REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON STORY-TELLING
Story-telling in playgrounds, settlements and libraries as it is carried on in various communities, is described in the following comprehensive report which was made by the Committee on story-telling, Miss Annie Carroll Moore, Chairman, at the Fourth Annual Congress of the Playground Association of America. It was printed in the Playground, August, 1910, and an abridgement appeared in the Library Journal (September, 1910). A sketch of Miss Moore appears on page 113. "Is she a Fairy, or just a Lady?" A little Scotch girl asked the question after a story hour in a children's library. "She made me see fairies awful plain." "She made me see fairies, too," answered the children's librarian with whom the child had shared her doubt. "Let's go and find her and make sure." On the way they spoke of the story they had both liked best. It was about an old woman who lived long ago in Devonshire, who loved tulips and planted her garden full of them, and tended them with great care because they seemed to her so beautiful. After the old woman died some extremely practical persons came to live in her house and they considered it very foolish to grow tulips for their beauty when the garden might be turned to practical account. So they dug up the garden and analyzed the soil, and planted carrots and turnips and parsnips and just such vegetables as promised to yield speedy and profitable returns. By and by a wonderful thing happened. Tulips no longer grew in the garden; there was no room for them and nobody had time to look after such useless things. But on the spot where the old woman was buried the most beautiful tulips sprang up of themselves, and every night in the Springtime the faries may be seen bringing their babies to rock them to sleep in the tulip bells. The little Scotch girl wondered whether there was "a book in the library with the tulip story in." She wanted to read it to her grandmother, she said, because her grandmother was "always speaking about her garden in Scotland," and she wondered if the tulips in Scotland had fairies asleep in them. The storyteller, who was Miss Marie L. Shedlock, looked wonderfully happy when asked whether she was a "Fairy" or "just a Lady." She said she supposed she was really "just a Lady," but she had become so intimate with fairies through listening to stories about them, and thinking about them, and telling fairy tales to children and grown people in England and America, that she felt almost like a fairy at times, and she had come to believe with Hans Christian Andersen, whose stories she loved best of all, that life itself is a beautiful fairy tale. Then she told the little girl that the tulip story was not in a book, and that she must tell it to her grandmother just as she remembered hearing it, and that having seen the fairies while she listened would help her to remember the story better. She could see pictures all the time she was telling stories, she said. The little girl had never thought of making pictures for herself before. She had only seen them in books and hanging on walls. This unconscious tribute to the art of the storyteller made a lasting impression on the children's librarian. If a child of less than eight years, and of no exceptional parts, could so clearly discriminate between the fairy tale she had heard at school and the tale that made her "see the fairies," there was little truth in the statement that children do not appreciate artistic storytelling. She went back to her children's room feeling that something worth while had happened. The children who had listened to the stories now crowded about the book shelves, eager for "any book about fairies," "a funny book," or "a book about animals." The little girl who had seen the fairies was not the only one who had fallen under the spell of the storyteller. "I always knew Pandora was a nice story, but she never seemed like a live girl before," said one of the older girls. "I liked the Brahmin, the Jackal and the Tiger best," exclaimed a boy. "Gee! but couldn't you just see that tiger pace when she was saying the words?" "I just love The Little Tin Soldier," said a small boy who hated to read, but was always begging the children's librarian to tell him stories about the pictures he found in books. "Didn't she make him march fine!" Before the end of the day the children's librarian had decided that even if there could be but one such story hour in the lifetime of an individual or an institution it would pay in immediate and far-off results. But why stop with one; why not have more story hours in children's libraries? Other children's librarians were asking themselves the same question, and then they asked their librarians, and those who recognized in the story hour a powerful ally in stimulating a love of good literature and a civilizing influence wherever the gang spirit prevailed, gave ready assent. Ten years have passed and the story hour is now an established feature in the work of children's libraries. Miss Shedlock came to America to tell stories to children and to their fathers and mothers. She returned year after year to remind the schools and colleges, the training schools and the kindergartens, as well as the public libraries, of the great possibilities in what she so aptly