The true story-teller, like the true poet, is born, and not made.
Talent in this creative art is a gift of nature, like a beautiful
voice or skill in painting. But study, cultivation, and practice are
necessary to advance the story-teller in his art, as in the case of the
singer or the painter. Some practical suggestions may prove of value to
beginners in story-telling:


There is comfort in knowing that a story need not be perfectly told
to interest and delight little children in the home, kindergarten,
or the lower grades of the Sunday-school and public school. The
imagination of the little child is so keen, so abundant, and flows
so freely that it triumphs over external defects of presentation and
reaches the heart of things. Though this is true of one child or of
a small group of children of about the same age and interests, it is
not true, as practice soon teaches, of a large group, especially of
children of different interests. Such an audience needs the magnetism
of personality to hold it, and some real art in the presentation of the
movement and details of the story.

Such professional story-telling is a rare gift, and is as valuable as
it is rare. Not every parent, teacher, minister, or educator of youth,
who may wish to be a story-teller may have the skill, time, patience,
or perseverance to become an artist. Such training would involve
the study of the technique of the use of the voice and of gesture, a
thorough knowledge of the sources for stories, skill in the selection
and preparation of material, practice in actual story-telling, and
the hearing of stories told by professionals, the character of whose
work unconsciously becomes the ideal of the story-teller. Training for
such professional story-telling is given in colleges, presented in a
number of interesting books, and encouraged by story-tellers’ training
classes and leagues in many places. The hints here offered have the
more modest story-teller in mind, the busy parent in the home, and the
Sunday-school or public-school teacher, who may not have access to the
technical books on the art of story-telling.


Tell, do not read, the story. The teller is free. The reader is
fettered. The oral story is more spontaneous, the connection with the
audience is closer, the effect is more magnetic. It is the story plus
personality and appreciation. The story-teller can give his message
with his eyes as well as his lips without book or memory of the printed
page to burden. The world stories contained in this volume are all
designed for telling. After reading them through carefully once or
twice, the mind will have the facts ready for telling. Stories adapted
for telling must be written with more dramatic action and movement than
those adapted for reading. But stories that are in a form suitable for
telling are well adapted for enjoyable reading. Hence these stories
have a double value, for telling or reading. But let it be kept well
in mind that telling a story is incomparably better than reading it
to any listener. The charm of a book cannot equal the magnetism of


Select your story with some definite purpose in mind–pure enjoyment or
some definite ethical principle, and let the aim be clearly in mind in
the preparation for telling it. Select your story also with the child’s
story-interests in mind, as presented in Chapter II. Make sure also
that it is suitable in length and in style. Children who are accustomed
to hearing stories can listen a longer time than those whose ears and
brains are quite untrained. With very young children five minutes gives
room for a really stirring tale.


This is not the task of the memory, but of the imagination and the
feelings. Read and reread the story. Do not memorize it. Visualize it.
Picture it mentally. Fall in love with it. See the images. Feel the
emotions of the characters. Breathe the atmosphere. Absorb its spirit,
scene, setting, plot, people, and parts. Make it your own creation,
living anew in your own soul. Then lay the book aside, and at leisure
reproduce it, part by part, in your own thought or words, making sure
that you have well in mind the story’s four parts: (1) Beginning; (2)
progress of events; (3) climax; (4) end.


(1) Your story must have a beginning, which should be brief, concrete,
interesting, introducing the chief character, scene, atmosphere, or
spirit of the story in the fewest possible words.

(2) Your story must have a progress of events, an orderly movement,
giving the essential facts, step by step, and full of action, leading
up to the climax without revealing it in advance.

(3) Your story must have a climax that cannot be missed. This is the
point and pith of your story. It is that for which it is mainly told
and enjoyed. If a moral lesson is to be imparted, it is here that it is
enforced. And failure here is total failure. Make sure of this climax,
for to miss it is like trying to tell a joke, missing the point, and
meeting humiliation and defeat.

(4) Your story must have an end. A successful ending is quite as
important as the climax, and needs careful consideration. It must
be brief and appropriate, and leave the mind at rest, without any
questioning or dissatisfaction. It may be well for the beginner at
first to analyze his stories in this way, into these four parts, either
in his thoughts or on paper, for it will give excellent practice and
make the retention of the story by the memory a simple matter. But
with practice and drill these four parts of a good story will take
their place in the mind and in the telling most naturally, easily, and


The consciousness of having a good story to tell, and a story adapted
to the age and interests of one’s audience, is the first step to
that ease, freedom, dignity, and repose which are necessary at the
start. If the story-teller can select his time, as many parents and
teachers can, so much the better. If he is met by an ill-prepared
audience, or an audience in an uncomfortable place, or under adverse
circumstances, his introduction must serve to put him in touch with his
audience. If several stories are in mind, the order may be changed,
and a “humorous” story or other introductory remarks may serve to pave
the way for the necessary response. Then he may proceed with the
intended story or stories with his own eye and heart kindled, moving
in a straightforward, spontaneous, self-forgetful way toward the
desired lesson in the climax, and ending happily, leaving the audience
delighted and impressed.


