Review: The Natural Storyteller by Georgiana Keable

Image shows children and animals around a tree, and book title The Natural Storyteller

This review, written by Kevin Avison, originally appeared in the SWSF (Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship) newsletter, Spring 2018. Many thanks!

Georgiana Keable has written a gift of a book that will help teachers, parents and anyone who loves good stories. If we are to preserve human culture from the sort of madness and decline that currently seems all but inevitable, positive narrative holds an important place. We might go so far as to describe well chosen and well told stories as antitoxin for the social ills of our civilisation.

Narrative can open minds and hearts to worlds and experiences beyond the narrow compass of a single individual: through stories we learn compassion.

Georgiana provides a selection of forty-eight stories to fire the heart and imagination of both teller and listener. She also relates her selection to the natural world. Alongside “Story Heart” and “Story mind”, we have groups of stories from around the world, in which trees, birds, animals, earth, water and weather feature. Thus placing each individual is brought to life within a greater narrative.

The book includes an easy-to-use toolkit to help the story-teller, or teacher, inhabit the stories, adding memory and understanding of what they are about. In particular, the “story map” and “story skeleton”, will prove invaluable in assisting hard-pressed teachers prepare story their material. There are also activities, riddles and a host of helpful suggestions and hints. As an international master story-teller with foundations both in Norway and the Britain, Georgiana has drawn deeply from her experience teaching at Oslo University and participating in story-telling events around the world.

Buy the book here…

More about the SWSF here…

Review: Mask: Making, Using and Performing by Mike Chase

All the reviews of Mask are coming in at the same time! Today, we have this beauty from the Summer 2017 edition of SWSF Newsletter, written by Kevin Avison. Many thanks to him.

Mask front cover

This is a book that lives up to its title. The author’s experience, as actor, maker and workshop facilitator, shines through in a practical and inspiring account of the subject in drama, dramatherapy and groupwork. The author’s experience is not solely artistic, although there is no lack of art in these pages. The book also draws from Mike Chase’s innovative dramatherapy in the high security part of our penal system. It is a testament to his enthusiasm as well as his commitment.

After a thumbnail sketch setting out the use of masks in cultural history, the book goes on to a clear explanation of mask-making and the depiction of human types using colour as well as gesture. This is the organising heart of Mask, which takes Rudolf Steiner’s indications on the four temperaments as the point of departure, using these as active ingredient rather than mere notion or theory. As set out here, mask-making and design provides a hands-on encounter with temperamental qualities so that teachers, or anyone wanting to understand or gain a fresh insight into this aspect of personality, will be able to discover the temperaments anew, practically and directly. With mask in place, the author then provides methods of improvisation for working with them.

The techniques described by the author are ones that could be readily incorporated into the classroom and I would recommend it to any teacher thinking of using these in their drama work. However, a word of caution is needed: acting with a mask may seem to be the answer for classes that are unusually self-conscious or unwilling to reach out of themselves through drama. This can be a mistake. Unless well-prepared through movement, improvisation and games, a mask can serve as a guise behind which pupils retire. In fact, wearing a mask calls on the wearer to “fill” it and project through it, something that demands a certain confidence and maturity in itself. Mask: Making, Using and Performing is an impressive and helpful addition to a teacher’s toolkit. It is highly recommended.

Buy the book here…

More about the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship here…

Review: Form Drawing and Colouring

This review was written for the SWSF newsletter by Kevin Avison, and we’d like to thank him for letting us reproduce it here.

Form Drawing and Colouring cover

Once a diversion for children with few claims to be serious or educational, colouring-in has become respectable enough to be taken up by adults. Often this is explained as a form of “mindfulness practice”. Indeed, one such book is called The Mindfulness Colouring Book, and, for example, Hephzibah Kaplan, director at the London Art Therapy Centre, is quoted in the Independent newspaper saying: [colouring-in]… “requires a relaxed focus where the outline is containing and the mark-making repetitive and smooth…a bit like repeating a mantra where repetition is a means to relaxation, colouring-in is also a type of mediation….Meditation, whether secular or otherwise, has known benefits to mind, body and spirit. When focusing deeply on a simple yet safe task, other anxieties become less present, less pervasive.”

So, colouring-in has become a “thing”; newspapers, such as the Independent, publish lists of best buys, while Amazon’s website includes seventy-five pages of books and colouring materials. Angela Lord’s book is, however, a little different, offering a cleverly though-through sequence of patterns to help users practice and be enabled to create a variety of fourfold patterns, both guided and individually-designed. Someone working with this book will thus experience a “breathing” between concentrated linear form drawing and a relaxed colouring-in process. Needless to say, Angela Lord provides examples for the latter as well as step-by-step help to produce the forms. Someone who did not attend a Waldorf school can use this book with confidence and produce beautiful results. Those involved in the education will also enjoy these books and teachers will certainly find them helpful alongside the same author’s Creative Form Drawing for class teaching. A further book for adults is promised, this time with fivefold patterns.

The book is nicely produced, although the binding can be restrictive and the user might be advised to break the spine – which is a pity to have to do – so that the book can be opened flat (a spiral-bound format, or some other system of the sort, would work better). It is a little pricey too compared to other books of this general type. On the other hand, the unique qualities of this book make it particularly attractive and potentially creative. The claim that working with it will harmonise “body & soul” may depend as much on the user as the evidently deeply-considered patterns themselves. However, I rather imagine that the sound of colouring might well become a feature of some school meetings: perhaps for the better!

Buy the book here…