called "the oldest and the newest of the arts." In her lectures upon "The Art of Storytelling;" "The Fun and the Philosophy; The Poetry and the Pathos of Hans Christian Andersen," and in the stories she told to illustrate them, Miss Shedlock exemplified that teaching of Socrates, which represents him as saying: "All my good is magnetic, and I educate not by lessons but by going about my daily business." The story as a mere beast of burden for conveying information or so-called moral or ethical instruction was relieved of its load. The play spirit in literature which is the birthright of every child of every nation was set free. Her interpretation of the delicate satire and the wealth of imagery revealed in the tales of that great child in literature, Hans Christian Andersen, has been at once an inspiration and a restraining influence to many who are now telling stories to children, and to others who have aided in the establishing of storytelling. It is now three years since Miss Shedlock was recalled to England by the London County Council to bring back to the teachers of London the inspirational value of literature she had taken over to America. Interest in storytelling has become widespread, reaching a civic development beyond the dreams of its most ardent advocates when a professional storyteller and teacher of literature was engaged to tell stories to children in the field houses of the public recreation centers of Chicago. Mrs. Gudrun Thorne- Thomsen has been known for some years in this country as a storyteller of great power in the field of her inheritance, Scandinavian literature. It is very largely due to her work that the city of Chicago has been roused to claim the public library privileges so long denied to her children, and to make the claim from a point that plants the love of literature in the midst of the recreational life of a great city. No one who was present at those meetings of the New York Playground Congress, conducted by Miss Maud Summers, will ever forget her eloquent appeal for a full recognition of the value of storytelling as a definite activity of the playground. She saw its kinship to the folk dance and the folk song in the effort to preserve the traditions of his country to the foreign-born child. And she saw the relation of the story to the games, the athletics, and the dramatics. More clearly than anything else, perhaps, she saw the value of the story in its direct appeal to the spiritual nature of the child. Miss Summers' interest and enthusiasm made the work of the present committee possible. As one of her associates, its chairman pays grateful tribute to her memory and links her name with a work to which she gave herself so freely in life, that her death seems but the opening of another door through which we look with full hope and confidence upon childhood as "a real and indestructible part of human life." There is a line of Juvenal that bids the old remember the respect due to the young. It is in that attitude, and with some appreciation of what it means to be a growing boy or girl of the present time, that the subject of this report has been approached and is now presented for the consideration of the Playground Association of America. We know only too well that we cannot give to childhood in great cities the simple and lovely ways we associate with childhood. We CAN give to it a wonderful fortification against the materialism and the sensationalism of daily life on the streets, against the deadly monotony of the struggle for existence, by a revival of the folk spirit in story, as well as in song and in dance, that will not spend its strength in mere pageantry, but will sink deep into our national consciousness. It should be clearly stated that the field of storytelling, investigated, relates to children above the kindergarten age and to boys and girls in their teens. The investigation lays no claim to completeness and has not included storytelling in public nor in private schools. An outline covering the main points of this report was sent to representative workers in thirteen different cities, to several persons professionally engaged in storytelling, and to other persons whose critical judgment was valued in such connection. The outline called--First, for a statement of the extent to which storytelling is being carried on in playgrounds, public libraries, settlements, and such other institutions, exclusive of schools, as might come to the notice of the members of the committee. Second, for information concerning the persons who are telling stories, whether their entire time is given to storytelling and preparation for it; whether it forms a part of the regular duties of a director or an assistant; and, finally, whether volunteer workers are engaged in storytelling. Replies to these inquiries with a brief statement of results have been grouped by cities, as follows:  Owing to space limitations, in general the formal reports from cities represented in the discussion are omitted in the body of the report. BOSTON Storytelling in the playgrounds is under the direction of a special teacher appointed in 1909. The teacher of storytelling works in co-operation with the teachers of dramatics and of folk dancing. The visits of the special teacher added interest and novelty, but it is felt that every playground teacher should