Last week I told stories for nine groups of first graders:
one in which a tortoise rides on eagle’s back, one in which a strange visitor
arrives one body part at a time, one in which a wolf demands that a little girl
sing to him, another in which a man’s doctor is none other than a python.Midway through the second day, I realized I
had not yet heard that oft-asked question, “Is that true?”
These six and seven-year olds seemed entirely comfortable in
the imaginative world of folk and fairy tale, where every story is really a
story about the human condition, providing metaphors which do not have to be
analyzed in order to be useful.They
seemed to intuit that these traditional tales contain truth even if the events
As teachers and parents we want our children to value
honesty and to be able to live in the everyday world where we cannot count on
physical magic, understand the language of the animals, or witness a giant
pumpkin’s sky-born seeds turning into stars.
Perhaps it was partly this desire to prepare children for
“the real world” that was behind one teacher’s consternation when a boy in her
class told me that his father had gone to a skeleton doctor (not an
orthopedist, but a doctor that was a skeleton) and got better.“I forgot to tell you,” she quietly told me
as I left the room,“He is always lying.He’s been referred to counseling.”Her concern for her student was palpable.
In the days since that session, I have found myself trying
to “unpack” this brief episode.Many of
us often feel the need to soften or stretch the truth, and we sometimes to go even
further in both our discourses with others and our internal conversations. The stories told by this little boy, new to
both the school and the community, may come from his need to be acknowledged
and to fit in.
For me, his claims certainly confirmed that he had absorbed
the story I’d just told, a folk tale from Zimbabwe called “Nyangara, the
Python.”In the tale, a group of brave
children accomplish a task from which the men of the village flee.They carry a chief’s doctor, a huge snake,
down from his mountain cave and the very ill chief, gently tended by Nyangara,
immediately regains his strength.
Coming to this story as an adult, I have always focused on
the irrepressible innocent courage of the children, rather than on the magical
powers of the snake.But I am guessing
that the boy who spoke of the skeleton doctor was hearing something very
important about a child/father relationship.In the tale, the chief refers to all of the kids as “my children” and
prepares a great feast for them because they were able to do what the men were
too frightened to do.It is clear that
the children save the man’s life.
Though I know nothing of this student’s family, I do know
how it feels to be able to make an ailing parent feel better.I vividly remember the months before my own
father had the back surgery he so needed.I was seven, the oldest of five, living on a busy dairy farm.In school, I was a rather timid second
grader.At home, I was the capable one
who could feed and dress my baby twin sisters while my mother was out in the
barn or keep my two other sisters occupied by reading to them.Nothing, however, made me feel as useful and
as important as giving my dad a back rub.“Press hard,” he’d say as I leaned into the tight muscles along his
spine.“That’s right.That helps.”
Now my father is 87. His heart is failing, his memory in
shambles.Sometimes, instead of
dutifully working on his checkbook or cleaning his kitchen, I tell him a story
I’m working on.He is an attentive listener,
still a thoughtful man, one who appreciates the truths wrapped up in the “lies”
of the story. I am grateful.
LURAY GROSS works extensively in schools and the community presenting workshops and performances for all ages. She is a believer in the power of stories and poems as resources nurturing heart, mind, and spirit. Under the auspices of Storytelling Arts, Inc., she brings multicultural folktales into the classroom and facilitates response and elaboration, particularly through writing. Her own love of the spoken and written word, of the outdoors, and of music were all nurtured by her experiences growing up on a busy dairy farm in Pennsylvania.
Luray is the author of three collections of poetry: Forenoon was published in 1990 by The Attic Press in Westfield, NJ, and Elegant Reprieve won the 1995-96 Still Waters Press Poetry Chapbook Competition. The Perfection of Zeros, was published by Word Press in 2004.
Storytelling Arts is a nonprofit organization that imparts stories and storytelling to help students connect learning with life skills. It is our vision. Our vision is to transform the educational environment and empower students, teachers, and parents to reach their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their communities.
Our programs include in-classroom residencies, Professional Development for Educators, and workshops for Parents. We have had the privilege of serving over 26,300 NJ residents and are thrilled to be celebrating our 20 Year Anniversary in 2016.
Storytelling Arts, Inc. ~ Empowering students on story at a time.