This review of Making Woodland Crafts and Storytelling for a Greener World appeared in issue 51 (spring/Summer 2015) of Reforesting Scotland. It was reviewed by Ian Edwards.
After travels on five continents I concluded that the secret of an ‘indigenous’ education is a combination of practical learning and storytelling. Two new books from Hawthorn Press, Making Woodland Crafts and Storytelling for a Greener World, show that what works for traditional, pre-literate societies remains useful and powerful in our modern world.
Making Woodland Crafts is a well-produced and illustrated handbook by Forest School Educator Patrick Harrison. His ideas will be too basic for some people (e.g. making a tripod by tying three sticks or a blow pipe by removing the pith from an elder twig) but even those who have done these many times before might find it helpful to be reminded of possibilities before going out to the woods with a group. Patrick Harrison is also the illustrator and you feel sure he has done everything in it himself and it will work. He happily mixes the practical (camp furniture, ladder, stargazing chair) and purely decorative (bracelets, necklaces, festive candles) as do forest cultures the world over. Adults and children love using tools and the Forest School approach is to introduce knives, saws and axes at the appropriate stage and to provide practical instructions to minimise risk. But you can’t learn how to use a tool properly from a book so it is an ideas kit for leaders rather than a teach yourself manual.
Storytelling for a Greener World will also inspire Forest School leaders. Most of the tales began life as campfire yarns but the authors have gone on to deconstruct and analyse them to emphasise their significance for our changing times. It is a multi-author work with a range of styles but the editors have done a good job of providing a simple précis at the start of each chapter. Editor Edward Schieffelin makes the valid point that you need to appreciate the cultural context of a story to be able to understand it and use it yourself. Creation myths of people you have never met may seem academic compared with fireside tales of Scottish travellers who trod the same roads as you and I.