Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Inappropriate Storyteller - A Cautionary Tale

Heather Stamper
            A group of elementary school children were on a tour of their local library.  Part of the tour included a story in the children’s section.  Instead of selecting a picture book to read, the youth resources librarian decided to use oral tradition to tell a Native American folktale from the Pacific Northwest.  It was the tale of the Trickster Raven bringing light to the people. 
To paraphrase the tale, the chief of the Sky People had all the light of the universe hidden in a box and refused to let it out.  Raven infiltrated the chief’s house by turning himself into a hemlock needle floating in the water.  The daughter of the chief drank the water, swallowed the needle, and in the course of time, gave birth to Raven incarnate who then stole the light.
The young children were visibly bored by the story that for the most part went completely over their heads.  (Of course, there was the smarty-pants who had to ask about where babies came from.)  Their teachers looked at each other in shock and couldn’t meet the eyes of the parents who came along as chaperones.
While the storyteller meant well in attempting to share another culture with seven year olds of the Calumet Region, she could have told a local tribal tale or read from an actual book instead of going off the cuff and dwelling on the Raven baby growing in the princess’s belly.
            When you select a reading, it is very important to be mindful of your audience.  A story about conservation might not go over well at a lumberjack convention.  You might get more than a chilly reception with Bears fans if you read that fan fiction about playing for the Packers.  Or as in the case of the Inappropriate Storyteller, you could alienate your potential readers.

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