THE STORY HOUR
The paper by Edna Lyman Scott, printed in the Wisconsin Bulletin for January, 1905, was said to be introductory to a talk which she was to give at Beloit at the Wisconsin State meeting, February 22, 1905. The author looks upon the inauguration of the story hour as but the grasping of an opportunity in working with children in the library, as a means of cultivating the love of literature and of introducing the child to books.
Edna Lyman, now Mrs. Scott, was born in Illinois, educated in the schools of Oak Park, Ill., and at Bradford Academy, Haverhill, Massachusetts. At the time this paper was written she was the children's librarian in the Oak Park Public Library, then known as Scoville Institute. Her work in story telling became known outside the immediate field of its activity, and in 1907 Miss Lyman severed her connection with this library to give time to special preparation, and later to become a lecturer on literature for children and story-telling, and a professional story-teller. She spent portions of three years as Advisory Children's Librarian for the Iowa Library Commission, and during that period published her book "Story-telling: what to tell and how to tell it." She holds the position of non-resident faculty lecturer on Work for Children in the Library School of the University of Illinois, and the Carnegie Library School of Atlanta, Georgia, and lectures regularly in other library schools, before teachers' institutes and normal schools, women's clubs and study classes throughout the country.
When we touch the question of guiding the reading of children in our libraries we have opened the consideration of a subject which is one of the great arguments for the existence of public libraries.
All about we see and feel the utter indifference of parents to what their children are reading, or whether they are reading at all, and the results of this indifference appear on every hand, in the character of the books which content the child, or in his determination to bury himself in a book to the exclusion of every other interest.
The librarian sees this indifference and its fruit and realizes that it adds another responsibility to her already long list, and another opportunity to serve. She may doubt whether her province is to educate the taste of the public at large, but there can be no question that in the case of the children the choice is not left for her to make; the only reason for the child's reading at all is that he may grow mentally and spiritually. There is no way to protect the child against worthless books except by giving him a decided taste for what is good. Hamilton Mabie says that "tastes depend very largely on the standards with which we are familiar," and if these standards are acquired hit and miss, without training, they are likely to be of a most doubtful character.
The love of literature, like the love of any of the fine arts, is susceptible of cultivation and is strengthened by constant contact with the beauty and greatness which can compel it. "They are exceptional children who read everything regardless of its character and come out all right. We do not know that any child is of such a make-up. We must deal with him as though he were not the exceptional but the normal child." The influence of all that he reads upon the mind of the child is sufficiently appalling, but it is not to be compared with the influence on his character. Henry Churchill King says: "It is his susceptibility to the faintest suggestion that makes the child so marvelous an imitator." The significance of this truth lies not only in the fact that he responds to the example in manners and morals of those about him, but equally, and perhaps even more exactly, to the heroes who live within the covers of his books. If the dangers are great, our response must be as forceful and our search untiring for the influence which will most surely lead the child to the best.
And what means shall be found? The answer seems ready to hand in the use of one of the oldest, yet one of the newest arts, the art of story-telling. You may talk to a child about books, he will give a certain kind of response, particularly if he respects your judgment because of previous experience, but tell him a story and you have fastened him with chains he does not care to resist.
The inauguration of the story hour then is but the grasping of an opportunity, first of all to give keenest joy to the child, and at the same time to set his standard for judging the value of other stories by those he hears, to give him a love for beautiful form, to introduce him to books he might never choose for himself and to bind him to the friend who tells him stories, so that he will feel a confidence in her suggestions.
Before choosing our stories for telling it will be well to remind ourselves of our purpose in telling stories, namely, to give familiarity with good English, to cultivate the imagination, to develop the sympathy, and to give a clear impression of moral truth. With this purpose in mind we shall gather our children into groups whose ages are near, and will be reached by the same tales. We must be methodical in this as in all our library work, and have our campaign well planned before we begin.
Not everyone has the gift of telling stories, but if one is not gifted with the art himself, there will doubtless be someone who is, who can be secured for the purpose, if we only feel that the need is great enough.
