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Good Books for Dramatic Storytelling for Young Children

by Susan Sherwood

Young children love stories because their imaginations are wide open and ready to explore. Reading books to youngsters is an excellent activity, but telling them a story can engage them even more. The drama of voices and the physicality of body motions can be riveting. It might take some practice to learn to tell stories without a book, but a receptive audiences makes that worthwhile. Many stories are good for storytelling, but the best ones appeal to children's lives and interests, such as families, animals, communities and humor.

'Three Billy Goats Gruff'

"Three Billy Goats Gruff" is a traditional children's tale about overcoming a bully. A family of goats wants to cross a bridge to feed, but a hungry troll stands in the way. This story has wonderful opportunities for storytelling. The three goats are distinct (big, medium and small), making it easy to create different voices and actions for them. A strong voice works well for the big goat who moves with large, forceful steps. The tiny goat has a childlike tone and walks hesitantly. The troll is fun to project, with a booming voice, flailing limbs and exaggerated expressions. Young children will love to impersonate these characters.

'It Could Always Be Worse'

"It Could Always Be Worse," based on a Yiddish folk tale, is available in several versions. The basic story involves a man who is fed up with his house. Too many people live there, so it's noisy and cramped. He is advised to bring a variety of animals into the setting, and it becomes wilder and wilder. Many emotions are used to portray the man: despair, anger, confusion and happiness. Kids are amused to watch the man physically struggling to get all the animals inside his house. It's not easy to lead a stubborn donkey or catch an uncooperative chicken. In this story, too, children love to participate and become the animals.

'Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?'

This book, by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle, is simple to learn. Many animals are asked what they see, and they reply with the name of another animal. At the end of the story, children are doing the observing. The storyteller impersonates animals such as a green frog, a purple cat, a blue horse and a yellow duck. Because this story reinforces color identification, the storyteller can prepare ahead of time with colored hats to wear or sheets of paper to hold. The children become involved by selecting the appropriate colors and acting out the animals.

'The Mitten'

This classic tale tells about a lost mitten that many animals try to use as shelter during the winter. More and more squeeze in, but it's clear this is not a comfortable fit. Several book versions are available. The storytelling fun comes from the physical actions of the different animals as they crawl and squirm while attempting to make room for themselves inside the mitten. It will stretch a bit, but not enough. Children also join in, wriggling on the floor as they portray their favorite animals.

About the Author

Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.

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