Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Food Stories

One day I noticed the majority of the tales I was telling had something to do with food. Some are about a character with a prodigious appetite who devours everything in sight. Others feature an unlikely hero who uses cleverness to keep from being eaten by a bully. Then there are the trickster tales, where a greedy character uses trickery to get food. There are stories where magical objects produce an unending flow of salt, rice, porridge or pasta. Some stories emphasized the mouth-watering look and smell of food, while others contained lessons about sharing. The following are some of my favorites for telling - solo or tandem, many times using puppets, songs and audience participation. Tis the season! Enjoy all the great favors-and stories-of the season!

Prodigious Appetites

“The Very Fat Cat”

It would be hard to find a culture that doesn’t have a story of creature so hungry that it consumes everything until it pops like a balloon or gets cut open. I’m particularly fond of the version from India about a parrot who invites his friend, a cat, to dinner. Unfortunately, the cat is so hungry that it swallows up everything on the table, eats its friend the parrot, goes down the street and eats everyone it meets, until it eats a little crab. When the crab uses its claws to cut a hole inside the cat, everyone escapes, but the cat is hungry again. One source is Fat Cat: A Danish Folktale, by Margaret Read MacDonald.


An Appalachian tale of a bear who swallows up a whole family that is intent on getting “sody” (baking soda) to make biscuits for breakfast. A quick-thinking pet squirrel defeats the bear and rescues the family. Half the fun is describing how the biscuits smell while cooking, look with butter melting down their sides, and taste when you take a great big bite of one! One source is “Sody Sallyraytus” in Grandfather Tales by Richard Chase. 

How to Keep From Being Eaten

“How the Turtle Cracked His Shell” 

Wolf steals persimmons from Turtle and in turn is tricked into almost dying from choking on an extra big persimmon. When his life is saved by the other wolves, Wolf seeks vengeance on Turtle. Faced with being boiled for supper in a clay pot, Turtle outsmarts Wolf and ends up safe in the river, although his shell gets cracked in his escape. A Cherokee story adapted by Robin Moore, in Ready-to-Tell Tales, edited by David Holt and Bill Mooney.

“The Lion and the Rabbit”

An evil lion is tricked by a very clever rabbit into attacking his own reflection in a well. This fable from India, as adapted by Heather Forest, can be found in Joining In, compiled by Teresa Miller. There are a number of variants (some featuring an evil tiger) from Africa and the United States.

Just Like Magic

“Sweet Porridge”

A good little girl receives a magic pot, along with special words to make it start (and stop!) cooking sweet porridge. One day the little girl is away when her mother wants porridge and says the magic start-cooking words to the pot, but forgets the words to make it stop. By the time the girl returns, the whole village is covered with porridge. A Grimm’s fairy tale adapted in Storytelling Activities by Norma Livo and Sandra Rietz. Probably its best known version is Tomie de Paola’s Strega Nona, where the magic pot cooks pasta. You can also find tales of a grinder that makes salt, a wooden mortar and pestle that produces rice, and a kettle that duplicates anything put in it. 

“The Gingerbread Man”

This runaway cookie gets away from everyone until he meets a cunning fox. There are many versions of this classic tale, including a poem by Rowena Bennett, in her The Day Is Dancing and in Sing a Song of Popcorn by de Regniers. For a kinder ending, try Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Baby (with a boy’s help, he escapes) and Gingerbread Girl (she out-foxes the fox). Runaway food stories can be found all over the world, including ones about bannocks, pancakes, buns and rice cakes.

Greedy tricksters

“Spider and Turtle”

Turtle visits Spider just at dinnertime. Spider invites him to eat, but insists that Turtle first wash his paws in the stream downhill. When Turtle returns, much of the food is gone, but Spider says his paws are still dirty. After a couple of trips, Turtle’s paws are clean enough, but all of the food is gone. Politely, Turtle thanks Spider for the “fine dinner” and invites him to a meal at Turtle’s house. When Spider visits Turtle, he hears that dinner’s ready, on the table at the bottom of the river. “Hurry on down, Spider.” Spider jumps into the river, but is too light to go under -- diving, splashing, nothing works. Then he stuffs rocks in his jacket pockets, jumps in the river, sinks right down to the table, and reaches for the food. “Stop!” Turtle says, “it’s bad manners to wear a jacket to dinner. Take it off!” Spider does and pops back to the surface, without eating anything. One source: Anansi and Turtle Go to Dinner, by Bobby and Sherry Norfolk.

