Jean Russell Storytelling Project

rsz_rfjr_green (1)

The Jean Russell Storytelling Project culminated at Oxford, with a StoryFest involving 3 local schools re-telling the story of Jason and the Argonauts to an audience of children, teachers and the Lord Mayor. The children had only 3 hours each to rehearse but rose to the occasion splendidly.

If you would like a taster of the performance and to learn more about the project itself watch the video of Oxford on Youtube.

The project directly engaged 1,800 children and young people, across 19 schools and a children’s ward. The workshops involved 80 adults – teachers and parents and 19 Education students training to be teachers.

“The children loved the experience. The teachers thought she was brilliant.”.

‘A big thank-you for choosing the school to take part in the project. Anna was brilliant, holding the children spellbound. It was lovely to see the children participating in the storytelling. They were enthralled for the whole 45 minutes.’

‘It is a great gift Anna has not only in her acting and storytelling skills but how she was able to gauge the session to make it appropriate for the age of the children. I would certainly have her come to the school again.’

2016 was the year of the Jean Russell Storytelling Project, reaching out to vulnerable and less privileged children through the power of stories. The project was in partnership with and supported by The Ragdoll Foundation and ran throughout the year, reaching thousands of children in hospitals, in schools in deprived areas, at Community Arts Festivals and working with young carers.

anna conomos

Anna Conomos, Young Storyteller of the Year 2005 and international performance storyteller extraordinaire, worked with six local children’s book groups across the UK to help young people create their own stories and perform them to others. Each project was designed to leave a legacy: through enabling the children to take their own stories away with them, by using local stories across generations to create a lasting sense of community, by encouraging parents and carers to tell stories to their children and by helping children become storytellers themselves to the children who follow them.

The project was launched at the 2016 conference with a rousing performance by Anna of a Persian tale of Sultans, fat wives and skinny wives, rich men and poor men…thumb_DSC_9259_1024







The Events


The day at Ipswich was organised in partnership with the Suffolk Young Carers organisation.  Young carers are defined as ‘if you are 9 – 15 years old and care for, or are affected by, a family member who has a physical or mental illness or who has a problem with the misuse of drugs or alcohol, you are a young carer’.  Suffolk young carers work with an advisor, meet other young carers at groups and activities and are supported at local schools. They are invited to talk to adults they can trust and ask for help if they need it.

The objective of the day was for the carers to have fun, listening to stories and learning how to tell stories themselves in workshops, by creating the end of a locally-based story and performing to the rest of the group. The story was devised by Anna, linking the graves of a horse and a young man in Mound 17 at Sutton Hoo with the medieval and European legend of the bay horse Bayard and his rider, Rinaldo.


Anna performed the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau to Year 2 and Year 3, first entering into a discussion with the children about friendship and particularly the difficulties of sustaining friendships within families. After describing how important ‘The Blessing’ on the firstborn son was in Israel, she encouraged the children to enact the story through call and response and song. At the end of the story, the children discussed how important it is to forgive your friends, how it is better to share than to compete and the need for forgiveness if friendships are to be maintained. The children also drew out the effect of lying to your parents and not to be mean to each other.

The second story – to Year 4 and Year 5 – was the more familiar Jason and the Golden Fleece, with the children taking on the roles of Jason, Scylla and Charybdis (called Rocky and Scarggy), Hercules, Achilles, Theseus and the entire crew of the Argonauts. This last was the favourite – the grunting of pulling the oars nearly raised the roof of the school hall. Jason retrieved the magical Golden Fleece to release his mother from his evil uncle and then Anna invited the children to decide on the uncle’s fate. She emphasised how, in storytelling and story writing, it is important to maintain consistency with the character of the protagonist. After many gruesome suggestions, the children finally agreed to give the uncle one more chance and to use the fleece to turn him from evil to good.


On Saturday 18th June children from New Christ Church School in Reading performed seven local stories taken from oral and photographic archives from Aspire2 and the Whitley Community Museum as part of the Light Up Whitley Festival. Click here for the press release. Aspire 2 logo

The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves, both on the 16th June when performing to the school, and on the  Saturday.


Earlier that week Anna had visited Robert-le-Kyng Primary School in Swindon with Aldbourne CBG and the whole school enjoyed working with Anna on the myth of Daedalus, Theseus and the Minotaur. Linking the imagination, vision and creative engineering skills of Daedalus to Brunel and the growth of Swindon as a railway town, the myth also explored themes of resilience, working together and striving to do one’s best.

IMG_3018_censored   Bournville Primary School and Milton Park, Weston-super-Mare with North Somerset CBG 7th and 8th June 2016  

anna at weston 3  anna at weston 1  anna at weston 4

Over 200 children from 5 to 11 years old were enthralled by Anna’s retelling of traditional tales from India, Ancient Greece and the UK – each one with its own moral: of enduring love, of friendship and of confronting fears. Anna skilfully used percussion, song and rhyme to transport her audience from the school hall to the highest mountain in India, to the woods of Mount Olympus and to the caves of ancient England. The children participated in the performance throughout – as Shiva and Sati, as Apollo, Cupid and Daphne, as the young King, chickens, trees, knights…and even the teachers were involved in the performances. Subscribe to our blog to read more and to keep up-to-date.

Great Western Hospital 14th June 2016

Working with Aldbourne Children’s Book Group. Anna worked with the Education Other Than at School department and Uplands School, using role play, story-making workshops and craft play to bring stories to life and have fun. And what a moving and inspiring day the first event with Anna Conomos, Jean Russell Storyteller, proved to be! The myth of Jason and the Argonauts capturing the Golden Fleece has never been so dramatically performed as it was by Anna and the 14 children and young people from Uplands School in Swindon and from the Children’s Unit at the Great Western Hospital.

IMG_1440_opt (1)

Armed with hats, feathers, Greek costume, a thunder stick, bows, arrows and cannon balls, Anna involved all the children in her performance storytelling. Theseus the Clever sported bright goggles and baubles, Achilles the Swift shot his arrow from his hospital bed and Hercules the Powerful rowed the Argo to Colchis with all his friends.

Anna then worked with older young people inIMG_1448_opt the hospital’s Education Other Than At School department, helping them to create their own stories, looking at the ending of an African tale of the Tiger’s Whisker. The young people shared their endings and openly shared the message of the story for them: the need for patience, the need to keep trying and how fear can sometimes get in the way. They also explored with Anna how to physicalize the story, creating tableaux to build the scenes together before ending with a song.


Subscribe to our blog to follow each group’s projects as they unfold or follow us on Twitter. To read more about performance storyteller Anna, visit her web site: 

Oxford Children’s Book Group

OCBG will hold a very special two-day STORYFEST on the 17th and 18th November.  We are delighted to have been awarded a grant by the Ragdoll Foundation to run our Storyfest and to work with Anna Conomos, who is an internationally renowned storyteller. Anna will be coming to Oxford in November to work with children from three Oxford schools: St Ebbe’s, East Oxford First and New Hinksey. Naturally, Anna will entertain the children in her own lovely and inimitable way, by telling and sharing stories but she will also help the children and their teachers to develop their own storytelling skills.