Tag Archives: Barefoot Books

Sock Puppets and Animal Tales

Have you ever seen a rabbit on the moon? I must admit I’ve never seen one before, but after this month’s Barefoot Book Club I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for her whenever I need a bit of inspiration. I just hope this monsoon-like rain stops so we can actually see the moon the next time it’s full!

I never thought that running a children’s book club in Plymouth would be so much fun. Eleven home schooled kids (including my two) descended on my house on Monday for our second ever Barefoot Book Club. It’s a 2 hour session of storytelling, creativity and play and so far it all seems to be going really well.

This month we used The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales from Around the World as our inspiration. This beautiful book is written by the acclaimed story teller, Naomi Adler, and features amazingly playful illustrations from Amanda Hall. It is a joy to read out loud and provoked some interesting philosophical debate from all the kids and the grownups too.

We couldn’t cover all 9 stories in our two hour session so I chose to focus on just a couple – The Rabbit in the Moon from India, and the German story of The Musicians of Bremen which was made famous by the Brothers Grimm. I must admit I decided to tell two stories because I wanted to be sure we had enough activities to fill the session, but I really needn’t have worried. Even though our group ranged in age from 3 to 11 years old, the first story alone provided us with enough discussion topics for a really interesting debate.

So what about this rabbit on the moon? How on earth did she get there? And why is it a rabbit when there are so many other animals to choose from? In actual fact many cultures believe that there’s a rabbit on the moon. Stories from Mexico, China, Japan, Korea and South Africa all feature rabbits on the moon but the original, or so it is thought, comes from the Jataka Tales – an ancient collection of fables from India.

The Jakata Tales are a collection of 500 or so stories about the Buddha’s previous lives in both human and animal form and, like all good stories, they all feature some kind of moral guidance. The stories have been handed down from generation to generation and have even been used to embellish the stories of King Arthur from the Welsh bards as well as inspiring  The Pardoners Tale by Chaucer.

To demonstrate how stories evolve and develop as they get handed down through the generations we started our session with a game of Telephones, aka Chinese Whispers. After a brief discussion about what shapes we see in the sky and what stories they make us think of I asked the child on my right (who happened to be my eldest daughter) to think about what shapes she sees on the moon, then whisper it to the kid next her, who in turn whispered it to the next child and so on and so on (just in case you don’t know how the game works). There were a couple of moments of abject confusion (as I mentioned before, some of the kids are really young) but we finally got there. By the time we got from the beginning of our story circle to the end, the initial statement of “I see dips on the moon” had been transformed into “A diving turtle on the moon” – how cool is that?

Next we looked at some pictures of the rabbit on the moon before starting our first story in which the rabbit is rewarded for her absolute selflessness by being placed in the moon. She’s put there by a heavenly being to remind each and every one of us about the infinite power of kindness and love. It is a truly beautiful and captivating story, even for the very young, and one which I think resonates throughout all different cultures and religions. Telling the story led to a fascinating discussion about what it means to be a good friend and whether or not the people around us can influence our behaviour – something which I feel is really important for our kids to consider.

We talked about what it means to be brave and whether you can be afraid and brave at the same time. We talked about our fears and about how love can make you feel braver. We even talked about the nature of selflessness (and its opposite) and whether it was really possible, or even a good idea, to be as selfless as the rabbit was in giving up her life for a complete stranger. Even the littleys were piping up with some really interesting observations and the adults were just as involved in the discussion as the kids themselves. Being part of the process was absolutely fascinating.

In retrospect that one story would have been enough to fill the entire session, especially with the craft activity which follows our storytime. When I do this session again with another group I will definitely leave it at one story, but I had my heart set on telling them the Musicians of Bremen as well, to show the contrast between cultures and to inject a bit of raucousness after our philosophical debate.

