A Pilgrim’s Way – with their feet they understand their roots

Young Pilgrims

Pilgrimsvandring på Stovner. Georgette er pilgrim og tar med seg skoleklasser på den fem uker lange turen til trondheim, langs kongeveien. Under veis forteller hun historier.

Along the Pilgrims way in Oslo, year sixes from all the local schools experience for themselves the 1,000 year-old Pilgrim tradition.

This is the 10th year 12 year olds from Oslo’s east sidewalk the ancient Pilgrims’ way leading to Trondheim also known as the King’s Road. Most of their pupils come from Christian or Muslim backgrounds, and today is special, both the bishop of Oslo and the cultural minister have joined the walk.

‘Children today have little chance to speak of how they understand God. Teachers are nervous of making mistakes, and it often seems safer not to mention the divine at all. In my experience children often appreciate the chance to speak about these mysteries. They really like meeting a real pilgrim and they love to be in nature,’ says the storyteller Georgiana Keable.

This Englishwoman has lived for 21 years in Norway. She is a pioneer in the renaissance of storytelling in England and Norway, and has taught for many years at Oslo University. In 2002 she founded the Storytelling House, whose aim is to give children and adults good story telling and listening experiences. Since 2008 she has walked the old Pilgrims’ way with around 1,000 schoolchildren per year.

‘The pupils have different backgrounds so I have to take care not to offend anyone. But everyone seems very curious about my pilgrim life and likes to take the chance to speak about their ideas of spirituality and often very personal things come up.’

Wandering through the forest Georgiana plays the role of the pilgrim 100%. When they talk to her it’s the pilgrim from the middle ages who answers not the storyteller. She asks a riddle: ‘What is greater than God and worse than the devil? The dead eat it but if we eat it we die?’ One of the children answers ‘Mum!’ Another shouts, ‘Nothing is greater than God!’
That’s the answer. The dead eat nothing every day and if we eat nothing we die.’ answers Georgiana.

Pilgrimsvandring på Stovner. Veien mottrondheim er merket med pilgrimskors.

It’s usually a Muslim child who answers that riddle. They have been taught that nothing is greater than God. They are also more likely to know about pilgrim traditions.

The relevance of pilgrimage in our time became real for the Georgiana when she walked from Ringebu to Trondheim with her daughter in 2003.

‘At 11 years my daughter hated going on walks. When I got a job as a storyteller walking on the Pilgrims’ way she begged to come on the 250 kilometres walk. No way! I said. But after she had really pleaded with me I agreed she could join us if she promised not to complain or moan. Amazingly she did the entire journey without a word of complaint. When she arrived in Trondheim anasty skin problem she had had for years was gone and her whole life was changed. Only later did I discover that she had been bullied at school but that had also changed.’

It was not until Georgiana moved to Norway that she became interested in pilgrimage. ‘When I saw what the journey had meant for my daughter I really wanted other children to experience this walk.


On the journey Georgiana tells local stories, her colleague Per Jostein Aarsand tells about Olav the Holy and also goes into role as a bandit, and some of the children join him on an ambush. And towards the end Georgiana tells the story of her daughter who was exactly their age when she walked the Pilgrims’ Way.

And then there are the challenges. The pupils often make quite a fuss about walking barefoot, but once the shoes are off, they seldom want to put them on again! It’s as if they are far more connected to the nature around them when their bare feet contact the ground.

Right at the end they walk 15 minutes in silence. ‘It’s quite an extraordinary thing to experience 50, 12 year olds walking in silence, it’s powerful,’ says Georgiana.

Oslo’s bishop Kari Veiteberg joined the walk this year, ‘This kind of work is at the heart of what the church can do. The children learn about pilgrimage, that it’s a real tradition and that there are holy places in this world. It’s amazing that here, just a few minutes from the local tube station, is this story, this history! This walk is also an example of how faith can be experienced through our feet,’ she says.

Oslo’s cultural minister, Rina Marianne Hansen, also joins the walk about half-way. Oslo council has supported the walks this year. ‘This brings our cultural history out into the local population. Many of these pupils don’t have a long family history here in Norway, so this knowledge is important for them in their lives here. This is also a great way to experience the role of faith in our society,’ reflects the cultural minister.

Religious dialogue

The priest in the local community, Tone Marie Falch thinks this walk is a fantastic way to include local people.

‘Following the footsteps of the old pilgrims clearly appeals to children with all kinds of different religious and cultural backgrounds. They can meet here and share their experiences. This is religious dialogue in practice,’ says the priest, who didn’t need to be asked twice to join the walk.

‘Feel this rock,’ challenges Georgiana. ‘This rock has been a holy place since the bronze age! Long before Christianity, long before Islam, people came here, they lit lamps from animal fat, and gave thanks for all their blessings.’

This article by Olav Solvang originally appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Vårt Land in October 2018.

Natural Storyteller catches a Moonbeam

The Natural Storyteller has been awarded a Gold Medal in the 2018 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards!  Launched in 2007, the awards are intended to bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to celebrate children’s books and life-long reading. The book has already been awarded First Prize in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.

Back in April Hawthorn Press launched a competition for schools and groups to win ten copies of The Natural Storyteller by Georgiana Keable, plus a visit from this award winning storyteller and author. The book is a seed packet of tales to open the mind and unleash a love of nature. Teachers were asked to write up to 100 words about how great stories can assist learning about our living planet. Countess Wear Community School, Exeter, won the competition and this Wednesday 10 October Georgiana Keable will visit the school to deliver several sessions of captivating stories to the pupils as well as a camp fire in the early evening.

Review: History Through Stories by Chris Smith, Adam Guillain and Nanette Noonan

History Through Stories - Teaching Primary History Through Stories; Chris Smith, Adam Guillain & Nanette Noonan; 9781907359774

We’ve just received this review from The School Librarian volume 65. We’re so happy that they’ve chosen to review us again – many thanks!

This is the fourth in the Storytelling Schools series. The Storytelling Schools approach to teaching involves telling stories from memory as a strategy for learning both language and topic content. It combines storytelling, drama and creative writing in a systematic way across the curriculum. There are over one hundred Storytelling Schools in England.

There are thirty-seven units in this book, working chronologically from 10,000 BC to man landing on the moon. Each unit contains up to three stories, all specially written for this book, either using fictional characters to inhabit the historical landscape within the story, or using real historical figures and imagining the details. As an example, the unit on World War One contains a story told by a grandfather to his granddaughter about fighting in the Battle of the Somme and a story by a fictional character playing in the football match in the unofficial truce of Christmas 1914. There are suggested links to other curriculum areas: war poetry, identifying countries taking part in the war and wartime songs for example. There are then history related activities, including trying to answer the question ‘How Did World War One start?’ As this has been debated by historians for over a hundred years it may be rather simplistic to suggest splitting the class into the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente to research the countries and decide on the answer. However, there are generally some good ideas here even if one does not fully subscribe to the  Storytelling Schools philosophy.

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Review: History Through Stories by Chris Smith, Adam Guillain and Nanette Noonan

History Through Stories - Teaching Primary History Through Stories; Chris Smith, Adam Guillain & Nanette Noonan; 9781907359774

This warm and heartfelt review was written by Sue Briggs for Montessori International, issue 120 Winter 16/17. Many thanks for their wholehearted enthusiasm!

Teachers in the 100 storytelling primary schools in England who have already wholeheartedly embraced the Storytelling Schools cross-curricular topic-based approach will rejoice at this latest volume, which this time focuses on teaching primary history. Using the tried and tested HMSS method – hear, map, step and speak – the authors have compiled 37 hand-picked stories designed to engage young learners in the exciting world of  history. Their enthusiasm for encouraging children to work together and find ways to tell and retell a story, helping them use their imagination to put themselves ‘into the shoes’ of people living at a particular time in history, shines through this whole volume. Each story forms a launchpad for creative ideas throughout the curriculum, linking subject areas in surprisingly effective ways. The grace, courage and unselfishness of significant individuals whose actions changed the course of world history – Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Sir Tim Berners Lee being examples – together with the stories of the likes of Boudicca, Henry VIII and Blackbeard, whose motives may have been less honourable but still reflective of their personal beliefs.

Stories of life in Stone, Bronze and Iron ages showing how humans have impacted on the natural environment would be useful to Montessori teachers working with the Timeline of Man as the cross-curricular resources listed demonstrate perfectly how each subject area can be integrated and explored using the story as a creative springboard.

Ancient civilisations are also well represented with stories and legends showing how legal systems, the concept of democracy and mathematical fundamentals originated, together with the Islamic legend about the invention of chess, all designed to pique the curiosity of primary students.