The way is open to the minds and hearts of the children. Shall we neglect it because it is old, or because it is new, or because we seem somewhat hampered by existing conditions? Why not follow the successes of others, and then find our own?
The above paper by Miss Lyman is offered as introductory to a talk which she will give at Beloit at the Wisconsin state meeting, February 22, 1905. The story hour has been most successfully conducted in a few of our libraries. To be sure every librarian is not qualified to conduct a successful story hour, but it is usually possible to find someone in the community who will tell the stories. The story hour requires a good deal of preparation. In Pittsburgh the librarians who were to tell stories had special training under Miss Shedlock, a well-known English story teller, and gave thorough study to the subject before attempting to interest the children. This library has published a pamphlet on Story telling to children from Norse mythology and the Nibehulgenlied. This pamphlet contains references to material on selected stories, an annotated reading list for the story teller and for young people, a full outline of a course, and many valuable suggestions. The same library published in its bulletin, October, 1902, the following outlines:
LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE
LEGENDS OF CHARLEMAGNE AND HIS PALADINS
This regular story course will be broken into at the holidays when stories appropriate to the season will be told.
Their bulletin for November, 1904, gives the program for 1904-5 on Legends of Robin Hood and Stories from Ivanhoe. The outline follows:
LEGENDS OF ROBIN HOOD
The following extract on the children's story hour is taken from the Pittsburgh bulletin of December, 1901.
THE CHILDREN'S STORY HOUR
The Library story hour for the children began in a very modest way at our West End branch. It has passed through the experimental stage and is now a part of the regular routine of our six children's rooms. At first disconnected stories were told but when we found how much the stories influenced the children's reading, we began to follow a regular program, which has proved more effective than haphazard story telling. Last year we told stories from Greek mythology and Homer and had an attendance of over 5,000 children. The books placed on special story hour shelves were taken out 2,000 times.
This year the stories are drawn from the Norse myths and the Niebelungen Lied. They are told by the children's librarians and the students of our Training school for children's librarians, every Friday afternoon from November first to April first. As the hour draws near, the children's rooms begin to fill with eagerly expectant children. There is an atmosphere of repressed excitement, and when the appointed minute comes, the children quickly form into line and march into the lecture room where the story is told. Once there, the children group themselves on the floor about the story teller, and all is attention. It may be that the story is a hard one to tell, the process of adapting and preparing it may have been difficult, but in the interested faces of the children and in the bright eyes fixed upon her face, the story teller finds her inspiration.
Extra copies of books containing Norse myths have been provided for each children's room. Since few of these books are for very young children, we tell these poetic stories of our Northern ancestors to the older boys and girls only. For the younger ones there are such stories as The Three Bears, Hop-o'-my-thumb, and other old nursery favorites. At Thanksgiving, Christmas and a few other holidays, the program is dropped and one full of the spirit of the season is told instead. That the children enjoy and appreciate the stories is seen by the steadily increasing attendance, and by the fact that the same children return week after week. Teachers say the very worst punishment they can inflict is to detain a child so late on Friday that he misses his story hour. During the summer months, and early fall, when no stories were being told, there were many anxious inquiries as to when the story hour would begin. At our West End branch the children clamored so for their stories that the work was commenced a month before the time for beginning the regular program.
And what is the use of story telling? Is it merely to amuse and entertain the children? Were it simply for this, the time would not seem wasted, when one recalls the bright and happy faces and realizes what an hour of delight it is to many children oftentimes their only escape from mean and sordid surroundings Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson once said that to lie on the hearth rug and listen to one's mother reading aloud is a liberal education, but such sweet and precious privileges are only for the few. The story hour is intended to meet this want in some slight degree, to give the child a glimpse beyond the horizon which hitherto has limited his life, and open up to him those vast realms of literature which are a part of his inheritance, for unless he enters this great domain through the gateway of childish fancy and imagination, the probability is that he will never find any other opening. To arouse and stimulate a love for the best reading is then the real object of the story hour. Through the story the child's interest is awakened, the librarian places in his hands just the right book to develop that interest, and gradually there is formed a taste for good literature.