“What kind of books are proper fare for a child’s mind?”
—Ruth Sawyer, The Way of a Storyteller
I have always been fascinated by the intimacy and power of storytelling, and I’ve had the good fortune to hear many gifted storytellers imparting their tales through the years. I have also been blessed with family members—parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles—whose stories of their own lives rivaled any handed-down story. So it is with the telling of tales; they are a force once the words hit a person’s heart and mind. James Stephens in his book, Crock of Gold says, “I have learned . . . that the head does not hear anything until the heart has listened, and what the heart knows today, the head will understand tomorrow.” I remember when my children were young and their frequent requests to “tell us when you were little, and you climbed into the tree house, even though Grandpa said it wasn’t safe.” My point is that something magical is given when a story is told and the timing of the telling is right. It can be an emotive tool, a way to touch, to humor, to teach, to console, to impart confidence.
My appreciation for storytelling led me to discover American storyteller and author, Ruth Sawyer. Raised under the loving care of an Irish nanny, she was immersed into the magical world of fairies and imaginary kingdoms at a very young age. These formative experiences nurtured her affection for other cultures as an adult and prompted her to travel to other countries in search of their stories. Ms. Sawyer was a prolific writer who kept these traditional stories alive in her books. Just like storytelling, good literature must begin with a good story to tell. The quest for quality children’s literature has been a road I have trod for many years, and I must say Ruth Sawyer continues to inspire me to this day. In her book, The Way of a Storyteller, she dedicates an entire chapter to this subject. “Storytelling as an Approach to Children’s Books and Reading” provides rich insights and offerings. She writes, “Storytelling can be used both wisely and helpfully as an approach to books–old familiar books, too often forgotten, and new books, too often lost in the welter of each year’s publication.” She provides a gauge, a standard of quality literature for children that is the same today as it was when she voiced it all those years ago. The bottom line is that good literature must have a good story to tell:
“What kind of books are proper fare for a child’s mind? Stories that make for wonder. Stories that make for laughter. Stories that stir one within with an understanding of the true nature of courage, of love, of beauty. Stories that make one tingle with high adventure, with daring, with grim determination, with the capacity of seeing danger through to the end. Stories that bring our minds to kneel in reverence, stories that show the tenderness of true mercy, the strength of loyalty, and the unmawkish respect for what is good.”