‘Listing the ten best storybooks for storytelling seems an easy task until one remembers the vast number of such anthologies’ says Patrick Ryan. ‘Because storytelling is an essential part of childhood in all cultures, and a practice popular with children’s librarians for over a century, there is a wealth of choices. Several favourites, sadly out of print, are not included here (although many anthologies of the past that are useful to storytellers are available electronically). I’ve chosen current publications that were especially produced for children, with stories that appeal to them as independent readers. Equally important was to generate a list of books with stories that are easy for any adult to learn and tell, rather then read aloud. There’s an attempt to provide a representation of world traditions, but I found a worrying lack of recent collections with stories from large parts of Africa, Far East Asia or South America.’
‘These authors are experienced tellers, with more collections similar to those recommended here. Their publishers also promote good storybooks by other collectors that are useful to both beginner and experienced storytellers.‘
Here There and Everywhere, Stories from Many Lands
Liz Weir, The O’Brien Press, 80pp, 9780862788698 €5.95 pbk
Liz Weir comes from a long line of librarian-storytellers and has much to share from the Irish tradition. As a children’s librarian running highly successful story times in Belfast throughout ‘The Troubles’, she knows the power of stories, as well as what holds the listener’s imagination. She’s trained loads of librarians, teachers and professional tellers so for any beginner this is a book with stories that work! While aimed at younger readers, the stories are for listeners of any age. Liz includes Irish tales, but most entries come from all over, as the title says. Those interested in Irish stories should look for Edna O’Brien’s Tales for the Telling and Seumas MacManus’s Hibernian Nights.
The Story Tree, Tales to Read Aloud
Hugh Lupton, Barefoot Books, 64 pp, 9781905236121, £8.99 pbk (with CD)
Although the title says they’re for reading aloud, these nursery stories cry out to be told from memory. Hugh Lupton is one of Britain’s leading storytellers and his knowledge and experience is evident in this excellent selection that includes both well-known (The Billy Goats Gruff) and not so well known stories. It’s another good choice for beginning readers and tellers. Barefoot Books publishes a huge range of resources for storytelling by many others, including more by Hugh. Another good storybook for beginner tellers that’s out of print but worth finding is Time for Telling by Mary Medlicott.
Beverley Naidoo, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 48pp 9781847800077 £12.99 hdbk
Aesop’s fables appeal to both the child reader and listener. For this reason they’re a necessary part of any storyteller’s repertoire. Legend has it that Aesop was an African slave whose clever stories helped him gain freedom from Greek captors and become an advisor of kings. Beverley Naidoo has returned his fables to an African setting. It works well, maintaining the humour, and the recognisable quandaries, likely outcomes, and practical solutions that children find both satisfying and sensible.
Sing me a Story, Song-and-Dance Tales from the Caribbean
Grace Hallworth, Frances Lincoln, 48pp 9780711218512, £7.99, pbk
Another much loved and influential librarian-storyteller, Grace Hallworth produces wonderful collections, drawing on traditions from the Caribbean and further afield. A good story time should include opportunities for children to join in with rhymes, chants, singing, movement or dance. This book is full of such stories that do so. The story traditions of Africa, Europe and America came together in the West Indies and besides Grace’s other books there are those such as John Agard’s and Grace Nicols’s Tiger Dead! Tiger Dead! Anyone interested in African-American folktales (close cousins to Caribbean stories), seek out Julius Lester’s The Knee-High Man and The Tales of Uncle Remus: the Adventures of Brer Rabbit.
Ghaddar the Ghoul and other Palestinian Stories
Sonia Nimr, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 96 pp 9781845075231, £4.99 pbk
At the IBBY Congress in 2012 Sonia Nimr mesmerized audiences with her tale told in Arabic and English, and this collection will enchant any reader or listener. Stories have migrated between Asia, the Middle East and Europe for millennia so these stories will seem familiar, with echoes of the Arabian Nights and Brothers Grimm. The humour and grotesquery of the title story will delight key stage two listeners while reminding older ones of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, while ‘Dancing Jasmine, Singing Water’ is a romantic fairy tale with just enough adventure and danger to captivate everyone. ‘How Swallow Tricked Snake’ is a pourquoi story that entertains and enlightens.
