When I tell stories to children parents, teachers and other grown-ups often make a mistake: they think I am telling stories for them. Not to them, mind you, for many of them never actually listen - but for them. To entertain their children (for them), to educate them about values (for them), to give them an interesting experience of real life storytelling that is so rare nowadays. And because grown-ups think that I am doing all this for them, they make the mistake of thinking they can tell me what to do. Or what to tell.
Well, here come the news flash: I am not doing it for the grown-ups. Not for the teachers, not for the planners, not even for the parents.
I am telling for the kids.
I am telling for the kids who crawl up on my lap or sit next to me and listen with eyes wide like saucers.
I am telling for the kids who chatter at me in the middle of the story and they want to ask what the prince's name was, or where the kingdom is on the map, and most of all, they want to know if the story is true.
I am telling for the kids who come up with new solutions to the tasks in the story, and I can't help but tell it their way the next time around.
I am telling for the boy who told me the first time we met that he hated stories, and marched out of the room. I am telling for him because the next time I came in he stood in the back and nodded at the prince's decisions. I am telling for him because we sat by the bookshelf and talked about what kind of stories he would like to hear, and the next time, he stayed.
I am telling for the girl who came in wearing a tutu and told me she was a warrior princess, and she wanted stories where the princess saves herself.
I am telling for the little boy who listened for an hour with his mouth hanging open, and afterwards the teachers told me that was the first time in his entire life he had heard a story (because his father thought stories make boys weak).
I am telling for the girl who turned the Roman legend of Camilla into a story of eternal friendship, and told it back to me in a way that left me speechless.
I am telling for the girl who told me "You have inspired me to become a storyteller" and started telling stories to her classmates every break between classes. At the age of eleven.
I am telling for he kids who hear stories about children their age being shot to death at school, and they need to deal with that thought when they go to school the next morning. I am telling them stories about life and death, and I listen to their questions.
I am telling stories for the kid who told me he felt lonely just like the hero in the tale, and needed to hear the happy ending.
I am telling for kids to show them not all princesses are golden haired and blue eyed and perfect, and not all heroes are male. I tell of Antar the dark-skinned Arabian knight, of Aicha the monster-hunter, of the mother who raises the changeling child instead of tossing him into the fire. I ask the kids if they like dragons, and the Korean twins can explain the rest of the class why.
I tell for the stories. Grown-ups don't always understand. But the kids do.