Tad-Tales for Teens

This collection resulted from my posting on the Storytell listserv about a recent experience telling to older teenagers in a German Hauptschule. I wrote:

I had a rather interesting (though not unique) encounter earlier this week: telling older – and difficult – teenagers Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle! This was in a Hauptschule near Cologne.
In the traditional German tripartite selective school system, the Hauptschule is for classes 5 – 10 (aged 10 to 16+) who are deemed the least educationally able. Generally this type of school is being phased out, but there are some left. 

I’ve been visiting this one annually for the last four years, telling to all age-groups throughout the day, several classes of a similar age together in the assembly hall, in 20- or 30-min. sessions. The first two years were pretty successful. Last year’s was good for half of the sessions, poor in the other half, with a disruptive minority who refused to be interested in the storytelling nor be disciplined by the teachers. This minority seemed unable or unwilling to behave differently.


The school wanted me to return, and this year we handled it differently. I only did two sessions for multiple classes in the assembly hall: the 5th and 6th classes. The other 9 sessions were mainly with individual classes in their classrooms, and it was interesting to see how much easier it was for the students to listen. And even those who did not seem to be very bothered (some have extremely limited English, some also limited German), were not at all disruptive – in itself a fact the teachers rated as a positive achievement.

In the 20 or so minutes available, I usually told two tales to the older students: Why Cats live with Women (a Kenyan tale) and a Haitian tale based loosely on a telling in The Magic Orange Tree. But with a few minutes left, I asked who had younger siblings at home – and for them to take a story back, told them Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle. It was lovely seeing these ostensibly “tough” kids happily wiggling their thumbs as they went through this silly little kindergarten story. Teachers reported seeing lots still doing it in the corridors afterwards. And there was not any disruption at all.

Soon other tellers posted similar, and often very moving, accounts. For example, Fran Stallings wrote: In an Alternative High School residency, I addressed some stories to the near-adult age of the students but I think my most effective contribution was training them to tell stories to the Head Start preschool kids across the street. This focus allowed us to work on “baby” stories which they had missed themselves. They thought “Mr Wiggle & Mr Waggle” was goofy, but they could see that wee tads would enjoy it. A high point was “Rain Hat,” a story illustrated by folding/tearing newspaper as you go. I can still picture those huge boys sitting on the floor, dressing themselves and each other in the hats and vests we made (while teachers were behind the door, crying).  One of the boys grumbled, “I’m gonna make sure those kids have a better childhood than I had.”

Fran added later: I learned Rain Hat from Nancy Shimmel, who says she learned it from a girl in a library on a rainy day. A web search produced a video of a librarian telling almost exactly the same story — but Fujita-san added several sheets of newspaper rolled together ( = firefighter’s hose), then cut a rectagular panel out of the tube and pulled up the remaining sections (= ladders to save a cat from the window of the burning house). We put this version, with illustrations and instructions, in Stories to Play With (August House 1999).


As always, the ever-helpful Storytell community sent more tales to help teenagers relate back to their “tadpole” years.


Read an article from the school website about my visit written by the teacher (in German).

Fairytales for Teenagers is a related compilation

Go here for tales to watch

Go here for a list of all tales included on this site

Go here to receive an e-mail notification when new tales are added

Permission to tell outlines my views on copyright

For those who are teachers: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling