From Picture Book to Oral Tale

Storytelling for Educators

Why would a teacher take a story from a picture book and tell it to children without showing the pictures?

Why tell stories at all? (It’s so much easier to read a book!)

Answer: When children process stories in their head without the help of a book’s pictures – they have to use a lot of brain power to actively create the story images in their mind.


Your Brain on Stories

What is fantastic about stories is that the brain processes the information in the same way as if the person were actually experiencing the story images in real life.

For example, if a story character is smelling a flower, the olfactory cortex is stimulated in the listener in the same way as when smelling a real flower. If a character is running, the motor cortex is stimulated; If there is a squeaky mouse, the auditory cortex is activated, and so on.

This means that a child’s neural networks between many regions light up and strengthen while listening to a story.

When simply hearing facts and figures, on the other hand, much fewer parts of the brain are activated.

Your Brain on Data

I would  assume the brain’s activity during picture book reading is somewhere in between – with more areas activated than listening to data, but fewer than when hearing a story told.  (Unfortunately, I could not locate a diagram that shows the brain on picture books.)

My reasoning is that children do not need to create their own movie images in their mind if the pictures are already provided to them by the illustrator.

Click to expand image.


Similarly, when teachers conjure up a story’s images in their minds in order to recall and relate a story to children – a symbiotic relationship unfolds between teacher and child in the mutual crafting and sharing of story images.

In other words, storytelling is a dynamic brain exercise – both for students and educators.



Beck Bertram and Associates. (2015). Manage the story, manage the change: How neuroscience informs the management of change through storytelling. Retrieved from

Boulenger, V., Shtyrov, Y., Pulvermuller, F. (2012). When do you grasp the idea? MEG evidence for instantaneous idiom understanding. Neuroimage, 59(4), 3502-3513.

In many cultures, storytelling is intermixed with movements, songs, chants, and music – or any combination of these.

It was my intention to recreate this multi-faceted experience when I selected Mordicai Gerstein’s wonderful picture book, Carolinda Clatter, to retell in oral form.

Summary of Carolinda Clatter

“Carolinda Clatter is born noisy in a place where, legend says, loud noise will wake a sleeping giant and bring destruction. Her tale, and that of an old giant hopelessly in love with the icy moon, are told in this lovely new picture book by the 2004 Caldecott Medal winner. It’s an energetic and touching story about a spirited child, the power of self-expression, and the mysterious ability of music to transform and soothe us, set out in rich, ebullient pictures.”

To this description I will add that the giant falls into a deep slumber, and over thousands of years his body becomes the home to trees, plants, animals, and people – and so it is that Carolinda is born in a village on top of the giant’s belly.

To create a multi sensory experience, I set music to parts of the story, and created lyrics for other parts as well. Although I am a novice ukulele player, I chose to use this instrument to give background support for most of the songs.



Original Carolinda Clatter Song Lyrics

The Giant’s Song:

Dear Moon, Come Dance and Marry Me
Dear Moon, Dear Moon
We’ll Have Such a Lovely Family
Giant Babies and Little Planets so Pretty
Come Shine in my Heart Forever More
Be Mine and Love me I Implore
Marry Me, Marry Me, Dear Moon, Dear Moon

New Frontier:

Mountain, Forest, Meadow, River
Animals Roam Hither Thither
Tigers Come, Tigers Run, Tigers Leap, Tigers Jump
Tigers Kick and Go, Tigers Frolic to and Fro

The Townsfolk’s Song:

This Mountain Looks Just Like a Sleeping Giant
Be Careful Don’t Wake Him, Let Us Be Quiet

From Two Rock Walls
That Rise so Tall
The Water Falls
What is That?   His Nostrils!

 In the Moonlight’s Glow
Below His Nose
A Forest Grows
That Must Be …. His Mustache!
This Mountain Looks Just Like a Sleeping Giant
Be Careful Don’t Wake Him, Let Us Be Quiet

Let’s Build a Town
Right on This Mound
So Big and Round
It Looks Like … His Belly!

