Crafting Personal Vision in Telling Folktales

Crafting Personal Vision in Telling Folktales
By: Heather Forest

This article is written by Heather Forest and is C. 1998. This is an excerpt from her article by the same name that has been republished with permission of the author.

My interest in folktales began with an enthusiasm for the folksongs I sang in my early teens. As a budding guitarist of fourteen, I learned to sing along with folksong records and taught myself the words to old tunes from folksong books. I never learned to read music formally, but there was enough music in the air due to the folksong revival of the sixties, that I was able to learn the songs by ear. I especially enjoyed ballads because they had a plot. My favorite moment in singing any song was the very last moment of the song, the “edge” between the song’s last vibration on the guitar and silence.

It was a magical stepping off place back into my everyday life. The sense of completion at the last breath of song was totally satisfying and I recall singing my way through the many verses of a ballad just to arrive at the end moment. Singing could transform my mood. Once I’d traveled through the song, I arrived at a new place in time. I’d spent the time well. Those moments would never return. I was that many minutes older, but somehow, compared to my daily chores in the house where I grew up, the minutes spent were renewing. The songs were my company, my friends, and my solace. They were things I was too young to understand. The child in me still celebrates that last moment and the journey. Now the songs have widened into tales.

In my early twenties, when I began to create my own folksongs based on the ballad form, I found the public library to be an endless source of inspiration in the 398.2 folktale section. As a child, I had always enjoyed reading mythology and folktales. As a budding composer I discovered I could wander the world reading plots from cultures around the globe and create songs out of them. When a plot touched me deeply, I would set it on my creative back burners and just think about it for a long time. Some stories sat silent for months, others years.

Eventually I would face the tale and try to understand my attraction to it. As in a dream, I thought, I’m probably everybody in the story. Maybe there was a sense of familiarity about the tale, as though it was really about something that happened to me. Or, maybe there was something I needed to learn from the tale. Maybe it healed me. Maybe it made me face myself, by telling it again and again. There is a freeing anonymity and at the same time, a revealing vulnerability in telling a folktale.

Heather Forest weaves a spell with the magic of words. She is both a prolific author of folktale books and an expert, noted performing artist.

The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author. Articles are under © and should not be used without permission of the author. Contact us if you have questions.

Three Things to Know About Bedtime Stories

the cover of the daddyteller book with a small boy standing, a man kneeling and the two are gently bumping foreheads togetherMost every parent knows the request for “I want a fun bedtime story” issued by their little ones. Here are three tips about bedtime stories that are fun for you and them.

1. Learn to tell stories and not just read them.

You are not limited to the books you have on your shelf, from the bookstore or library. Stories existed and were passed on well before cheap printing was available. Put down the book and give your kids the gift of looking them in the eye while you talk with them. Learn to tell, not just read stories, to your children. Explore guides like the “DaddyTeller”™ book that teaches Dads (and Moms, too) how to be heroes to their children while passing on family values through one simple story at a time. Storytelling techniques are easy to learn in a step-by-step book such as “DaddyTeller.”™

2. Storytelling improves literacy and math skills.

You might be thinking, “Bedtime stories improve literacy? Telling stories for children can make math scores improve?” These are surprise benefits of bedtime stories! All this time you thought you were just trying to get your little monkeys to go down to sleep. Your bedtime story also helps your child grow intellectually! Children who hear and tell stories subtly learn skills such as sequencing, categorizing, imaginative play, prediction, characterization and more. Even if you do not know what all those terms mean, your kid’s brain is subconsciously practicing and applying these skills.

3. Bedtime stories benefit you, the parent, too.

Let us not forget the benefits to parents of storytelling with your children. No matter if you read books or tell stories, you are taking the time to slow down and bond with this little one whom you love so much. For many parents, our days are filled with much rushing around. Take the time in the evening to snuggle with your child. You are creating memories for both you and them. You’ll need these memories for when your preschooler turns teen one-day and has learned to push all your panic buttons. Sit down to share a story with your child and lower your blood pressure. Sit down and tell a story while you pay special attention to how you, not the TV or Internet, have these moments to educate your child and pass on your values through the stories you choose.

Choose a bedtime story tonight and grow the good things in the lives of you and your child.