be able to tell stories effectively. Storytelling, therefore, is considered a part of the daily work of the playground assistant. In the Boston Public Library, storytelling is not organized as a definite feature of work with children, but has been employed occasionally in some branch libraries, regularly in others, by varying methods. It is regarded as markedly successful in districts where library assistants are closely identified with the work of the neighborhood. Co-operation with settlements in which storytelling has been carried on for some years has been very successful. Rooms have been furnished by the library; the settlements, and sometimes the normal schools, have provided storytellers. The work of a settlement leader with a large group of boys was especially interesting one winter, as he told continued stories from such books as "Treasure Island" and "The Last of the Mohicans." In the sixty home libraries conducted by The Children's Aid Society, storytelling and games are carried on by regular and volunteer visitors on the days when books are exchanged. (For full information concerning home libraries refer to Mr. Charles W. Birtwell of The Children's Aid Society, Boston, with whom this work originated.) Settlements and libraries report great improvement in the quality of reading done by the children as well as keen appreciation and enjoyment of the stories to which they have listened. They remember and refer to stories told them several years ago. BROOKLYN In the children's room of the Pratt Institute Free Library, storytelling and reading aloud have had a natural place since the opening of the new library building in 1896. Years before this library was built the lot on which it stands was appropriated as a playground by the children of the neighborhood--a neighborhood that has been gradually transformed by the life of the institution which is the center of interest. The recognition of the necessity for play and the value of providing a place for it-- children now play freely in the park on the library grounds-- exercised a marked influence on the conception of work to be done by this children's library and upon its subsequent development. The children's librarian was never allowed to forget that the trustees had been boys in that very neighborhood and remembered how boys felt. It was evident from the outset, that the children's room was to be made of living interest to boys and girls who were very much alive to other things than books. Probably more suggestions were gained from looking out of windows, and from walks in the neighborhood and beyond it, than from any other sources. Fourteen years ago there were no other public libraries with rooms for children, in Brooklyn; and boys frequently walked from two to five miles to visit this one. During the past six years a weekly story hour with a well-defined program based upon the varied interests of boys and girls of different ages has been conducted from October to May of each year. The children's librarian plans for the story hour, and does much of the storytelling herself; but from time to time some one from the outside world is invited to come and tell stories in order to give the children a change, and to give breadth and balance to the library's outlook upon the story interests of boys and girls. Listening as one of the group has greatly strengthened the feeling of comradeship between children's librarian and children, and the stories have been enjoyed more keenly than as if one person had told them all. The evening on which Mr. Dan Beard told "Bear Stories" is still remembered, and another evening is associated with the old hero tales of Japan told by a Japanese, who was claimed by the boys as one of themselves, and known thereafter as "The Japanese Boy." Pure enjoyment of such a story hour by children whose homes offered nothing in place of it already gives assurance of results rich in memories and associations, since men and women who were coming fourteen years ago as children are now bringing THEIR children to look at picture books. CHICAGO The institutions in connection with which storytelling is carried on are: The Chicago Public Library, the municipal parks and playgrounds, social settlements, vacation schools, institutional churches, hospitals, and the United Charities. The private organizations supporting the storytelling movement financially, by the employment of special storytellers, are: The Library Extension Story Hour Committee, the Permanent School Extension Committee, the Library Committee, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and various women's clubs of Chicago. A league has been formed of those who are telling stories under the auspices of the public library. The league holds meetings once a month for the purpose of upholding the standard of story work and to strengthen the co-operation with the library. Stories from Scandinavian literature, and stories of patriotism related to the different nationalities represented in the story hour groups, have been notably successful in Chicago. The following statements are made by (1) Mr. E. B. De Groot, director of the playgrounds and field houses. "I think that the story hour is the only passive occupation that should be given an equal place with the active occupations. I see in the story hour, not only splendid