January 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Parsing a Tale | A Storyteller Shares Tips On Learning “The Old Woman and Her Pig”

Everyone has their own method of learning a story, of making it their own. In this companion piece to the “Story Is King,” feature in the June 2016 issue of School Library Journal, I’ll be sharing my technique for learning a tale. One of my favorites is an old English folktale. Read the story below. I parse out how I made it my own following the text.

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The Old Woman and Her Pig: An Old English Folktale, retold by Joseph Jacobs

An old woman was sweeping the floor of her house, and she found a little crooked sixpence in the nest of a mouse. “What,” said she, “shall I do with this little sixpence? I know! I will go to market, and buy myself a sweet little pig.”

So she went to the market and she bought herself a pig. As she was coming home, she came to a stile, but the pig would not go over it. She said, “Pig, pig, jump over the stile, or we shan’t get home tonight

But the stubborn pig said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met a dog. She said to the dog, “Dog, dog, bite Pig; Pig won’t jump over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.” But the dog said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met a stick. So she said: “Stick, Stick, beat Dog! Dog won’t bite Pig; Piggy won’t get over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.” But the stick said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met a fire. So she said: “Fire, Fire, burn Stick; Stick won’t beat Dog; Dog won’t bite Pig; Piggy won’t get over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.” But the fire said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met some water. So she said: “Water, Water, quench Fire; Fire won’t burn Stick; Stick won’t beat Dog; Dog won’t bite Pig; Piggy won’t get over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.” But the water said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met an ox. So she said: “Ox, Ox, drink Water; Water won’t quench Fire; Fire won’t burn Stick; Stick won’t beat Dog; Dog won’t bite Pig; Piggy won’t get over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.” But the ox said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met a butcher. So she said: “Butcher, Butcher, kill Ox; Ox won’t drink Water; Water won’t quench Fire; Fire won’t burn Stick; Stick won’t beat Dog; Dog won’t bite Pig; Piggy won’t get over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.” But the butcher said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met a rope. So she said: “Rope, Rope, hang Butcher; Butcher won’t kill Ox; Ox won’t drink Water; Water won’t quench Fire; Fire won’t burn Stick; Stick won’t beat Dog; Dog won’t bite Pig; Piggy won’t get over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.” But the rope said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met a rat. So she said: “Rat, Rat, gnaw Rope; Rope won’t hang Butcher; Butcher won’t kill Ox; Ox won’t drink Water; Water won’t quench Fire; Fire won’t burn Stick; Stick won’t beat Dog; Dog won’t bite Pig; Piggy won’t get over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.” But the rat said, “I won’t!”

She went a little further, and she met a cat. So she said: “Cat, Cat, kill Rat; Rat won’t gnaw Rope; Rope won’t hang Butcher; Butcher won’t kill Ox; Ox won’t drink Water; Water won’t quench Fire; Fire won’t burn Stick; Stick won’t beat Dog; Dog won’t bite Pig; Piggy won’t get over the stile, and we shan’t get home tonight.”

But the cat said to her, “If you will go to yonder cow, and fetch me a saucer of milk, I will kill the rat.”

So away went the old woman to the cow. But the cow said to her: “If you will go to yonder haystack, and fetch me a handful of hay, I’ll give you the milk.”

So away went the old woman to the haystack; and she brought the hay to the cow. As soon as the cow had eaten the hay, she gave the old woman the milk, and away she went with it in a saucer to the cat.

As soon as the cat had lapped up the milk . . . the cat began to kill the rat, the rat began to gnaw the rope, the rope began to hang the butcher, the butcher began to kill the ox, the ox began to drink the water, the water began to quench the fire, the fire began to burn the stick, the stick began to beat the dog, the dog began to bite the pig, the little pig in a fright jumped over the stile, and so the old woman got home that night.

 Tips on learning and telling the “The Old Woman and Her Pig”

Cumulative tales are usually told to younger children, who enjoy the repeated refrains and the predictability of the story. Such stories are pretty simple to learn; you just need to visualize and recall the cause-and-effect sequence; in this case, the roster of each nay-saying creature the old woman encounters. Concentrate and you’ll see the cat lapping up the milk. Maybe you’ll want to stop and act out that part in pantomime (encouraging your listeners to join in), and then pretend to lick your paws before setting down to the work of catching the rat. Then visualize the cat catching the rat, the rat gnawing the rope, and so on.

I made a few small changes in this version to make the telling more fluid and inclusive. Each time the old woman says “ . . . pig won’t jump over the stile; and I shan’t get home tonight,” I thought it was more inclusive to say, “pig won’t jump over the stile; and we shan’t get home tonight.” If you like it better in its original form, change it back.

