Got a surprise request for a bedtime story last night so I had to make one up on the spot… as you do. He may not yet be 5 years old but it’s been over a year since I was challenged to make up a story at sunset. Usually he enjoys a few pages from the latest Books for Big Boys tome. Gone are the days when the bedtime tales I made up were filled with talking trains, friendly animals and wayward pets. Now there has to be a dash of peril and at least one character getting struck with something painful!
The trick with these short, short stories is to introduce your character, have them lose something, and have them find it again. Or find something and almost lose it again. You know what? Just narrate the Indiana Jones scene where he steals the golded head, swings over a pit and ducks under a lowering block of stone, then snatches his trusty Fedora in the nick of time. That’ll do nicely. Night night sleep tight!
My smallie’s request made me think of an article I wrote in reaction to the news that most Irish parents are too tired or too busy to read a story to their ankle biters before bed. I found this very sad. The joy of reading is one of the best gifts you can give a child, not because you want them to grow up and become a fabulously rich author, but because you want their nascent brains to forge links that will improve memory, understanding and imagination. Homo sapiens are storytellers. Parents should not ignore evolution!!
With the rise and rise of distracting digital portals I fear that more and more kids will be deprived of the traditional story at bedtime. The thing is, parents will lose out too…
ONCE upon a time…
Could any other four English words in that order hold as much creative potential? It’s a narrative convention used by everyone from teacher to seanchai to Hollywood director. Those four little words bring an audience to the brink of infinite possibilities, universes built with words in which everything can be reinvented and the fantastic reigns.
Unfortunately, according to a survey published this week, the majority of our children are being deprived of such a wonder. Three hundred Irish parents were asked if they read a story to their kids at bedtime and 60% of them said they were simply too tired to do so and almost half blamed household chores.
I understand that some homes can be busier than an airport at Christmas and evenings can be ruled by chaos. I also acknowledge that not all homes are happy places. The point is that every parent owes it not only to their children but to themselves to try to set aside 10 golden minutes and enter another universe. Forget about thoughts of tackling the future literacy crisis, would you like to tackle your present stress crisis? Rushing the kids to bed so you can have your ‘me’ time, maybe with a glass of wine and your favourite soap, is a wasted opportunity. An hour of TV will come nowhere near the joy waiting to be released from a book with just half a dozen pages. Besides, isn’t that what Sky+ was invented for?
Children understand chaos theory – constantly changing variables will lead to wildly differing outcomes. Bedtime stories are ruled by such chaos. Who knows where a story will take you, what wonderful tangents to follow. Once upon a time… can lead to cloud castles, ocean cities, naughty dragons, friendly dinosaurs, weeping princesses, hungry pirates, talking mice or flying houses. Peril, danger and adventure. All guaranteed to have your rapt audience wide-eyed with wonder. What TV realism can offer that?
You don’t even need a book or a wild imagination. Just add a touch of mystery to what happened during the day, put your listener at the centre of the story, ask them to decide the next plot twist, et voila, a custom-made bedtime tale that they will surely take with them to the Land of Nod.
Storytelling is an art form that we have come to revere more and more simply because there are far fewer of us attempting it. We elevate storytellers to lofty status and marvel at the impact of their words on us. Granted, some are better than others at conjuring fictional tales but we all have some talent at it, whether it be office gossip, the latest joke or dinner party anecdote. Let’s all try to spend even five quiet minutes exercising our flabby storytelling muscles and the end of another stressful day.
The parent detaches momentarily from domestic stress, the child learns the lifetime of joy brought by reading… and they all live happily ever after.