The African trickster spider (sometimes known as Anansi) loves food, is notorious for not wanting to share and often resorts to stealing food. Two other fun stories are “Anansi and the Hat-Shaking Dance” and “Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock”.

“Stone Soup”

(A tale about a good trickster.) A ragged stranger comes to a town where everyone is poor and hides any bits of food they have. The stranger says he needs is a fire, a pot and some water, because he has a special stone that makes soup. When the stranger tastes the soup he laments that it would be better with just a bit of… And as he mentions each item (salt, pepper, meat, vegetables, bread), someone remembers a little something that they can add to make the soup better. Finally everyone has contributed, the soup is done, and it is delicious. Stone Soup, a version by Heather Forest, gives special emphasis to to the lesson learned about sharing and helping each other

Contributed by Susi Shaeffer
Ormond Beach, FL.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Looking Ahead - Down Memory Lane

Check your planner!  It’s almost here. In just a few short weeks, the 34th Annual Florida Storytelling Festival will make its mark in the wonderful world of story. Of course, we have all marked our calendars to be there. Lakeside Inn room reservations have hopefully been made, and map directions to Mt. Dora have been printed out or put into our cell phones.

With the count-down to opening day, activity is picking up with the board members, volunteers, and attendees.  We just received word that the winners of the Youthful Voices Virginia Rivers Scholarship have been announced. So, there are some happy youth tellers and families making their plans.

Along with some outstanding invited tellers, the festival abounds with many opportunities for tellers of all ages to tell their stories. We still have time to finish brushing up one of our stories to be ready for one of those opportunities.  Yes, this year will be one hoppin’ and tellin’ place! Truly something for everyone, so please nail down those plans to join us.

If you want to get even more excited about the upcoming celebration of story there in Mt. Dora, just go back and revisit some of the pages in our electronic newsletter “InSide Story.” Looking back through some of the articles we are reminded of the wonderful moments we all experienced together as we listened and told our stories over the years.

So many from which to choose:

“Her delivery was a wordless commentary on the content.”

Read Mary Lou Williams’ take (here) on Janice Del Negro’s talent wherein she “…excavates and decorates the bones of traditional folk and fairy tales…” - sounds delectable, doesn’t it!

“…of all the props that I use as a storyteller the most beneficial to my audiences are the puppets that I use.”
Windell Campbell (a featured teller at our 33rd festival) takes us through the “ins and outs” with his analogy of baseball (here). He keeps it real as he discusses the “strikes” that are against him when he goes to tell at a school, and then shows us ways that he still scores for a big win by using puppets. Windell was a huge hit at the festival and always scores a homerun as he connects with his listeners, young and old.
“Practice only on the days you eat.” - Shinichi Suzuki

 With important points like the one he quoted from Shinichi Suzuki, Ward Rubrect gives us a valuable 101 course on the genre of story slams (here). If you have ever wanted to dive into that world, this article is the place to get your feet wet from a true Olympic story slam star. After you read the article, join us at the festival this year to hear from Ward as he is one of our featured tellers this year.

Many more articles are found online at the FSA webpage. Take a few minutes to explore and enjoy. Then you will be even more eager to join us at the 34th Annual Florida Storytelling Festival this April 12th. Join us, and then we will have stories to tell.

Until then,
Wanda Violet

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Stories Connect Us All

If you have been around the storytelling world for any time at all, you have heard the expression, “Stories connect us all.” The longer you are around this world, you will find more and more proofs of that.  Many times, the connection is through the message or the theme of the stories wherein we hear notes of life from someone’s story that resonate with the songs inside us.

Sometimes, the connection is the actual bringing people together who would never have a chance to meet had it not been for a story event.

About five years ago, I “stepped through the looking glass” and entered into the magical and wonderful world of storytelling. Because of that, I have had some incredible experiences that have encouraged me, validated me, and, as we say down South, have blessed my heart.

The latest confirmation was just before Christmas. My husband and I have lived in small-town America, Madison, Florida for about nine years now, and we love it. During the past four years I began working with the local schools to see if their students could start telling stories with us. Each year, more schools get on board and more students are writing and telling stories.

Students are selected to tell their stories at our Madison County Florida Storytelling Tellabration!TM each year, and trust me, they are the stars of our stage. The townspeople love this part of our event and enthusiastically support and encourage all the student tellers.

Some of our students have even won a Virginia Rivers Youth Storytelling Scholarship which allows them to tell their story on the main stage at the FSA Festival. What a thrill for all of us involved in this small-town effort to promote storytelling!

