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Storytelling 101

How to spin a good bedtime tale

It’s pretty great when a sweet little voice asks, Will you tell me a story, please? Until you draw a total blank and choke. (Been there.) We asked some folks who make up stories for a living to give us a few pointers. Next time, just start with one of these concepts and the words should flow pretty easily.
 
The secret lives of pets. “My first impulse is to tell a story about the family pet,” says Lita Judge, author of Red Sled. “What did the dog or cat do while we were away? Did he have a party with the neighbor dog? Did he clean out the refrigerator? Maybe he went on an adventure (perhaps sledding) or played on a basketball team?”
 
Animal adventures. Even if you don’t have a pet, Judge says, you can still tell an animal tale. “Imagine a story about animals that live outdoors. What are the fish doing under the ice in winter? They could be having a party with the turtles and frogs. What does a moose do in the middle of the night? Maybe he borrows your bicycle and rides down a hill.”
 
Magical realism. “Try telling a story about something familiar from your child’s world, but add a magical twist,” says Kate Messner, author of Over and Under the Snow. “For example, tell a story about a boy going for a walk on the beach, or a girl playing outside, or whatever your child did that day. But in your story, the seashell that the boy picks up and holds to his ear actually talks to him and gives him a quest to complete in the ocean. Or maybe the girl discovers a magical stone, and it can grant three wishes. What would she choose? The familiarity of the setting and activities will immediately make kids feel like they’re part of the story.”
 
Stuffed animal as star. “Pick your child’s favorite stuffed animal, and tell a story about the toy doing things around your town that your child loves to do,” suggests Wendy Rouillard, author of the Barnaby Bear series. “The stuffed animal can go to the playground or the beach, or eat a muffin. It can be simple—but use specific details that your child will recognize.”

Tell it together.
“When it’s not too close to bedtime—because this one can get pretty goofy and giggly—try telling a story with your child, alternating sentences,” Messner suggests. “One of you can start, and then the other gets to add the next sentence. Going back and forth can lead to some wonderful, fun twists in a story.”