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Storytelling: The Art of Listening

Hello and welcome to the first Saturday in March! Today is the 2nd. Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

In our little Wannaskan hamlet by the big lake, the elementary school held a festive Read Across America celebration in honor of the famous children's book author on Thursday night. This annual treat is as popular as Halloween, as little munchkins, already dressed in their p-jammies, swirl through the packed halls with their favorite teddy and tired parent in tow. Teachers and community volunteers stationed in various classrooms read for a 15-minute slot before the kids head out to hear another fairytale in another classroom. In total, kids listen to four stories, can give the Cat in the Hat high fives in the hallways between storytimes and concludes with birthday cake. Kid bliss.

And another Happy Birthday to the world's most recent 007, Daniel Craig. My 6th-grade self would never forgive me if I didn't offer up a b-day shout-out to Jon Bon Jovi. I can still sing all the words to "Livin' On a Prayer." If you're looking for a good submarine action flick, Bon Jovi starred in U-571, which I heartily recommend.

Last weekend, the W.A.K.W.I.R. and I traveled to the Twin Cities for the MN FLL State Tournament, just the two of us. Car time provides a wonderful opportunity to bond with your kid. If talk doesn't come easily - as can happen as children transition from toddler to teenager - audiobooks are the perfect solution.

On this ride, we listened to Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life (Middle School series Book 1) which had both of us rollicking in our seats. It's about a 6th grader, entering Middle School (aka the Worst Years of My Life), who decides he's going to break every rule in the school rule book. It's not only funny, though, it's thought-provoking. Normally, I wouldn't cheer on a kid who aspires to  juvenile delinquency. But Rafe Khatchadorian is such a sympathetic character, it got me thinking about why I get so auto-cranky with kids who like to cause a little trouble. What if breaking the rules isn't such a bad thing? What if good can actually come out of it?

Artistically, the narrator executes brilliantly, with sound effects that remind me of why I enjoyed listening to A Prairie Home Companion, which was reinvented, post-Garrison Keillor, as Live From Here.

On the way home, we listened to Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. Neither one of us knew what the book was about; only that the older two kids had read it. (Note: The oldest clarified that her 5th grade teacher had read it aloud to the class.)

So we both got our socks knocked off when the story started out with 13-year-old Brian Robeson in a bush plane that's about to crash. In the middle of nowhere Canada. No, I'm not going to tell you what happens next.

At one point while listening, the W.A.K.W.I.R. asked if this book was a poem. Such was the cadence of the storytelling; the author using repetition and a flow that felt like water gently lapping against the shore of our ears, despite our shock at the turn of events.

Storytelling has many artistic shapes. Whether in person or on a recording, listening to stories told - hearing the narrator's interpretation of the characters' voices and personalities - is a completely different reading experience. It doesn't replace my own imaginings of characters, or the feel of paper between my fingers as I turn the pages of a paperback, or the efficient flick through an e-book on my smartphone while I get in my twenty minutes on the elliptical. But what it does do is create connection between me and my kids. Kind of like book club, but in real time. Together.

Kids' Corner

How storytelling is born.

On This Day

Historic Highlights (credits)

1995 - The top quark is discovered
The existence of this elementary particle, the bottom quark's counterpart, had been presumed since the 1970's.

1970 - Rhodesia declares itself an independent republic
By severing the country's ties with the United Kingdom, white Prime Minister Ian Smith attempted to prevent the institution of black majority rule.

1969 - Concorde takes off on its maiden flight
The supersonic airliner was retired in 2003, after Air France Flight 4590 crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on July 25, 2000.

1959 - Miles Davis records Kind of Blue
It is considered the best-selling jazz album in history and one of the most influential works of jazz music ever produced.

1933 - The film King Kong premieres
The black and white movie marked a milestone in the history of film, especially due to Willis O’Brien's stop-motion effects.

Happy Birthday to You!🎶 

1968 - Daniel Craig, English actor

1962 - Jon Bon Jovi, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, actor

1931 - Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet lawyer, politician, President of the Soviet Union, Nobel Prize laureate

1904 - Dr. Seuss, American author, poet, illustrator

1900 - Kurt Weill, German/American composer

Remembering You

1999 - Dusty Springfield, English singer, producer

1991 - Serge Gainsbourg, French singer-songwriter, actor, director

1982 - Philip K. Dick, American author

1930 - D. H. Lawrence, English novelist

1619 - Anne of Denmark

10 of the Best D. H. Lawrence Poems Everyone Should Read

Full Life, a poem by D. H. Lawrence
‘A man can’t fully live unless he dies and ceases to care, ceases to care.’

