Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stone Soup Festival - April 21 - 23rd 2017!

Once, three soldiers were coming back from the war.

They stopped in a small town. The people in the little village were quite selfish. They saw these soldiers and they came out of their homes and told them to move along because there was nothing at all to eat in the whole village.

The soldiers called all of the people to the village square and told them that they felt bad that the entire village was starving so they would make food for them.

The villagers were interested.

The soldiers dug a small pit in the ground, put wood in it and asked for a large cauldron filled with water. They lit a fire under the huge pot.

"When we didn't have enough to eat," said one of the soldiers, "our lieutenant would make stone soup."

One of the soldiers produced a large stone and dropped it into the pot. The people were very excited. They watched the water boil.

"Stone soup is delicious, but it would be better with some carrots."

"I might have some carrots," said one woman.

As she went to get the carrots another person offered potatoes.

Well, you know how this story goes. Everyone thought of something they could add to the soup, and soon a delicious fragrance filled the square.

Everyone brought bowls, and they ate until every soul was satisfied and every stomach was full.

The soldiers left after being given warm beds for the night, and an ample breakfast in payment for the delicious meal they'd prepared the night before.

As they moved away from the town they searched around until they found another large stone.

This weekend, Woodruff, SC will host the Stone Soup Festival.

Each teller will bring a little something to the feast, and hopefully, by Sunday night, every soul will be amply filled.

See you this weekend!

Happy Telling -

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dealing with Fear by Mike Lockett

A twelve-year-old student was in my storytelling class in Taichung Taiwan.  

“Do you have any questions?” I asked the class.

The girl meekly raised her hand and asked, “How can I stop being afraid?  I am scared to get up in front of a group.”

I told the class a story.

Lion was hunting for something to eat when he spied Brother Goat standing on top of a big rock.  Brother Goat was chewing grass that grew between the stones.  He chewed and chewed.  His jaws worked up and down.  Lion came closer to Brother Goat.

Brother Goat saw Lion coming and knew he had no chance to get away.  Goat thought, “I can run away.  But, Lion will catch me and eat me.  I can play dead.  But, Lion will still eat me.  I think I just need to pretend to be brave.”  So, he stayed on top of the rock and kept chewing.  He chewed and chewed and chewed.

Lion came closer.  "What are you eating, Brother Goat," asked Lion.
Brother Goat was scared.  But, he did not let Lion know it.  "I am chewing this rock in order to sharpen my teeth," he said.  "Then I am going to eat you."
Now it was Lion's turn to be afraid.  If Brother Goat was strong enough to chew up and eat a rock, he might be able to eat a lion."  Lion’s heart beat faster.  

He thought, “I can run away.  But, Goat might catch me and eat me.  I can play dead.  But, Goat still might eat me.”  The Lion decided that the only thing to do was to walk away slowly and hope Goat did not see how afraid he was.

"Enjoy your dinner," said Lion.  Then Lion turned.  He walked slowly at first, watching Goat over his shoulder.  As he got further away from Goat, Lion began to run.
Brother Goat just kept chewing as he watched Lion leave.  He shook in fear as he saw Lion run into the woods.  Brother Goat had escaped death.  Then he remembered that sometimes it pays to act brave when you are really afraid.

“What did you learn from the story?” I asked the class and looked right at the girl.
“That it is okay to be afraid, but you can pretend to be brave?” she questioned.
I smiled as all the rest of the students shook their heads up and down in agreement.  

That young girl was one of the first to volunteer to tell a story to the group.  She was afraid, but she pretended to be brave.  She told her story well and took a great step that day on her path to becoming a storyteller.

This story was adapted by Dr. Mike Lockett from an early American story, 'Buh Goat Eats Rock' by C. Jones on Negro Myths from the Georgia Coast, 1888. 

Dr. Mike Lockett has been sharing stories with audiences for over forty years. He lives in Normal, Illinois, and because of that, he is called the Normal Storyteller. Dr. Lockett has worked in every single facet of education you can imagine. He's done everything from office work to principal.His life has been spent in education.
These days he travels all over the United States and Asia performing for intergenerational audiences.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Mike Lockett Is On Deck!

Dr. Mike Lockett has been sharing stories with audiences for over forty years.

He lives in Normal, Illinois, and because of that, he is called the Normal Storyteller.

