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Friday, December 31, 2021

Call it "Character", "Values", "New Year's Resolutions"...WHATEVER!

J.P.Morgan's quote from Country Living's 62 Best New Year Quotes 2022

 The change of year is a time for other changes.  New Year's resolutions are all about changing for the better.  Storytelling can offer a way of noticing needed changes.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or storyteller asked to tell about a particular behavioral topic, using stories to teach and change is an old, old, very old technique.  Whoever Aesop may have been, his fables, or the Jataka tales about Buddha, or the parables of Jesus, all used story to teach and encourage change.  Only over-familiarity or efforts to keep religion out of teaching might make some avoid the Bible or other long-standing cultural resources.  Folklore tends to be a resource more likely to help when those resources can't be used.

Does that mean folktales are never "preachy"?


Delivery of a story can "telegraph" intent, leading the listener to reject the storyteller's purpose.  Let the story stand on its own merit, following along with the characters as they try different options.

If a story is believable within the limits of its world with lively characters and an interesting plot, it may resonate, coming back to the listener as needed.  Reading a story may work, but the direct delivery of a story to a listener makes it personal. 

What about analyzing the story?

Too often this can feel like tearing off the wings of a butterfly to understand it better.  If it must happen to satisfy curriculum needs or other purposes, at least let it happen after the story has ended.

It's perfectly reasonable after the story, if you must analyze it to wait until later and ask "Why?", letting the listener explain what happened.

Stepping back a bit to Aesop, some believe the moral of a tale should never be stated.  An obviously well-known moral, "Slow and steady wins the race" for the story of the "Tortoise and the Hare" is a perfect example.  First of all the translation may word it differently, but more importantly asking "What is the story trying to teach us?" might give a different answer that is also valid.  Not asking might let the tale ferment within the listener to produce what needs to be learned

Let the story sit and work its results over time.  It may come during the telling, but it may not happen until later when the storyteller is gone.  

What about tricksters or bad behavior?

Trickster characters often exist to show what not to do and may receive appropriate punishment.  Think of Coyote when he's only looking out for himself.  Does he succeed?  It's extremely rare for a folktale to let bad behavior go unpunished or, at the very least, not serve as a warning.  That's why "Little Red Riding Hood" was called a "Cautionary Tale."

What about resources to find the story fitting the needed change?

Near the end of the Twentieth Century this need for "Character education" using stories was once again starting to be noticed.  I say "once again" as it's funny to realize this discovery comes around periodically.  When storytelling began being noticed in schools and libraries at the start of the Twentieth Century and on through the days of the one-room school, this resource was popular.  

For example you can find on Internet Archive from the Oregon Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Julius Alonzo Churchill produced a 15 page booklet, "Moral instruction in the public schools through the story", recommending:

The following books will be found helpful to the teacher:
83 Bailey. For the story teller.
85 Bryant. How to tell stories to children.
87 Gather. Educating by story telling.
104 Brownlee. Character building in school.
105 Cabot. A course in citizenship.
106 Cabot. Ethics for children. 110 Dewey. Lessons on morals.
1693 Engleman. Moral education in school and home. Bryant. Moral and religious education. Haviland. Character training in childhood. Sneath & Hodges. Moral training in the school and home.

The numbering or lack of it was based on their state library collection.  I have given any online links, preferring Project Gutenberg when available. Churchill omits some some possibly helpful subtitles: for Cabot's Ethics for Children,  add "A Guide for Teachers and Parents"; for Dewey's Lessons on morals add "Arranged for Grammar Schools, High Schools and Academies"; for Sneath & Hodges' "Moral training in the school and home" add "A Manual for Teachers and Parents."  With homeschooling parents this can help identify resources not overly academic.

Since all but one of those books is available online, they are a quick guide to Public Domain material that need not be purchased.

The little Oregon booklet is mainly a bibliography listing stories, with grade level suggestions, of topics that were of concern to teachers.  Beyond the educational books already listed, the titles, with their authors, are usually fairly standard Public Domain works like the Gelett Burgess book about Goops and How to Be Them or the sequel, More Goops -- they may be old fashioned, but there's lots of humor and gold in them leading the Goops to be favorite memories with people looking back to when they might have needed "A Manual of Manners for Impolite Infants" as the sequel's subtitle adds.  Another Burgess, Thornton, is sometimes listed with his Mother West Wind stories.  An elderly woman once told me all she knew about animals and nature she learned from them, but this shows they also include teaching good character traits. James Baldwin was another listed whose retelling of well-known stories kept standard cultural tales alive.  Other authors named in the bibliography often are found in this blog's sidebar.  

Last week I mentioned the work of  William J. Bennett, who included a slightly adapted version of "Why the Chimes Rang" in The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey, the sequel to his popular The Book of Virtues.  His editing of Public Domain stories show Character Education matching those early "virtues."

What about more recent resources?

Internet Archive lets you "borrow" more recent books, but only for an hour (to avoid publisher complaints about copyright infringement).  It gives you a chance to thoroughly preview a book, but after that you should either buy or borrow the book through your local library.  Inter-library loans let you borrow beyond what may actually be owned by your library, so don't give up.

