By Karen Sinclair and Karen Fee
Stories breathe life into children. And that’s what children and youth need right now! Stories that help them figure out what is happening in their world.
The 27th annual Ottawa Children’s Storytelling Festival will run November 22–27. The festival will be held online through the Ottawa Public Library’s website and, with limited in-person seating, at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre.
Listening to stories builds self-confidence and creativity, and it teaches an appreciation for the arts. It improves memory and concentration – woe betide a parent or grandparent who has tried to skip a paragraph or two in a favourite bedtime story. “But you didn’t say. . .!!”
Actor and educator Jacqui Du Toit, known as Kitchissipi’s Storyteller, describes storytellers as those who take an audience on a journey, who bridge the gap between reality and imagination. “They open the door and help the audience step into their imagination,” she says.
Du Toit was born, raised and educated in theatre arts in South Africa. After moving to Ottawa in 2008, she sought out the diversity, colours and vibrancy of the arts community she left behind in Cape Town. She set out to become part of the arts scene in Hintonburg/Kitchissipi.
Her enthusiasm and love for her craft is infectious. Stories have existed since the beginning of time, and storytelling in all its formats around the world enables “cross-pollination, a weaving of reality and imagination.”
For Du Toit, it always comes back to the beginning of time. “We can look at how to inspire the next generation,” she says, to apply lessons learned not only from each other but from the “four-legged and winged creatures.”
The Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) school board believes in the power of story as a learning tool that conveys language, culture and a foundation for literacy. The CECCE is partnering with Ottawa Storytellers, the Ottawa Public Library and Odawa Native Friendship Centre to produce the festival. Public health restrictions have once again forced the annual festival online, which means that entire classrooms can join in the fun!
Proven to benefit children’s mental and emotional health, storytelling is also an effective way to transmit cultural knowledge, beliefs and values, and it is also a powerful tool for socialization. Storytellers at this year’s festival reflect the experiences, wit and wisdom of Indigenous people, Francophones and Anglophones. By listening to stories from other cultures, children broaden their emotional intelligence and empathy, identifying what feelings they have in common rather than focusing on differences.
While in-person storytelling provides the richest experience, “the move online in 2020 because of COVID-19 resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of families attending the festival,” said festival coordinator Ruth Stewart-Verger.
Come hear Jacqui Du Toit’s tales of that Trickster Rabbit! Traditional stories from her South African homeland, on Tuesday, November 23 at 12:30 p.m. The festival will be available for free on the Ottawa Public Library website’s Kids’ Zone.
Karen Sinclair is a local author and storyteller, and Karen Fee is a storytelling grandmother. Both Karens are members of Ottawa StoryTellers.