The second change switches a passive response into an active one. The original text reads, “But the dog would not.” After trying out this story with children, it quickly became apparent that we needed interactive dialogue here, so I changed it to, “But the dog said, ‘I won’t!’” Then children can join in on the refrain, which they do with great expression, a shake of the head, and sometimes even a stamp of the foot.

The third change is one you can make if you or your audience are squeamish. Although it’s part of the absurdist fun, characters use some strong-arm tactics to goad another creature into action in the tale. The poor old woman is at the end of her rope with all of these obstructionists. Can you blame her for using bit of intimidation to make each slacker hop to it? However, if the old woman’s directive to “hang Butcher” is too medieval for you or your audience, change it to “tie Butcher.” Also, the cat could start to catch (instead of kill) the rat. True, no actual characters are harmed in the course of the story—the cat begins to kill the rat, but never actually does it. It won’t harm the story to make such adjustments.

Vocabulary alert: The word stile may stop you in your tracks; assume it will do the same to your listeners. What’s a stile? You’ll see them in the English countryside—a series of steps, a passageway, or a ladder-like structure that a person can use to climb over or get beyond a wall or fence, but not large livestock like sheep or cattle. Find pictures of stiles online to show the children so they understand why the piggy is reluctant to jump over it.

This story begs for audience participation. You will find that even young children can recall the entire sequence, which consists of 10 actions, and recite the ever-lengthening refrain with you. They also love to predict what the next character will be. Say, “What do you think the old woman can find to quench the fire?” and they’ll all yell, “Water!” (They’ll quickly intuit the meaning of the word “quench” from the context of the story and happily add it to their own vocabularies from now on.)

After you tell the story, have the children form a long line and act out the whole thing. To ensure that each child gets a part, you can cast more than one child to play each part—two sticks or three cats, for instance.

Hand out long strips of paper and see if your kids can draw each character in sequence, assembled in that great long line. Chances are good that they will remember the whole thing. (You may want to try this exercise yourself while you are learning the story so you have a visual record of its sequence. Drawing the steps to a story like this will help you visualize each action as you tell it.)

You might also like to compare and contrast the story with Jim Aylesworth’s New England-based picture book version, Aunt Pitty Patty’s Piggy, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic, 1999).

Web Resources for Storytellers and Story Enjoyment

The Moth
Watch or listen to extraordinary stories performed and/or recorded by the Peabody Award program, The Moth Radio Hour; record and submit your own personal story for consideration.):

Myths and Legends
Lovers of myths and legends can listen to their heart’s content on this site, which offers dozens of animated and narrated tales from the British Isles. Click on the link for “Create Your Own” and then “Story Creator 2,” where children can record themselves telling a story and add text, illustrations, speech bubbles, and even sound effects,

Planet Esme
Librarian, blogger, and author Esme Raji Codell gives an overview of how to teach children to be storytellers.

Storynet
The website of the National Storytelling Network provides a U.S. calendar of events and links to resources for storytelling, including an extensive Directory of Storytellers with a profile, photo, and contact info for each teller. Join their listserv, Storytell.

Storynory
Listen to the stories of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault, Aesop, Oscar Wilde, and others on this splendid British site. Storynory has published a new audio story every week since November 2005. Children can listen to the story as they follow the text, which promotes reading fluency and helps English language learners. The hundreds of free audio books include: Original Stories, Classic Audio Books, Poems and Music, Fairy Tales, Educational Stories, Myths and World Stories, and Junior Stories. As they’ve said on Storynory, “Our stories have brought harmony in place of strife on the back seats of cars all over the world.”

Storyteller.net
Here you’ll find podcasts of more than a hundred short, delightful tales, told by different storytellers, which can be listened to on a computer.

YouTube
On this ubiquitous site there are numerous short videos of storytellers strutting their stuff, including, if you type “Barefoot Books Storytelling” in the search bar, tales told by children. One storyteller from Oregon, Leslie Snape, has uploaded dozens of short videos of herself telling stories. You could do this, too!

Zinger Tales
At the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, you will find Zinger Tales, a video collection of dozens of stories told by master storytellers, including Doc McConnell, the late Jackie Torrence, Tony Tallent, Donna Washington, and the Frontline Storytellers, a group of librarians from the area.

 

51LFHjBw5nL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_51p-4Z6eJsL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_                                                                                                                                                               Judy Freeman (JudyReadBooks.com) is a consultant, writer, and speaker on children’s literature. and the co-author with Caroline Feller Bauer of the revised edition of The Handbook for Storytellers and The Handbook for Storytime Programs (both ALA Editions, 2015). This article was adapted from those titles and used with permission.

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  1. See also:
    http://www.storybee.org/ — dozens of stories told by professional storytellers, organized by age level