Bobby & Sherry Norfolk did an excellent job with Moral of the story; folktales for character development.  It came out in 1999 and includes sources & bibliographies from the '80s and '90s for specific character education issues, making them easy to either borrow or buy.  There are stories grouped by theme on values in the book.  Added stories on the topics are in the bibliography of stories recommended by educators and storytellers.  A few of those stories may be older, but are definitely standard material to find.  There's even an abridged one hour audio version of six of the stories with the lively telling by the Norfolks, showing "that character education, using storytelling and folktales from cultures around the world, can be fun, enjoyable, non-didactic, and remarkable effective."

A similar book is Character education : a book guide for teachers, librarians, and parents

by Sharron L. McElmeel written in 2002 and available as either an eBook or paperback.  School Library Journal's review states: 

This useful tool is organized in 17 chapters with each one focusing on different character traits such as flexibility, initiative, humility, and patience. Each chapter begins with a definition of the term and lists several books that range in age appropriateness. A brief summary of the book is followed by discussion/activity notes, a list of related traits/curricular themes, and suggested collaborative readings. Relevant quotes from a variety of well-known authors and others are interspersed throughout. This book stands out from others of its type because of its excellent introduction that talks about character education in general, specifics related to the home and classroom, as well as a consideration of various formats and genres; its brevity that makes it a useful planning resource without being overwhelming; and its thorough index of titles, authors, and concepts. A boon for librarians as well as for parents who are homeschooling or organizing group projects.

Both those books are given with Amazon links, but are available beyond that omnipresent source, too.

Searching further

Something more likely to be found only in a library are Storytellers Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children and its sequel, Storyteller's Sourcebook, 1983-1999  by Margaret Read MacDonald.  She worked on the sequel with Brian W. Sturm.  I asked her if there would be a 21st century version and she said it wasn't economically worthwhile with internet searching the way it is.  <SIGH!>  The subjects indexed go waaaaay beyond character education, but certainly includes the various topics.  If your local library doesn't have the books, ask the librarian to locate the nearest library which owns them.

Another library resource would be the various volumes of the many years of Index to Fairy Tales.  The indexers vary over the years and the title may change slightly.  That link is to the HathiTrust online versions up through 1952. The original 1915 volume is separate.  There's also limited, search only, versions of the later volumes: 1949-1972; 1973-1977; 1978-1986; 1987-1992 with significant pre-1987 titles not previous indexed.  Initial indexing didn't go beyond listing story titles so you may need to be creative in your hunting.  The series didn't begin to check subjects until the 1949-1972 edition, but the earlier volumes are good for Public Domain material.  The ability to search these online may save a trip to a library.  

Even more online resources

A resource for members of the National Storytelling Network is GREENWOOD’S WORLD FOLKLORE AND FOLKLIFE RESOURCE & DATABASE GUIDE -- Only available through institutions, such as libraries or schools…AND NSN!  It's updated monthly, covering "holidays, festivals, language, stories, and fairy tales, proverbs, food ways, and folk remedies that define our society and our place within it."  All content is fully-indexed and cross-searchable.

Internet Archive also offers the Wayback Machine to locate websites no longer "live" on the internet.  For many years on the storytellers email list, Storytell, storytellers could ask a question and have the answers saved at Story-Lovers -, but it is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine.  The late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you. 

Storytell, is now hosted by the National Storytelling Network.  Unlike the Greenwood database, which is only available to members, anyone may join that email list via the link.  Once subscribed you not only receive the emails, but can sign in and access the archive which currently runs from the end of January 2016 through the present.  The archive isn't as easy to use as SOS: Searching Out Stories, but online searching is a skill worth developing if you need to find stories.  As a list member you can also add to the discussions including asking for other members' suggestions.

(Here on this blog you may find a lot using its sidebar.)

What about making a recording or reprinting?

Use caution in reprinting or recording a story beyond the current guaranteed year. . . for 2022 on January 1 Public Domain will be available 1926 and earlier for U.S. works.  Beyond that you need to be certain if a work was renewed.  Stanford's online database of renewals lets you check up through 1963. After that renewal was automatic.  Beyond 2022 the years will continue to have Public Domain Days of free access.  All of this is U.S. copyright & varies around the world, but that Public Domain Review link mentions a bit of how to deal with other countries.  

I'm not a lawyer (although I have played one in an Agatha Christie mystery and was murdered!), but know of other copyright resources if you need them.  Don't get me started on my rant about the need for Public Domain and how copyright has gone beyond what it should be!!!

Final thoughts

Let's return to the Oregon resource's discussion of this topic: 

The method which it is designed should be followed in carrying out this work is the indirect method. The teacher should read or tell the story to the children without any direct attempt to enforce the moral. Let the child do his own moralizing. He is perfectly capable of it, and that which he does for himself is far more effective than that which the teacher does for him. Of course, it is vital that he should grasp the point of the story. If he fails to do so at first, tactful questioning will bring the moral lesson out, but by all means "preaching" should be avoided. It is best that the child should not know that the story is being presented to him for any ulterior purpose. Psychologists have formulated the law that the power of normal suggestion varies inversely with the extent to which its purpose is definitely revealed. Someone has said: "The mother who says to her child, 'Why don't you go out on the lawn and see how many dandelions you can pick?' is likely to secure a period of privacy, but if she adds, 'so that I can be alone for a little while,' the result will not be the same."

Happy telling . . . try change through storytelling, it can be fun!

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