Telling Stories For Children

Posted on 08/03/2012 by


I really shouldn’t tell stories to children. Even seven year olds. It’s not that the incidence of violence and mayhem is a problem. It’s the way they tell me I’m doing it wrong.

Me: I’m actually a terrible storyteller, but I can frame an anecdote so it sounds even better than it actually was. Except when I am sleepy and then it will be weird and meandering and, What? How is that funny?
Arkem: Just like you.
Me: I’m weird and strange and, What? How is that funny?
Arkem: Yes.
Me: Oh.

When I was fourteen I had a friend who was seven, which was convenient as I was old enough to be paid to be her babysitter and we could climb trees and hang out and be peculiar at one another. I think this is because I am mentally still seven. Seven makes a lot of sense to me.

Once, when I was lying on a branch, staring up through the foliage in the fading light trying to guess what time it was, she elbowed me in the solar plexus accidentally in passing and then, possibly as a distraction, demanded that I tell her a bedtime story.

This might have been a bad idea if there’d been any likelihood at all that she’d actually be lulled to sleep by a story I told, but as it was I wracked my brains for some sort of children’s book style story and began to tell her the tale of a monkey that ran away to join the circus.

The story included a number of sarcastic asides and hair-raising, if irrelevant, incidents because I didn’t have the faintest idea where the plot was going. (Linear storytelling has really never been my forte. Especially not on the fly.)

Luckily this didn’t turn out to be a problem as progress through the story was much impeded by interruptions. My friend questioned my literary choices at every turn. Initially content with disapproving sniffs at character names and disgusted remarks at plot twists she didn’t like, she nevertheless started actively arguing before the monkey even made it to the circus. Monkeys don’t eat mice, she said. Well, what would you expect to find if you pulled up the floorboards? I asked. Not lunch, she replied.

I have a singularly vivid memory of the visual I had pulled up as I described it to her, the monkey reaching down into the floor cavity to catch the mice, the uplifted floorboard in his other hand, and my friend shaking her head at me in disbelief.

Since then I’ve had the same experience more than once. Possibly children sense my age-seven-ness and feel entitled to argue with someone on their level, or perhaps I’m just a terrible storyteller. Perhaps both.

Nowadays when someone asks me to tell a story I promptly blither. And start explaining the distinction between a writer and a storyteller. And then usher them in the direction of my mother. (Who is an excellent storyteller.) If I ever do write a children’s book I think it will be incredibly meta, with a child narrator interjecting protests all the way through. Otherwise it just wouldn’t feel right.


Posted in: Kandace