The Ups and Downs of Storytelling

I once performed a whole school assembly at Berenda Elementary School in Madera, California. The story I was telling was “One Fine Day,” an Armenian folktale that I learned from fellow storyteller Ted Esquivel, a story also found in a book of the same name by Nonny Hogrogian.

“One Fine Day” is one of my favorite stories. It involves arm waving and mooing and girlish giggling, as well as other hilarious sounds and movements, all of which I invite the audience to participate in.

There I was, in front of an audience of around three hundred people. I looked out at the audience and saw:

The cooks had come out of the kitchen. They were mooing;

The janitors had stopped at the door as they passed. They were chanting “Babble, babble, babble;

The principal and teachers were waving their arms in the air, like a field of grass being blown by the wind.

EVERYONE was participating!

It was one of those moments when you know that what you’re doing is what you’re supposed to be doing.

But then…

There are those other times.

Like Saint Austell in Cornwall, United Kingdom.

I was living in Ireland at the time, and my best friend, Anne Kennedy Truscott, was headed for Lowender Peran, a Celtic festival in Perranporth, Cornwall. There would be musicians, storytellers, and dancers from all of the Celtic nations: Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Mann, and Brittany.

Being the true friend she was, she arranged for me to go as a storyteller. I would tell stories, not only at the festival, but at a school in a nearby town.

I was nervous, of course. I was telling mostly American stories to Cornish children. How would they respond? Would they understand me and/or the stories?

Short answer: No.

The children filed into the performance space and sat quietly with their hands in their laps.


A storyteller’s worst nightmare.

I’m sure they had been told to be courteous and polite to the foreign storyteller.

It’s one thing to be courteous and polite, but it’s quite another to be turned to stone.

I was telling all my favorite stories: Sodysalderadous; The Monster in the Graveyard; One Fine Day; Watermelon Seeds. I was performing my heart out.

And they just sat there.

I felt like I was going to die, a slow and embarrassing death.


Except for one little boy in the middle of the group.

Amongst all those stones, was a bubbling stream of laughter.

His eyes were wide with amazement.

He laughed out loud.

He slapped his knee in delight.

He didn’t seem to care that the other children were looking at him like he was nuts, and looking at me as if I were an alien from outer space.

He saved my life. My sanity. My belief in my abilities as a storyteller.

So I told my stories for him, and him only. It didn’t matter that the other children didn’t understand, as long as he was there, understanding and responding.

I believe in angels because sometimes they sit in my audience and laugh for me.

I wish I had been given the chance to meet him, but I didn’t.

It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he was there for me when I needed him. One bright and exuberant child in the midst of a sea of stone.

I think of him often. I don’t know his name, I don’t know anything about him. But he confirmed for me that yes, I could tell a story.

Oh my, how I love that child.



  1. Oops! Anne Kennedy just let me know that the school was Cape Cornwall School in St.Just, in Cornwall, NOT St. Austell ! I was in the right country, though.

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