Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Last Two Guests! Ah, Summertime!

This summer has been amazing.  The running about.  The nine thousand miles I put on my car.  The insane amount of time I logged on planes.

I have had the most amazing guest bloggers in this space all summer.  I learn so much by listening to and reading about other artists.  If you want to find out who was here and what they had to say, go to the Guest Artist button on the menu at the top of the blog.

Now, on to current matters.  I was at the National Storytelling Network Conference last week.  Fabulous.  I may or may not write about it since so many other people have.  I'll link over to stuff when I'm not feeling quite as lazy as I am today.

Yes, today, I am lazy.  Why?  Well, because my summer is officially done!

I have two weeks to just come down off the travel high and spend some time with my family.

I do have some goodies in waiting, though.

My last two guests in the summer series are yet to come and they are wonderful.

On August 7th, you will encounter a woman I respect the heck out of who is also a wonderful author and teaching artist who is forever trying new things.  She's done improv work, we've seen her in costume at the Renaissance Fair, and she's just gotten into throwing pots.   Some of her books include The O'Dwyer and Grady series.

I actually have a credit for helping her solve one of the mysteries in this series!

She writes for audiences both old and young

Did I mention she was an investigative journalist?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Eileen Heyes!

Eileen Heyes

"I look at the world and the people in it, and I see stories everywhere just waiting to be written. That’s the outlook I bring with me when I visit schools and lead workshops – so I can help students open their eyes to the fun they can have when they sit down to write."

Eileen will share some thoughts about creating biographies for your fictional characters to give them more depth.  Well worth the read.

On August 14th, my absolute last guest of the summer is a woman who became one of my college 'mothers', gave me my very first professional job right out of school, let me crash on her couch, gave me love life advice, has written some fabulous books, is a phenomenal storyteller, is a Dr., a professor, writes reviews of children's books, is a librarian par excellence, and has had my back so many times it isn't even funny.

She's got books on telling stories

I love this book.  In fact, I tell this book!  (With permission of course!)

I tell this one as well!

I am speaking now of my dear friend and force of nature, Janice Del Negro.

Janice Del Negro

The final post in my summer season is from the first person who put her money on the line and sent me out to meet the public.

Her piece is about the power of using folk and fairy tales with adolescents in the classroom, and it is, like everything she does, exquisite.

So, these will be the last two and then I will go back to irregularly scheduled programming in this space.

Happy Summertime!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jacqueline K. Ogburn - A Curious Collaboration: Writing Picture Books

Jackie Ogburn is a writer you should know!

I write picture books for children.  Yes, it is fun. No, I don't draw the pictures. 

A Great Book For Storytellers

This means that I find myself collaborating with invisible partners, people who are necessary to complete the work in its final form.  I write to tell my story, to get the imaginary characters out of my head and onto the page, but I also have to write in such a way that  leaves room for the creative input of strangers -- the illustrator and the reader.

At the time that I am writing a new story, that part of the job is as solitary as any other writer.  In that solitude, wrestling with the page, I have to keep those future partners in mind as well as the demands of my characters and the story.

It helps to have a visual imagination, because picture books, like movies and plays, are a visual form.  A picture book needs movement, changes of scene and focus, something in the text that prompts the turning of the page so a new image can be revealed.  That visual imagination has to be present on the page, but also restrained.

The Reptile Ball

My writing has to evoke images, without describing too much.  Picture books are also a miniature form. Every word counts.  Again, like plays, the focus is on action and dialogue.

I can use a few telling details to establish character, such as showing Cora Lee's nature in her “lemon-pucker mouth and hair scraped back into a hard little bun,” in The Bake Shop Ghost. But the rest of the visual aspects of the story are the domain of the illustrator and I have to let go the rest of my ideas of  how it should look.  I had to keep my sticky little fingers away from describing other details of my baker, to turn her over to the illustrator, Marjorie Priceman, who so aptly provided Cora Lee with pointy-toed shoes and sharp elbows to round out her prickly character.

Love this book!  Of course, she did name one of the main characters after me.

I don't meet with  the illustrator when they are working on book. Out of my ten books, I have met only one of the illustrators while he was working on the story, James Ransome.  I had provided a book of photos of jukeboxes as reference material for the story, and he was generous enough to welcome my suggestions on other details. Usually this collaboration takes place through the editor.  I have been lucky enough to have editors who let me see sketches, so I can make comments on the art.   

Jukebox Man

Picture books are meant to be read out loud. Like poetry, the sound and rhythm of the words are as  crucial as the sense. I don't write with a restricted vocabulary though.  Children are surrounded by words they don't know everyday.  They learn new ones through context and often delight in them.

A Dignity of Dragons  A beautiful exploration of language!

The other collaborator I write for is the one who reads the story aloud.  That is frequently an amateur, a tired parent reading the book as a bedtime story for the first time or a teacher reading to a class full of kids. Phrases that I can say smoothly don't always work so well for other readers.  At this stage, I call on the help of friends rather than strangers, and have someone else read it aloud to me. I listen for the awkward pause, the tangled line in that other voice.

The Magic Nesting Doll inspired a company to actually make the nesting doll in the book!

This is an excellent story to share!  I tell a version of it...with permission of course!

My writing also has to be lively enough to stand up to frequent re-reading, because my final stranger and most important critic is the child who is read to, whose highest praise is, “Again. Read it again.”

A North Carolina native, Ms. Ogburn received a bachelor's degrees in English and Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. For ten years, she worked in New York book publishing, primarily as a children's book editor. She is the author of eight picture books. Her previous book, The Magic Nesting Doll, received a starred review from "Publishers' Weekly" and has been translated into Greek and Korean.

Want more info about Jacqueline K. Ogburn?  Of course you do, who wouldn't?  

Here is an interview she did called For The Love Of Story.

Want to contact Jacqueline Ogburn for an author visit?  No problem.  You can find her through

And, because I can't get enough of it, another look at the trailer for the movie that was inspired by the Bake Shop Ghost

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


The Unmistakable Michael McCarty "Have Mouth.  Will Run It"

My career as a professional storyteller began in 1992 here in Los Angeles. I met Joel ben Izzy at CAJE(Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education), where he was introduced to me as professional storyteller. That same day I attended my first storytelling concert, and heard Penninah Schram, Karen Golden, and many other tellers.

Joel Ben Izzy

A few weeks later I was at my second storytelling event, a benefit for the Aquarius Bookstore that had been burned down during the ’92 Rodney King verdict insurrection. A dozen African and African-American storytellers performed, organized by Leslie Perry who recently passed on, leaving a rich legacy of organizing and storytelling.

Leslie Perry

My belly flop into the storytelling world would take me around the country and all over the planet learning and sharing stories.

The Michael Mobile

I can’t remember the first time that I heard the phrase, “..but I’m just a storyteller,” but it grated my storytelling soul. There was a reference to being confronted with an intense emotional drama at a school during a storytelling assembly or perhaps in a classroom. The teller was overwhelmed by the situation and did not feel qualified to contribute to a solution for the crisis.

Storytelling exists to help people deal with the ups, downs and sideways of life.  And often it does not require deep contemplation. Just tell stories. 

Once upon a time I was presenting two storytelling assemblies at an elementary school. The first group were the third, forth and fifth graders. I rocked their world! It was a fun session and both students and teachers laughed their butts off.

After the first group exited, one forth grade girl remained. She walked up to me and said in a very serious tone, “Mr. McCarty, I wanted to thank you for your stories. They made me laugh. I haven’t laughed in a long time. Thank you.” She shook my hand and walked away. I was stunned. Speechless. 

A few minutes later the principal came in and I informed her of what had just transpired. She told me that that little girl’s father had committed suicide a few months prior. So, for that little girl on that day, laughing was the most important thing in her life.

We learn a variety of stories so as to have something for just about any situation. I arrived to do a Halloween program at another elementary school and was informed that one of the most popular students in the school had died suddenly the previous day. Teachers and students were all in a deep funk.

The cow tail switch was considered a renowned gift. It was given to someone that deserved the highest accolades and honor.

I opened my program acknowledging their loss and told, The Cow Tail Switch, a Liberian folktale, the theme of which is that as long as we remember our friends and family that has passed on, as long as we remember and tell their stories, no one is ever really dead. And I told them why that story was special to me. When my Mom passed away in 1995, Akoni the Story man, who I’d met at the above-mentioned benefit in 1992, told that story and dedicated it to my Mom and me.

There were tears and applause. Then they were ready for scary stories.

I could go on but methinks you get the point. We are much, much more than “just storytellers.” Now run and tell that!

‎"If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest,
but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life."

—Siberian Elder

Michael is a multicultural storyteller of African, African-American and International Folk tales, Historical tales, Stories of Science, Spiritual stories as well as stories of the brilliant and absolutely stupid things he has done in his life.
His stories inform, educate, inspire and amuse. His storytelling style is energetic and enthusiastic.

You can find Michael D. McCarty on the web at"

Happy Telling!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Black Enough

You must be this color to go on this ride

Okay, so David, my husband and manager, got a call from an elderly lady.

"I'm looking for Donny Washington.  Is she there?"

 "Do you mean Donna Washington?"

 "I'm looking for the entertainer."

"Well, there's a Donna Washington and she's a storyteller."

"Yes.  That's who I mean."

She'd called in order to book me into some schools for February.

They discussed everything important in booking a show regarding the ages of the students, the dates and times, and the price for the sets.  Right before she hung up she said, and I quote:

"Just one last question.  Is she black?  I'm doing this for Black History Month, so she needs to be black."

My husband assured her that I was definitely black, and then they said their goodbyes.  He was very amused.

I often joke that when I started out in this business, February paid for the whole year.  I made as much money in February as I did the rest of the year because during Black History Month, even if people had never even considered hiring a performer, they suddenly needed a black one.

I had a friend who once said she didn't think it was fair.
"We have black history month.  We need a white history month!  We don't have a month when we are in demand!"

I always laughed that off, but what I could never bring myself to tell her was that every single month in America is white history month.  Most of the monuments, almost all of the street names, most of the city names, most of the landmarks in our country, most of the statues honoring brave people, most of our politicians, and the bulk of our textbooks are dedicated like a laser beam on the accomplishments and contributions of white Americans.  This should not be a surprise.  For much of the history of America, they were the only ones society as a whole was allowed to acknowledge when it came to great things.  Nobody else really mattered in this particular scheme.  It was a very particular story that was being told, and it wasn't very multicultural.

  I didn't learn about black people in history except for Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver.  I didn't learn about any Asian Americans, Latin Americans, or many famous women in school either.  As far as I knew, there were only three black people, no Asian people, no people of Hispanic descent, three caucasian women ( Betsy Ross, Florence Nightingale, and Susan B. Anthony), and only one Native American woman who'd ever done anything noteworthy in American history.  (If you guessed that the Native American woman was Pocahontas, you guessed right!)  I grew up not knowing that our country was built on the back of a rainbow of people.  Nobody ever told me.  Well, actually, now that I think about it, I also learned about Sacagawea.


These days things are different.  We are getting better about acknowledging our past...we still have problems with it and we are in no way comfortable with our history, but we are trying.

I'm glad we have African American History Month.  It kept me in rice and rent back when I was a new storyteller.

These days February doesn't play as prominent a role in the year as it once did, but I still make a small bank that month.

Is it still PC to say black?  I have no idea.  I'm not sure who is being offended by what at any moment and frankly, I don't have the energy to check most days.  Aren't we 'People of Color' now or some such thing?  Not sure that it matters, just thought I'd bring that up.

I supposed I could go on and on about how race is a human construct; we are all the same where it counts; and this nonsense about color and tribes has caused so much trouble between people who really ought to get along, but there is no point in rehashing philosophies about that here.  It can be read in many other places on the web with far more eloquence than I have at my disposal this evening.

Still, if we, as a country are forced to spend twenty eight days each year focusing on the contributions of African Americans, it doesn't seem like that is such a terrible thing.

Then again, perhaps my point of view on this whole subject doesn't really matter.   A casual observer might note that I am a tad bit on the biased side.  After all, I would definitely be considered - as my husband assured the lady booking the show - black.

Happy History!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Storytelling: A Common Core for Empathy by Lyn Ford

Lyn Ford

  1. Common Core
  2. The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.

"Stories are bridges from one mind to another." – the late Martha Holloway, storyteller and former bacteriologist

In the benchmarks of the Common Core State Standards, emphasis is placed on reading, writing, speaking, listening, analyzing, and critically thinking in order to progress and thrive.  These are life skills, tools that are useful and needed throughout one’s lifetime.

Here’s how this is stated at the Common Core State Standard website*:

The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life…

The standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person who is prepared for success in the 21st century.

But where is the vision for the development of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), literacy in the ability to empathize, communicate, hope, and persevere?

Believe it or not, it’s in the standards, too.

Two examples:

1.        One Common Core Math Standard expects the following outcome:  Students make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

In order to manage this achievement, students need to be self-efficient, willing to work, attentive, determined, and optimistic that they will make sense of and solve problems, all benchmarks of emotional growth and development. 

2.        In the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts for Grade 3, one finds:

Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
Such description requires a working knowledge of emotions and emotional reactions and outcomes.

The earliest and easiest format for SEL and universal communication is storytelling.

Regardless of genre, the communal experiences of stories told:
•              Teach the basic format of narrative communication.

•              Offer strong, effective characterizations and clear actions in a time and place that give setting for the action. 

•              Nurture creative thinking and imagination, necessary problem-solving and if-then processing skills in science, math, and life.

•              Encourage reflection, dialogue, and research, as well as an appreciation for clarity in language usage and descriptive phrasing.
•              Connect participants to culture, heritage, and history.

•              Cross and connect communities, and generations.


We must give our children a working knowledge of the world around them.  We must also encourage them to discover, create, or maintain skills that will help them to persevere in that world, and to seek ways of keeping that interconnected world thriving and alive.  We can do that, by sharing our stories, and hearing theirs.

Storyteller, author, and professor Peninnah Schram says, "Since storytelling is a dialogue, shared stories create more understanding; bring people closer together as a community; and serve as a string that binds one heart to another. (And I believe that the universe is made up of string.)"

Lynette (Lyn) Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller and teaching artist for the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, as well as a contributor to several books on storytelling in education, including The Storytelling Classroom:  Applications Across the Curriculum.  Lyn is the author of Affrilachian Tales:  Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition, and Beyond the Briar Patch.