possibilities but a logical factor in the comprehensive playground scheme. The place of the story hour, I believe, is definite and comparable with any first choice activity. It is unfortunate that we are unable to secure as playground teachers, at the present time, good story hour men and women." (2) Mr. Henry E. Legler, Librarian of the Chicago Public Library: "We are now engaged in developing the branch library system of the city, and no doubt storytelling will be made incidentally a feature of the work planned for the children's rooms. This work must be done by the children's librarians, the storytelling growing out of library work and merging into it in order that its most effective side be legitimately developed." (Mr. Legler states his views with regard to storytelling and other features of work for children in an article entitled "The Chicago Public Library and Co-operation with the Schools." Educational Bi-Monthly, April, 1910). (3) Mrs. Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen: "As to the future of the movement I believe the purposes are best served by the storyteller being an integral member of the organization she serves. I believe that if the organizations which express themselves so sympathetic toward the work would co-operate and give definite instruction in storytelling to their workers, and also give them a fair amount of supervision and direction, the whole movement might be placed on a dignified and wholesome basis." CLEVELAND Storytelling has been carried on in the playgrounds and summer schools for several years. Since 1907 the work of playground leaders has been supplemented by storytelling done by public library assistants who visit the playgrounds by invitation, and who are scheduled for this work as a part of their regular library duties. In the Cleveland Public Library storytelling and reading clubs have been widely developed under the guidance of the director of work with children. In each of the branch libraries two story hours a week are usually held. Storytelling is regarded as a part of the equipment of the children's librarian, and time is allowed from the weekly schedule for the preparation of stories. Definite neighborhood co-operation is the aim of each branch library. Storytelling visits are therefore made to the public schools, social settlements, day nurseries, mission schools, and other institutions of a neighborhood. Requests for such visits are more numerous than can be supplied. Storytelling in the settlements is done by club leaders and volunteer workers mainly in connection with club work. Stories were told last season in the children's gardens connected with the social settlement by an assistant from The Home Gardening Association. Positive results of the effect of storytelling in the Cleveland Public Library are shown in the favorable direction of the reading of large numbers of children by a strong appeal to their spontaneous interests, and by the many requests for library storytellers. The total number of children who listened to stories told by library assistants in 1909 was 80,996. The Cleveland Public Library publishes an illustrated "Handbook" containing a full account of its storytelling and club work. JAMAICA, LONG ISLAND One playground has been opened in the Borough of Queens. Storytelling was introduced into the branches of the public library in 1908 and was at first carried on entirely by the supervisor of work with children as a means of putting herself in touch with the children and library assistants. An experience of some years at the head of the children's department in the public library of Portland, Oregon, had given her a full sense of the social opportunities presented in telling stories.
The branch libraries of Queens Borough are situated chiefly in separate towns and at seaside resorts. The children in some of these communities are inclined to be lethargic and lacking in initiative; or, the commercial instinct is abnormally developed in them. Habits of visiting a library for pleasure had not been established except in the case of older girls and boys who regarded it as a meeting place.
Girls whose reading was as flippant and as vulgar as their conduct on the streets have become interested members of "A Girl's Romance Club." Stories appealing to their love of romance have been told and books have been familiarly discussed with them. Library assistants as well as the supervisor of children's work now hold weekly story hours. There has been a great improvement in the quality and extent of the reading done by the children. Storytelling visits have been made to public schools and to the Jewish Home for Crippled Children. A library storyteller is sent to the playground opened in Flushing in 1910.
NEW YORK CITY
Storytelling in the playgrounds of New York City is considered an important feature of the work of playground assistants wherever the conditions are favorable to carrying it on.
In the Parks and Playgrounds Association the leader of the Guild of Play tells stories herself and is supplemented by regular assistants and volunteer workers with whom she holds conferences on storytelling. The work of the Guild of Play is extended to hospitals for Crippled Children, to homes for Destitute Children and to settlements. (See Handbook and Report of Parks and Playgrounds Association.)