The story is about an old donkey who after years of hard labour is about to be sent to the knackers yard – and he really, really doesn’t want to be sent to the knackers yard! After all, is that really a fair reward for all the hard work he has done? So he decides to run away to Bremen to become a musician instead. On the way he meets an old dog, an old cat and an old cockerel who are all headed for the same fate. By working together they overcome a group of robbers and live out the rest of their days in comfort and happiness. I felt it was a great contrast to the first story as it showed there are times when a little bit of “selfishness” can be a good idea – especially when it benefits your friends as well!

I firmly believe that stories should be interactive and that storytelling is a two way process, so all the kids joined in by making the “music” of the animals they had chosen. Goodness knows what my neighbours thought about the racket but telling that story was really good fun!

Like all stories from The Brothers Grimm, this one has many morals such as respect for your elders, the importance of teamwork, the fact that change is not necessarily something to be feared and the knowledge that things are not always what they seem at first. We never got around to discussing it though, because after all that braying, barking, miaowing and cockadoodledoo-ing the kids were definitely ready to get started on their craft of animal sock puppets – hooray!!!

I was so impressed with the amount of creativity and imagination that went into their puppets (check out the pictures below!). I gave them a pile of (clean) old socks and some bits and bobs from Plymouth Scrapstore and literally just let them get on with it. On the whole they needed very little help, and I was particularly taken by the amount of vision and determination they showed in creating such amazing creatures from the random pile of materials they had been given. What really made my day, though, was one of the mums telling me about what her kids had done the day after the session. They had spent the whole morning creating their own stories and had put on a complete puppet show of their very own devising. I was so pleased that they had got so much out of the session – it’s exactly what I’d hoped for when I decided to start up this style of book club for kids!

The group is meeting again for another book club next month, and we’re hopefully having a Barefoot storytime for the under 6s in a couple of weeks time. It is a lot of work preparing all the resources, but it’s a lot of fun too and both my kids and I are really enjoying it. I’d love to expand and start running a regular Barefoot Book Club for kids from all over Plymouth, but it is going to take a bit of time to find a good location and to get the word out. In the meantime we’ll just continue as we are and see where it takes us. Love living Barefoot! ❤

The stories of The Rabbit in the Moon and The Musicians of Bremen can be found in The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales from Around the World  which is a collection of nine different animal stories from nine different cultures.  To see see more culturally diverse titles from Barefoot Books visit my website at www.barefootnaomi.co.uk.

Inside the Creative Cauldron – The Barefoot Books UK Ambassador Conference 2012

The Barefoot Books Studio, Oxford

Where do I start with this amazing weekend?  I just love the Barefoot Books Ambassador Conference.  It’s one of the highlights of my year when our small but ever growing Barefoot Books community of artists, storytellers and entrepreneurs get together to share stories and inspiration.  We had 2 days of workshops, presentations and good old chinwags over a cup of coffee and biscuits. We took a peek inside the creative cauldron and learned some of the stories behind the stories from Tessa Strickland, the Editor-In-Chief.  Nancy Traversy, our CEO, nearly brought a tear to my eye as she shared the story of her own personal Barefoot journey with all of its highs and lows.

Storyteller Daniel Morden had me on the edge of my seat as told us some of The Adventures of Achilles. I was already pretty excited about this book which is due to be released in the autumn and now I literally can’t wait! When I finally get to read it I will be hearing the words in his captivating Welsh accent and I am so looking forward to being able to share these ancient stories with my girls.  Getting the opportunity to look at the entire creative process from rough drafts to the completed, beautifully bound, hardback book is a real privilege and I feel so fortunate to be able to participate.

The Adventures of Odysseus

Naturally I also took advantage of the chance to get my much loved copy of The Adventures of Odysseus signed and learned some great tips about storytelling from a master of the art which I will certainly be putting into practise in my own  work.   I make no apologies for my gushing enthusiasm about the whole weekend – I love beautiful artwork and I love gorgeous stories.  Needless to say I was in seventh heaven!

This year I was even asked to share some of my own expertise and present a workshop on how to hold successful home shopping events.  I received some great feedback and I’m really looking forward to doing it again and helping more Barefoot Books Ambassadors to achieve success through home parties.

Friday night was devoted to an amazing Djembe workshop where we learnt some traditional African rhythms.  I think it was a perfect illustration of the magic that can happen when you all work together and to a greater or lesser extent, that’s what being a Barefoot Books Ambassador is all about.  We’re part of an inspiring community of women (and men) who are committed to bringing beautiful stories and fantastic illustrations into the lives of children everywhere.

Playing the giant sized Children of the World memory game

But what were my children doing while I was busy enjoying myself?  One of the best things about being a Barefoot Books Ambassador is their total commitment to making sure that the kids have a great time too.  The whole family were invited to a delicious dinner at The Perch on Saturday night where we were entertained by the Barefoot Busker, John Ruddock, who performed a great selection of Barefoot Singalongs and other music.  The girls spent Friday and Saturday exploring Oxfords many museums with their dad (The Pitt Rivers Museum is an absolute must see) as well as popping in and out of the studio throughout the day.

In the Storytellers Chair!

On Sunday we spent the whole morning together in the Studio where they had their faces painted, listened to stories, played games and enjoyed a lovely organic meal from the Storytellers Cafe before we made the journey home.  You really couldn’t ask for more.

To top it all off I actually won the most beautiful Donkey puppet in the prize draw!  I ADORE puppets and he is just perfect (not to mention the fact that I never usually win anything, ever!)  This puppet must be magic because he can talk my youngest into doing whatever I can’t get her to do.  He is a very welcome addition to the family!  All the Ambassadors also received a goody bag packed full of the latest book releases, marketing materials and even some lovely foot treatments to make our (bare) feet scrummy.  I feel totally spoiled and totally inspired!  Thank you Tessa, Nancy and the whole of the Barefoot Books team for giving us such a fantastic weekend.

The Genius of Leonardo

I thought it was about time I wrote a little something about our first Barefoot Book Club, especially as I’d promised a tutorial for our craft activity quite some time ago.

For those of you that don’t know I have started running Barefoot Book Clubs with our little home ed group here in Plymouth.  I find that out of all the subjects we cover in our unschooling “curriculum”, literacy is one of the hardest to explore without being part of a group.  I believe that understanding and exploring stories is a largely a collaborative process, and that discussion can play an integral part in getting the most out of a really good book.

Does that all sound a bit formal?  It probably does, but actually our Barefoot Book Clubs are a very informal space where a group of children can gather together to hear a story, discuss the text and create a little something to take away with them.  Oh and there’s plenty of cake and biscuits too!

For our first Book Club, The Genius of Leonardo seemed like the perfect place to start.  It is the story of Leonardo da Vinci’s life as seen through the eyes of his 10 year old apprentice, Giacomo.  The book has some beautiful illustrations by Bimba Landmann and features many original quotes from Leonardo’s own sketchbooks such as “Giacomo has come to live with me.  He is 10 years old.  He is a liar, a thief and a greedy brute.  He eats as much as two boys and causes as much trouble as four”!  Do you know any kids like that?  Quite a few of our book club participants do, or so they say!

Of course, the story of Leonardo is one that’s particularly relevant to home educating families such as ours.  For him there was no difference between art, science and maths, they were all integral to helping him understand how the world works and he had a great deal of reverence for the natural world too.  Not only that, but Leonardo didn’t go to school himself.  As a child born out of wedlock, traditional schooling was not an option for this great man.  Instead he did much of his learning as an apprentice to the sculptor and painter, Andrea del Verrochio.  Until he surpassed his master, that is, and went on to become the genius he is remembered as today.  So I guess Leonardo could be the original example of how far unschooling can open the imagination and lead to great things?

