The stories which are given in the following pages are for the most part those which I have found to be best liked by the children to whom I have told these and others. I have tried to reproduce the form in which I actually tell them, — although that inevitably varies with every repetition, — feeling that it would be of greater value to another story-teller than a more closely literary form.
For the same reason, I have confined my statements of theory as to method, to those which reflect my own experience; my “rules” were drawn from introspection and retrospection, at the urging of others, long after the instinctive method they exemplify had become habitual.
These facts are the basis of my hope that the book may be of use to those who have much to do with children.
It would be impossible, in the space of any pardonable preface, to name the teachers, mothers, and librarians who have given me hints and helps during the past few years of story-telling. But I cannot let these pages go to press without recording my especial indebtedness to the few persons without whose interested aid the little book would scarcely have come to be. They are: Mrs Elizabeth Young Rutan, at whose generous instance I first enlarged my own field of entertaining story-telling to include hers, of educational narrative, and from whom I had many valuable suggestions at that time; Miss Ella L. Sweeney, assistant superintendent of schools, Providence, R.I., to whom I owe exceptional opportunities for investigation and experiment; Mrs Root, children’s librarian of Providence Public Library, and Miss Alice M. Jordan, Boston Public Library, children’s room, to whom I am indebted for much gracious and efficient aid.
My thanks are due also to Mr David Nutt for permission to make use of three stories from English Fairy Tales, by Mr Joseph Jacobs, and Raggylug, from Wild Animals I have Known, by Mr Ernest Thompson Seton; to Messrs Frederick A. Stokes Company for Five Little White Heads, by Walter Learned, and for Bird Thoughts; to Messrs Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd. for The Burning of the Ricefields, from Gleanings in Buddha-Fields, by Mr Lafcadio Hearn; to Messrs H.R. Allenson Ltd. for three stories from The Golden Windows, by Miss Laura E. Richards; and to Mr Seumas McManus for Billy Beg and his Bull, from In Chimney Corners.
Not long ago, I chanced to open a magazine at a story of Italian life which dealt with a curious popular custom. It told of the love of the people for the performances of a strangely clad, periodically appearing old man who was a professional story-teller. This old man repeated whole cycles of myth and serials of popular history, holding his audience-chamber in whatever corner of the open court or square he happened upon, and always surrounded by an eager crowd of listeners. So great was the respect in which the story-teller was held, that any interruption was likely to be resented with violence.
As I read of the absorbed silence and the changing expressions of the crowd about the old man, I was suddenly reminded of a company of people I had recently seen. They were gathered in one of the parlours of a women’s college, and their serious young faces had, habitually, none of the childlike responsiveness of the Italian populace; they were suggestive, rather, of a daily experience which precluded over-much surprise or curiosity about anything. In the midst of the group stood a frail-looking woman with bright eyes. She was telling a story, a children’s story, about a good and a bad little mouse.
She had been asked to do that thing, for a purpose, and she did it, therefore. But it was easy to see from the expressions of the listeners how trivial a thing it seemed to them.
That was at first. But presently the room grew quieter; and yet quieter. The faces relaxed into amused smiles, sobered in unconscious sympathy, finally broke in ripples of mirth. The story-teller had come to her own.