True tales of difficult cousins, bad bubblegum experiences and bossy big sisters and brothers have all been fodder for some young storytellers at North Heights over the last few weeks.

The fine art of storytelling has been a major focus for students across the area lately, as they prepare for the 2018 Big Fibbers Storytelling Festival.

At North Heights Elementary, about 20 students — all girls - have been working hard to hone their stories with the help of local storyteller Jane Cunningham. Cunningham has visited the school six times during the ASPIRE after school program to help the group get comfortable with sharing their stories, as well as teaching them how to use body language and facial expressions to add to their tale.

“I love to hear their stories,” Cunningham said. “I love letting them know they have a story to tell.”

The Debby Brown Young Tales Storytelling and Writing Program — which is part of the Big Fibbers festival — gives each student that participates a red notebook so they may jot down their ideas. Local storytellers visit area schools and bring the notebooks and ask the students to make notes about things in their lives they want to tell stories about. These things are often something they may have gotten scolded for or something unusual that has happened to them.

“It helps us to talk about things we have done,” said Avielle Beedles, North Heights student. “It helps to get it out. We get to learn different stories and watch storytellers from other places, too.”

They are asked to share their stories and what they learned from the experience. After practicing telling their stories to their peers and to Cunningham, they are encouraged to write their story in their notebooks. These notebooks will serve as their admission to the storytelling festival in March. Several students also will be picked to compete in the Young Tales competition.

“I like this program because the kids get very involved,” explained North Heights teacher Felicia Hall, who was helping out during the storytelling workshop. “Lots of times, they don’t get to tell their stories and this gives them a chance. It also gives them presentation skills.”

The camaraderie amongst the girls participating in the workshop has been a wonderful thing to see. As each girl is asked to stand up and share their story or perhaps recite a story that Cunningham has taught them, the others encourage, and sometimes even plead, with her to do it.

“We want to hear your story,” said Zakeria Heath, as she sat watching her friends share their tales.

Terrell Shaw, president of the Ridge & Valley Storytelling Guild, which sponsors the festival, said he thinks storytelling is a great way to teach children and to get them interested in all types of subjects.

“I started teaching in 1969,” he said. “I’ve used some storytelling methods all along. We talk before we write. I find that kids can get involved in folktales and it makes them want to learn about history. This is a great way to get students to appreciate creative writing in elementary school.”

The benefits don’t stop at just writing, however, he added.

“It helps in social studies, history, even science,” he said. “If you can tell a story, it makes it more real, less dry. It helps it stick in their minds.”