Chase Stewart, a first grader at St. Martin's Episcopal School, tells a story during the school's World Storytelling Celebration Feb. 1.
Chase Stewart, a first grader at St. Martin’s Episcopal School, tells a story during the school’s World Storytelling Celebration Feb. 1.

Chase Stewart stood beaming before his peers, rocking back and forth in anticipation of his performance.

The first grader at St. Martin’s Episcopal School was the first in line to tell a folktale to his age group at the school’s annual World Storytelling Celebration Feb. 1.

Stewart told the story of the three little pigs, animating the tale by building imaginary houses with his hands and puffing his cheeks full of air as the big, bad wolf blew them down.

His mother, Megan Stewart, stood in the back of the room, smiling with an equally big grin as she watched her son.

She said she’s seen a lot of growth in her children through their participation in the storytelling event.

Stewart said Chase and her daughter Devon, a third grader, have practiced their stories since December. She said she’s glad her kids had the opportunity to do something creative and perform in front of their classmates.

“I think it’s a great confidence booster,” Stewart said.

Heidi Cline McKerley, director of speech and drama for St. Martin’s, said 92 students prepared stories to tell. She said unlike school plays, there is no audition process for the storytelling event, so it’s very inclusive.

“Anybody who wants to be a teller can be a teller,” McKerley said.

McKerley said the students, who are in first through eighth grades, are given a folktale, which could originate from anywhere around the world. They work with a teacher and then practice delivering the folktale on their own.

“We coach them privately. We do a lot of one on one individual nurturing of their skills,” McKerley said.

The event kicked off with professional storyteller Barry Stewart Mann, who told three stories to the students.

Mann, who stood in front of a large, patchwork fabric map of the world, pointed out the origins of his folktales to the students.

He said even through his stories originated in different places – Polynesia, Africa and Spain – folktales often share many similarities across cultures.

There are creation stories, which he said explain how things came to be; what he called “noodlehead stories,” which tell the tale of a loveable protagonist who tries, but just can’t seem to get things right; and trickster tales, which feature wily main characters who outsmart challenges.

The event also featured storytelling through art and dance, including a Chinese dance performance.

McKerley said the World Storytelling Celebration focuses on stories from around the world to expose students to different cultures.

“It’s about trying to plant the seeds of world citizenship,” McKerley said. “If we get them thinking like world citizens in any capacity, we think it’s worthwhile.”

To further the international theme, students also got to sample food from several continents. The menu for the event included Mung Bean pancakes with shrimp sauce from Asia, roasted chicken with mole verde sauce from South America, and holiday trifle from Australia.

McKerley, who has organized the event for the past seven years, said it’s a great way to engage students.

“We teach public speaking and acting in our department. The great thing about performance storytelling is it’s a combination of both,” McKerley said.

She said storytelling is also a little bit more accessible for many students because they have the freedom to address the audience and tell the story in their own way.

“There’s no fourth wall like in theater,” McKerley said.  “Because it’s folktale, we can say it in our own words, we’re not being held to an author’s words.”

She said the kids also gain a lot of confidence and self-worth through their storytelling.

“It’s really sort of amazing,” McKerley said.