Wednesday, February 22, 2012


If I had been thinking clearly, I would not have been telling stories at the library on Family Day, given that most of my stories are crafted for the ears of adults, and there would likely be children at the library. But T.A.L.E.s had a contract to tell at libraries, and there weren’t enough tellers for all the libraries, and the T.A.L.E.S tellers always help me out when I need help. So I said I would tell for an hour at the library on Family Day. You know how it goes.
If I had been thinking clearly, knowing that most of my stories are for adults, I would have started planning months ahead of time, polishing kids stories, developing an all ages repertoire. But I was busy and anyway, I reasoned, adults like my stories because I tell them the way we tell stories to children—with repetition, and participation, and a little music to carry the tale. How different, I wondered, can children be from adults when it comes to stories? And that is how I talked myself out of spending months planning a new repertoire. You know how it goes.
If I had not suddenly panicked, I might not have written the desperate 11th-hour note to my tale-telling friends, asking what stories they would be telling at the library on Family Day. But they, sensing my panic, responded with words of comfort. Tell animal stories, they said. Take your washboard with the collection of sticks and spoons, they advised. “Tell them the story of the Paperbag Princess,” said my sister. She once heard me tell that story to adults.
If I had been thinking clearly, I would have run screaming from the room when it became clear that my audience would be composed of ten tiny tots, some rolling on the rug, others in the arms of moms who would not be in a space for listening to stories designed to entertain adults unless those stories first entertained the children. But I could hardly have reached the door without stepping on a toddler, and the husband who once promised to stay with me for better or worse decided to stay for my performance, and the clock said it was time to start the hour, and somewhere in the nether reaches of my mind’s ear, a tiny voice asked me: “What would Robert Munsch do?”
So I abandoned all the stories I had planned to tell, and we counted monkeys jumping off the bed, and then we joined some noisy neighbours in a lusty argument about who owns the moon, and then we sang about cats. Every time I left a space in a song or story we had been repeating, a child’s voice would chirp the missing words, and thus the time rolled on.
Because most of the tots were still listening after half an hour, we entered an extended version of Three Little Pigs, where my farmer’s daughter childhood memories compelled me to teach them how pigs really sound. They don’t say oink, you know. (we lost one spectator there—sent out screaming in terror, from the din of authentic-sounding pig grunts and squeals. I guess that’s why they tell city kids pigs say oink.)
If I had been thinking clearly, I wouldn’t have offered them the choice. But there was still fifteen minutes left in the hour, and I couldn’t think of another story to start, and they had been good. They deserved to be let out early, didn’t they? Would they like to be finished now?
But they didn’t want to be let out early. They wanted a story about three little trains, which would have been fine had I known a story about three little trains. Flustered, I paused for a moment. In my mind’s ear, Robert Munsch said, “Start a story about three little trains.” I knew the first few words, and so it started.
“Once upon a time there were 3 trains, a very long train, a medium-sized train, and a tiny little train with only one car. The big train had many, many cars. There were 58 cars of grain, 67 tanker cars of oil, 89 cars loaded down with cars and trucks on their way across the country, and 28 cars carrying other things. The medium-sized train had 49 cars full of people. The little train had only one car, with an engineer and a conductor.”
On and on went the story. After every sentence there was a breath, and during that breath, I listened for the voice of Robert Munsch, waited to see how the next sentence would start, and when the next sentence started, , I waited to see how it would end.
If you really think about this story, you’ll probably guess what happened and how it ended. According to robert Munsch, the stories we tell to children ten to follow patterns. There was a problem, many solutions were tried, and eventually the little guy saved the day.
“Well done,” said the husband who promised to stay for better or worse.
“Thank you,” said the library staff.
“You got off lucky,” said the voice in my mind’s ear. And so I promised myself and all libraries with Family Day aspirations that I never again would volunteer for something that might turn into a storytime for toddlers unless I had developed an age-appropriate repertoire. Robert Munsch saved my skin this time, but I don’t know for sure if I could count on him every time.

No comments: