Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley with The Power of Folk Tales in Children’s Lives…

Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley on the Power of Folk Tales in Children's Lives on the Art of Storytelling with Brother Wolf Podcast

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Interview #052 Jan Andrews & Jennifer Cayley
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The Power of Folk Tales in children’s lives.

Folktales bring us the wisdom of the ages. They have been honed and shaped over centuries. They are there for everyone, functioning on the one hand as entertainment and on the other through offering so many layers of meaning that they are accessible to all. Adults may proclaim that Jack and Ti-Jean, Cinderella and Red Riding Hood (and all those other lesser-known heroes and heroines of the stories we ought to be telling more often) are archetypes. Children simply recognize in these long-lived characters various aspects of their own being. Folktales become then one of the places where children experience what it is to know themselves as adventurers.

Once upon a time, there was a storyteller called Joan Bodger who was running a Headstart program in Harlem. It was before Headstart got going. Experts came to visit, to see what all the fuss was about. One of them asked Joan, somewhat disparagingly, “What do you want for these children?” Joan answered, “I want them to be poets and princes. Poets to the extent that they have command of their own language. Princes – you know, like the heroes in the old stories: they may be shoveling the muck in the stables but they will stand at the centre of their own lives.”

We cannot imagine a parent or educator who would not have a similar aim (although we would, of course, say “princesses” as well). We’ve both been working with children for many years now – Jan as storyteller and writer of books for young people; Jennifer as storyteller and specialist in arts education. We’ve seen how a story told seems to be able to leap directly over barriers to some deep place of understanding we know will stand young listeners in good stead. We do not set out to be teachers but we are aware that the folktales inform and instruct as nothing else can. “What will you carry away with you from what you’ve heard today,” we ask often. The answers are always surprising and always heartfelt.

Here’s something else. The folktales belong to oral tradition. They were meant to be remembered and they are. Go into a school once, come back a year later, two years, meet the same children. They will always be able to name the stories told. That speaks volumes for how well the stories must be doing their work of handing on a torch of strength from those who have gone before us and in whose steps we tread.

We do not believe the folktales are “pure magic.” We believe they must be handled with care.

For more information on Jan Andrews go to http://www.janandrews.ca


  • By Norah, August 10, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

    Wonderfully deep and insightful. Thanks so much.

  • By Anna Jarrett, December 28, 2010 @ 12:32 am

    THanks Brother Wolf. What a great way to connect with the global storytelling community. I really enjoyed listening to Jan’s interview – I’ve been wanting to meet her but haven’t crossed paths yet so this was a great intro. Cheers!
    Anna from South Coast, New South Wales Australia

  • By Brother Wolf, December 31, 2010 @ 12:45 am

    Thanks Anna

    I really enjoyed meeting these two fine Canadian storyteller – we all love fairytales and their work has really inspired me in the creation of my fairy tales…

    Eric Wolf

  • By Andi, January 28, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

    Saw you at the Midsumma Festival in Melbourne and thought that the whole performance was fabulous. It was so inspiring and full of wonderful female wisdom. I so identified with the way you related your relationship and my partner and I came away realising that we aren’t the only ones who feel the way we do. The different stages of a relationship were exemplified so beautifully. I also loved the talk around mothers and realising that the lack of a mother does not negate the beautiful having of a partner in life. What fun! I love it when I enjoy something as muchxxxxx

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