Like Little Gnomes
We’ll Build our Homes
With Pretty Domes
On Tiptoe, In Silence

Carolinda’s Song:

I Love Noise, I Love Noise
Loud Noises, Soft Noises, Sweet Noises, Harsh Noises
I Love Noise, I Love Noise

Roosters Crow: Kakadoodle Doo
Ponies Go: Ney
Kittens Meuw: Meuw
Babies Coo: Coo Coo
Pots and Pans, Go BAM BAM BAM!

Carolinda’s Lullaby:

Sleep Gentle Giant
The Moon is Smiling At You
Sleep Gentle Giant
The Moon is Smiling At You

I Sing This Song Now
A Song That is True
The Moon is Shining Sweetly
And She’s Shining on You

If you are interested in an audio link for these songs, let me know in the comments section, and I will send it to you or post it here.  

When telling a story, I prefer to repeat the same story with the same group of children over several sessions. With each retelling, the children become more involved in the dramatization and begin to retell the story themselves. This is when I start to add props, costumes, musical instruments, and additional movements.

For example, the children played on pots and pans for the song, I Love Noise. We added animal toys to aid children’s dramatization of the song, New Frontier, and made a pretend giant out of pillows and cloth. A moon was used with moonbeam streamers to add movement to the song, Carolinda’s Lullaby.

And in many portions, the children all played Carolinda as we retold and dramatized the story.

Sometimes after retelling it 4-5 times, I will bring in the picture book at the end to show them the illustrator’s version.  I figure, by this point, their own mental images will be strong enough to view another artist’s rendition.

Because this story is a bit complex, it is suitable for children ages 5 and up – although some younger children with high levels of concentration may enjoy it as well – especially if you dramatize it.

Of course, you do not need to adapt a picture book to storytelling. Stories that are meant to be told orally can be found in numerous storytelling anthologies and often lend themselves better to oral telling than picture books because of their simplicity and repetitive motifs.

One simple story I have told to very young children ages 2 and up with great success is Little Bear Takes a Walk.

Comments from Readers

“I liked the part about the parts of the brain getting stimulated when children are asked to imagine the pictures. I also think the idea of doing a story multiple times with children and eliciting their participation in ever more complex ways is fantastic.’

                          ~ graduate student and early childhood educator

“I loved this post. It was novel to me and really interesting. I would love more examples of how to practically use storytelling, especially for younger children since I work with 2 year olds.’ 

                          ~ graduate student and early childhood educator

“We tell all sorts of stories in our house. In the car we tell stories all the time, and that kids are encouraged to do so as well. They don’t watch videos or look at screens in the car. My kids love it when we make up stories. We have whole worlds with characters that appear again and again in new adventures, and sometimes we even have cross-overs. It is more tiring but the kids actually really like it.’

                        ~ parent

“My daughter loves it when I tell her stories, even if it is a simple story of what I did while she was at preschool. She stops everything and listens.’

                        ~ parent 

“A teacher I know uses oral story telling every day at lunch time with his group. They select from a handful of tales that they all have heard him tell before, and they get very engaged with it and involved and help him add details, so the story can change somewhat each time.’

                       ~ graduate student and early childhood administrator

“I would enjoy involving the children in the story by having them play instruments or maybe doing a theatrical show once all the children were familiar with the story.’

                          ~ graduate student and early childhood educator

“Yes, I hadn’t thought of this concept before, and am so excited by it!’

                       ~ graduate student in early childhood education 

A Historical View

In addition to exercising the brain, storytelling was a way to teach culture and values in traditional societies.  This along with two other key ways of transmitting knowledge were part of the traditional modes of learning since ancient times.

For a brief overview of traditional education: 

What are your thoughts? Do you have experiences with storytelling? If not, what is holding you back? Please share in the Comments box!

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