A Lesson in Storytelling

from  The Big Book Adventure  © 2018 by Tim Warnes

from The Big Book Adventure © 2018 by Tim Warnes

The flexibility of oral storytelling extends to the teller. Each teller will incorporate their own personality and may choose to add characters into the story. As a result, there will be numerous variations of a single story.
— Oral Storytelling (Wikipedia)

There's more to storytelling (and literacy skills) than just writing. So to reinforce last week’s thought, let me give you an example from my own family.

When our youngest son was in Year 3, one of his class topics was fairy tales. Their home assignment: to retell a fairy tale in whatever format they chose.

Levi was a competent and confident reader, but writing wasn't something that came easily to him. Wondering how best to support him, we came up with this solution: Levi would retell us a fairy tale - in his own words - which we would record and transcribe for him; allowing his imagination to go where it pleased (without being constrained or hampered by the physical act of writing).

One of the things I love about Levi's version of the story, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf! is his use of made-up words

- including the wolf's pet names for Red Riding Hood - making him sound as if he's really doing his best to portray himself as an affectionate grandma:


The wolf swooched into Grandma's cupboard and put on her dressing gown and got in Grandma's bed.

Little Red Riding Hood knocked on the door and said, 'Hello! It's me! It's Little Red Riding Hood!'

The wolf said,' The door isn't locked, Flower-Face.'

Little Red Riding Hood walked in and said, 'Oh, what big ears you have, Grandma!'

And the wolf said, "Just the better to hear you with, Fluffy-Duffy.'

Little Red Riding Hood said, 'Oh, what great, big eyes you have, Grandma!'

And the wolf said, 'Just the better to see you with, Googly-Boogly.'


I suggested we used Levi's story as the narration for a film. So we helped Levi create paper cut out characters and some simple backgrounds. With some guidance, he even filmed most of it himself (although the editing was down to me). You can tell from the smile on Levi's face at the end that he had a great sense of achievement. If we had insisted on him sitting down to write, it would have been a very different outcome - and story.


Presenting: Levi’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf!

(I was reassured to realise later that the conclusion of Levi's story was a mash-up of Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes version, with the tale's traditional ending - except with Red now taking on the part of the woodsman!


Nowadays, traditional fairy tales are largely regarded as stereotypical, sexist, and reinforcing gender stereotypes.

So I’m encouraged that even at the age of seven, Levi was helping to reflect changes in society - and continuing the work of Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes by portraying Red Riding Hood as a kick-ass protagonist (undoubtedly influenced by Princess Fiona in Shrek, too).

There's a storyteller inside all of us. Our challenge is to find creative ways to coax them out. Only then can we begin to influence the attitudes around us, and start to change culture for the better.


Good to Read

Some reimagined fairy tales:

  • Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book? by Lauren Child (Hodder Children’s Books 2002)

  • Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, by Roald Dahl, ill. by Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape 1982)

  • The Big Book Adventure by Emily Ford, ill. by Tim Warnes (Silver Dolphin 2018)

  • The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf and Grandma’s Wardrobe by Diane and Christyan Fox (Scholastic 2014)

  • Goldilocks and Just the One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow 2012)

  • Big Bad Raps by Tony Mitton, ill. by Martin Chatterton (Orchard Books 1996)

  • The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray, ill. by Mike Lowery (Putnam’s 2011)

  • Little Red by Lynn Roberts, ill. by David Roberts (Harry N Abrams 2005)

  • The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka, ill. by Lane Smith (Penguin 1989)