English teacher turned story teller extraordinaire, Sherry, talks to MumAbroad about the importance of reading to our children from a young age, why stories should be part of every childhood and the art of story-telling.
Children’s stories haven’t always been a big part of my world. Just 4 years ago I would never have thought that I would be heavily engrossed in the world of ‘the little ones’ – and loving every second of it.
I had taken the big, scary step of throwing in the towel at my office job as a technical support specialist in Barcelona – it just wasn’t rewarding and didn’t feel right. I had a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification as well as a ‘Young Learners’ teaching certificate to fall back on so, I gave in my notice and applied for a job as an English nursery teacher – within weeks I was working in an enchanted white castle-like nursery called Gimbebé that is located in Gavá Mar directly on the beach-front – it was new territory, but week after week the rewards came in.
Daily, I was surrounded by hundreds of tiny, smiling (and crying) ‘magical’ spiritual beings in the form of children that emitted a constant supply of smiles, laughter, naughtiness, cuts and scrapes, snotty noses, funny sounds, and pure natural awe at all the small things around them.
I loved bringing-in my own English story books and reading to the little ones, they didn’t care that the book was in English (the children at the nursery were mostly Catalan, Spanish or French). They were fully absorbed by the pictures, my voice, and gestures. They got the gist of the stories in no time, and they never tired of hearing the same story over and over again as repetition is how they learn and understand. They would gasp and go rigid from the suspension of the next page – that they had already seen 100 times. I had the pleasure of being amongst these little magical beings for almost 4 years.
Make sure you read to a child, starting at least by a time when they have only spent a few tender moments on this spinning planet. These dazzling stories will embed themselves deep into these bubbling little minds and trigger-off a series of essential emotional and physical experiences that will contribute to the learning process of the mind-boggling and precious ‘life’ that they, and we have all been given.
Firstly, it is well known that reading to children encourages: Mastery of language, communication skills, logical thinking skills, academic excellence, enhanced concentration and discipline.
It’s unbelievable what paper pages can do. Children get to be taken on a roller-coaster ride through a vast range of sensory adventures. Their thirsty minds get taken on a whirlwind tour of fantasies and individual experiences that are actually the brainchild of other adults known as ‘authors’ that have allowed their own busy imaginations to tap into and connect to the deep chambers that dwell within yet another imagination, that probably resonates side-by-side in their own inner land of ‘childhood’.
Books encourage role-play, exploration, knowledge, social and cultural experiences – and fantasy, oh – sooooo much fantasy!
I read a quote by C.S Lewis that stated ‘Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again’. ‘Hmmm, maybe that time is now!’ I thought – and then I wondered why on Earth we even completely stop reading children’s stories to ourselves as we grow older? Is there some kind of invisible rule? Do we think we’d be ridiculed if we would continue reading these wonderful stories unless we are reading to a child? So, I then picked myself up a bargain at a second-hand market that came in the form of a beautifully illustrated fairy-tale book that consisted of all the ‘Andersen, Grimm and Perrault’ tales, and I began to read, and read each night (I wanted to read it during the bus ride to work, but my adult self feared I’d be ridiculed by weird glances from my fellow passengers).
After a few stories, I came to the conclusion, that I ‘understood’ these stories better as a child! Many parts baffled me and led me to lift my head and ponder and think a whole lot more than when I had been a little girl absorbing every moment of the tale with wide eyes and an unquestioning mind. Now I as an adult I was thinking ‘What was the point of that? Why did the fox do that? In that situation I would have done this… How stupid’ (The Golden Bird, Grimm Brothers) I also found the tales a lot more brutal and cruel (for example Hansel and Gretel – my mind just kept screaming ‘A clear case of child abuse!’ ‘How could the dad allow that to happen!?’ ‘Why did he marry such a horrible woman?’ ‘What the hell is up with this witch?’ etc, etc).