Practise your stories! “Repetition is the mother of stories well
told.” Repeat them. Do not be afraid of retelling them. The younger
the children are the better they like old friends. Every one loves a
“twice-told tale.” (Hervey.) “Practise! It will go clumsily at first.
Imagination will be dull, facts will escape your memory, parts will be
confused. But persevere, persevere! Study results. Listen to others.
Catch their points of effectiveness. Above all things practise!
practise! practise!” (Wells.)


Children should be given an opportunity to tell and retell the stories
heard. Children like to create, and whether it be with sand, wood, or
words, the underlying processes are the same. For a child to retell a
story means that he enters into the spirit of it, that he sees clearly
the mental picture, that he feels the atmosphere and life of the story.
In this way imagination, memory, language, and reason are enriched and,
at the same time, the ethical principle of the story is more clearly
impressed on the child’s mind, to be assimilated at pleasure.


Froebel was the first educator to discover the educational value of
simple, instructive mother-plays. His “Mother Play Book” is one of
the greatest books in the whole history of education. In it Froebel
pictures home as it ought to be, and accompanies the mother in her
daily round through the house, garden, field, worship, market, and
church. Here is one of his charming set of finger games for the mother
to teach her child while he is yet in her arms:

This is the mother, good and dear;
This is the father, with hearty cheer;
This is the brother, stout and tall;
This is the sister, who plays with her doll;
And this is the baby, the pet of all.
Behold the good family, great and small!

In such a song, the dawning consciousness of the child is turned to
the family relations, and is surely an improvement on the old nursery
method of playing “This little pig went to market.”

There are also little story finger-plays in which gestures may be
employed as in the finger-play rhymes. A collection of these finger
stories, the first play stories for infants, is given in “Descriptive
Stories for All the Year,” by M. Burnham; and in “Finger Plays,” by
Emilie Poulsson.


In early childhood, as soon as a story takes possession of the child,
he shows a tendency to enter into its persons and its action; to
mimic the voices, to ape the manners, to imitate the acts. This is
the instinct of imitation and play. The child should be allowed to
play out the story in this way, or better still, the parent or teacher
may propose playing the story. Not every story may be played equally
well, but the following familiar child’s stories may be used in play
and heartily enjoyed without staging or any stage terms–just natural,
spontaneous, hearty play: “Little Red Ridinghood,” “The Fox and the
Grapes,” “The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Hare and the Tortoise,” “Dick
Whittington and His Cat,” “Androcles and the Lion,” and others in this

“The Fox and the Grapes” (page 67) may be played by a single child. A
wall is selected for holding the imaginary bunches of grapes. The child
stands or crouches, looking up longingly at them, then jumps up for
them, and, finally, after a fall, walks or crawls away, saying, “I know
those grapes are sour and not worth eating.”

“The Lion and the Mouse” (page 74) may be played by two children. One
child, choosing to be a lion, lies flat on the floor taking a nap. The
child acting as a mouse crawls over him, awakening the lion, who roars
and pins the mouse to the earth with his paw. “Let me go! I’ll help you
some time,” cries the mouse, and, being freed, runs away. Later the
lion is in an imaginary net, the meshes of which the mouse gnaws, and
then runs away, saying, “I did help you after all, you see.”

In a similar way many of the stories of this book may be reproduced in
play by two or more children to their great enjoyment and instruction.


As in the day-school kindergartens, little children play stories in
response to a natural impulse to act out whatever they are thinking
about, so in Sunday-school primary classes simple stories may sometimes
be played with great pleasure and profit. In a school in Chicago the
teacher had told the story of the “Lost Sheep.” Later the children
played the story. They made the fold of chairs. One child was the
shepherd, another child was the wandering sheep, and all the other
children were the sheep who followed the shepherd safely back to the
fold. When the shepherd realized that one sheep was missing, he started
out to hunt for it. He looked behind great rocks (chairs) and in all
dangerous places until he found the lost sheep. Certainly the child
who took the part of the little lost sheep will not forget. In such a
simple way the beginner in both the day-school and the Sunday-school,
or in the home, may act out a story whose lesson will never be effaced
from memory.

In later grades, historical and even Bible stories may be dramatized
in short plays with excellent results. On special days, instead of
presenting a ready-made cantata, let the children give a little play
of their own composition, the result of several weeks of work upon a
suitable Bible story.

Two good books of special interest on this whole subject are:
“Historical Plays of Colonial Days,” by L. E. Tucker and Estelle L.
Ryan; “Quaint Old Stories to Read and Act,” Marion F. Lansing.