nfkstorytfest and “The Twits”, taking part in a prestigious Arts Council England project has brought me in contact with new audiences, opened doors and created opportunities.

The bottom line is that when I look at the feedback I receive, people use words like spellbound, captivated, engaged and entertained.  Everyday I thank my lucky stars that I have wonderful stories to tell and that people still want to hear me tell them but those words are used to describe all my projects not just the ones with famous titles.


I am a twit

Twits islingtonI am delighted to announce that having spoken with Casarotto Ramsay today, they are happy for my performance license to continue until the end of the year and to include schools.

This is wonderful news and will allow me to continue to share a brilliant story and some of the best work I have ever done with even more people.

Today I can say with confidence, I am a twit!


Space and time travel stories

PROF MONT RUMPLESEED DRAKEHere is a set list for a space and time travel session I am preparing.  Each of these stories has a some kind of link to space and time travel (albeit sometimes that link is tenuous!)

How the earth was made (Native American – a similar story exists in several tribes folklore)

The three wise astronomers (English – based upon the tradition of English devil tales in which the devil is outwitted)

Urashima Taro (Japanese folk tale about a time travelling fisherman)

The archer and the ten suns (Chinese legend explaining how the sun and stars took their place in the heavens)

The proud turtle (Filipino story about a Turtle who wants to fly)

The boy and the moon (Turkish story about a boy who finds the moon in a well!)

I’ve never found space and time travel to be that easy a theme to get into but I have really enjoyed this opportunity to research and interpret these stories.  Having said that, the image above is taken from a piece I was presenting in 2009 about the irrepressible Professor Montague Rumpleseed Drake who lead audiences through British history on a time travelling adventure.  Then I presented a piece about Dewey Fiction exploring literacy in space (see image below).  Looking back on these stories now it seems like a lifetime ago!

Dewey Fiction @ The Space Hop!I digress.  As I was researching these space and time travel stories I found that some of these tales have many variations and that choosing the best version could be tricky.  In some instances I have mixed up different versions of the same story (ie where I liked the beginning of one and the ending of another).  This might be considered by a purist or an anthropologist to be an affront to culture and of course I’m sensitive to that but on this occasion my choices have been thematic.

Whenever I prepare a story session there are lots of perfectly good stories which bear inclusion(there are no end to the European folk tales I could tell) but I think its important that a storyteller enjoys the story they are telling and that this is part of the reason I get good feedback.  Hopefully I do this set of stories justice and that my audience is inspired to discover the different variations for themselves.

1000 up for Time the Ostler (and counting)!

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

A year ago I made a video inspired by “The Highwayman” in which Tim the Ostler confesses what he did to betray Bess and The Highwayman.  Twelve months on its just had its thousandth viewing.  Yah!

I’m thrilled that so many people have watched it (admittedly it’s not millions of bods but I’m not a pop star or a puppy/baby doing anything cute).  As with most things though the devil is in the detail – How many people watched the video because they were looking for it?  How is this short clip being used?  Do people like it?  I wish I could tell you but the truth is I have no idea.  For all the views, my video has received very little feedback.

It’d be lovely to know that this little film is being used as a study tool rather than just accidentally clicked on.  So do me a favour, if you’ve watch and enjoy any of my Youtube videos don’t forget to leave a comment or click “like”.

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

Mammoths to Medals (Revisited)

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.In 2013 I moved from the London borough of Hackney to the London Borough of Waltham Forest.  I may have only moved seven short miles but after six happy years in one of the most vibrant boroughs in Britain it was a massive wrench.  Whilst living in Hackney I had some of the most creatively fulfilling years of my life as I built strong working relationships with organisations including The Hackney Museum.  Hackney Museum, based in Hackney Central Library is an amazing community resource staffed by knowledgeable and creative people with a passion for sharing local history.  I may be biased but I think its one of the best museums in the country.

Working in heritage environments is something I really enjoy.  My earliest solo storytelling pieces were based around British history (including a Victorian Classroom session for The Bruce Castle Museum) and this summer I will be helping to lead a creative exploration of the Guilden Morden fire.

Anyway, as I sat watching Lizzy Yarnold, Jade Etherington and Team GB at the Sochi Winter and Paralympic Games I couldn’t help but think back to my time working with Hackney Museum.  It was in the build up to Summer Olympic and Paralympics (London 2012) that I collaborated with Hackney Museum on Mammoths to Medals,a presentation which sought to tell the incredible story of Hackney’s history as part of the Museum’s Mapping the Change project.  In just 30 minutes we explored 200,000 years of Hackney’s history highlighting the contributions of those people who have called Hackney their home; Anglo Saxon Farmers, Tudor Society, Victorian Industrialists and migrants from across the globe.

In the life of the project I have presented the piece on many occasions at Hackney Museum and in Hackney Primary Schools.  Incorporating games and learning activities into a chronological narrative the piece offer facts about Hackney and but also it questions how we will be remembered.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.A lot has changed in the two years since we made the piece was documented at Kingsmead Primary School.  Hackney’s demographic and landscape have been slowly morphing for 200,000 years but concerns about how communities will withstand the gentrification of East London mean our legacy is once again scrutinised.

When we look at Hackney’s story it shows us that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  It points to how different traditions, cultures and values have shaped an area into a place people want to live and work.   I am incredibly proud of being a part of Hackney’s history and of this piece.  I hope that through watching Mammoths to Medals young people recognise how they can shape their community.

Thankfully I haven’t lost touch with Hackney Museum and hope to be back to run sessions as the country prepares to commemorate The Great War.  For the moment though I am very settled in Waltham Forest and I’m looking forward to the future.