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The City Journals

Storyteller Tells Students ‘Everyone Has A Story’

Jun 10, 2016 10:05AM ● By Tori La Rue

Jordan Ridge Elementary hosted national storyteller Donald Davis who inspired students to tell their own stories. — Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Jordan Ridge students leaned forward when they heard well-known national storyteller Donald Davis recount when he decided to draw Aunt Esther a picture with the crayons she gave him for his sixth birthday. Then, they were shocked, or some knowingly nodded, as he said he drew it on the living wall after using all 10 pieces of paper in less than four minutes. 

“I even drew a frame around the picture of the flower garden,” he said. “Why a flower garden? I wanted to use all 64 colors.”

With that, students as well as faculty burst into laughter.

“I bet you all have as many stories as I do, starting with, how many of you wrote or drew somewhere where you weren’t supposed to?” he asked Jordan Ridge students at the April 25 assembly.

Davis, who is considered one of the foremost storytellers in the country, has performed at the Smithsonian, National Storytelling Festival and Timpanogos Storytelling Festival as well as has recorded 30 albums and has written 18 books. He told stories to students to help inspire them to create and share their own tales.

“Storytelling carries our identity,” Davis said. “It tells us who we are, and if we don’t know who our families are, then we’re lost. So many kids nowadays never hear stories from their families, and they’re missing a whole museum about who they are.”

He said students can start simply by asking questions that could end up in stories, such as “Have you ever gotten lost?” And “Did you go somewhere where you weren’t supposed to?” Another one students admitted to, was “Did you open a present when you weren’t supposed to?” And the last question he posed, drew laughter from both faculty and students, “Did you do something you didn’t want your mother to find out about?”

Then, Davis recounted the tale that he wasn’t supposed to share with his mother of his visit to his grandparents’ log house on a dirt road outside town. 

While visiting, he was picking blackberries when he heard a noise. Turning, he saw a baby bear cub eating the “big, juicy berries that I was going to pick.” Then, he saw the “Momma bear and two other cubs.” Davis’ grandfather then hit his pocketknife against a bucket to scare off the bears so they could finish picking the berries. 

Back at the house, his grandmother made blackberry pies, which they ate as their appetizer, vegetables, main course, bread and dessert that night.

“I ate five pieces of blackberry pie and my grand-mother said, ‘maybe you shouldn’t tell your mother everything you did here,’” he said.

When Davis tells the stories, he hopes students will be “drawing pictures in their heads.” Then, he knows they can relate to his story. Davis, who has been telling stories for more than 45 years, encouraged students to talk about their experience before they write about it. 

“Storytelling isn’t really lost; just listen in the lunchroom as students tell each other stories. Telling stories is our natural language. Sometimes, we get so worried about using the right words that the story can get lost. This way, they can tell the story simply and as questions are asked, they can add color,” he said.

In addition to the assembly, Davis talked with some third- and fifth-grade classes about storytelling. Fifth-grader Andrew Shakleford took first place in his division at a recent West Jordan storytelling event and was looking forward to learning from Davis, Principal Cathy Anderson said.

Davis’ presentation was funded by the Utah State Legislature and the Utah State Office of Education Professional Outreach Program to Schools. The event was coordinated by Timpanogos Storytelling.

“Oral storytelling crosses into other forms of language arts skills, both oral and written, and into performance,” Timpanogos Storytelling Executive Director Eliot Wilcox said. “It has a personal level as it ties into our relationships: students to students, students to teachers, children to parents.”

Davis said that the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, which has celebrated more than 25 years, is amongst his favorite festivals. It is held annually Labor Day weekend.