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The following article describes a recent Tim Jennings workshop residency at a local school. (Camels Hump is the name of a nearby distinctively-shaped mountain.) Tim has been doing from two to eight weeks of this kind of work per year for the past fifteen years.

Burlington Free Press /*/ January 1998 /*/ Learning

Camels Hump students

learn art of storytelling

Anne Geggis

With all the hand-held, blast'em and smash'em electronic games and storybooks with pushbutton sound out there, it's easy to be concerned that the simple virtue found in learning to tell a story or listen to one could be lost on the next generation.

Through inspiration by his father's stories, author Frank McCourt emerged from his harrowing childhood in bone-chilling poverty to become a fixture on the New York Times bestseller list with his own story, "Angela's Ashes."

As the first-time novelist in his 50s tells it, his younger self drew strength from the story of a freedom-fighting Irish hero to break the chains he had been born into. Somehow, "Game Boy Pocket" doesn't seem to have the same potential.

They're doing their part at Camel's Hump Middle School in Richmond to make sure that the tradition that's been around as long as human language continues. Storyteller Tim Jennings completed a three-week artist-in-residency there, in which he taught fifth-graders how to tell a story. Not just recite a story, mind you, but telling a story with arms, hands, and expression.

"I've been making a living telling stories for 20 years, now, and I do find there's something very basic about it," Jennings said. "It's as basic as eating, as basic as talking, and a lot more basic than reading.

"It's one of the main things that language was invented to do."

Jennings came to the school through a grant from the Vermont Council on the Arts, which paid for half the cost. Businesses and individuals matched the grant. Jennings worked with kids in big groups, little groups and on an individual basis.

It all culminated in an assembly of storytelling the day before Christmas vacation started. Mount Mansfield Cable Access Channel was there to record the proceedings for posterity. The local cable channel will show the tape this month.

"I hope we're not going to have to edit it that much, because it was so fantastic," said Marie Thomas, who does videography for the channel. "I was on the floor laughing half the time. It was wonderful to watch."

Eleven year old Elliot Wilkinson-Ray of Richmond told a fairytale called "The Lighter." A soldier coming back from the war meets a witch, becomes rich, marries a princess, and then is crowned king.

"It was really fun," Elliot said. "I wasn't very good at first, but I learned how to be a lot better."

Teacher Marcia Morrell said the storytelling unit fit in with the Vermont Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities requirement that children learn to use expressive language.

"What was exciting to us was that some of the children who aren't necessarily the most talkative or outgoing members of the class were the ones that really shone," Morrell said. "The ones that are more active were the ones that could put more energy into their storytelling."


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