This past Tellabration!TM (held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year) we had more student tellers than ever, and they were remarkable. I have the privilege of working with them at their schools, coaching them and helping them get ready for the big day. Many of them, some as young as ten years old, have never told a story on a stage like that to hundreds of people, and they were brave and determined, and they were a success.

Now, for the connecting part -- fast forward to December of last year when our little town had its Mayberry-type Christmas event (Light Up Madison) in downtown Madison. It is one of the biggest events of the year with families coming from all over the region to participate in the events. I was there volunteering at a booth, when suddenly, I felt two little arms wrap around me. I turned to see the smiling face of one of our younger tellers. Now you and I both know that being loved by a child is a joy, and in my book, an honor. This precious girl was so excited to see me. Please trust me, it wasn’t because it was me. It was because she and I connected through her telling. Were it not for this storytelling movement in Madison, I doubt that I would have ever had the opportunity and the privilege of meeting her and her family.  

What a thrill for me that stories, storytelling, did literally connect me to this precious child and her family. So, perhaps you too would want to find some connections in your storytelling world by helping some young people tell stories. I promise you, the connection will be priceless.

To learn more about opportunities for young tellers, see the FSA website. YOUTHFUL VOICES

Wanda Violet 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Food, Glorious Food!

Image-Google Images 

Thanksgiving is already under our belts (or should that be bulging at our waistlines)?   But as the rest of the holiday season approaches it got me thinking about food, and how it shapes our celebrations, mirrors our many and varied cultures, and is simply an integral part of how we come together at this time of year with family and friends.

One of my earliest holiday childhood memories growing up in England is being at Grandad’s house, to stir the Christmas Pudding (a mixture of dried fruits, candied peel, a few shots of Irish Whiskey and a bottle of Guinness stout).  He would ceremoniously hand us a huge wooden spoon.  The tradition was that each grandchild – eight of us all together - took a turn.  Our job was to stir the thick, goopy, cake-like mixture, drop in a silver sixpenny piece (for luck!) and make a wish.  If I close my eyes I can still smell the rich fruit spiked in boozy liquid, and hear the mixture slurping in the chipped earthenware bowl as we stirred.   He told us it was a secret family recipe handed down from his great-grandmother.    Sadly he never passed it on before he died and Christmas Pudding has never quite tasted the same ever since.

More recently I was delighted to be invited to share in the celebration of Hanukkah with my dear friend, Madeline.  I savored my first taste of Latkes (potato pancakes) with applesauce.   If I close my eyes I can still taste the crunch of the pancakes and the sweetness of the apple.  There is also the bitter taste of defeat as I failed miserably at Dreidel!

It’s amazing when you ask people about food and how many memories that evokes.  Foods they loved.  Foods they hated!  What foods do you remember from childhood that were always part of your family holiday celebration?  Is it granny’s homemade apple pie; mom’s signature sausage and chestnut stuffing; auntie’s giblet gravy; dad’s sugar cookies; or is it boiled-to-death mushy Brussel Sprouts that your cousin insisted she make? 

In this busy season take a few minutes to sit down with your favorite holiday beverage – a warm cup of apple cider; mulled wine; a chilled glass of Chardonnay, or even a nice hot cup of tea – and close your eyes. Think back.   What foods do you remember?  Can you smell it – was the odor sweet, or salty?  How did it sound – did it sizzle in the pan?  Can you taste it?    Did it crunch in your mouth or did it melt?  Did you eat it with your hands and get sticky fingers?  Describe every mouthful.  Was it delicious? Or was it disgusting (like the mushy Brussel Sprouts)? 

As storytellers, we all like to share our heritage and there is no easier way to do this than with food.  And if you can’t think of anything right now, then pay just a little extra attention this year to all that festive fare around us, and look for the stories behind it.   I’m sure you’ll find at least one tale you’ll want to share.

Happy Holidays!

Louise O’Leary

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Teller's Tale - The National Storytelling Festival 2017

By: Madeline L Pots

I arrived in Jonesborough on Thursday afternoon. I have been to this festival many times, but this year I was an invited teller.  I was scheduled to perform at Exchange Place, a concert that featured six tellers new to the national stage.  It put me on the inside of the festival, close up to all those tellers I had admired from the depths of those huge festival tents that are scattered about the tiny town of Jonesborough, TN.  At a welcome dinner for all the tellers, I sat surrounded by all my storytelling idols.  I had to keep myself in check to not appear like a star-struck fan.  If there is a hog heaven for tellers – that was it.