In the playgrounds and vacation schools maintained by the Board of Education, storytelling is carried on by the supervisors and assistants. The Nurses' Settlement, Greenwich House, Union Settlement, Hartley House, and Corning-Clark House, report weekly story hours, frequently held on Sunday afternoons. Storytelling is carried on in other settlements and by several church houses, St. Bartholomew's Parish House reporting a well attended story hour following a mid-week church service.
In the New York Public Library, storytelling, under the general direction of the supervisor of work with children, is in special charge of a library assistant who has been a student of dramatic art as well as of library science. Storytelling is not required of library assistants. Any assistant who wants to tell stories is given an opportunity to do so and to profit by criticism. Her trial experience is made with a group of children. If she proves her ability to hold their interest, she is then allowed to make up her own program for a series of story hours, basing it upon her spontaneous interests, her previous reading, and the special needs of the library where the story hour is to be held. The fact that storytelling has been regarded as a potent factor in the unification of work with children in the rural districts, as well as in the congested centers, where branch libraries are situated, has greatly influenced the present organization of the work.
Racial interests have been considered, and on such festival days as are observed by the Hungarians, the Bohemians, and the Irish, special story hours have been held. In each case a volunteer storyteller of the nationality concerned lent interest to the occasion.
Weekly story hours are now held in most of the branch libraries. In some of them, two or more story hours are held. Story hours in roof reading-rooms are held irregularly during the summer.
Marked results of storytelling after three years are shown by a very great improvement in the character of the recreational reading done by the children, and in their sense of pleasure in the children's room.
The keen enjoyment of the library assistants who have been telling stories, and the interest of other workers in the library, indicates a valuable contribution to the work, by bringing its people together in their conception of what the library is trying to do for children.
Repeated requests for library storytellers have been received from institutions for the Blind, the Deaf Mutes, the Insane, from Reformatory institutions, as well as from settlements, church houses, public and private schools, parents' meetings, and industrial schools.
Three branches of The National Storytellers' League hold meetings in New York City. (A full account of the National Storytellers' League is given by its founder Richard T. Wyche, in the Pedagogical Seminary, volume 16.) Courses in storytelling are given at several schools and colleges, at The Summer School of Philanthropy, and at The National Training School for Young Women's Christian Associations.
Storytelling in the Pittsburgh playgrounds has a unique organization in that it is entirely under the direction of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. All storytelling in the playgrounds is done by Children's librarians or by students of The Training School for Children's Librarians on the days books are exchanged.
The organized story hour, developed as a direct method of guiding the reading of children, originated with this library and has been carried on in connection with home library groups as well as in the branch libraries, the public schools, the playgrounds, and the social settlements of Pittsburgh, for a period of eleven years.
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh issues printed lists of the stories used and a pamphlet entitled "Storytelling--a Public Library Method" by Miss Frances Jenkins Olcott, Chief of the Children's Department and Director of the Training School for Children's Librarians.
In the playgrounds one regularly employed storyteller, who also assists in directing the games, tells stories throughout the season. Storytelling is also carried on by playground assistants and by volunteer storytellers. The interest shown by parents who frequently join the story hour groups in the parks, is considered a significant gain in sustaining neighborhood interest in the playground.
In one settlement house, the head worker meets the storytellers at the beginning of the season and plans and directs the work for the entire year.
Storytelling in the St. Louis Public Library has been carried on for several years by children's librarians of branch libraries who have visited playgrounds, settlements, and public schools, as visiting storytellers, and have told stories at mothers' clubs and teachers' meetings. Since February, 1910, it has been under the direction of the supervisor of work with children, who was formerly one of the visiting storytellers and assistants to the supervisor of work with children in the New York Public Library. Storytelling is regarded by her as a valuable aid in the unification of the work with children in a system of libraries.