Whether your traveling or cooking dinner, make story listening part of your family time and make it a great Saturday!



  1. "Story listening" got my attention--well, that and the whole rest of your contribution, naturally, they're always interesting--because as I read along, I'm looking for a segment, in anyone's contribution, on which I can comment and lo, 'story listening', I can.

    My folks were old enough to have been my grandparents; Mom 42 and Dad 46 when they conceived me, so they had quite a bit of talking to do to me and not the kind of things, as I think about it now, that parents of a traditional age might talk about, say in reference to the children's grandparents era. My parents, being 'old' were talking about their lives, their childhoods, and their parents a generation older--thus two-three generations older than any of my friends or counterparts.

    For instance, my parents were married adults with children, during the Great Depression, whereas during the 30s, my friends parents were children. Dad was born in 1905, Ma in 1909. Ma was literally born in a log cabin here in Palmville, and likely, Dad, in a drafty old farmhouse in Iowa, with a mid-wife or family assistance. They grew up using horses for transportation; Mom, longer than Dad because this part of Minnesota was very remote and maybe 15-20 years backward compared to Iowa and Illinois of the same time period.

    Dad had the experience of 'running water' in kitchens (at least) and electricity before Mom, the closest she probably came to any such conveniences was when she and her father and brother worked for wealthy farmers outside of Osnabruck, North Dakota and they were inside the boss's house.

    When I was a kid, and all my older three sisters were grown and out of the house, the folks and I would take long drives through the Iowa countryside--and not so strangely, stop at cemeteries, those well-kept or forgotten, and walk around the tombstones. If we were in an area that was familiar to either of them, the tombstones had their own stories as Mom or Dad would have some story to tell about the person or their family, rarely negative, in which they remembered something about them, how they looked, what their temperment was, perhaps a horse they had, or adventure they undertook.

    Had I been an impatient child, I know these drives would have been interminably boring, but both my folks had a good sense of humor about them. Besides, I didn't have any choice!

    I don't recall being read to, by anyone, but because of my asthma and relative inactivity as a child, I developed a love of reading--and 'way late, writing. Reading enlarged my world and imagination 'hugely' and I sometimes read things that I had no experience in--like engineering books, science and college texts--that my sisters and their husbands would possess in their home libraries before they began their own families and started building collections of childrens books, six years later.

    My mainstay of anything close that could be remotely classified as a childrens book by then, was fortunately, MAD Magazine, thanks to my youngest sister, Sandra Ellgaard, who would leave several issues with me when she and her husband, Erik, would visit us, on their way to their lake cabin in Wisconsin. She was responsible for impacting the lives of all my nieces and nephews thereafter, as those many, soon dog-eared, issues were read repeatedly and passed about for years, adding to many more years of 'story listening' of parent to child.

    1. I had to read Mad Magazine in the drugstore. It was considered too racy for the home. This was Boston, remember, a book banning city.

  2. Seuss, Yes! also "Kind of Blue."
    I read "Hatchet" to my kids. Great yarn.

  3. What a joyful tale, Kim. You are right about audio books.They are for adults, too, of course. Joe and I listen to podcasts on our drives to our delight. Thanks for posting this great story !

  4. Just read Steve's comment which was as good a story as Kim's. Brought up many happy memories for me - "The Black Stallion"series and "Nancy Drew" mysteries were two of my favorites. Yep, I can't remember being read to either; however, since being dark-skinned, I was shunned by most of my classmates, thereby seeking solace in other people's happier stories. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't abused or anything - just alone a lot which gave me all the time I wanted to dive into all those books. I did have an Irish grandfather who had the gift of gap, a great sense of humor, and a penchant for telling stories about the "old country." Many an afternoon in the summer, while my parents were working, I spent at his knee listening and understanding (sort of) all his Blarney Stone stories. This is great fun! Sharing our experiences of stories and reading. Again, thanks Kim for getting this started. JP Savage


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