by Gerald Fierst
|The cover illustration of Gerry's new book|
With the May publication of my new book Imagine the Moon, I have been thinking of the connection between oral storytelling and literacy. When I teach storytelling, I encourage participants to take the story off the page and use their whole self, body, voice, and imagination, to create their story in the moment. On the other hand, I tell stories on a regular basis at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. There, in the illustration gallery, pre school and primary age children sit with me surrounded by original drawings made for books. I often refer to some nearby image, a frog, a rainbow, a mother with a child, to inspire a story and to make the children look and listen as the story expands their imagination into their own inner images.
So do books make stories more accessible?
Storytelling is a sensory experience in which the storyteller makes the imaginary become real. In olden days, the storyteller and the alchemist shared this tradition of magic. Story was a rhythmic spell that empowered the imagination into reality by associating descriptions of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. In fact, modern actors train in just the same way, creating sense memory associations and “as ifs” so that the imaginary becomes real. A good actor doesn’t pretend, but fully incorporates the story so that body, voice and imagination are all present in the moment as if that moment were reality.
When I tell stories in the illustration room, the colors and images surrounding me, the books to which I refer, are merely the portal through which a new story will be discovered. Books are not an end, but a beginning of a journey. So, I understand, as a teaching artist, I am a guide who introduces story and offers books as a beginning to discovery — I say the open sesame to reveal the treasure cave. The marvelous experience of a book, the imaginative journey, the physical feel, look, and smell, is a reinforcement to using the whole self to experience, interpret, and create. Literacy is not merely the ability to read and write. It is the ability to process information - expository, persuasive, narrative, and descriptive.- creating one’s own story as we leave the magic cave to journey in the real world.
In my book, I have a verse:
“The moon is never constant but will always be there,
The stuff that makes magic out of thin air.
Poets and pranksters, kids and kings,
Imagine the Moon and dream.”
I am an artist of the ephemeral. I tell a story, weave a spell, and it is gone — Or does the power of inspiration, the magic of memory, and the experience of heightened awareness, provide a teaching tool far more powerful than the right answers to a standardized test, for in story we learn to put the facts to use, to use our books to make the leaps of the imagination that empower us in our lives and transform our world.