Getting people to tell a story is one thing, but asking them to come up with a story about reading that feels engaging or even entertaining can be quite a challenge! At our Zoom meeting last week, we started to explain some of the techniques we use to enable people to craft stories from their own experience. Techniques that help to shake away inhibitions, encourage peer support and most of all, enable everyone to have fun. As Bronwen rightly recalled, when we started our journey in our last collaboration, Reading on Screen, a colleague of ours had said “How on earth are you going to make reading visually interesting in the form of a digital story – won’t it be just a bunch of people staring at kindles?” I also recalled this moment in a blog I wrote for the project after our first Reading on Screen workshop in Bournemouth: Thinking back on Bournemouth and forward to Brighton. However, we need not have worried. The themed exercises and games, the warmth created through the process and the magic of the ‘story circle’ (more about that later) brought out an amazing range of stories about reading, told in many different ways, each individual in style and form and content.
One of the exercises we like to do close to the beginning of a digital storytelling workshop is the ‘favourite object’ game. We ask participants to bring with them a favourite object which they then present to the group and tell the story of why that object is important to them. Usually these objects can be whatever the people want to share, but in the case of a workshop that is being run as part of a specific research project, such as Reading on Screen we specifically asked participants to bring an object that was special to them about the experience of reading.
This is what we did for our meeting on Zoom last week and here is a taste of the stories we shared across continents. It’s a great way for people to start to get to know each other in a way that doesn’t feel too intrusive, and it gives some bonus insights into stories about reading too. Bronwen started the ball rolling …
My object is a Kindle. Now my students tell me Kindles are ugly, unfashionable, and they’re not very exciting. We might think of them as quite a lifeless object compared to books, which we’re used to thinking of as carrying memories, carrying emotions. But my Kindle is quite special because it’s not actually my Kindle. Earlier we shared Mary’s story and this is the Kindle of Malcolm, Mary’s husband, who passed away about seven years ago. Malcolm was my partner’s father. Malcolm may no longer be here, but I’ve been keeping his Kindle going and it’s still got all of his books on it. So, when I look at the Kindle, it’s got all of his reading material in this one little object. He was really interested in photography, so there are lots of photography books. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this going, but for me it’s kind of like a connection with Malcolm, who is no longer here with us. We shared an interest in reading that brought us close together, so I think for me it just shows that Kindles can have memories too.
My favourite object for a story about reading is an iPad, and it goes way, way back because I was fortunate enough to do a project for Kisumu county, which was helping to digitalise the county. I travelled to Dubai, and I wanted a device to enable me to store some books for the long hours on the plane, and as it was my first experience, I wanted to capture some memories and take some photography and some videos.
I wasn’t very much a student and I didn’t get much exposure to books when I was in primary school, high school or college. It was very limited, and it was very expensive. The first time I was able to be introduced into storytelling and digital tales was when I was doing literature in High School, and then when Marita came. So my background has been so much in based in technology, but not how I can express myself or how I can tell my story.
So the iPad has really been very helpful to me because it’s portable, I can download a lot of books and it has been able to help me also to have my personal time and go through a lot of stuff that is inside here to be able to shape better my stories, and also my presentations.
This is a reading light that you just put on a book and you’re able to read. When I was young, my mother used to buy me books, and I never wanted to put down a book, I wanted to read the whole night, but a long time ago we did not have electricity, we did not have this light. We had a tin lamp. I would go under my blanket with a tin lamp and continue reading, so everybody thought I was asleep, but actually I’m still reading. So when I found this gadget that I could just clip on a book, turn on my little light and read, I found it very exciting. I can go to bed and crawl under the blankets and read, indulge in reading. This brought back all of the memories of what my mother gave to me.
My object is the book. I tend to be traditional, very traditional, about the printed book because I think it has power to get anywhere without restrictions, and it reminds me of my earlier days too because I remember when I was in primary school, our classroom right down in the village used to have a small cupboard full of books and our teacher would always give us books to read. I always wondered to myself, what happened along the way, that these days you go to a village school and there are no books. I think for me it presents the opportunity that we have, even as a group. I know that we are focusing on digital materials, but this gives me the opportunity to also know that in fact the book in its original form, the print form, is so critical, especially for our children and of course the mothers as well. The book I’m holding is very interesting – it’s actually a guide to sustainable book production because I am crazy about making sure that we have systems that allow for books to be easily accessible to everyone.
Joseph Muema Kavulya
I didn’t know which object to bring, because this is a book, and this is my ‘phone. That tells you the confusion I find myself in, because whenever I’m travelling I grab a book and put it in my bag, and then sometimes I ask myself, now I have the ‘phone do I even need a book? And maybe I’m in the dilemma of transition about which one I need, but the book is very important to me because it reminds me back in my early days
as a boy, I would carry a book into the fields and just read. As I walked around with the cattle I would read a book. At home I would read almost every book. Sometimes I would get cautioned by my elder brothers because I’m reading things which were not suitable for me because I would go to their shelves and grab whatever book was there and read it. Therefore, a book is really critical to me because even when I’m walking the streets of Nairobi and see those piles of books in the streets, I just stop and read one.
