The 2021 World Storytelling Day theme is “new beginnings,” and there will be events in 25 or more countries on or around March 20. Large public events get registered on Facebook, but anyone can just tell important stories to the people they love. I’m giving you early warning so you can tell stories to the children in your life: at bedtime, in the classroom, or on the phone or Zoom to grandkids.
In 2003, Ulf Arnstrom of Sweden asked my wife, Elaine, and I to be part of a worldwide group of storytellers to start World Storytelling Day with the inherent theme: “If I can hear your story, it’s harder for me to hate you.” In your home is the best place to begin telling stories, and that first year we gathered storyteller friends at our fireplace, with Ulf joining by speakerphone from Sweden.
I consider World Storytelling Day part of the OGP’s mission to keep the world safe for children, gardening and storytelling, and we’ve always had some event, often in schools. One time we hosted storyteller Anne Pellowski, author and editor of world story collections like “Hidden Stories in Plants.” Another time it was Milwaukee’s Tejumola Ologboni, a regular at the annual Black Storytelling Festival here.
Our event grew and eventually landed at Landmark Center with large adult programs, but with the shutdown, I gladly go back to where I started as a storyteller, encouraging everyone to tell tales to children. Pat Coffie, a great storyteller friend in Iowa, recommends “Not Forever, But For Now” by Heather Malley to begin talking with younger children about the pandemic. Hopefully my new beginnings-themed memories will get you to say “that reminds me of a story...”
My mother made “The Sound of Music” an annual ritual, even singing along with Julie Andrews on “Let’s start at the very beginning.” The scene I’ve retold most often is in the convent where the nuns are hiding the Von Trapp family from the Nazis. As the search party closes in, one of the sisters holds up the distributor cap she removed from the Nazis’ car.
“Reverend Mother, I have sinned,” she announces, allowing her “sin” to aid the endangered family’s escape toward new beginnings.
In the 1970s, I led many school assemblies, starting when a media specialist saw me on TV and asked if I would tell “Lentil” by Robert McCloskey to her entire school. Lentil’s harmonica playing causes Colonel Carter to donate enough money to build a new hospital for the little town of Alto, Ohio. The book says Lentil’s mom taught him to play, but when I tell it, I actually play the notes, then the songs, letting Lentil’s mom teach him the same way a medic from Hawaii showed me.
That’s another story, but think about yourself. How did you begin something you do? Years ago I read “The American Seasons” by Edwin Way Teale, fascinated with the story of the man climbing the highest mountain in every state. I thought, “What could I do in every state?” and almost immediately began ice skating when traveling or working out of town, in Alabama, California, Florida, Colorado and more. As a skater on this mission, I love “The Fiddler of the Northern Lights,” a great children’s book about Henry and his grandfather skating upriver to meet the legendary fiddler in grandpa’s stories.
Do you know any “beginning” stories valuable to children thinking about a safer world? On Jan. 22, many celebrated the long-awaited ratification of the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Walter Enloe, a Golden Valley friend and retired Hamline professor, was once headmaster of the Hiroshima International School. Walter’s “Kazuko’s Dream” is a story of beginning again in a city destroyed by the bomb, and Walter’s website birdsofpeace.org is filled with other stories he works with to prevent this happening again.
That reminds me of another old children’s book, “The Mighty Prince.” Yasoo Takeichi retells the tale of a king, devastated because there are no more countries to conquer. Then a little girl teaches him a new way to be mighty, by growing flowers to love the earth and her peoples. To begin again. Happy World Storytelling Day.