This is history as it needs to be taught – inspiring children with stories of individuals and events to get them thinking and imagining. The only dates in this book are contained in the clear and comprehensive chart of  the stories and topics in chronological order at the beginning of the book.

More please.

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Review: History Through Stories

This review originally appeared in Facts & Fiction Magazine, issue 99, and has been reproduced with permission. For more information about Facts & Fiction, visit the website here. 

History Through Stories: Teaching Primary History with Storytelling by Chris Smith, Adam Guillain and Nanette Noonan – Reviewed by Alastair K Daniels, storyteller, lecturer and author

History Through Stories - Teaching Primary History Through Stories; Chris Smith, Adam Guillain & Nanette Noonan; 9781907359774

History Through Stories: Teaching Primary History with Storytelling is the latest in the Storytelling Schools’ Series. These books are based on Pie Corbett’s approach to storytelling, which will be familiar to many teachers through the ‘Talk for Writing’ materials promoted by the Primary National Strategies (archived by the government in 2010, but available online).

As a storyteller, lecturer in teacher education (and former teacher), and an author myself on the role of storytelling in teaching, I was very much looking forward to reviewing this volume. I hope that I can give a reasonable account of the range of the content, and offer some critique of the potential usefulness of this book for teaching history.

The book is A4 format and spiral bound for ease of navigation, and it is illustrated throughout with simple line drawings. There is an introductory section that explains the Storytelling Schools Approach, and how the authors see the book being used in the classroom. The stories themselves are arranged in a series of (generally) chronologically ordered topics which are related to the history of England as laid out in the requirements of the English National Curriculum.

The topics range from ‘Britain since the Ice Age’ through (amongst others) ‘Romans c. 50-100 AD’, ‘Islamic Empire, Non-European Civilisations c. 900 AD’, ‘Women’s Right to Vote c. 1900’ and ‘World War two 1939-45’ to ‘Global Events: The Moon Landing 1969’. Each topic has between one and four related stories told in what the authors refer to as ‘the storytelling voice’. This means that details such as specific dates and statistics that one would normally find in a history textbook are not included in the tales, but each one concentrates, rather, on the narratives of characters through whose eyes events can be understood. Most of the time this means kings and queens, politicians and inventors, but there are also accounts of a girl working in a cotton mill, and a boy who is a victim of slave trading in the eighteenth century.

These last examples lead naturally to a critique of the book as a useful history text. There are thirty-seven stories in this book, but it is a surprise that there is not a single source cited, which perhaps explains the occasionally loose understanding of chronology (such as implying that the slave trade was a Hanoverian phenomenon). The authors make the point that they are working within the genre of historical fiction, but there is an essential difference between a fiction based on a specific historical character (such as the father of Anne Frank) and one built around a character created to illustrate a particular period (such as ‘a British boy who joins the Roman army’). The use of storytelling in teaching history is not without its critics: any retelling of history is necessarily partial, both in its pointof view and the range of historical information that it can include. I think it is a pity, therefore, that the authors didn’t make space for a short discussion, either at the beginning or the end of the book, about the difference between conventional historical accounts and historical fictions/stories told in the ‘storyteller’s voice’, and the ways in which such stories should be used alongside more formal sources.

Of broader concern is a question about the Storytelling Schools Approach in relation to teaching history. I am an enthusiastic teacher of storytelling, and advocate of storytelling being used across the curriculum, but I have to question the limited rationale for the application of ‘imitation, innovation and invention’ as a specific approach applied to history (it has recently been critiqued as an approach to developing children’s writing in Dockrell, J., Marshall, C. and Wyse, D. [2015] Talk for Writing: Evaluation report and executive summary [available online]). Whilst encouragement for children to ‘create innovated stories with new settings, characters or activities based around the original story’ is standard classroom practice (e.g. ‘imagine you are a child in a textile factory, and write a letter home to your parents’), it does need to be understood within a broader approach to history, and an understanding (on the teacher’s part) of those elements of historical accounts that are open to interpretation and fictionalising, and facts that are not negotiable.

In summary, I think that this book would provide a useful resource for teachers who are familiar with storytelling as a teaching technique, providing a range of stories that could be used to support curriculum history across Key Stages 1 and 2. I would hope, however, that teachers who are not used to embedding storytelling in their practice would seek advice about how to make the most of stories in their teaching.

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