But re-reading these children’s stories was an amazing experience, and I would recommend children’s stories to ALL adults. Start reading children’s books again! ‘You ARE old enough to start reading fairy tales again’! Do it and connect to that ‘little person’ that you once were. See through the eyes of a child again. Watch your older self keep butting-in and trying to spoil the story for you! Don’t only read the old fairy-tales, and the favourite ones of your childhood (Oh how I loved ‘Meg and Mog’ and ‘Miffy’ the Rabbit) but also browse and read the vast range of modern children’s books that are out there – books have moved on ahead like a run-away train. They are churned out by publishers on a daily basis and our still thirsty minds are missing-out if we don’t stop to read them! Don’t just read to a child, read to yourself too!
There are always many lessons and morals to be learned, not only for our ‘little one’s, but for us ‘big ones’ too – we have forgotten/neglected so many of these morals, messages, and sweet little gems found only in children’s storybooks. Pick-up a book and give yourself a beautiful reminder, it can work wonders. The illustrations alone are enough to brighten any day. Don’t let the little ones have all the fun – pick up a story-book and read, even if you don’t have children! It’s worth the ridicule and embarrassment that you may feel.
I love the books by the author Todd Parr. His illustrations are done in a ‘childish’ style that draws you straight to them. Depicted in a way that everyone can relate to. His illustrations are almost how children actually draw before we adults get hold of them and drill them on how to ‘draw properly’ and that’s the ‘magic’ about Todd Parr’s illustrations. It’s how ‘WE’ once drew and he hasn’t lost that. And ,although the messages in his stories are simple, they are truly amazing and touching. Todd Parr steers us directly to seeing, and hopefully making the world into the better place that it should be – full of love, kindness and compassion. His stories bathe us in the knowledge that we are all the same and there is no reason to dislike yourself or another person, that we must take care of ourselves, others, and our environment. It’s all done in such a simplified and colourful way that is easy to digest for the minds of our little ones – and us too. So, yes Todd Parr is one of my favourite authors!
There are so many great children’s authors, and I’m really glad that many of them are reaching even further into their busy imaginations. The characters in their books are rapidly evolving towards an even better understanding of our world, and acceptance of others. Children’s authors are tackling all sorts of themes and situations. What caught my eye was how they are dealing with disabilities – not only do some authors give the heroes of some stories a certain disability, but some of them don’t even mention the fact that the character in the story even has a disability – they are just yet another character in the story that just so happens to be in a wheelchair for instance, which I find so wonderful!
A new conscious way of thinking is being relayed in a series of topics throughout children’s books, whether it’s about spirituality, caring for our planet, dealing with our feelings, equality, or about a bossy older brother, books can make a big impact on how we treat ourselves, others, and how we shape the world of tomorrow.
I am sure physical books and the joy of turning over real paper pages will be around for a long, long time to come. I have no worries about e-books taking over. Most people have a vacuum-cleaner – AND a broom in their house, right?
It’s best to settle a child into a story-time routine. Bedtime is the prime time of course, but there is no specific rule – if there are 5 minutes to spare early in the morning on a school day, then so be it – a quick, fun story to mutually start the day off! Story-time on weekends are great and should be preformed regularly.
No sighing, if a child brings a book to you, take it with enthusiasm and read it! Even if it’s just a few pages and you have to tell them ‘We’ll read the rest later sweetie’. Children NEED stories. They have to be read with love, expression, and patience – or don’t read at all. Reading to a child can really take them to another time and place, and provide a wondrous memory that can last a lifetime – you get to be the one to provide this for them – so enjoy it – you are privileged to be the provider of such joy – treasure every look on their little faces as you read.
I had been buying my books on Amazon, then I was also told about ‘The Book Depository’ (www.bookdepository.com). The purchase price of children’s books were sometimes quite high (and nursery teachers don’t earn that much!) But the main thing that bothered me was that I couldn’t get to see the size of the books that were selling online, and it’s not stated for some reason. On quite a few occasions I was heavily let down upon receiving a book that seemed to be the size of a postage stamp! Try reading that to a group of kids! I soon began thirsting for more books, books in all different sizes and with stories for different age groups.
So, one year ago in mid January 2014, during a trip to the UK I was plodding around a car-boot sale (I love markets) with my sister in the middle of a huge farmers field in Essex (UK).That was the moment when the light-bulb finally went off and the idea of starting a children’s book business in Barcelona stared to be born! I’m in this farmers field and all I could see was books galore! I was surrounded by a vast array of children’s books at affordable prices and mostly in tip-top condition. ‘I’m bringing a suitcase load back to Barcelona for myself, and I’ll even try to sell a few to some of my teacher friends and a low price’ I cried with glee.
That same evening, my sister Jacqui and I were talking about bringing over books in bulk as we were sure there would be a demand as I knew that the few book shops in Barcelona that stocked children’s books in English were very, very expensive, and I knew that it’s a bit of a palaver bringing back books from the UK in your suitcase due to the weight restrictions and crazy prices for extra baggage allowance.
We started planning! We needed to cover all our costs, but still make the price of our books assessable to all, and make a little living for ourselves at the same time of course. My sister Jacqui would be responsible for getting the books in the UK and I’d be responsible for getting them out to the public in Barcelona.
Before I knew it, my sister had her contacts and suppliers and she was running around UK markets and attending shop clearances. Within days the courier arrived in Barcelona with over 1,000 children’s books on my doorstep. I gasped ‘Wow, this is it, no going back – I need to get bookings!’
Our first booking was on March 1st 2014 at The Community Institute of Languages in Grácia.
One year on, the interest is growing and growing, and Jacqui and I are still truly enjoying what we decided to do.
We called our book business ‘La Fira – The Children’s English Book-market’. We have LOTS of new and used English children’s books, and also games and interactive English speaking toys!
I now contact various organisations such as libraries, civic centres, baby groups, nurseries, cafés, schools, English institutes, etc in and around Barcelona, and I ask them if I can do free story-telling followed by a little book-market. I also am available for hire to come to an organisation to just do the story-telling and actions songs without the book-market.
‘La Fira’ has big plans! Of course we want to grow and grow. For that reason I took the big decision to end my job at the nursery in Gavá Mar and venture into this full-time.
At the moment I am visiting organisations and institutes doing little book-markets and doing story-telling, but I also invite people to contact me and come around for tea, biscuits and chat and browse all my stock as it’s not possible for me to bring all my books to the markets, and some great books get left at home.
It’s my aim to have an association where people can stop by with their children and listen to stories, do crafts (I’m a papier-mache addict!), take part in fun action songs, and also buy fairly priced new and used books on a regular basis, have face-painting done, and celebrate kids parties. I’d still travel to social organisations such as libraries and family orientated cafés as I love meeting people and their children and I want to reach as many people as possible – so far I have meet sooooo many lovely people. I also get to see parts of Barcelona and surrounding areas that I wouldn’t normally go to.
Being near children is so interesting and rewarding in ways I cannot describe! They don’t consider me as ‘their teacher’ anymore – they are ‘my teacher’ and I am just their guide. I love being close to their world and being able to enter into their magical Kingdom through story books and games. We should never completely stop being children – we should all switch back and forth between the world of the ‘little ones and the big ones’.
I will continue working and dwelling in the realm of the little ones.
My future vision for ‘La Fira’ is to expand in other educational regions by having my own storybooks published that consist of interactive stories that stimulate imaginations further and connect parent and child on a harmonious level. Having my own action-packed children’s educational English songs available is also on my list. I’ll have to brush the dust off my rapping voice! And who know, maybe one day I’ll have my own storytelling slot on Spanish T.V!
We really want to offer accessible story-books to children and give them the pleasure in hearing fabulous stories. I have set-up a Youtube channel that I’m filling with my story-telling for those children that are not able to access books for what-ever reason. I’d like to think that in far corners of the world where resources are not so readily available that there are some schools that have access to a computer and internet connection and are able to let the children listen to online stories so that they can also tap into the land of fairy-tales and amazing stories that they are due. I hope that these children manage to see and hear my story-telling videos and receive enjoyment from them!
As for over here in Barcelona, I’m also planning to do free story-telling sessions in the parks from time to time. Watch out for me!
Not only do the children need stories – you do too!
All information can be found on our website and social media sites. We’d love to hear from you, whether you belong to a business that is interested in our services, or if you are just a parent, teacher, etc who would like to stop by for tea, biscuits, a chat and a browse!