Dr. Lockett has worked in every single facet of education you can imagine. He's done everything from office work to principal.

His life has been spent in education.

These days he travels all over the United States and Asia performing for intergenerational audiences.

He uses stories to entertain and inspire.

Dr. Lockett is also an author.

This is his book entitled The Basics of Storytelling.

It is in Mandarin.

Mary Had A Little Lamb

Hickory Dickory Dock

The Normal Storyteller has received over twenty-four awards for his recordings and books.

Here he is telling an original piece called "Teddy Bear, Teddy"

He also writes his own blog which you can check out here!

He'll be in the blogging seat next week with a traditional tale about facing your fears.

Happy Telling!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stories In The Dark: Teen Suicide

A few days before I was scheduled to do a show, I got a call from the principal of the elementary school.

Principal - "We're looking forward to your visit."

Me - "Great! I can't wait to be there!"

Principal  - "Oh, there is something you should know. On Monday, we had a tragedy."

Me - "I'm sorry to hear that."

Principal - "Yes, one of our sixth graders at the middle school committed suicide. I know you are seeing them the same day. I thought I would let you know. I don't know more than that, you will have to ask the other principal when you get here."

That stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't for the life of me imagine a sixth grader committing suicide. My brain began to try to find reasons a kid that young would do such a thing.

"Bullying" came to mind at once.

"Problems at home" was my next thought.

I was left sitting with thoughts about this situation.

I went to the school and told to the k - 2 and 3 - 5. We had a great time.

I went to lunch, returned, and met the principal of the middle school. I asked about this student who had taken their life. I did this because lots of my stories for sixth grade are gory, and they are about the challenges of dealing with peer pressure. There are also ghost stories.

I gave the principal a run down of the stories I was planning. I was told not to do the ghost stories, and we decided we'd go with the Greek set.

Then, I got some background on the child. Apparently, this person was well liked, was a fine student, and everyone got along with the child. I also found out that this person had attempted suicide fourth grade.

That also shocked me. What kind of kid tries to commit suicide in fourth grade? Clearly, this was an unusual situation.

Absolutely nobody knew the child was planning to do this. The person was chipper, spoke to everyone as if nothing was going on at all. The parent left the kid home and ran out to pick up pizza for dinner, only to return to find the body.

The parent is distraught, and the shock and grief are apparently being compounded because other parents are trying to figure out what this person "did" or "didn't" do that contributed to the death of their child.

When the sixth graders arrived, I asked what they wanted to hear. Well, they'd been online and they had been watching me tell for a couple of days. They wanted The Monkey's Heart. They also wanted Tongue Twisters. Then, they asked if I would do a scary story.

I looked over and the principal started laughing, "You called it! Go for it!"

So, I told the Boo Hag.

I finished up with Argos of the Thousand Eyes.

Telling during dark times is a thing that every teller has to face.

I was in schools after 9/11. I was in schools in Illinois after the arrest of Jeffery Dahmer. I was in schools after Katrina.

There are a number of things I've learned about going into schools when there is some tragedy or darkness going on internationally, nationally, or communally.

1 - I always speak to the administrators and find out what their comfort level is.

- The comfort level of the children and the grown-ups usually have nothing to do with each other. Still, the grown-ups are paying me so....

2 - I always offer the administrators an array of options for storytelling and bridging pieces so that the material can be used by the classroom teacher or counselors later if need be. I let the administration decide what they think their kids can handle. They know their kids better than I do.

3 - I make sure I'm talking to the kids informally and setting the mood before I get into the telling. I create the space we are going to tell in by the choices I make. That is my job, and I try to make the space where we can find each other and create some community.

I left the school after sharing tales, and everyone had a good time. The principal was pleased, the educators were pleased, and the kids told me, as they often do, that I was the best storyteller in the whole world. (I fully expect they tell every single storyteller they encounter this exact same thing.)

After this telling, I started doing research on teen suicide. I learned a great deal about this subject. I learned so many things that I realized I didn't know much of anything useful or true about this topic.

My assumptions were so erroneous as to be sad. I went to some of the websites that talked about adults and suicide and discovered that some of what they were saying didn't jibe with what I was reading about in children.

So, this is a short list of the reading and information I got in the last couple of weeks that made me rethink what I thought I knew about children and suicide.

Youth Suicide Stats

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2015 CDC WISQARS)
  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2015 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
  • Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,240 attempts by young people grades 7-12.

Most teens who commit suicide begin thinking about it around the ages of eight or nine. Many have failed attempts before actually committing suicide.

So, my being really shocked at the young person attempting suicide in fourth grade stemmed from my immense ignorance, not because it was out of the ordinary.

Thoughts of Suicide Start Young

Here is the website for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Here is the number: 1-800-273-8255  It operates 24 hours a day 7 days a week

Here is the website for The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

Here is a link to a national suicide prevention campaign called You Are Not Alone for teenagers.

There are articles about signs that your teenager might be contemplating suicide.  Here is one that offered seven ideas for parents facing a suicidal child.

And of course, I could not leave this subject without posting some warning signs.

Four out of five teens who attempt suicide give clear warning signs.
Warning Signs of suicidal ideation include, but are not limited, to the following:
  • Talking about suicide
  • Making statements about feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • A deepening depression
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Taking unnecessary risks or exhibiting self-destructive behavior
  • Out of character behavior
  • A loss of interest in the things one cares about
  • Visiting or calling people one cares about
  • Making arrangements; setting one’s affairs in order
  • Giving prized possessions away
Along with these warning signs, there are certain Risk Factors that can elevate the possibility of suicidal ideation.
  • Perfectionist personalities
  • Gay and Lesbian youth
  • Learning disabled youth
  • Loners
  • Youth with low self- esteem
  • Depressed youth
  • Students in serious trouble
  • Abused, Molested or Neglected Youth
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Parental history of violence, substance abuse, or divorce

You may be the first and last person to see these signs in a young person.

After reading that list, I was really depressed. Lots of teenagers fall into these categories. It does not mean they are all suicidal. I guess you just have to keep the lines of communication open as best you can and watch for variations in behavior...which, as far as I can tell is par for the course for teenagers.

I would like to reiterate that the child who took their life at the school I visited exhibited no signs at all that anybody noticed.

If you have lost a child, friend, or loved one to suicide, it does not mean that you are at fault or that you did anything to cause it. It does not mean that you could have stopped it if only....

I wasn't sure I was going to write about this at all, but after visiting this school and doing some intense reading I heard about another young person who took their life earlier this week in my community, and a friend of mine has a teenager who is struggling with this demon.

It is common. Far too common, and there is no reason NOT to write about it, share stories, and try to learn all we can.

Stories find you when you need them. I know that is a cheesy thing to say, but sometimes it is true. About a week before all of this broke loose, I got a facebook chat from an artist who I only know virtually. She sent me this link, and right in the middle of it was an inspirational story that had to do with suicide.

Over the last couple of weeks, this video keeps coming back to me. I keep thinking about how stories changed someone's life.

I think about the suicide hotline and what those people do twenty-four hours a day.

I think about all of the teen programs that focus on helping kids overcome suicidal ideation, and there is one thing they have in common...

Every single one of these organizations is working as hard as they can to change the story playing on a loop in the dark. They are trying to reframe the tale. They are trying to turn on the lights and reframe the person as the hero of their own story. The words that I am seeing that these organizations are trying to imbue in the stories of young people sing in my heart, and I wish I could make them part of everyone's story.

You Are Not Replaceable
You Are Loved
You Are Needed
You Are Wanted
You Are Worthwhile
You Are Strong
You Are Beautiful
You Are Amazing

We need your stories. We want to be part of the stories you will write in this world.

We need you to help us dream of the future. You are valuable.

You Are Not Alone

Yours In Story -

Friday, March 17, 2017

S.T.E.M Storytelling? Yes! Call It S.T.E.A.M

S. T. E. M (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are all the rage. They have been for a while.

As a humble storyteller who deals in literacy, I did not consider myself on the S.T.E.M team.

No, my work is with helping students begin to conquer the written word. What could storytelling have to do with that other stuff?

That was some time ago. I have embraced S.T.E.M, and if you are telling, so should you.

I know, I can hear some of the thoughts...

1. Isn't literacy enough? Why do you need to pretend you are also doing S.T.E.M?

2. Aren't you the one who is always going off on people who put "storyteller" in their names without being a storyteller? Aren't you being hypocritical?

3. What could storytelling have to do with science?

4. Why do you do this?

Here are the answers:

1. Literacy is the backbone of all learning. Just try reading an advanced math textbook with poor literacy skills! By about fourth grade, children switch from learning to read to reading to learn. That, however, is not why I consider myself doing S.T.E.M work.

Part of S.T.E.M is developing critical thinking skills and looking at how systems are related. I can certainly do that as part of my telling.

2. Yes, I think that if you are not practicing the art of storytelling, you shouldn't be pretending that you are. I couldn't teach a science class without lots of preparation, but I am not teaching a science class. I am learning the science around a particular natural phenomenon, animal, or environment that is part of a story I am telling.

3. Stories were the very first science. People came up with explanations to deal with what they didn't understand. Folktales are a perfect vehicle for S.T.E.M!

4. Well, let me tell you why!

Ormand Live Oak

My first understanding of how much the natural world played into stories was a trip I took to Iberia Parish in Louisiana in the early 2000's.

I was on my way to Zydeco breakfast when I passed a bird sanctuary. I decided that after I ate, I would go back and spend some time there. I'd already been impressed by their Live Oak Society.

I'd met some of these beautiful creatures as I traveled around the area.

One thing I had not done was visit one of the swamps...okay, wetlands.

I finished a wonderful breakfast...and polished off more beignets than I probably should have.


I waddled out of breakfast, got back in my rental car and headed for the bird sanctuary. I parked and spent a wonderful two hours wandering around looking at birds, being really freaked out by the scenery, and wishing the folks in the area would use the carefully marked refuse bins instead of just dropping garbage in what should have been a pristine area.

Do you know the story of Wiley and the Hairy Man? Here is a clip of one of the many productions...

An aside: I played mammy twice...once in high school and once in the early '90s on an international tour through Brussels.

Anyway, I love this story and tell it. Up until the moment I walked into that bird sanctuary, I had no idea how the wetlands had shaped Wiley, Barney McCabe, or Tailypo.

I stood in the midst of trees that looked for all the world like they would like nothing more than to reach down and grab you, and all of the tales that take place out in the swamps made perfect sense. I got why Wicked John is supposedly wandering around out there with a lantern.

Dark and creepy after the sun goes down doesn't even begin to describe what it is like to be under these trees.

I had always known that the environment shapes stories. All the tales of the gods of old are directly related to the weather, volcanic and seismic activity, and geography ancient peoples faced. Want to really understand the nature of the Greek Gods? Visit Greece.

As a teller of folktales, many of the tales I tell deal with stories about the natural world. I started adding the science to these tales almost as an afterthought.

I'd finish telling Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People's Ears, and then I'd ask kids if they knew why Mosquitoes actually buzz around our ears.

The first answer is, "They want to suck our blood."

That is true, but there is a reason why they go for our faces: What is that?

Over the course of years, this simple question has evolved into a discussion about mammalian respiratory, the mosquitoes reproduction system, and how insect repellant works.

There are a few kids who know some of the answers to these questions. By second grade some teachers have explained that plants use CO2 and put out Oxygen, and we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.

The kids are amazed that something they've learned that didn't seem to be all that important to them suddenly has an application outside of something in a book. The ones who make the connections are really excited. (Critical thinking skills...pass it on)

I told this tale and conducted this discussion while I was out in Mariposa county a few days ago. My guide, who was a math teacher for many years, told me she learned more about mosquitoes than she knew by listening to the discussion I had with the kids.

Science is cool.

Some people actually tell stories about scientists, I don't do that. I just stick with folktales and weave science into and around them.

When you do this, the acronym is better stated as S.T.E.A.M

Science. Technology. Engineering. Arts. and Math!

Figure out where the science hangs out in your stories. Throw a little science, math, technology, or engineering into the work.

Find a way to make it memorable and fun.

Turn up the S.T.E.A.M!

Happy Telling!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Words Matter By Joan Leotta

"My tongue is the pen of a ready writer."

Do you find yourself ever humming the words to a favorite song? Do you seek words of endearment and comfort from those who love you? Have you ever saved an old love letter or thrilled to see the caller ID of someone you love? Do you cringe when someone puts you down? If any one of those is true, you are someone who has experienced the power of words in your life for good and for ill. 

Advertisers know the power of words. Bullies know and use the power of words, and we as performers and writers, must be aware of the power of words, otherwise we are wielding an out of control chainsaw in the hearts of our audiences when we could be creating stronger, more loving individuals.