I was a bit worried about having a group of 12 kids in my house for a two hour session of story, discussion and crafts but all the kids who came were fantastic.  We had some great conversations about Leonardo’s approach and had a look at some of his original sketches.  They did an amazing job of answering questions about the story and all of them made their own sketchbooks to take home with them and record their own discoveries and ideas.  With an age range of 3 – 10 years old it could have been bedlam, but they all did brilliantly and are almost all coming back for our next Book Club session, with the exception of a couple who can’t make it due to other commitments on that day.

If you want to know how to make your own sketchbook then check out this tutorial. I got all of our materials from our local scrapstore at Plymouth Play Association.  We used wallpaper for the covers and adjusted the design slightly by doubling up some of the paper and using hole protectors to make the sketchbooks more durable – I’m a great believer in making things that will actually last!  All the resources such as wordsearches and crosswords for the kids to take home with them are available to you as a Barefoot Books Ambassador, as are the discussion questions for the book if the thought of coming up with your own fills you with dread!

Running a Barefoot Book Club is such a great way for me to earn money as a Barefoot Books Ambassador and to provide a fun learning experience for my kids and their friends at the same time!  I absolutely love it and the girls and I are really looking forward to our next get together which is almost fully booked already.  The kids have chosen The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales so I am scurrying around looking for craft activities and materials to help them make the most of their club.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Success with Barefoot Books – The power of story and why we NEED more story tellers today!

Story Telling at Plymouth Volksfest 2012We had a fantastic weekend storytelling at Plymouth Volksfest 2012.  Four days of sitting in a field listening to some great local bands while my kids got to enjoy unlimited bouncy castles, face painting and craft workshops for free.  How did we get such a great opportunity?  Because mummy is a storyteller!

I’ve been story telling with Barefoot Books for over a year but this was our biggest event to date.  It literally came about after a chance conversation with one of Plymouths play leaders a couple of weeks before.  I’d mentioned that I had dropped some of my writing clients in order to concentrate on Living Barefoot and found out that a story teller was needed for Plymouth Volksfest. A quick phone call and we were booked for the weekend, and what a fab weekend it was.  I would say it was one of the most successful events I have done with Barefoot Books so far.

So what kind of stories did I tell?  As a Barefoot Books Ambassador I  have a fantastic selection of stories from around the world so I picked a few of my favourite anthologies and away we went.  Top stories for the weekend came from The Barefoot Book of Monsters (sadly out of print right now but available as a collection of early reader chapter books), Tales of Mystery and Magic and The Barefoot Book of Princesses, but there were a few surprises too!

For example, only one child had heard the story of The Princess and the Pea before! I couldn’t believe it.  It was one of my favourite stories as a child and one that I always used to play act when getting out of the bath (she was so wet that you couldn’t tell where her hair ended and the rain began).  Well we soon rectified that one and many more kids will be wondering about the royal museum where the pea is still on display.

Another shocker for me was that although the vast majority of children had heard the story of The Gigantic Turnip at school – not one of them knew the moral of the tale!  When asked why it was the hungry little mouse who got the turnip out of the ground every single one of them thought that it was because he was super strong.  Oh no, dear children, the mouse wasn’t that strong.  The reason the gigantic turnip came flying out of the ground when he joined in was because it doesn’t matter how small you are you are big enough to make a difference – and if you all work together you can do ANYTHING you want!

So goodness knows how they tell stories in schools (I’m soo glad we home ed) but it seems to me that whoever told them that story totally missed the point.  Stories are there to help us learn about the great concepts in life, to explore universal themes that transcend culture or religion and to help us to realise that no matter where we come from, as human beings we share a commonality that has lasted throughout the generations.

One thing I learnt this weekend was that the work I do is as important and relevant today as it has ever been throughout history.  Telling stories is how we connect as human beings.  Sharing them with others creates a special kind of life and energy that cannot be recreated through the commercialisation of childhood which is sadly so omnipresent in our society today.  The closeness and the intimacy of gathering a group together to share a good tale is something totally unique.   Despite all our modern technology and the ability to share information at the click of a button, nothing comes close to the experience of sharing a story.