STORYTELLING IN OTHER COMMUNITIES
The reports received represent only a small part of the storytelling that is being done in different parts of the country.
In New Jersey, the organizer of the State Library Commission has found her ability to tell stories and to choose books containing a direct appeal to the people who are to read them, or to listen to the reading of them, an open sesame in the pine woods districts, the farming communities, and the fishing villages, where grown people listen as eagerly as children. In a paper entitled, "The Place, the Man, and the Book," Miss Sarah B. Askew gives a vivid picture of the establishment of a library in a fishing village. (Proceedings of the American Library Association. 1908.)
 Reprinted as a pamphlet by The H. W. Wilson Company.
Recognizing a similar need for the interpretation of books to the communities where libraries had already been established, the Iowa Library Commission appointed in 1909 an advisory children's librarian, who is also a professional storyteller and lecturer upon children's literature.
In the Public Lecture courses of New York City, it has been found that storytelling programs composed of folk tales draw large audiences of grown people who enjoy the stories quite as much as do the children.
In various institutions for adults as well as for children, where the library has been a mere collection of books that counted for little or nothing in the daily life of the institution, storytelling is making the books of living interest, and is giving to children, and to grown men and women, new sources of pleasure by taking them out of themselves and beyond the limitations of a prescribed and monotonous existence. Just as the games and folk dances are making their contribution to institutional life, so storytelling is bringing the play spirit in literature to those whose imaginations have been starved by long years of neglect, and is showing that what is needed is not an occasional entertainment, but the joy of possessing literature itself.
Professional storytellers who have recently visited towns and cities of the Pacific Coast, the Middle-Western, the Southern, and the Eastern States, not covered by this report, bear testimony to an interest in storytelling that seems to be as genuine as it is widespread. It is apparent that more thought is being given to the subject than ever before. Wherever storytelling has been introduced by a "born storyteller" who has succeeded in kindling sparks of local talent capable of sustaining interest and accomplishing results, storytelling is bound to be a success. All reports testify to the need of a well defined plan for storytelling related to the purpose and the aims of the institution which undertakes it, and to the varying capacities and temperaments of the persons who are to carry it on.
THE SPECIAL STORYTELLER AND THE REGULAR ASSISTANT
The professional storyteller has played a large part in the successful establishment of storytelling, and is destined to play a still larger part in the future development of the work in playgrounds and other institutions, by raising the standards of the playground library, or settlement worker, who is expected to tell stories. This she will do not by elaborating methods and artifices to be imitated, but by frank criticism of native ability, by inspiring courses in story literature, and by proper training of the much neglected speaking voice.
The sooner we cease to believe that "anybody can tell a story" the better for storytelling in every institution undertaking it. A candidate for a given position may be required to have storytelling ability, but no assistant should be required to tell stories as a part of her duties unless she can interest a group of children who have voluntarily come to listen to her stories. Repeating simplified versions of stories is not storytelling. Exercises in memorizing may be as helpful to the storyteller as the practice of scales to the piano player, but neither is to be regarded as a source of pleasure to the listener. Listening as one of a group is a valuable experience in the training of an assistant who is telling stories in the playground, the library, or the settlement. Herein lies the advantage of a visiting storyteller who does not take the place of the playground or library assistant, but who enlivens the program for the children and makes it possible for the regular assistant to listen occasionally and to profit by the experience. (The professional listener is delightfully characterized in "Miss Muffet's Christmas Party," by Dr. Samuel McChord Crothers.)
LIST OF FIFTY STORIES AND A LIST OF BOOKS FOR READING ON THE PLAYGROUND
The outline sent to the members of the Committee on Storytelling called for the mention of specific stories and for personal experience in group formation, taking into account age and sex, time and place, and for a statement of results, in so far as such results could be stated. From five hundred different stories mentioned a composite list of "Fifty Stories for the Playground" has been made. This list is chiefly composed of fairy and folk tales, Indian legends, and animal stories, as making the strongest appeal to playground groups and to library groups unaccustomed to listening to stories.
