Sunday, November 24, 2019

Spin the globe, tell a story

"Come, sit next to me! Spin the globe, and stop it by pointing somewhere. I will tell you a story from whichever country your finger lands on..."

I have been developing and testing this storytelling program for years; I started the Following folktales around the world blog series because of it. It took lot of waiting and hoping but it finally happened - a local library ordered the program! I got to go and see if I really can tell a story on the spot from anywhere the kids point at on the globe.

It appears that I can.

The library was a lovely setting for the program. I was asked  to sign my books, I got tea, and I was surrounded by an art exhibit. I brought my own globe (the first one I found at home still had the Soviet Union on it, but I managed to rustle up another one that can be dated to the mid-1990s). When the kids and families arrived, I told them they could come up in pairs, one kid to spin the globe, and the other to point. The program I prepared has one story for every country, plus a couple of extras for outlying territories (such as Greenland or Hawaii), and at least one for each ocean and larger body of water. I also had a few "joker" tales I could resort to if I drew a blank - tricksters, for example, cover admirable stretches of land.

I held my breath, waiting to see what place the kids would land on.

Even though I was prepared that they would end up pointing at the 97% water surface, the kids specifically made sure to aim at dry land instead. The first little girl pointed at India, which is a pretty easy start in storytelling terms. In order to cater to the younger audience, as well as pick a shorter story so that we had more time to spin, I told the tale about how once upon a time the elephants could fly, and how they lost their wings. This story allows for a lot of humor and a lot of speculation (what problems can flying elephants present?), and it was a great way to kick off the show.
Next, a girl's finger landed on one of the triple borders of Central Asia, which, after some hesitation, was decided was closest to Tajikistan. I owe great gratitude to Dana Sherry at the Berkeley Silk Road House for sharing so many Central Asian tales with us over the years; I ended up telling a Goldilocks-like tale about an old couple who end up sneaking into the home of some bears in the winter. It was a fun story, and perfect for the age group.
The globe continued spinning, and next we landed on the Korean Peninsula (the tiny hand covered both Koreas). I chose to tell the folktale of the Story Spirits that vow to take revenge on a prince who wouldn't allow them to travel. It is not only an old favorite of mine, and a fun story to tell, but it also conveyed a message about storytelling which the kids easily picked up on. "So, this is why you are telling us stories!"
After this old favorite, I got to premiere a new one. A girl pointed at Uganda, and I just happened to have a brand new favorite folktale from there that I discovered the other day. It's about a king who has a private zoo he is proud of, but the animals suffer in it. At this point, we had a great conversation about what makes a zoo good for the animals, and the kids had a lot of smart things to say - "they get good food", "they have enough space", "there are not too many people", or "their essential sustenance needs are properly met" (hello there, Hermione Granger). The king in the tale eventually learns to appreciate open nature, and lets his animals go home. It's a beautiful tale to tell, and I'm definitely keeping it.
In the last round a boy landed on the USA - Florida, to be more specific. It's lucky that one of my favorite American folktales - Mockingbirds on Fridays - just happens to be from Florida. It's a fun but also touching tale about friendship, and about seeing a glimmer of good in everyone.

The spinning and pointing was completely random, and yet it ended up creating a wonderful lineup of stories. The kids were engaged, enthusiastic, and wicked smart; I had a great time spending the hour traveling around the globe with them. This is definitely one of y favorite storytelling programs to do. Can't wait for the next invitation...

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