Review: The Natural Storyteller by Georgiana Keable

This review of The Natural Storyteller came from Kate Haines at Greenfinder – many thanks to her for sharing her thoughts on this wonderful title.

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

Georgiana Keable, the author of ‘The Natural Storyteller: Wildlife Tales For Telling’, has been a key figure in the rebirth of storytelling in both Norway and England. She founded the Norway Storytelling Festival in 2004 and now teaches storytelling at Oslo University.

This collection of short stories encompasses enthralling tales from India, Scandinavia, Africa, Russia, Afghanistan and England and include story maps, story skeletons and riddles alongside each tale to aid the narrator’s memory in the retelling of the tales. Extension activities are also included with some of the stories so would be useful for teachers, librarians or forest school leaders.

Reading through these stories I was struck by their simplicity, warmth and compelling characters and was intrigued to learn that a question Georgiana is asked time and time again by teachers and parents is ‘Why aren’t you telling stories about real life, council estates and smart phones instead of talking animals, trees and flowers?’ Interestingly she is never asked this question by children.

Hugh Lupton points out in the foreword that ‘Nothing has really changed. Just like our ancestors, we still depend on the generosity of the land. We may no longer live by fields and forests but our lives are interwoven with the lives of insects, plants, animals and birds. Emotionally we are no different-greed, kindness, anger, courage, jealousy and love inhabit us just as they inhabited our ancestors.’

‘The Perfect Pot’ was one of my favourites and is a simple, heart warming tale about an Indian woman carrying water to her home each day with two pots, one a perfect specimen and a second one that is cracked and leaks half its load every day.

The story ends with the cracked pot asking its mistress why she uses the pot day in day out when it leaks so much water. Her mistress asks her to look at the path she walks each day and to look at the flowers that grow on one side of the path. ‘I dropped flower seeds on your side of the path and everyday you sprinkle them with water, I could have always bought a new pot but you are perfect for the job. The flowers give joy to many a heart and home’

There are many other beautiful and uplifting stories in this anthology but not all of them have happy endings. ‘The Puffin’ is a dark tale that doesn’t end well despite the protagonist repenting of her sins. However poignant stories like this one would certainly create a different storytelling experience for children that are perhaps used to conventional fairy tales where everyone lives happily ever. I’m sure this tale would create much discussion and consternation amongst little listeners which I’m sure is the author’s intention.

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Review: The Natural Storyteller by Georgiana Keable

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

This is another review from the brilliant Imelda Almqvist, written for Pagan Pages. Many thanks to both of them for spreading the love.

 The Natural Storyteller is a gorgeous heart-warming book full of stories that children (and people any age!) can relate to. It is a collection of stories, carefully gathered over a period of years, from all over the world (different sources, locations, periods in history). Some are based on myths, others on legendary figures or even saints (e.g. St Francis of Assisi makes an appearance  – but in the story we meet his child self!) or extraordinary things that happened in the lives of ordinary people.

What steals my heart about this book is that it unflinchingly addresses the turmoil and realities of life in the 21st century. The author does not shy away from tackling themes such as deforestation, war or corporate greed.

My favourite story is the King of the Deer (perhaps because I live in the forest in Sweden for part of the year where see deer daily and observe them very closely). I had a rather traumatic encounter with deer hunters only two weeks ago and this story (about the King of the Deer putting a stop of the hunting of all animal species) really pulled at my heart strings.

I live in London for the larger part of the year and there is a  lovely story about a London woman who finds a wounded baby sparrow on her doorstep during World War II. She takes him in and he becomes her companion, eventually bringing comfort to people who lost their homes in air raids. The woman was called Clare Kipps and I am under the impression that this story is based on a real life person.

The author describes herself as going on hikes and actively asking strangers to tell her stories. Predictably many people first say they don’t know any stories before proceeding to tell a very unique story indeed. Many of those stories are about friendships between humans and animals.

I love the scope of subjects, characters and locations.  I also love the fact that she does not shy away from the difficult aspects of life. When children hear about characters in stories surviving such things and even finding courage or beauty under challenging circumstances – then that same resilience is reinforced and inspired in the audience.

Many stories end with a Q&A section where the storyteller can ask questions to test if the children have understood the storyline correctly. There is also a Myths from the Land of You section where children are encouraged to connect the story to their own lives and experiences.

This book is that rare thing: it unlocks emotions, ideas and a wild surge of creativity. Even I now want to take myself off on hikes around London and ask complete strangers to tell me stories about sparrows and crows (and may just do that for a day!) Stories about other subjects would be welcome too…

(Full disclosure: I was asked by HawthornPress to review this book as a teacher and author of a book about innovative work with children myself).

Imelda Almqvist, 9 November  2017, London UK

About the author:

Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. Her book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in 2016.  She is a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit  2017 as well as on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. She is currently working on her second book Sacred Art.

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Review: The Natural Storyteller by Georgiana Keable

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

This brilliant review was written by Nimue Brown for Spiral Nature Magazine, and is reproduced here with kind permission. Many thanks to  them both for their enthusiasm!