The Ogress and the Snake and Other Stories from Somalia
Elizabeth Laird, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 96pp 9781845078706 £5.99 pbk
Any serious storyteller should get hold of every folk tale collection Elizabeth Laird has produced. My favourite, When the World Began, stories from Ethiopia, is out of print, but there are others. Elizabeth is an excellent writer, collector and translator representing honestly and accurately folk tales from Eastern Africa and the Middle East. The title story here, reminiscent of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ proves that heroines of real fairy stories are tough, brave, clever and kind, not soppy passive princesses waiting to be rescued. Presently there are few collections of tales from North, West or Sub-Saharan Africa. Although out of print, The River that Went to the Sky, edited by Mary Medlicott, is a recent, good representation of African storytellers’ tales from different countries.
School for Princes, Stories from the Panchatantra
Jamila Gavin, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 64pp, 9781845079901, £14.99 hdbk
The Panchantantra is one of the world’s oldest story collections. These animal tales migrated from India, taking new forms in Persian, Arabic, Jewish, African and European traditions while also inspiring many literary works. Jamila Gavin has produced a delightfully accessible version for children. ‘The Faithful Mongoose’ will be familiar to any one who loves the Welsh legend ‘Beth Gellert’. If you want a wider variety of folktales from the Asian Subcontinent, I highly recommend The Ocean of Story by Caroline Ness.
An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk Tales
Theresa Breslin, Floris Books, 160pp, 9780863159077, £14.99, hbk
This breath-taking, beautiful book is a joy to look at and hold. This book is for any children aged around eight years and older who’ve just discovered fairy tales as independent reading material. It reminds me of books by Jacobs and Lang that I enjoyed reading at that age. The gorgeous language is quite literary with some dialect, and there are few source references, so beginning tellers may find these tales a challenge. Similar but slightly easier material for telling would be earlier works by Duncan Williamson, a Scots Traveller storyteller, especially his The Genie and the Fisherman. (Floris also publishes two recent compilations of stories by Duncan).
Grimm Tales for Young and Old
Philip Pullman, Penguin Classics, 432pp, 9781846140266, £20.00 hdbk
A storyteller should have a grasp of the Grimm’s fairy tales. Their work influenced a massive amount of folk tale collecting and publishing, and popularized fairy tales as children’s reading material. Pullman recently said, ‘Fairy stories loosen the chains of the imagination. They give you things to think with – images to think with – and the sense that all kinds of things are possible.’ A master storyteller, Pullman’s translation remains true to the original while incorporating English rhymes and imagery to help stories fit an English-speaking teller’s tongue. While there’s not room here to list works for children by Perrault and Andersen, one can find a good representation of all these important creators of the fairy tale canon in Berlie Doherty’s Classic Fairy Tales.
Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales
Angela Carter, Virago, 486pp, 9781844081738 £12.99 hdbk
A modern classic, Angela Carter’s collections have found their way onto the secondary school syllabus. Teenagers have a right to hear and read fairy tales as much as any infant. Carter’s unadulterated retelling of both well known and obscure folk tales are ideal for this age group. Her collection represents cultural and linguistic traditions from around the world while providing a range of genre and themes. For adults telling stories to teenagers this is a great resource, and for teenage storytellers developing their own repertoire of tales to perform this remains one of the best starting points.
Although it’s aimed at teachers, Harrett’s book is the best I’ve seen providing simple, practical strategies for any adults wanting to know how to learn, remember and tell stories effectively. The others are out of print or difficult to find but still good sources of stories from traditions not often represented in current publications. They’re also a reminder of some of the long-gone writers, storytellers, and publishers who specialised in storybooks for storytelling, the giants whose shoulders we stand on today.
Jacqueline Harrett , Tell Me Another…Speaking, Listening and Learning through Storytelling , UKLA Mini Book, 48pp, 9781897638491, £9.00 pbk
Geraldine Elliot, Where the Leopard Passes, a Book of African Folk Tales, Routledge & Kegan Paul (originally) (Schoken Books 1987), 125 pp, 080520847X, $7.95 (in 1987) pbk
Ruth Manning-Sanders, A Book of Dragons (or ANY Manning-Sanders book where the title begins with ‘A Book of…’), Methuen, 0416581102, fom £8.99 (on Amazon) pbk
Virginia de Haviland, Favorite Fairy Tales Told Around the World (or ANY de Haviland book where the title begins with ‘Favorite Fairy Tales Told….’),Little & Brown, 126pp, 0316350443, £20 (second hand on Amazon) hbk
Alison Lurie, Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales,Mammoth, 112 pp., 0749705698, £3.19 (2nd hand on Amazon) pbk
Patrick Ryan, Phd FEA, has worked as a teacher, storyteller and writer for over thirty years. Since 2007 he has been Research Fellow at the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, University of South Wales. Publications for children include Shakespeare’s Storybook, published by Barefoot Books and winner of the American Folklore Society’s Aesop Accolade.