Sean Buvala is the executive director of the internationally recognized He is also the author of the book “DaddyTeller™: Be a Hero to Your Kids and Teach Them What’s Really Important by Telling Them One Simple Story at a Time.” You can order the book at

Review: Teaching with Story Classroom Connections to Storytelling

Storyteller learn storytelling with this book from margaret read macdonald. shows teacher teaching hand movements with kids.One of our joys here at is finding the books that are the must-haves for storytellers in a variety of settings and styles. Along with Margaret Read MacDonald’s “Storyteller’s Start-Up” book, her new group-project book (with Jennifer MacDonald Whitman and Nathaniel Forrest Whitman) is a must-have for anyone working with children in the elementary-school range, which is about ages 5-12.

Teaching with Story: Classroom Connections to Storytelling” is a strong book for teachers. Looking through our review copy, which was provided by August House Publishers, we were glad to find not only suggested storytelling techniques for teachers but also a very good set of stories for telling. Starting with chapter after chapter covering the “Seven C’s of Storytelling” such as Curriculum, Character and Cultural Connection, readers dive deeper into the why and how of storytelling in the classroom.

Don’t miss the very brief but important paragraphs about “story grammar” starting on page 47 of the printed book. While some may believe that “everyone” is a storyteller, good storytellers consciously understand the structure of story and how that effects and affects their listeners, helping them to be co-creators of the storytelling experience. Teaching this structure to all storytellers, regardless of age, is an important step in all of us having better experiences with stories.

Following the initial “Seven C’s,” you’ll find a chapter on how to create your own stories. Most of what you find in this section of the book won’t be new to seasoned storytellers, but it’s especially good for educators new to intentional storytelling who want to learn how to tell a story and make it their own.

The last segment of the book deals with Research and Standards. Here the book shines in a different light as more attention is being placed upon “Common Core Standards.” Backing up the fun of the first two sections of the book, the authors make connections to how science and research supports the use of storytelling in the classroom and its effect on learning and memory.

As with most of Dr. MacDonald’s works, a set of learn-more resources (including our site) is listed in the book as well as a complete index. This is a varied and interesting book that we think you’ll use often as you search for curriculum and stories for your students.

Get Yours:

This article first appeared in 2015.

Two Plus One is Greater than Three: The Presence of the Number 3 in Fairytales and Folklore

(1+2) < 3: The Presence of the Number Three in Folktales

By: K. Sean Buvala

As storytelling has moved from its perceived position of a folk art to more mainstream recognition, the inevitable attempts to classify, catalog and define it become more ambitious. Storytelling is now a subject one can “take” for college credit. Although I believe that the learning of storytelling in a focused environment is overall a positive area of growth for storytelling, along with these classroom opportunities comes the need to create and memorize definitions of the characteristics of different types of stories.

Three wedding rings stacked on a dark background

For many storytellers, educators and folklorists, the classification of a “folktale” requires that it include some reference to the number or sets of three. Such stories as the “Three Blind Mice,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” and “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” are common examples of the titles and subjects of basic folktales reflecting this concept. Although I do not believe that the classification of a story as a folktale should be limited by the “number three” requirement, such a requirement for classifications does elicit several questions. Why the focus on the use of the number three? What does the number three represent?

Finding a consensus as to the “reason” for the use of the number three is a challenge. Many common folktales told in the United States in classrooms and popular iconic culture, think here of the epic Disney animations, have their roots in European folklore from collectors and authors such as the Grimm Brothers and Joseph Jacobs. Like many other choices for sacred numbers in a variety of world cultures, the choice of the European use of the number three seems to have several possibilities. References to the symbolic use of the number three in Christianity abound and perhaps make the most commonly used explanations. A central tenant of Christianity is the concept of the Trinity, that is, the person of God is created by the presence of three persons within that God: the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier or more traditionally: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Other examples include Jesus being visited by three kings at his birth and his three days in the tomb before his resurrection.

Other reasons for the prevalence of the number three in folktales include our need as human beings to create order from chaos. In storytelling, chaos results when player one and player two attempt to succeed at a task, but through their own failure or our moral shortcomings are unable to complete that task. Then the third player, naturally more powerful than the first two, succeeds at the task, seeking the perfection of the story. Consider the common stories of “Cinderella” to illustrate this point: the evil stepsisters conspire against Cinderella. A more accurate depiction of this story would be the Irish Cinderella variant of “Fair, Brown and Trembling” where there is no “evil step mother” to throw off the equation of two conspiring against one (Glassie 257). This explanation of the number three, in the world of storytelling, might be written as: (1+2) < 3.

