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National Story Telling Week takes place from 27th January to 4th February and is a celebration of the power of stories. As the festivities move ever closer, we are thinking about why stories are such a force to be reckoned with. Why is story telling a practice that spans thousands of years and engages the young and old alike?

Storytelling is a universal form of communication that existed even before the written word. It has been used by communities and cultures across history and time to share information, celebrate, pass on traditions and entertain. Stories can be factual or can be rooted in folklore and fiction. In the form of song and dance, story telling can even transcend the barrier of language and be shared with all. In fact, so important is storytelling that it forms the basis of many cultural and religious practices.

For example, Choctaw storytelling is found in most Native American tribes and dates back generations. In this type of storytelling, animals are often used as the characters. The stories focus on preserving traditions and teaching young children. Similarly, many Jewish families have a storytelling tradition called the seder, which is used during Passover to tell the story of the exodus of Jewish people from Egypt. We really enjoyed these images from National Geographic which shows how different people around the world use storytelling National Geographic Storytelling Photos.

For The Story Project, we love how stories can be used to express emotions and talk about difficult topics. We believe that stories help us to process and understand the world around us. This is why representation in stories is so important; books should include a variety of people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions. It is vital that the stories we show our children help them to engage with the wider world – to see others’ viewpoints and experiences, so that they build empathy and kindness. Seeing characters that reflect our own experiences also helps us to learn about ourselves and see our own personal stories as valid and important.

It may seem far-fetched to think that books can do all this, but with storytelling engrained in the fabric of human nature we think that stories really do have the power to guide us through life.

Thinking about this, we wanted to bring together a collection of books that make us fall in love with storytelling around the world. Here are our favourites:

Our first choice is from Richard O’Neill, a fantastic storyteller and author who has been brought up with the nomadic storytelling tradition. He has many wonderful children’s books that reflect tradition tales; so many that it is hard to pick our favourite. In the end, we settled with on the book we use in The Story Project Curriculum:

Ossiri and the Bala Mengro – A beautiful tale of a young girl who makes a musical instrument out of a nearby willow branch and her determination to learn to play it. The story covers themes including community, growth mindset and collaboration.

Age range: KS1 and KS2

Up next is a traditional tale that has many different versions. We think the story comes from Eastern Europe but it’s exact origins are a mystery. Fiona can even remember her Gran telling her this story as a child.

Stone Soup – A story about a community working together to create a fantastic soup they can all enjoy. Read for themes including sharing, friendship and kindness.

Age range: EYFS, KS1 and KS2 (like most traditional tales, this has universal reach).

Another story which appears in many cultures is our next choice. This particular tale comes from the Panchatantra, an ancient collection of Indian folktales from 300BC, however versions of the story are found around the world. We have picked this beautifully illustrated version for you to read:

Under the Great Plum Tree  A story of an unlikely friendship that is tested as the narrative progresses. It covers themes such as courage, bravery and understanding.

Age range: EYFS, KS1

We love how stories and tales can be re-told and re-imagined in unique and interesting ways, bringing in different and new audiences. One such example of this is our next pick:

Little Red: A Rebel Fairy-tale This visually striking and bold re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood is a great class book that will reignite children’s love for this traditional fairy-tale. Read it and enjoy the rebellious and strong-willed Little Red character.

Age Range: EYFS

Our final choice is a slightly different offering that explores key characters in traditional tales. Usually, we would advocate that great storytelling doesn’t need to rely on images. However, with this book, the imagery and creativity is so incredible that it can only enhance any story that includes a villain.

Inside the Villains – A gruesome and dark-humoured book that would be the perfect accompaniment to a storytelling session or a class topic about heroes and villains. Your children will love the interactive nature of this book, which will fill their minds with writing prompts and ideas for creating the nastiest and most imaginative villains in their own stories.

Age range: Another brilliant book with a universal reach. The reading age is best suited to KS1 and above but it can be enjoyed by any age.

Further reading and resources

National Storytelling Week 2024 Activities, Events and Resources | National Literacy Trust | National Literacy Trust

World Book Day and National Storytelling Week 2024 Resources – BBC Teach



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