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- The Story Hour - 1/19 -
THE STORY HOUR
A BOOK FOR THE HOME AND THE KINDERGARTEN
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
NORA A. SMITH
Therefore ear and heart open to the genuine story teller, as flowers open to the spring sun and the May rain. FRIEDRICH FROEBEL
INTRODUCTION. Kate Douglas Wiggin
PREFACE. Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith
THE ORIOLE'S NEST. Kate Douglas Wiggin
DICKY SMILY'S BIRTHDAY. Kate Douglas Wiggin
AQUA; OR, THE WATER BABY. Kate Douglas Wiggin
MOUFFLOU. Adapted from Ouida by Nora A. Smith
BENJY IN BEASTLAND. Adapted from Mrs. Ewing by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith
THE PORCELAIN STOVE. Adapted from Ouida by Kate Douglas Wiggin
THE BABES IN THE WOOD. E. S. Smith
THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS. Nora A. Smith
THE FIRST THANKSGIVING DAY. Nora A. Smith
LITTLE GEORGE WASHINGTON. Part I. Nora A. Smith
GREAT GEORGE WASHINGTON. Part II. Nora A. Smith
THE MAPLE-LEAF AND THE VIOLET. Nora A. Smith
MRS. CHINCHILLA. Kate Douglas Wiggin
A STORY OF THE FOREST. Nora A. Smith
PICCOLA. Nora A. Smith
THE CHILD AND THE WORLD. Kate Douglas Wiggin
WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL. Kate Douglas Wiggin
FROEBEL'S BIRTHDAY. Nora A. Smith
Story-telling, like letter-writing, is going out of fashion. There are no modern Scheherezades, and the Sultans nowadays have to be amused in a different fashion. But, for that matter, a hundred poetic pastimes of leisure have fled before the relentless Hurry Demon who governs this prosaic nineteenth century. The Wandering Minstrel is gone, and the Troubadour, and the Court of Love, and the King's Fool, and the Round Table, and with them the Story-Teller.
"Come, tell us a story!" It is the familiar plea of childhood. Unhappy he who has not been assailed with it again and again. Thrice miserable she who can be consigned to worse than oblivion by the scathing criticism, "She doesn't know any stories!" and thrice blessed she who is recognized at a glance as a person likely to be full to the brim of them.
There are few preliminaries and no formalities when the Person with a Story is found. The motherly little sister stands by the side of her chair, two or three of the smaller fry perch on the arms, and the baby climbs up into her lap (such a person always has a capacious lap), and folds his fat hands placidly. Then there is a deep sigh of blissful expectation and an expressive silence, which means, "Now we are ready, please; and if you would be kind enough to begin it with 'Once upon a time,' we should be much obliged; though of course we understand that all the stories in the world can't commence that way, delightful as it would be."
The Person with a Story smiles obligingly (at least it is to be hoped that she does), and retires into a little corner of her brain, to rummage there for something just fitted to the occasion. That same little corner is densely populated, if she is a lover of children. In it are all sorts of heroic dogs, wonderful monkeys, intelligent cats, naughty kittens; virtues masquerading seductively as fairies, and vices hiding in imps; birds agreeing and disagreeing in their little nests, and inevitable small boys in the act of robbing them; busy bees laying up their winter stores, and idle butterflies disgracefully neglecting to do the same; and then a troop of lost children, disobedient children, and lazy, industrious, generous, or heedless ones, waiting to furnish the thrilling climaxes. The Story-Teller selects a hero or heroine out of this motley crowd,--all longing to be introduced to Bright-Eye, Fine-Ear, Kind-Heart, and Sweet-Lips,--and speedily the drama opens.
