Everyone loves listening to a good story – this is true regardless of whether you’re a toddler or a grown adult. There’s something magical about a well-told story that kinders joy and excitement within us, it is a powerful tool that can empower as much as it heals. While many of us may not hesitate to take our children to storytelling sessions, we wouldn’t consider that we are in a perfect position to try and recreate that magic in small doses within our own homes. Today we speak with professional storyteller Durgah Devi Palanisamy, or Dee Palanisamy as she’s better known, about her journey and passion for this wonderful art form. She also shares with us advice on how we can step up our game and make our children fall in love with stories at home!
Tell us about your journey. Where did you start, what were the challenges and who was your greatest support?
My journey as a storyteller began with my mother. She always emphasized on the the importance of reading and I told my first story in Primary 4 at a school competition. I have always loved reading stories, and my work as a drama educator allowed me to tell and use stories in my classroom. Stories are the backbone of my work and I enjoyed building drama curriculum based on stories and rhymes. In 2008, I met a professional storyteller and was amazed that people actually do this professionally and make a living out of it! I started to read more and began to learn the craft of being an oral storyteller. After I migrated to Australia and questioned what I really wanted to do, it was clear to me that I wanted to tell stories to people for the rest of my life, so, here I am! The biggest challenge is to show people that Storytelling is an incredible art form. A lot of people ask me; Storyteller? I have never heard of that. What is that? Is that not only for children? It is educating people that this oral tradition serves adults as well as children. My biggest support is definitely my family; my husband Kumar and my three children and the storytelling community in Australia and Singapore.
Why are stories important for children?
Stories are important, because they provide children the best means to use their imagination. My favourite quote by Albert Einstein is, “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge”, and stories are enagaing, enjoyable and educational. It is important to share stories with children, so that they learn about values such as kindness, generosity, jealousy, empathy, etc.
What does the work of a storyteller involve? Do you have a typical day?
There is no “typical day” in my work, although I do not speak for all storytellers. My work involves a lot of reading stories and listening to storytelling podcasts. I work on crafting the stories I want to tell and explore on techniques that is best used when sharing the stories. At the moment, I am working on creating a storytelling based curriculum and a story-blogging my experiences as a parent of three.
What would you say is the strongest highlight of your work for you?
The highlight for me is definitely the recgonition and enthusiasm of the audience, children and adult alike. I love sharing these stories and it is the best feeling for me when the stories resonate with the people listening to it. It is a fulfilling and satisfying feeling.
Storytelling is a powerful tool to capture the minds and hearts of children. How can it be used by parents/caregivers to help promote a love for language in the home?
Use, use and use it some more. Consistently telling stories can create the awareness of words, how it sounds and the more parents/caregivers continue to use the language, they are sharing a space that will encourage the love of stories and literacy.
The best thing to do is to actually just start.Start telling the stories you are familiar with. I love Aesop fables and the Paati vadai sutta kathai. Use expression to make it interesting for the children. Remember that our voice and words are the greatest gift as storytellers. Make it enjoyable and exciting for you and immediately, it will be an amazing experience for the kutties. Stay with the idea that storytelling is for EVERYONE and it is a shared activity for all at home.
Reading aloud a story vs storytelling. What are the main differences?
They are two completely different forms and use various skills. Reading aloud is mostly with a book and follows a visual cue (text and illustrations). Storytelling is completely about creating an interaction between the teller and audience. The storyteller does not read from a book/ notes and shares a story that creates a connection with the listeners.
What do you have to say to a caregiver who is too shy to give storytelling a try at home?
Try it and keep trying. The whole point of sharing stories is that is in fun! Start with a simple story, even one with just pictures. There are so many resources (books/ websites/ you tube). Pick a simple story to start with and learn the plot. After that, it really is just about sharing it. Also, it is a great way to communicate with children.
How do you go about choosing a story? Are there certain types of stories that you like more than others/ work better than others?
As I mentioned, there are several resources. The library has a section 398.2 for stories, and that is a great place to start. Otherwise, the children’s section also has plenty of literature. Personally, I love folktales. There are specific to regions and have so much value in the stories. When I was little, my appa used to gift me ‘Amar Chita Katha’ books and honestly, it is a fundamental reason for my love of stories. Stories also a great way to introduce children to cultures and practices around the world. I know what I have learnt new things just by listening and sharing stories.
Do you have a storytelling tool box and what treasures are hidden in it?
Over the years of being a Speech and drama facilitator and storyteller, I have a growing collection of puppets and props! I use them compliment my stories when appropriate. I have big puppets (usually folkmanis puppets, because they are so beautiful, and little finger puppets that I have in my storybag! I love my treasures and keep on adding to it whenever I can!
What are your thoughts on the Tamil picture book market of today? What kind of stories do you hope to see more of?
I can see that this is definitely a steadily, growing market. It is really enjoyable to see more good, quality resources available to children. I hope to see more stories in Tamil that are useful in communicating the origin of certain celebrations, stories that highlight values and morals and help children identify and share feelings and emotions. Parents and caregivers must see that stories are a wonderful and fun way of learning.
What is your favourite nursery rhyme and why?
My favourite nursey rhyme is twinkle, twinkle little star. It is something my family would sing to me regularly as a child and when I was a drama facilitator in Singapore, I really enjoyed listening to it being sung in Chinese. This is also the first rhyme I translated to tamil to use in my stories. It is a rhyme that is simple and a lot of fun.
Do you have any plans of coming to Singapore for storytelling sessions?
Definitely! As a storyteller and an educator, my heart lies in making my work accessible to more teachers, parents and caregivers. It’s like that Chinese proverb. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an opportunity that will feed him for a lifetime.” I want to do this for people, which is why I am currently creating a storytelling toolkit to be made available online. I hope to take this workshop to Singapore for sure! As I say, stories are the wings beneath my wings and I will go wherever they take me.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your followers. I wish you all the best in your undertakings.
You can find out more about Dee’s work here:
All images are the property of Dee Palanisamy