If we want children to love good literature we must help them to ENJOY good literature! Story-telling brings pleasure to the child and it is the most effective way to lead to an appreciation of literature. If reading is a chore, a boring, tiresome chore, then the child will never acquire the taste for it. This comes from enjoying it with another—preferably with the teacher at school and the parent at home, as well as the Bible teacher at church.
Somewhere I read that William McKinley once said that the mention of willows by a river made him think of the story of Moses in the bulrushes, and brought to mind this sentence, “And she hid the basket among the rushes in a spot where willows hung over the river.” The story had been told to him in childhood and brought him such enjoyment that the teller’s very words left a lasting impression on his mind. He is quoted as having said, “I believe that story more than anything else gave me fondness for elegant English.”
We can interest children in the life of an author so that they will want to know something of his work. Visits to 10th, 11th, and 12th grade English classes for storytelling sessions have taught me much about how young people react to biographical stories that I have shared. The questions after the story are, “Where can I find stories by James Thurber?” (or others). Robert Louis Stevenson always stirs the interest when I tell of his childhood, how he was ill and could not run and play—how he watched the lamplighter making his rounds, etc. I sometimes quote selections from A Child’s Garden of Verses and the room becomes very still as the students fall under the spell of the poet.
Through storytelling the author of Treasure Island stands out in the mind of the listener and they become eager to hear more about him and to read more of his works. A teacher may talk about life in a fishing village. Every day the father had to go far out to sea in a boat to catch fish. He needed a big catch so that he could sell them and make money for his family. One day he stayed later than usual and the mother sang a song to the child about the father, saying that he would be home soon. Then read Tennyson’s poem, “Sweet and Low.” I play the autoharp and sing softly, “Sweet and low, sweet and low, Wind of the western sea. Low, low, breathe and blow, Wind of the western sea. Over the rolling waters go, Come from the dying moon and blow, Blow him again to me, while my little one, while my pretty one sleeps” The storyteller does not miss these opportunities to introduce the students to poetry in the form of music, which holds great charm in itself.
With the secondary students it is good to give the plots of great literature and read aloud difficult passages to them. This helps them to know where the writer is coming from, through the storytelling process. Spending too much time dissecting a piece of literature is a sure kill where the student ends up hating something that they may have enjoyed and loved. This is something that I have personal experience with since my children were small and hours of time spent in the pursuit of reading. They are good readers. I owned a tape recorder when my grandchildren and great nephews and nieces came along, I made tapes for them from their infancy right on up. As I see it all the time spent in teaching literature is for naught if the teacher fails to instill a love for and a great capacity for the enjoyment of the great masters. Remember Jesus taught, “First the corn and then the ear!” Begin with the simple folk tale and easy finger play verses!
I am simply hitting the high spots in this little composition, but it is mainly for the parent and the S.S. teacher or church librarian. The one who is already the English teacher or the literature professor in higher education, will have this love for the wonderful gifts that we have in our literature, and familiarity with the stories or they already tell them so as to bring their students into an understanding and an appreciation for the language that has been preserved for us through the years. Thank the good Lord for all of their hard work, and for the resulting people we have living it out in their family lives. I seriously doubt that books will ever be replaced by the technological, for the simple reason that books can hold their own! People like to hold them in the hand and turn the pages! People like the “feel” of them and the fragrance of the print!
I will add this as a conclusion, The Courtship of Miles Standish has stories from the Bible in it which the teacher should just tell when they occur in the piece. I can think of no literature that we studied in school from elementary right on through high school that our teachers did not enrich through storytelling! One teacher said, “It made all of the effort worthwhile when a broad-shouldered. sun-burned man went three hundred miles out of his way to see me on a home visit and to thank me for having led him to enjoy poetry.”
EXAMPLES OF STORIES FROM LITERATURE
Browning: The Pied Piper of Hamlin//others
Geo. Eliot: Silas Marner ///and Little Eppie
Dickens: The Christmas Carol// David Copperfield and others
Irving: Rip Van Winkle //and Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Longfellow: Courtship of Miles Standish // Hiawatha
Tell the story of St. Francis of Assisi and then tell his Sermon to the Birds
Stevenson: Treasure Island //Kidnapped