by Vicki Palmquist
Looking for hours of fun with a book the whole family can enjoy … or one person can easily study to learn to write or tell a story … better? Then you’ll want to give this a try: How to Tell a Story, written by Daniel Nayeri, illustrated by Brian Won, and published by Workman Publishing in 2015.
This book comes in a box. Inside the box there’s a small-format book (5−1÷4” x 5−1÷4”, 143 pages) with lots of illustrations and visual cues to help understand the many ways telling a story can be not only fun but interesting and challenging.
To help you “get ideas,” which kids often feel is the toughest part of writing or storytelling, there are 20 cubes. Each face of the cube contains a character, object, place, adjective (description or emotion), action, or relationship. They’re color-coded so you can set particular parameters for your “game play” or the challenge you’ve made for yourself.
With chapters on conflict, motivation, dialogue, character, plot, and theme, the basics of storytelling are packed into this guide.
The author has included a number of games that can be played with two, up to 20, blocks. For instance, in “Debate,” we’ll roll 10 blocks. We’ll choose two blue blocks and one red block. Nayeri writes, “Oh, no! There’s a deadly storm on the horizon and Captain Lark has to decide what to do with a ship full of precious (blue block), the crew of (red block), and the magical (other blue block), which can only be used to save one person or thing. What should Captain Lark save first? Why? Come up with enough stories to argue for saving either the precious (blue block), the crew of (red block), or himself.” My fingers are itching to roll the blocks, aren’t yours?
The blocks can be used in simple ways with young children or they can be engrossing for adults. The author is very instructive in the text:
“As our storyteller, if you start in the middle, then you’re going to have to introduce us to the important bits of the backstory as they become necessary.
“The ancient Roman poet Horace called this method IN MEDIA RES, which means “in the middle of things.” He recommended telling stories this way so you can jump straight into the action and fill out the details as you go.”
The illustrations by Brian Won are appealing to children, teens, and adults. They’re the same style as those used on the blocks (and often the same images) so we feel a connection. They’re descriptive enough so that our brains begin making stories out of them immediately, but not so reductive that they only convey one possibility.
That’s the beauty of this set of story starters. There’s a myriad of ways to use them, to learn from them, to play games with them, and to have fun. This is a perfect gift for the storytellers in your family.