What can we learn? The Power of Storytelling

I first started this discussion as a look into the power of storytelling as a learning device. Authors often cite readers who have learned from the experiences the author shares in their books. And parents fear that their children will learn too much of the real world – at a time when they needn’t be learning about such things. After all, these books aren’t being challenged in the adult sections of the library.

From an interview with several authors whose books have been challenged:

Q (Lee Wind): Are books really that powerful?

A1 (Ellen Hopkins):  Yes, they are, but not in the way the challengers think. Books are knowledge. And knowledge is power.
A2 (E. Lockhard):  Yes. But so are parents. If a parent is afraid of something a kid wants to read, I think that parent should read it and have a conversation with the kid about it.
A3 (Jo Knowles): I think so. Yes. I mean, books have made me weep with despair. They’ve filled me with indescribable hope. They’ve inspired me to volunteer and to give. They’ve inspired me to call a friend I haven’t talked to in years. They’ve inspired me—many, many times—to sit down with my son and remind him that I love him. And every time I read a book I think it inspires me to look at the world a little differently. With a little more compassion.
A4 (Jacqui Robbins): Absolutely. Even at their least powerful, they can spark questions, which terrifies some people. At their most powerful, they can dig deep into your soul and show you you’re not the only one who feels that way. And that can change your life.

It’s interesting, then, the power and context of these words.  Stories impact people.  Not instructions, not guidelines.  Not policies.  Stories.

Think about the other times someone has tried to convince you of something.  Politicians, for instance, love to tell stories about their constituents.  Non-profit charities highlight the people they’ve helped, not to brag, but to share compelling reasons for you to support them.  Some of the most successful “reality” shows — think American Idol, Amazing Race — aren’t just about impending train wrecks, but spend time on each person’s story.

This isn’t just a bunch of authors defending their position.  NPR’s StoryCorps shares the tale of Olly Neal, who tells his daughter that he had gone to the library one day while skipping school, and had found a book by author Frank Yerby.  What had attracted him to the book was nothing more than what appeared to be a risque cover.  He considered checking the book out, but was worried about damaging his reputation, so he stole it.  But he brought the book back another day, and found another book by the same author.  So he stole that as well.  This continued for a while until his interest in reading had grown.   It’s actually a humorous story — the librarians were complicit in Olly’s thefts.

The reason I bring that story up is that the thought of experiencing something risque through reading compelled this young boy to read where he wouldn’t.  Olly Neal credits that moment, and that book, as a pivotal moment in his life on his way to law school.  Powerful tools, stories are, for raising questions and changing lives.

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