With National Share-A-Story Month fast approaching, we thought it would be inspiring to review how an initiative conceived in 1976 as a celebration of the essential magic of the human contact between reader and listener, storyteller and audience, has taken on a life of its own. Hundreds of thousands of children within and beyond the Federation of Children’s Book Groups have been enthralled for more than 40 years by the power of story and stimulated by the chosen themes to produce stories and art of their own.
One of the Federation’s early members and a driving force in the development of the charity, Jean Russell, understood the power that stories have and she embedded storytelling into everything the Federation achieved. She had a passion and commitment to storytelling, believing that stories fostered the development of children’s imagination and creativity, reaching out to everyone, helping them to develop self-reliance, empathy and language skills.
It therefore seemed inevitable that the first national initiative of the Federation should be focused on stories and storytelling. Launched on BBC TV’s nightly evening programme, Nationwide, National Tell-A-Story Week in May expanded over the years until, in 1998, it became a month’s celebration of stories in a wide range of places:
- Outside the National Theatre
- On a barge
- On a train
- On a bus
- In a caravan
- On a Roman Wall
- On a steam coaster…
In a time when, as now, the emphasis was placed on learning to read, rather than on reading for sheer pleasure and the sharing of story, children were enthralled by Gyles Brandreth, Libby Purves, Johnny Morris, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Jan Pienkowski, Tony Hart, Val Biro, ‘popular local author’ Michael Morpurgo and many more well-known names from the world of children’s stories.
Every year themes were selected that lent themselves to ever more imaginative and creative ways of telling and listening to stories. National launches often involved balloons, puppet shows, fire-eating one year (!) often against the backdrop of much local media interest. Past themes had an international subject: ‘Nations to Nations’, ‘Stories from Around the World’ at the Commonwealth Institute’, an environmental theme: ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, ‘The Great Outdoors’, ‘Look Alive!’ and ‘MayDay Planet Earth’ or a historical or alien theme: ‘Pictures from the Past’ and ‘Out of this World’. Children were encouraged to draw and tell stories about dragons and make history come to life.
NSSM embedded itself into local communities as children’s book groups encouraged the telling of stories in fire stations, hospitals, museums and farmyards with joke walls, sing-a-longs, gurning competitions and even, one year, a laughing policeman.
This tradition has continued as children today celebrate NSSM by sharing stories with the elderly, seeking out unusual places to listen to stories, participating in creative activities and entering competitions with wonderful prizes, often sponsored by publishers.
And today, NSSM has moved into the digital age beyond the Federation with NSSM apps. There are numerous NSSM days and events in schools and libraries across the UK, involving organisations such as the National Trust, the Wildlife Trust, National Children’s Day, Wycombe Arts Festival, Dudley Canal and the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival.
The theme for 2018 is ‘’Celebrating A World of Stories’ with the aim of encouraging book groups and other interested schools and libraries, to celebrate stories, poetry, myths and legends from around the world as well as those of our own British culture and to highlight and explore Literature in Translation. NSSM 2018 includes the theme of food, looking at traditions of cooking and telling stories across the world, which will link with this year’s Jean Russell story telling project taking place across the country and with National Non Fiction November later on in the year.
Book groups and other interested parties have been sent packs containing useful books lists, ideas for activities and links to interesting organisations, which are also available on our website. We are looking forward to seeing what is organised during May and hope to hear of many story sharing sessions and cultural events with words, music, art work, food and costume from different lands thereby continuing the long and successful tradition started in 1976 .