Purpose and Values
… children who are not spoken to by live and responsive adults will not learn
to speak properly. Children who are not answered will stop asking questions.
They will become incurious. And children who are not told stories and who are
not read to will have few reasons for wanting to learn to read.
—Gail E. Haley1
WHAT IS STORYTELLING? What is its purpose? What are its values? In an attempt to define storytelling, participants at a conference sponsored by the National Storytelling Association in 1989 spoke of "oral narration," "communication," "transmission of images," "revelation," "co-creation," "creating order out of chaos," and "worship." It seems easier to agree on what storytelling is not. Storytelling is not recitation, nor is it acting.
Lewis Carroll called stories "love gifts";2 contemporary author Jean Little calls them "invitations to joy."3 Both are apt descriptions, for telling a story is, indeed, giving a gift. Storytelling brings to the listeners heightened awareness—a sense of wonder, of mystery, of reverence for life. This nurturing of the spirit-self is the primary purpose of storytelling, and all other uses and effects are secondary.
Storytelling is a sharing experience. When we tell, we show our willingness to be vulnerable, to expose our deepest feelings, our values. That kind of nakedness that says we care about what we are relating invites children to listen with open minds and hearts. Enjoying a story together creates a sense of community. It establishes a happy relationship between teller and listener, drawing people closer to one another, adult to child, child to child. This rapport carries over into other areas as well, for children tend to have confidence in the person who tells stories well.
Library storytelling grew out of a desire to introduce children to the pleasures of literature, to excite children about books and reading. This viewpoint was eloquently expressed by Elizabeth Nesbitt:
Story-telling provides the opportunity to interpret for the child life forces
which are beyond his immediate experience, and so to prepare him for life
itself. It gives the teller the chance to emphasize significance rather than
incident. It enables her, through the magic quality of the spoken word, to