Did Rachel ever have such an audience? I trow not. Rachel never had tiny hands snuggling into hers in "the very best part of the story," nor was she near enough her hearers to mark the thousand shades of expression that chased each other across their faces,--supposing they had any expression, which is doubtful. Rachel never saw dimples lurking in the ambush of rosy cheeks, and popping in and out in such a distracting manner that she felt like punctuating her discourse with kisses! Her dull, conventional, grown-up hearers bent a little forward in their seats, perhaps, and compelled by her magic power laughed and cried in the right places; but their eyes never shone with that starry lustre that we see in the eyes of happy children,--a lustre that is dimmed, alas, in after years. Their eyes still see visions, but the "shadows of the prison house" have fallen about us, and the things which we have seen we "now can see no more!"
If you chance to be the Person with a Story, you sit like a queen on her throne surrounded by her loyal subjects; or like an unworthy sun with a group of flowers turning their faces towards you. Inspired by breathless attention, you try ardently to do your very best. It seems to you that you could never endure a total failure, and you hardly see how you could bear, with any sort of equanimity, even the vacant gaze or restless movement that would bespeak a vagrant interest. If you are a novice, perhaps the frightful idea crosses your mind, "What if one of these children should slip out of the room?" Or, still more tragic possibility, suppose they should look you in the eye and remark with the terrible candor of infancy, "We do not like this story!" But no; you are more fortunate. The tale is told, and you are greeted with sighs of satisfaction and with the instantaneous request, "Tell it again!" That is the encore of the Story-Teller,--"Tell it again! No, not another story; the same one over again, please!" for "what novelty is worth that sweet monotony where everything is known, and loved because it is known?" No royal accolade could be received with greater gratitude. You endeavor to let humility wait upon self-respect; but when you discover that the children can scarcely be dragged from your fascinating presence, crying like Romeo for death rather than banishment, and that the next time you appear they make a wild dash from the upper regions, and precipitate themselves upon you with the full impact of their several weights "multiplied into their velocity," you cannot help hugging yourself to think the good God has endowed you sufficiently to win the love and admiration of such keen observers and merciless little critics.
Now this charming little drama takes place in somebody's nursery corner at twilight, when you are waiting for "that cheerful tocsin of the soul, the dinner-bell," or around somebody's fireside just before the children's bedtime; but the same scene is enacted every few days in the presence of the fresh-hearted, childlike kindergartner, of all women the likeliest to find the secret of eternal youth. She chooses the story as one of the vessels in which she shall carry the truth to her circle of little listeners, and you will never hear her say, like the needy knife-grinder, "Story? God bless you, I have none to tell, sir!"
If the group chances to be one of bright, well-born, well-bred youngsters, the opportunity to inspire and instruct is one of the most effective and valuable that can come to any teacher. On the other hand, if the circle happens to be one of little ragamuffins, Arabs, scrips and scraps of vagrant humanity (sometimes scalawags and sometimes angels), born in basements and bred on curbstones, then believe me, my countrymen, there is a sight worth seeing, a scene fit for a painter. It might be a pleasant satire upon our national hospitality if the artist were to call such a picture "Young America," for comparatively few distinctively American faces would be found in his group of portraits.
Make a mental picture, dear reader, of the ring of listening children in a San Francisco free kindergarten, for it would be difficult to gather so cosmopolitan a company anywhere else: curly yellow hair and rosy cheeks ... sleek blonde braids and calm blue eyes ... swarthy faces and blue-black curls ... woolly little pows and thick lips ... long, arched noses and broad, flat ones. There you will see the fire and passion of the Southern races and the self-poise, serenity, and sturdiness of Northern nations. Pat is there, with a gleam of humor in his eye ... Topsy, all smiles and teeth ... Abraham, trading tops with little Isaac, next in line ... Hans and Gretchen, phlegmatic and dependable ... Francois, never still for an instant ... Christina, rosy, calm, and conscientious, and Duncan, canny and prudent as any of his clan.
What an opportunity for amalgamation of races and for laying the foundation of American citizenship! for the purely social atmosphere of the kindergarten makes it a school of life and experience. Imagine such a group hanging breathless upon your words, as you recount the landing of the Pilgrims, or try to paint the character of George Washington in colors that shall appeal to children whose ancestors have known Napoleon, Cromwell, and Bismarck, Peter the Great, Garibaldi, Bruce, and Robert Emmett.
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