“When did your storytelling begin?” Our speaker* showed a photo of herself as a little girl. Although I’d never thought of myself as a storyteller, an image of a flannelgraph board popped into my head.

Funny how I’d forgotten about that.

My siblings Blake (at left behind couch), Danny (front middle), and Marla and Doug (top right). I'm the one holding the flannelgraph board.
My siblings Blake (at left behind couch), Danny (front middle),
and Marla and Doug (top right). I’m the one holding the flannelgraph board.

Storytelling for me began with “story-listening.” My first grade teacher told us wonderful tales and let us read whatever we wanted when our work was done. At age eight I read at night under the covers by flashlight. In fourth grade, I checked out from the library the maximum number of books allowed. In junior high I often read while sitting on a branch in our willow tree. In high school I’d flop on my bed with a book and an apple or two. (My poor sister had to put up with apple cores stashed under my bed.)

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,  you must first invent the universe. -Carl Sagan
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,
you must first invent the universe. -Carl Sagan

From Flannelgraph to Drama
Seventh grade was when I started telling flannelgraph stories, usually classics like The Three Bears. My reverence for authors was so deep the thought never occurred to me that ordinary people could become writers. So I continued just telling stories, such as ghost stories like the ones I heard at camp. In the dark I added new twists, the scarier the better.

We loved watching TV westerns. When my mom shooed us outside, we used whatever was available (cardboard boxes, garbage cans, and step stools) to build a stagecoach that we tethered to a wooden bouncy horse. I’d sit in the driver’s seat up top, tugging on the reins, and my brother would tie a bandana over his face and rob the stage. We made up the plot along the way, totally absorbed in our imaginary world. Little did I realize how those hours of playing would compel me years later to write my own stories.

In my dreams...
In my dreams…

You, Too
I hope my childhood pastimes have made you recall some formative experiences. If so, I’d love to hear about them. Thanks!

By the way, these days I use a flannelgraph board for telling Bible stories to my grandkids. The plots are unbeatable, not to mention the appreciative audience!

*Special thanks to Janalyn Voigt for speaking to us at the NCWA (Northwest Christian Writers Association) in March, 2015.

posted on March 10, 2015

9 thoughts on “Storytelling

  1. A lovely bit of nostalgia, Norma. It brings back memories for me of writing and illustrating “new” Nancy Drew stories. I remember my girl detective’s name was Ann Harding. So original–not! I always wanted the story to look like real type, so you can imagine how far I got. Thanks for posting. Great photo, too.

    1. Aha – I knew you did some early writing but couldn’t remember what it was. You illustrated them, too? Wow. That was a new one to me. Sure is fun to think about those days. Thanks for sharing, Judy!

      1. Yeah, at that time I enjoyed drawing even more than writing. I also remember trying to put together a newspaper on several occasions (not to mention “new” Katy Keene comics), but I never got as far as your granddaughters. I agree–it’s fun to remember those days now.

      2. Yet your newspaper ambitions led you to edit at least one newspaper if I recall right. And who knows – maybe you’ll take up drawing again. 🙂

      3. You’re right, Norma. Quite by accident in every case, I wound up writing for four newspapers (two college and two professional), helped edit two (one college and one professional), then taught journalism for 12 years and was the adviser for a couple of college papers. My drawing, alas, is sadly out of practice. But–along with you–I loved Westerns when I was a kid! Still do (old ones, anyway). It’s fun to look back on what we did as youngsters to see how that has affected our adult lives. (:

    1. I didn’t know you liked Westerns, too. Thanks, Janalyn, for commenting and for inspiring me to blog about my storytelling roots!

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