Friday, April 11, 2014

Where do Fish Stories Come From?

         Where do fish stories come from? How do we find the vehicle to tell a story and make it compelling for the listening experience.  I am a performance storyteller for all ages, my current project is for a curriculum guided school based program. Whose voice should the story represent and what message do I need to focus on? Will children grasp the complexities and what new vocabulary will be introduced and  explained via the storyline. Do I have adequate research on my topic to tell the story?
          I was inspired by Mark Kurlansky's book Cod to delve further into the world and history of fishing and fishermen. Then an opportunity presented itself to construct a story for performance to  third grade children around the  topics of  Wildlife, Water, People and more specifically immigration and the ecology of the sea. Cod would be the perfect vehicle to  help tell this story. At the outset I was not even aware of the children's version of this book and was so excited to find it! Here is a look at that version from Amazon 

        That was just the beginning, a story is a complex intertwining of facts from multiple sources. Cod gave me my background knowledge. Then I needed characters, I found mine on the list of passengers on the Mayflower voyage to the New World in 1620. Here I researched the children of the Ancient Time as it was called and selected two. The characters themselves required more research as they are historical not fiction. My characters are Remember Allerton and Richard More, each have left a long lineage and a place in the history of the founding of our nation.

My next question to answer was, What does Cod fishing look like? How do you fish for Cod in the old ways and the new?

      I journeyed into the realm of salt water fishing and the life and habits of Cod. Here is where You-Tube came in handy to give me some visual reference. Here is a link to a story about the decline of Cod populations.  This next link is a moving video full of the visuals I needed to be able to tell my story with an accuracy and  true representation.  From you-tube it as a long read in several nautical history books and a visit to  Mystic Seaport  and the Essex Shipbuilding Museum  . I got to know the Cod itself by drawing and painting them so I would remember their distinctive fins and chin barb.

Cod Watercolor on textured paper by Carolyn  Stearns '14

      This is heavy material and  my focus audience for the premier of this story is third grade. I need a way to take the  depth of history and content and make it memorable and fun to hear and retain. I have added music to the story, interspersed to introduce new sections of the story and as a culminating piece to  spark conversation about the ecological and financial damage done to the Cod legacy by over fishing the waters. The music I chose for this is an old sea chantey "Cape Cod Girls", hear a version at this link;  As with all chantey music there are many versions and arrangements so I took the liberty of adapting this song to fit the story a bit more and have our sailors/ fishermen bound for a "New World". The music to close this piece is one verse of a sea ballad called " Peter's River"  by Mary Garvey (c) 1995 and used with  her permission. The sheet music and lyrics are available here:      I heard this song  a few years ago and it haunted my mind but in a weekend filled with music I could not remember the melody. Then in June 2012 I shared the stage at Mystic Sea Music Festival with Mary Garvey, it was from that meeting that I learned the song that has become one I hum often when working.

      Spring of 2014 this story will debut and be added to my regular repertoire of stories to tell. The story has such depth I will be able to offer an adult version with more content as well.

My review in 2013 of the book Cod is here:

Interested in booking this story and other sea tales?


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chalk It Up to Hans Christian Andersen

                                         The Flying Trunk - A Fairytale in Chalk

   Hans Christian Andersen penned the fairy tale “The Flying Trunk” The tale was first published in 1839. I chose it for a project at the after school I work in because of its relation to flying.  For the month of April the theme at after school  is, “I will fly – Volare”. The flying related fairytale was perfect to share as the storyteller at after school. The arts and after school programming go hand in hand. With the thermometer outside climbing to an early spring 50 degrees we headed to the sidewalk for our story.

   The young man in our story inherits a sizeable fortune only to squander it down to the last few coins. Now poor, his soul possessions are his slippers, and an old dressing gown. He needs to leave where he lives and does not know where to go. A friend gifts the young man a trunk. (I used the word suitcase to help the children define this kind of trunk) The young man has nothing to put in the trunk so he gets in himself. The trunk is enchanted; its magic lifts him off in a flight across the countryside to the land of the Turks.

      He flies through this foreign country like a bird under the sun and over the mountains rivers, villages and people working in the fields.
He comes to the palace of the Sultan and sees a beautiful Princess at a tower window.
 He flies up to her and in through the open window. The princess has been kept in the tower to avoid a prophecy that she would marry poorly. He visits several times, each time sharing stories to entertain her. As expected in a fairy tale, they fall in love.  The princess tells her parents of her suitor and they come to the tower to meet him.  He tells them a story, they enjoy it. He is a good looking young man with a magical flying trunk, they agree the couple  should be married!

In celebration of the wedding the young man buys a big box of fireworks. He flies over the city with the fireworks setting them off in the night sky.
He lands his trunk in the city to tell everyone his story and why he is lighting the fireworks. Sadly he does not watch over his trunk and the sparks of the fireworks cause it to catch fire. The fire incinerates his trunk,  nothing is left.
He can no longer fly to the tower to see his beautiful bride. She sits at the windows and her tears fall to the ground.

Once again he has nothing but his slippers and an old dressing gown. He wanders the streets of the land of the Turks telling stories.

I told the story to the children once straight through, then told it in pieces noting a section of sidewalk for each image they could draw. This was a chance to reinforce story sequencing with the children.They worked on their picture and visited up and down to see what others were doing. There was a lot of discussion of what things should look like. This allowed us to talk about what each person sees in their mind when they hear a story and differences in how they draw it with chalk. At the end we walked the length of the story and everyone told a part to go with their chalk drawing.

Our vocabulary words from this story:

Trunk                                  foreign                           Volare                   

Enchanted                         inherit                            possession

Turks                                  palace                             Sultan

Prophecy                           suitor                              entertain  

wander                              incinerates                    dressing gown

fortune                               squander


A Previous adventure with chalk and fairy tales: