Dianne Las Casas – Storytelling: A Safari into Literacy

Diannede Las Casas Storyteller

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Dianne de Las Casas
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Storytelling: A Safari into Literacy.

Dianne de Las Casas writes…
My whole life has been a safari (Swahili word for “journey”) of stories. The power of stories permeated and impacted my life so strongly that, at an early age, I knew I wanted to share stories with the world. It became my life’s dream, which I am realizing today through storytelling and writing books.

Because books, reading, and telling stories are
such an important part of my family’s life, I am always saddened to watch the declining literacy rate in America’s school children. Nearly 2/3 of elementary age children read 2 grade levels below their expected reading level. Why is this happening?

Many of today’s families are not “storied” families. Stories are not
a daily part of life they are not shared at the “campfire” – the dinner table (many families don’t even eat at the dinner table together anymore). There are a vast amount of children who do not have a basic foundation of nursery rhymes and folktales. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my 6 year old niece never heard of Rapunzel because Rapunzel wasn’t a “Disney Princess!”

In addition, few teachers have time to spend
doing something “fun” like storytelling. There are standards and benchmarks to meet as well as tests to administer. Many educators do not understand the value of storytelling and how storytelling is an integral part of literacy in the home and the classroom.

Of course, pop culture also plays a role. Stories are pre-fabricated for our children in the form of television shows, movies, and computer and video games, leaving little room for the imagination and leaving behind a generation of children with minimal exposure to traditional tales.

As storytellers and teaching artists, we have the pivotal opportunity to
create change and inspire parents and educators to include storytelling in the home and the classroom.

Wild About Storytelling and Reading

Storytelling is an important part of introducing children to oral traditions and the development of imaginations. Esme’ Raji Codell, Author of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, says, “Stimulating imagination to the nth degree, storytelling also creates a love of narrative that can translate into a lifelong love of books.”

There is a direct correlation between storytelling and reading. In her paper,
“Storytelling for Literacy,” Sheila Dailey Carroll says, – Adults who are low-reading or non-reading classically have not been “storied”as children. In a paper presented at the International Reading Association World Congress on Reading, Eve Marlo and Julie Bullard state, The child who is consistently exposed to an oral tradition of stories gains skills that prepare him/her for reading. “telling stories is a successful way to encourage literacy.”

Reading is Fundamental (RIF), a national organization that promotes reading, offers a video titled, “Storytelling: A Pathway to Literacy.” RIF states, “Storytelling is a critical tool for encouraging a love of reading.” Storytelling can support children’s language and literacy development.

Simply put, we can get kids wild about reading through storytelling!

Navigating the Jungle

So what are some of the ways that you can “navigate the jungle?” Work with educators and parents by teaching them storytelling techniques. Give them confidence, arm them with knowledge, and fortify them with skills. Keep sharing stories with children but help others to share stories with children as well. The more we share, the more we have. Below are several tips to promote literacy through storytelling.

Pre-School – Pre-school children (Ages 3-5) are deep in the throes of language acquisition. They are learning new words and building a vocabulary. Encourage retelling by sharing simple stories with rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. Story examples: “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” “The Little Red Hen,” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Lower Elementary - Lower elementary-aged children (Ages 6-9) are becoming more confident with their vocabularies and their ability to read unassisted. They are delving into chapter books with a heavier dose of vocabulary. They enjoy stories with imagination and enjoy role-playing (playing “house,” “school,” “doctor,” etc.). Stories that work with this age group include stories with elements of magic (folktales and fairy tales) and fantasy (talking animals). Audience participation works well. Story examples: “The Bremen Town Musicians,” “Cinderella,” and “The Lion and the Mouse.”

Upper Elementary – Upper elementary-aged children (Ages 10-12) are independent readers. They enjoy stories with a sense of adventure and stories that challenge them to “figure things out.” They have an affinity for well-developed characters and stories that boast a more intricate plot (i.e., Harry Potter). They like heroes. Share stories that focus on the character’s independence, courage, and wit. Puzzler stories also work well. Story theater works well because children at this age enjoy a creative challenge. Story examples: “Paul Bunyan” stories, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

The Life-Long Safari

As human beings, we have a natural curiosity to explore the world around us. Storytelling enables children to do just that. Through that process, we build life-long learners. Not only is it our duty to foster the ability to read, we must also inspire a life-long love of stories in order for children to continue on their own successful safari through life.

Here are two books mentioned in the podcast audio…
Haven, Kendall. Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story. (Libraries Unlimited 2007)

Norfolk, Sherry; Stenson, Jane and Williams, Diane. The Storytelling Classroom: Applications Across the Curriculum. (Libraries Unlimited 2006)

Dianne de Las Casas Blog The Story Connection and her amazing website.


  • By Monty Harper, March 3, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

    Hi Dianne!

    Great interview. You rock!!

  • By Tim, March 18, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

    This interview opens the door to more questions, specifically about the creation and development of the storytelling residency. As evidenced by the caller, I think your audience would find it really useful to hear from an experienced artist-in-residence about the nuts and bolts, the nitty gritty of the school residency. (You would know better than I who to talk to about this).

    Because, while it’s clear that a storyteller can generate enthusiasm and excitement about reading (or whatever topic in the curriculum they align with), a one-day visit to a school is not going to improve the test scores of the students.

    While I don’t believe improving test scores should be the end goal of a storyteller, Dianne rightly points out how the current climate in schools is such that there is a manic obsession with academic performance. In such a climate, a residency might be a better pitch than an assembly.

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