Several years ago, I wrote an article for Storytelling Magazine that fully explained my thoughts on the joint work of spoken and written words and how they complement each other. Events have come to pass that have strengthened my hope in the power of words and at the same time make me shake with fear as I watch the power of the abuse of the written and spoken (and tweeted) word.

Those of us who speak and write for a living, (and I am privileged to do both, as a performance artist and as a journalist, published author, poet, and playwright), know that words have incredible power. I tell a story called the power of words based on the Chinese tale of the Magic Paintbrush. In my tale, the artist's images do not come to life until he whispers please to the image. Words have the power to bring life, not his paintbrush, as it is in the traditional tale. To be fair, Chinese calligraphy is done with a brush and many Chinese words are tiny pictures!

When we work on a story, one of the first things I do is to identify key words to link the segments of the story. 

What are words I want to repeat? 
What are the words that I want the children to repeat with me? 
Are these words that will stress the positive elements of the story?
Will they be words that tear down a character in the tale? 

I strive to make the audience interactions, positive. Even when I am telling silly stories and I work out numerous physical jokes to provoke laughter. I work hard to make sure that the last thing said, the lasting impression left is one that builds up the inner souls of my audience. 

When I have to show something negative, I maneuver to have it happen "offstage: and my horrified reaction is what they see---modeling for them a reaction of horror in the face of evil while at the same time then going on to tell how the hero defeats the evil. 

In my writing, I stress the solution to the crime in my mysteries, recall hidden positives in history, (even if fictional) and look for positives in daily interactions in my other stories. I do not see the need to keep your mouth and face in the mud or to press the faces and ears (eyes in the case of readers) in the mud of life. Our purpose as artists can be to make them come face to face with what is wrong, but then use our words to show them how to find their way out, to mark a path of love and a love of joy. That's how I hope my performances are remembered, as giving strength through the power of my words to continue on a path of light and life into the future. 

Words matter.

Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." 
-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Including essays, poetry, short stories and young adult fiction, Joan Leotta is a versatile and award-winning author, poet, and story performer. Leotta has been playing with words on paper and on stage from the first time she could hold a pen and climb. She gathers inspiration for writing and performing from everyday incidents and objects. She has been a story performer, mostly for children--including historic characters and folklore shows. She lived, told, and wrote in the Washington DC suburbs for thirty-five years. To her credit are four young adult novels, numerous plays and poems, and a picture book called "WHOOSH!" Joan attended Ohio University and Johns Hopkins, where she concentrated on international relations and economics. Joan grew up in Pittsburgh and now lives and spends a lot of time walking the North Carolina beaches with her husband Joe. Her motto is "encouraging others through pen and performance.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Joan Leotta - Poetess, Author, Storyteller - is on deck!

I am in California next week for the very last planned Mariposa Storytelling Festival in California.

I will not be in the blogging seat as I will be spending the weekend with some fabulous performers. If you are in the area, come on out and celebrate this experience! The Mariposa Festival is turning off the mic and lowering the lights after 30 glorious years.....

While I am out, Joan Leotta, an author, poetess, and teller of tales will be sitting in the blogging seat! 

When I asked for a bio and quick pick info about this very published lady, this is what she wanted everyone to know.....

You will have a hard time finding many videos of her performances because she is a Luddite about recording. However, you can find many examples of her writing on her blog, on FB or on Amazon. 

If you message her through her blog she will send you a pdf of the referenced article on the differing uses of written and spoken word. 

If you sign up for her newsletter (coming soon) by sending a note in the comment section of the blog with your email, you will be given opportunities to win prizes including school and book club appearances. 

Check out her body of work at Joan Leotta, Author and Story Performer on FB at or at

Rosa And The Red Apron - Check it out!

A collection of short stories from history to fiction

Simply a Smile is a collection of short stories that includes historical fiction, romances, mysteries and stories about families. What each tale has in common is that each was inspired by a piece of art or a simple object such a shell, a recipe, and even an historical marker. These stories are meant to be simple reading pleasures that will leave you, the reader, with a smile.

If you are interested in writing, finding out how a prolific writer thinks about writing, or just want to spend a little time wandering through the thoughts of someone who spends her days submerged in words...then this is the place to be next week!

Happy Telling!