The festival was amazing.  I saw Elizabeth Ellis take the stage with just a few days’ notice.  She was filling in for David Holt who had a pinched nerve.   She told a beautiful and long story, flawlessly.
Donald Davis, Carmen Deedy, Bil Lepp, Andy Offutt Irwin, Geraldine  Buckley…  the list of my favorite famous tellers went on and on.   And then there were tellers I had heard for the first time the previous year, like Doug Elliott whose stories reveal his profound respect for all nature.  I was so happy to listen to him again.  There were new discoveries -   Josh  Goforth whose musical talent and love of family touched me through and through … and Caludia  Schmidt with energy that took my breath away.  An amazing cast of storytellers presented every style of telling I could imagine … and then some!

Jonesborough in October is a magical place.  The leaves are just starting to turn and the town is decked out for the fall holidays.   The lineup of tellers is beyond impressive.  The people are friendly and the climate is a refreshing change from our endless Florida summer.

I offer this suggestion:  Go to the National Storytelling Festival.   Put it on your calendar and make the trip happen.  And oh yes, bring a cushion to sit on because the stories go from morning to night ….

And BTW, my story went well.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Place to Belong

Photo Courtesy Google Image 
One of the needs of the human spirit, right up there with shelter and food, is the need to belong to a group. We need to feel connected to others and know that we have common interests and dreams. Many of us have found fulfillment in some areas of our lives by belonging to different kinds of groups: churches, fraternities, circles, clubs, and more.

But for those of us whose souls are sweetly stalked by stories asking to be told and heard, we need to belong to a community of people with like passion. We long for that communion with others who understand the drive to not just tell stories, but also the need to carefully craft a tale.

For some of us, we don’t need to tell the stories so much, but we do need to hear the stories and learn more about ourselves through that listening. We want to be taken away through words to strange and wonderful lands and come safely home again.
Did we just describe you? Are you a teller, a listener, or perhaps both? Do you need a community of story tellers and seekers to give you that fellowship of living life beyond just the moment?

We have that community for you. The Florida Association of Storytellers (FSA) is comprised of storytellers, story listeners and story lovers.  We are people just like you, brought together by story.

The mission of the FSA is:
·         to preserve, perpetuate and promote the art of storytelling in Florida,
·         to educate, nurture and welcome new storytellers,
·         to preserve our cultural and personal history through story,
·         to bring storytelling to new audiences, and
·         to encourage cross-cultural sharing through story.

Are you hearing the call to belong to such a group? If so, you can become a member of FSA and fulfill that need to be connected to folks who understand your story.

If you would like to join FSA, you will benefit in ways more than just the crucial drive to belong. Please take a quick look at the list of Benefits of Membership on our website and then, come on, join! This is where you belong.

Wanda Violet

Photo Courtesy Google Image

Friday, August 25, 2017

Who-whoo Is Ready for Spooky Tales?

Schools all over the country are back in session, and even though some regions have yet to feel a break in the temperature, our hearts know that fall is arriving soon in all its cool and colorful splendor.

 Picture credit, Google Images
As a storyteller, the thoughts of upcoming autumnal telling opportunities are perhaps nudging you to consider some tales appropriate for the season. That, of course, means having a story or three or more ready for Halloween. While you may already have some favorites, or maybe some of you don’t, it is still a good time to ponder this genre with more clarity and vision. The September/October, 2016 issue of FSA’s e-magazine, “Inside Story” has some helpful hints as you prepare to get spooky.

In her article “Got Grimm’s?” Ingrid Nixon encourages you to look again at Grimm’s fairy tales and consider a few things:
  1. Picking up a book of their tales and reading will be a great place to start.
  2. Know a bit of history of the tale that you select and see how time and tradition have modified it.
  3. Find what truths that scary image and its actions are telling us.
  4. Have fun as you thoughtfully examine them and give them your own twist. 

Before you close the e-magazine, be sure to check out the other helpful and entertaining articles.

  • If you do, you will find out how Janice Del Negro “excavates and decorates the bones of traditional folk and fairy tales.”
  • Shhh, grab your oil lantern and keep your ears open for some scary hoof beats coming down the gravel paths of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Linda Schuyler Ford’s lovely tour of those haunted grounds and the stories buried there.
  • Oh, and finally, if you are telling to teens, you will want to know which urban legend was voted most popular by teenagers.

All this and more in that packed issue of “Inside Story”.  So, pour yourself a hot brew and be sure to lock your doors while you read.

Happy Halloween and Happy Spooky Tales Telling to you!