I have a small boy of about seven years. Sometimes I buy a book for him, but then sometimes I find him more on the ‘phone than reading the book, and I try and tell him now,” instead of watching TV, can you read more?” because it’s what will help you in a way of creativity and writing, speech and such like. But I find that the book reminded me of my love for reading. I studied literature and did a course in creative writing. I’ve been writing poems and short stories (those are my favorites). So every time I see a book, even when I come to the library before I come to the office, sometimes I find myself at the shelf, picking up a book and reading something, even if it’s about another subject. But then … there is the ‘phone, right here. I like looking for short stories because that’s one of the genres I like to read especially when I’m in a car or in a bus. I have been involved in some projects like in Kibera, a community service from my university where we did competitions with the kids to see how well they can read, and therefore the book is really critical. But, I do find myself in that dilemma, and I think our project is very critical because it could possibly put this digital reading into the right context. How can I “conceretise” reading, or storytelling in this digital way. These two objects of mine, I use them both, but I find them competing a lot for my attention!
My object, it’s a matchbox. A matchbox reminds me of when I was a young boy. Why do I have some attachment to a matchbox? It is because we didn’t have electricity, so literally what I would do with my friends, was collect dry sticks from pine trees and we would take the pine sticks and burn them to light the house and then start reading in turn, because we couldn’t afford books. So whenever one of us bought a book, we would bring it to the house and then we would gather, four or five of us, and sit down around the firelight and read the book. Then the following day the same thing would happen. We would go and look for books, wherever we could find them either from teachers or from other families that could afford to buy books. So yes, this matchbox really helped me to remember those times.
I always loved nature and different seasons and animals very much. Over the years I have written many short fables about animals in Finnish nature, and in the different seasons. This object – my picture of a flying cow, takes me back to my time in Kenya, so when I was working with children in the community school in the Bignet Education Centre, I realised the first time that we met that they didn’t have any books. So I used my stories as a source of inspiration for their creative writing. I showed them pictures like this one, of cows flying, of a dog singing, and they were looking at me thinking, are you an adult? Are you serious? Cows don’t fly! And I said that in our class cows do fly, so please start using your imagination. So we created our own books! We started developing these creative writing skills and telling funny stories about the environment because that was the purpose: to teach them about the importance of nature and environment. The children’s writing skills developed so much that we ended up going to a studio and recording audio books about their stories, which were played by the local community radio in the children’s programmes. We also made a DVD of their audio stories, and then we made a book about their stories with images including of the children reading their stories. I’m so proud of how they were able to tell beautiful stories from Kenya about nature and animals with so much imagination. When I came back to Finland, I published a book about my original stories. The lesson of the story is that creative writing and reading go hand in hand, and you really need to give children permission to use their imagination. It helps them in life.
You can watch the Audio Visual book here: Rainbird Tales – Tall Tales about Animals and Nature from Finland
Fredrick Wawire Otike
I too have a story about a torch – but mine is old school! I’ve had it for now close to ten years. The beauty of it is you can use it not by plugging in to electricity, but you can just plug it in any digital device, like my laptop. I’m somebody from two generations, the old generation and the new generation. So this is torch is part of my old generation, and my new generation is my laptop, which I always have with me.
This makes me think about my up-bringing. I wasn’t brought up in a place where there was always electricity. I never went to a school where there was always electricity. I used to like hiding myself, when I was a small kid. I’d hide myself from people. Some might say that I’m a loner, but that wasn’t the case, I just like reading. I also write stories and some of them have been published, like in this Research for Life book Unsung Heroes from the Library. My stories capture some of the hard times from when I was a small kid, when accessing books was a concern, and that’s exactly why I’m a librarian today.
My library card brings up really early memories of reading. I loved to read from a young age, and we had some books, but not enough, so my Dad started bringing me books from friends, and eventually we discovered the local library. We used to go to the library on Saturdays and during school holidays because then you could go to the library as often as you liked. We would walk to the library and read and so on, and it would be so distressing because I’m right in the middle of a nice story and the library has to close, and I remember we even devised ways of hiding a book so that somebody else doesn’t get your book, and then you rise up early and come back and grab your book and finish it. So libraries mean a lot to me and now I have many books, but I still like to be a member of a library. At school I’m always paying fines because I borrow too many books and then I don’t remember to return them on time, but I still borrow anyway!
My object is a book that my Dad was given at a prize-giving when he went to Sunday School as a boy in the 1930s. When I was a child, we didn’t have books at all really. We had one 1956 encyclopaedia, (not a well-known one), with lots of out of date information in it and rather peculiar line-drawings, and we had one bible, and then my Dad gave me this one book. It was Robert Louis Stephenson’s, Kidnapped.
I had this book for a long time before I started actually to read it. I liked it because of the fact that it had been a prize. My sister taught me to read, but this book was too hard for me when Dad gave it to me, so she took me to join the library, which involved a bus ride on the top deck (an additional thrill). I was allowed to take out four books at a time. I used to go to the library at least once a week during the school holidays. I actually hated the long summer holidays, as my parents both worked full-time, plus I had to look after my little sister! Books were a kind of escape into worlds I never thought I could inhabit.
I was the first in my family to go to university. I studied English literature and I’ve been collecting books ever since. I still have that book in my collection some 80 years after my Dad was given it. It symbolizes for me the importance of books and the importance of story.
Although it is absolutely not ‘the same’ as building skills and excitement in person, in a physical workshop, we did in our small ‘taster’ get a sense of how we can work online with the exercises and games that we use to get the storytelling juices flowing.
Even from dipping our toes in the water in this session, we can see that there are points of commonality between us in terms of our experiences of reading. Many of us spoke about the influence of family members, the importance of the library, of finding ways in which to read in the dark either because we were not allowed to read in bed, or because we had no electricity!
For some people who join digital storytelling workshops, their object becomes the focus for their stories. For others, the objects are a ‘warm-up’ tool. But they are a great starting point to get the group to bond, to share some stories of difference and some of similarity.
I look forward to our storytelling journey over the coming months.