When I present workshops during author visits, I remind children that we are all storytellers and they can use their voices to tell their own stories. I encourage them to think about their families as they search for ideas. What better place to start than with your own culture, heritage, and memories.
Here are a few points to consider as you work with the children in your school, library, community center, or family, to inspire and empower storytelling based on personal history and family connections:
- Explore ritual objects from your family culture: Encourage a scavenger hunt around the child’s home. Find ritual objects that highlight the child’s religion, culture, or heritage and notice the details about the objects. Discuss stories the child can tell based on how their family uses the object, or any memories associated with family celebrations. For example, in PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (co-authored with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman, illustrated by Kate Talbot, Clear Fork Publishing 2021), my co-authors and I collaborated to tell the story of three girls from three different faith traditions who celebrate their similarities and differences as they grow together through a school planting project. We all included objects from our faith traditions throughout the book. I included Jewish objects such as a menorah, dreidel, and chocolate gelt used during the Chanukah celebration. These objects sparked meaningful conversations and connections and helped create heartfelt moments in the book.
- Interview Family Members: Children can interview family members over the phone, online, or through letters. Ask questions such as: tell me about a favorite time when you were young? Do you have any immigration stories to tell? Tell me about hardships or joys in your life. Share a time you were kind. Tell me about your favorite trip, pet, family member, or friend. Also end the interview with the question, “Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share?” This question often elicits wonderful stories and encourages family connections. In SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES (illustrated by Lisa Goldberg, Clear Fork 2020), I interviewed family members and included stories from my family history as vignettes through the book. These details provided the backbone, structure, and heart of the story which is all about a girl who learns to tell her own unique stories, just like her beloved grandmother.
- Engage with Family Photos: Encourage children to look closely at the details in family photos. Notice clothing, heirlooms, expressions, setting, people, pets, and more. Children can create stories about what they think is happening in the photos, or ask relatives for actual details. In my chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (illustrated by Callie Metler, Clear Fork 2017), I included a photo of my grandparents at the back of the book. I used this photo for guidance as I wrote this time-travel adventure book based on stories my grandmother told me about when she met my grandfather on the Coney Island trolley during the 1920s. All my family photos provided details about clothing, hair styles, and setting as I researched the time period for the story. And they inspired ideas throughout my writing process.
So next time the young readers and writers in your life are stumped about generating ideas, remind them that stories can be found right in their own family histories, heirlooms, and photographs in their homes, and in the memories of their relatives. Enjoy creativity and taking those idea generators in new directions, as far as the creative imagination can reach. And remember – we are all storytellers, able to use our unique voices to tell the stories only we can tell.
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush; Ready, Set, GOrilla!; and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (co-written with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman, illustrated by Kate Talbot), released from Clear Fork Publishing in October, 2021. Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. She also interviews authors on her blog, This Writing Life, and offers book tips and resources. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and Wordle! www.MelissaStoller.com