Having a third option or character allows for some a gray middle in a world of black and white extremes. The number three pierces the polarity of the points of one and two (Schneider 39). This third provides the balance of youngest to older and oldest, industrious to lazy and laziest, just right to too hard and too soft, the option between the yes and no. Psychologist Carl Jung offers another view of the power of three. He wrote, “Every tension of opposites culminates in a release, out of which comes the ‘third’. In the third, the tension is resolved and the lost unity is restored” (qtd in Schneider 38).

There is an essential problem with requiring the use of sets of three in the litmus test of what is and what is not a folktale: not all cultures use three as a sacred number. There is a large range of numbers which are considered sacred. For example, it is common in both Judaism and Christianity (with its roots in Judaism) that the number seven is a sacred number. The number seven appears in the Bible and the Torah more often than any other number. In such numerology, the number seven is a venerated number (Schneider 222). Some earth-centered societies, such as some Native American cultures, use four as a sacred number recognizing the natural nature of four in such things as the four seasons and the four points of the compass. In Islam, the number five serves as a sacred number (Stewart).

The number three in stories and narratives is not limited to folktales of the century of the 1800’s and previous. In the following “math joke” there are two uses of the number three. Even in this modern story, three is represented in the presence of the three characters and three conclusions:

Three men are in a hot-air balloon. Soon, they find themselves lost in a canyon somewhere. One of the three men says, “I’ve got an idea. We can call for help in this canyon and the echo will carry our voices far.” So he leans over the basket and yells out, “Helllloooooo! Where are we?” They then heard the echo several times. 15 minutes later, they hear this echoing voice: “Helllloooooo! You’re in a hot-air balloon!” One of the men says, “That must have been a mathematician.” Puzzled, one of the other men asks, “Why do you say that?” [the man replied] “For three reasons. (1) He took a long time to answer, (2) He was absolutely correct, and (3) his answer was absolutely useless.” (Melzer).

One of the challenges of teaching storytelling in an academic setting is the difficulty in defining “What is storytelling?” The use of the number three is not a common to all folktales of all cultures. However, when the number three is present, then there are a variety of reasons that the authors or collectors have chosen to use that number. These can range from possible religious connections to breaking the tensions of only two diverse and polarizing choices. Perhaps the authors of the “number three” folktales as well as the collective wisdom of the many ancestors who have passed on those tales, have always intended this to be the moral of folktales: see the two sides and find the truth in between those choices.

Transcending cultural issues, there is an essential number three in all storytelling. A story can not be complete without the triune presence of beginning, middle and end.

(Posted 2007)

Works Cited

Glassie, Henry H. Irish Folktales. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.

Melzer Ingo. My Favorite Math Jokes. 6 November 1997. 30 June 2007. .

“Number Symbolism.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 4 July 2007. .

Schneider, Michael S. A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1994.

Stewart, Ian. “Numbers Symbolism, Part II: Numbers 1-5.” 10 April 2007. 4 July 2007.

K. Sean Buvala is a storyteller, coach and author living in Arizona. He’s been in the storytelling arts since 1986. Article first published in 2007.

The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author. Articles are under © and should not be used without permission of the author. Contact us if you have questions.

Review: How to Fool a Cat

the cover of how to fool a cat with a simple drawing of a cat laying on its backHow to Fool a Cat: Japanese Folktales for Children” (find it at by Fran Stallings and Hiroko Fujita is both entertaining to read and useful for families and classrooms. The book divides the many stories presented into like-minded categories for easy program building or for when you are looking for a specific theme.

We like the non-story parts as well. The comments from Fujita and notes from Stallings give you more background into the stories you will read and possibly retell. In each story, there is a generous sharing of words in Japanese to bring an authentic feel to those who are not familiar with the Japanese culture. The occasional storytelling tip is appropriate for these stories and useful especially for the novice storyteller. Those with more advanced experience as a performing artist will appreciate the brush-up that the tips provide.

Here is what we think you will really like: these stories, even in the written form, are active and visual, perfect for entertaining the young child or for your own amusement as you envision the storyteller sharing these tales. Use this book to help your research into presenting the stories or stories that are similar, although we think that for most U.S. audiences these stories will be brand-new. If you are working with young children, you’ll keep this well-constructed book on the frequently-used shelf.

The publisher sent us a physical copy of this book to facilitate our review. – Reviews.

This article first appeared in 2016.