by Julia Miller (Lincolnshire CBG, Jean Russell Project Coordinator)
‘The Doll Who Ate Stories’: The 2018 Jean Russell Storyteller Project “FEED ME A STORY” is a clear winner with our groups.
Watch the final performance of ‘The Doll Who Ate Stories’ FREE at our Three Laureates event in Birmingham on 3rd November (tickets for the event will be available here soon).
‘Hungry, hungry, HUNGRY….’!! Children across the country have been raising the roof with their enthusiastic call and response to Anna Conomos-Wedlock’s rip-roaring storytelling performance of Baba Yaga.
Re-creating the dark Russian forests in rural West Wales, inner-city Plymouth, an Academy in High Wycombe and a small forest school nearby, with her re-telling of the Russian folk tale, Anna’s magical Matryoshka doll was fed with stories written and performed by children aged from 4 – 12, all of which contained food of one kind or another, in order to save the beautiful Vasilisa the Fair.
Using material and props created especially for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups project, Anna enthralled the children (and adults) with her performance of the traditional Russian folk tale of the witch who lives in a house on chicken legs and creates chaos in the forest in her wooden bowl. Teaching everyone Russian and singing a beautiful Russian lullaby – you could hear a pin drop in the silence – Anna wove her own magic spells, encouraging all the audience to participate in the performance.
The performance of the tale was only the start of an intensive day, structured to leave a legacy of storytelling in the schools, with the teachers and in the imaginations of the children. Anna worked with pupils throughout the day, developing their storytelling skills so they could create their own versions of food-based fairy tales and then perform them as stories to the rest of the school.
Eva John of West Wales says: ‘The whole project was beautifully structured and so well-organised, with the learning stages increasing incrementally. It was a challenging day that gave them opportunities to show their abilities to work inclusively as part of a team, problem solving, thinking creatively and performing’.
The Head of Year at The Highcrest Academy said: ‘These particular pupils do not get these opportunities in their home lives and in such a large school it’s often difficult to give everyone such a hands-on experience, so it is particularly rewarding to work with them in this way’.
‘Story-making is like baking’ says Anna. ‘You start by choosing the most colourful, scrummy, textured ingredients, you then put the ingredients together in the perfect order, stir up your dramatic characters with your spine tingling plot, fold in your delicious vocabulary with your memorable story message and da! da! YUM YUM YUM… a story you will want to experience over and over again!’
Storytelling is vital for the development of children’s imaginations and can be used across the curriculum to embed learning. Creating stories in teams and then performing them after just two hours work with Anna stretched the children, developing their oralcy skills, confidence, team-work and creativity. These pupils constantly surprised the adults with their aptitude and learning.
Storytelling, particularly of the old tales, has such power and yet is diminishing in a world where arts in schools is coming under constant pressure to demonstrate value. The Head of English of Year 7 could not believe the power that a folk tale had on teenagers!
‘How they could sit there silently and so engaged and mesmerised when this is such a challenge in class. This is so different from what they have in the every-day life that it was amazing how they were able to really connect with it so instantly’.
Everyone will have the opportunity to benefit from this project. It will culminate in a story film telling the story of Baba Yaga with an accompanying DVD and Teacher Resource Pack and a big show using some of the stories at the Birmingham Conservatoire performed by pupils from Dudley and Solihull Children’s Book Groups.
And the ingredients from the food stories that will have been fed to the Magical Doll are to be used to create recipes that children and teachers can share together when telling the stories and can then be shared by the children with their friends and families. And they will be tested to ensure they are not only edible but delicious too!
Storytelling shares messages and love across the generations – part of the legacy we pass on to our children and our children’s children. This is the real value of the Jean Russell Gift, which is organised in partnership with and supported by the Ragdoll Foundation and one we will be building on throughout 2018, our 50th birthday year.
And the last word of course lies with the children: ‘Magnificent! I loved taking part and being part of a team with friends, working together to tell our story. It was a fun activity’.