I’m not a storyteller myself, but it’s something I’ve long been interested in. One of the problems storytellers face is that many people assume it’s a thing you do for children, rather than an all-ages activity, and that’s one of the many reasons that The Natural Storyteller is such a good book — it’s a book for children that demonstrates why storytelling is for everyone. pagan ancestors told stories, and storytelling has been an important part of most human cultures. These days, we all too often live in fragmented ways, as passive consumers of amusement. Storytelling is active, a lively engagement with the world and with each other, and author Georgiana Keable makes the case for why we need that in our lives, and why we are much the poorer without it. She also makes the case for the power and importance of ecological storytelling.

The blurb on the back of the book is about children and storytelling, which left me expecting this to be a book for parents and educators, but it isn’t. Once you get inside, and beyond Hugh Lupton’s foreword, this is a book written for children and addressed to them. As an adult, I still found it readable, because there’s nothing condescending in the tone. Much of the advice that is relevant for children who would be storytellers is also relevant to adults, particularly questions of how to source, learn, and present material.

The stories in The Natural Storyteller are numerous and come from around the world. Some are ancient and traditional, some are modern re-workings of old tales, and some are completely new. It’s a really good and diverse mix, which manages to include a vast array of cultures without any issue of appropriation. It’s a really good demonstration of how broad, how ancient, and how integral to human life storytelling is. There are stories about storytelling, too, getting across the idea that we all have stories, and we all have needs that can be met through the sharing of stories. Most of the stories are quite short, which makes them easy for a beginner storyteller to learn. On the whole, the stories are positive and upbeat, although there are some sad ones. There isn’t a lot of violence — these are tales where violence is a problem to be solved, rather than a solution, which I very much liked. The core message is about cooperation, compassion, care, and creative solutions.

One of the reasons I am not a storyteller myself is that I’d never figured out how to practice a story. I wouldn’t want to learn by rote — that’s a lot of work, and seems a bit dry for my tastes. What author Georgiana Keable does, in small commentaries between stories, is to ply the reader with information about how to become a teller. She writes about how to get inside a story and understand it, how to inhabit it and make it your own, how to learn it and express it. She encourages would-be story tellers to really get inside the tales they want to tell, and gives them the tools to do that. It shows that storytelling is more than a feat of memory, it’s about the stories you choose to make part of yourself and how you share them.

Many of the tales in this book capture something of the relationship between human and not-human. The need for balance, care, and respect comes through loud and clear, in traditional and modern stories alike. Part of the reason that modern humans are so destructive is that we have stories of market and economy, of growth and consumption, that let us imagine ourselves as users of the world, not as participants in it. While there are increasing numbers of voices speaking up against this, that kind of activism is hard work and often exhausting. Sometimes we can get the message across more effectively by telling stories, and by re-storying our culture with tales that help us form healthier relationships with the world we live in. This book offers many such stories, and opens the door to even more — the stories we need now are often old stories that we have let go of.

I think The Natural Storyteller is a brilliant book for young people, but it doesn’t end there. Anyone interested in storytelling as an art form, but doesn’t know how to get started, would find this an excellent place to begin. I can very much recommended it for anyone starting down the Bard path, and anyone interested in finding emotionally sustainable approaches to activism. It’s an uplifting read that will leave you with a sense of possibility and optimism — something I think we could all do with right now.

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Review: The Natural Storyteller by Georgiana Keable

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

This wonderful review comes from Luce at Adventureswithmonster – we’re having such a brilliant week for reviews this week! Thank you Luce for reading, reviewing, and letting us use your fantastic words.

This beautiful new book, offers a ‘vibrant invitation to embrace a world of stories about animals and plants-and our relationship with them’. Included are 48 stories from various parts of the world and cultures, each exploring themes such as sustainability and all including an element of fun! The chapters are entitled Story Heart; Story Mind; Story Tree; Story Animal; Story Bird; Story Earth; Story Water; Story Weather, and The First Party.

Written by Georgiana Keable, a storyteller pioneer who taught storytelling at Oslo university and launched the Norwegian Storytelling Festival, this book is designed to not only offer stories, but to also help the reader flex their storytelling muscles. To really feel into the stories and work with them deeply.  A great extra section entitled ‘Myths from the Land of You’ offers quizzes to help you remember key points in the story to help you with storytelling, offering inspiration for ways to work with the story in connection to your own life, story skeletons,  ideas for extending the story experience with games, activities such as making story maps from nature, riddles and more. There is even the idea to set yourself a challenge after reading the book… hold a story party at which you tell some of the tales yourself. This sounds like so much fun, and a  great idea for home ed groups and communities!

I especially like how this book is more than just a collection of stories, it could be used that way if you wish, but there is so much scope here to really dive into the tales and to  experience and practice an ancient skill. The stories are timeless, appropriate for a wide age range, and offer an oasis of calm amidst the fast paced society of today, perfect for sharing and as a means of reconnecting with our environment. A very welcome addition to our bookshelves!

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The Natural Storyteller

Enjoy this video  – an extract from Georgiana’s show which was performed in Edinburgh with Solo Diarra and composed by Anna Aardalen. Video by Wild Leaf Reels. Copyright RBGE 2017.

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