Storytelling at Plymouth Volksfest allowed my whole family to have such a fantastic weekend.  I can’t wait until tomorrow when we’ll be doing it all again and taking the story tent to Freedom Fields Community Festival too.  We really need more story tellers throughout the UK, though, so if you’d like to become part of the Barefoot Community then why not join us as an Ambassador?  The starter kit is just £59.99 until the end of June which means you can be all ready with everything you need to make story time an integral part of your family’s life too.  Love Living Barefoot ♥!

Just some of the stories we told at Plymouth Volksfest 2012

The Story Tent before the festival opened

Sharing a story with mum after a whole lot of bouncing!

Find out more about becoming a Barefoot Books Ambassador!

Lifestyle Entrepreneur – So that’s what you call this work from home thing!

I came across this term the other day – Lifestyle Entrepreneur.  Finally I have a name for what it is I do, or rather why I do the things I do.

If I’m honest, my anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist politics have never quite sat right with the fact that, on the whole, I make a living by selling things.  Yes they are planet friendly, socially responsible, good quality things but they are things all the same.

However, the things I sell are also things that immensely benefit my life.  My kids benefit from having a good selection of books, toys, puzzles and games to play with.  I love the fact that I have a massive basket of books, toys and CDs on the floor for my 3 year old and a shelf full of more mature titles for my eldest.  It’s strewing at its finest yet all my business samples are easily accessible and (mostly) in one place, ready to be taken to an event at the drop of a hat.

As for the rather lovely collection of blue glass bottles that line my bathroom.  Well, they not only support organic farming and are largely fair-trade but all the products and even the packaging is manufactured in a little eco-factory in the UK so have a very minimal carbon footprint.   And I really do like having a nice moisturiser to use, especially as my acne prone, stress-susceptible, sensitive skin is looking a thousand times better now than it has ever done before.

At the end of the day I have always worked in sales – with the exception of working in catering for a brief period of time (the “spilling the last portion of trifle down a customer’s back” episode spelled the end of my Nigella aspirations).  I’ve worked in dozens of shops, done more than my fair share of telesales jobs, sold advertising space for an international merchant banking magazine (yes, really) and even used to sell roses in pubs and night clubs when I was saving money to go to uni. Do you know what? I was good at it too.

Even though this particular flower girl had a shaved head, a face full of piercings and a pair of para-boots on her feet, she used to shift around £200 of roses in a night.  How?  To be honest I have absolutely no idea.  It might just be because I love chatting to people and that at the time, selling roses was my only opportunity to get out for a night and go dancing. However I do remember one customer saying that the only reason he was buying a slightly manky rose from me was because I had “an honest face”.

Now I don’t really know what he meant by that, but I guess it might have been something to do with the fact that I really didn’t mind if someone bought my roses or not.  I’ve never been a pushy sales person who’ll say anything at all as long as it closes the deal.  If you don’t want what I’m offering, it’s fine with me.  There’ll always be someone else who likes it, and as I now only offer products that are ethical and in tune with my ideology,  I’m happier today than I ever was in any of my previous jobs.

Despite my politics, it seems that sales is my thing.  It’s what I enjoy doing and for some unknown reason I seem to be good at it.  However I’m really not one of those people who is motivated by making huge amounts of money.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to be better off financially than I am right now, but the thought of acquiring vast wealth really doesn’t float my boat.

Instead, selling things and running my own business allows me to earn a living while spending time with my kids and that is something far more precious than all the wealth in the world!  The fact that I get to support fair-trade initiatives, promote children’s literacy and empower people to live healthier lives at the same time is a bonus, and one that helps me to see that what I do is about far more than just selling alone.

I love the term “Lifestyle Entrepreneur” and I’m glad I discovered it this week.  It’s the perfect way to describe my aim of living a sustainable, happy, healthy life with my family while getting to enjoy some very nice things without it costing the earth.

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