It also represents the story literature most easily commanded by the storyteller who has not read widely. Stories from the Norse and Greek Mythology, from the Niebelungen Lied, the Arthurian legends, and from Robin Hood; stories of Roland and of Charlemagne; stories from the Faerie Queene, and from the Canterbury Tales; historical and biographical stories are generously represented in the five hundred titles, but such stories should not be attempted without sufficient reading and feeling for the subject to enable the storyteller to bring it vividly and naturally before such a group as she is likely to meet in her daily experience.
Satisfactory festival stories are reported as exceedingly difficult to find. Several stories growing out of personal experiences, such as a "Christmas in Germany," a "May Day in England," "Fourth of July in the Garden of Warwick Castle," (The Warwick Pageant of 1900) are mentioned. Atmosphere and festival spirit are often lacking in stories listed under Festivals and Holidays.
Poetry and verses are repeated or read at many of the library story hours. Lear's nonsense rhymes and certain rhythmical story poems are especially enjoyed by the children. Outlines of stories or selections from books designed to lead to the reading of an entire book are mentioned in connection with Dickens, Kipling, Stevenson, Scott, Victor Hugo, and other authors.
In addition to the list of "Fifty Stories for the Playground" a list of "Books to Read on the Playground" has been prepared. Nearly all of the public libraries mentioned in the report send books to playgrounds when the playgrounds desire it. The use of books in the roof reading-rooms of libraries is very similar to their use in the playgrounds. Here and in children's reading-rooms boys and girls are free to choose the books they really want to read. In his book entitled "The American Public Library," Dr. Arthur E. Bostwick makes this statement: "There are no intellectual joys equal to those of discovery. The boy or girl who stumbles on one of the world's masterpieces without knowing what anyone else thinks or has thought about it, and reading it, admires and loves it, will have that book throughout life as a peculiar intellectual possession in a way that would have been impossible if someone had advised reading it and had described it as a masterpiece. The very fact that one is advised to read a book because one ought to do so is apt to arouse the same feeling of repulsion that caused the Athenian citizen to vote for the banishment of Aristides just because he had grown so weary of hearing him always called 'The Just.' "
EXPERIENCES IN STORYTELLING
Groups for storytelling are usually assembled in separate rooms in the libraries and are made up by an approximate but variable age limit, dividing the children under ten or eleven years old from the boys and girls above that age. In the settlements the group is usually determined by the club organization. On the playgrounds, the experience of a storyteller in Providence is probably typical of many other workers and is quoted as suggestive for group formation in playgrounds.
"During the summer of 1909 the stories I told on the Davis Park Playground were costly fairy tales and folk stories. 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' was the favorite of both boys and girls and through the summer I told every story in the book. The boys also liked 'The Merrie Adventures of Robin Hood,' 'The Three Golden Apples,' 'The Golden Touch,' 'The Golden Fleece,' and all the old Indian legends. While the girls, if offered a choice, always called for a fairy tale with a Prince Charming in it. Neither boys nor girls would listen to historical stories saying they were too much like school.
"The first day to gain an audience I went up to a group of children who were playing together and asked them if they would like to hear a story. Four or five replied that they would, while some fifteen or twenty disappeared as though by magic, and I decided that they were not interested. I then took the children who wished to listen, over to a large tree in one corner of the grounds, and told them that for the rest of the summer that tree would be known as 'the storytelling tree.' They would, I told them, find me there every day promptly at half-past one, and that I would tell stories for a half hour to the whole playground. Then from half-past two until three I would tell stories to the older girls. The first day I had a very small audience, the next day it doubled, and then increased daily until I had from eighty to a hundred children in a group. As to forming a group, I think it is impossible in playground work, for a group worth having must form itself, the reputation of the storyteller being the foundation of its formation, and this reputation can only be gained through constant systematic labor, and a thorough knowledge of your daily audience. That is why I think a professional visiting storyteller would be a failure in playground work, as in visiting each playground once or twice a week it would be impossible for her to gain that intimate personal knowledge of her audience, which is so necessary to the playground storyteller, as she must appeal to a different class of children on each playground.
"The experience of a professional storyteller with a group of boys, already assembled as a club, is also quoted for its valuable suggestion and independence of method in gaining the interest of boys who had been much experimented upon.
"The most interesting experience I have had in a developed series of stories was with the Boys' Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, last year. The club is supported by the wealthy women of the place, and is an outgrowth of a rather serious and perplexing boy problem. A number of picture shows, pool rooms, cheap vaudevilles, etc., have crept into the town, and life on the street is most attractive.
"The head worker of the club wrote that they had failed to hold the boys in everything but manual training and baseball; that the boys were insubordinate and unresponsive, and that their school reports were very poor. I found the conditions even worse than I had anticipated. It was necessary to train eighty boys to listen, as well as to interest them, and so, I told very short stories at first. I chose the ones that were full of dramatic action, that had little or no description, and a good deal of dialogue. The stories were strongly contrasted, and there was no attempt at literary or artistic finish. I used a great many gestures and moved about on the platform frequently; it is the quickest way of focusing laggard attention. To be absolutely honest, I had to come very close to the level of the moving picture show, and the ten-cent vaudeville, at first.
"The fourth night I eliminated all but a few gestures, and told the stories sitting down. I also used less colloquial English; and from then on, until the end, when I told the stories from Van Dyke in his own words, there was a steady growth in literary style. I append the programs in the order they were given:
"The practical results were very satisfactory. The books in the club library were used more, the boys' composition and recitation work at school improved, and they acquired the habit of polite, attentive listening."
The importance of a definite time and place for the story hour, for a prompt beginning and for an ending before it becomes tedious, cannot be too strongly urged. The storyteller should "size up" the conditions and suit the story hour to them. If she is simple, natural and unaffected, and sufficiently resourceful to vary her program to suit the interests of the children, the story hour will be successful.
Various practical forms of co-operation have been suggested, notably in the visits of library storytellers to playgrounds wherever the public library is actively interested in storytelling, and such visits are desired by the playground.
The story hour season in most libraries ends in April, making it possible in some libraries to release assistants once or twice a week to visit playgrounds. The benefit derived from such visits is mutually endorsed by playground and library assistants.
Conferences of groups of workers interested in storytelling, under the leadership of a professional storyteller, who also understands the practical conditions and limitations under which the playground and library assistants do their work have proved stimulating and suggestive in a number of places. Volunteer workers who have the ability to tell stories and who can so adapt themselves to their surroundings as to make their story hours effective, can do much for storytelling. This is especially true of men who have had actual experience of the life from which their stories are taken and can make these experiences of absorbing interest to their listeners.
In conclusion, the committee recommends that wherever practicable, storytelling in playgrounds be placed under a leadership corresponding to that now given to games and to folk dancing. That a clear distinction be preserved between storytelling and dramatics, as differentiated, though closely related, activities of the playground and the settlement. That the story hour be valued as a rest period; for its natural training in the power of concentration, and in that deeper power of contemplation of ideal forms in literature and in life. That storytelling in settlements be more widely developed as a feature of social work worthy of a careful plan and of sustained effort. That storytelling in libraries be made more largely contributory to storytelling in other institutions by a thoughtful and discriminating study of story literature, and by effective means of placing such literature in the hands of those who desire to use it.
The committee also suggests that the subject of storytelling is worthy of the consideration of the universities, the colleges, and the high schools, of the country, to the end that students may appreciate and value the opportunities for service in a field of such possibilities as are presented to those who possess, and who have the power to communicate, their own love of literature to the boys and girls of their time.