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Book Review of “Engaging Teens with Story” by Janice M. Del Negro and Melanie A. Kimball

Wednesday, October 17, 2018  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Reviewed by Nicole Collins, Head Librarian, Providence Day School, Charlotte, NC

There is something special about stories. They have a way of calming and connecting people, bridging cultures and bringing communities together. As a librarian, I’m surrounded by stories, but until reading Engaging Teens With Story, I was unaware of how integral storytelling can be in an upper school curriculum. In my work with teens, I provide mainly research instruction and guidance. While I find this important and recognize the value of learning these skills, I’m always looking for creative ways to incorporate storytelling into the curriculum. The editors of this book have compiled a collection of chapters that explains the many forms of storytelling and encourages us to explore and experiment with the ways we can incorporate storytelling into our work with teens.

The chapter on brain development is engaging and highlights the impact stories have on brain development. The studies cited demonstrate that story is the gatekeeper of the brain. Humans think, make sense, and create meaning in story form, and remember and recall in stories. There are eight essential elements of stories (characters, traits, goals, motives, conflicts, risk or danger, struggles, and details) that, when used effectively in storytelling, help information to be received more accurately. Well-crafted stories make information more meaningful and are more likely to be retained by students. The research on brain development and stories furthered my appreciation of storytelling and provided evidence that could be used with teachers when suggesting reasons for introducing storytelling into a project or the curriculum.

One of my goals in reading this book was to try to find new ways to help others share their stories. Students at my school do amazing things: volunteer with local organizations, travel abroad, etc., but they lack an avenue to share their experiences within our school community. I want to help these students tell well-crafted stories that will be meaningful and impactful to the whole student body. In chapter 3, Rebecca Morris, a professor, editor, and consultant in school and youth librarianship, introduces digital storytelling -- the process of creating and sharing stories in multimedia formats. She shares that when stories have compelling narration, meaningful content, and captivating images and sound, they provide the audience with an invitation for thoughtful reflection. By creating digital stories, the students at my school would have a way to share their powerful messages with their peers and offer the community the opportunity for reflection.

This book highlights many of the benefits of storytelling with teens, offers great examples of how to implement different forms of storytelling, and has a wealth of resources and tips. In addition to personal narrative digital stories, this book suggests using digital storytelling with interactive maps to document a class trip, creating Twitter timelines for history, working with a green screen for original plays or newscasts, recording “draw my life” videos to reflect upon events, creating book trailers, and more. In chapter 4, Melanie Kimball suggests helping students get started on storytelling by having them rework traditional tales. This provides an excellent first assignment as the students already know the stories well and understand their plots. The confidence they gain from this will then facilitate their attempts at crafting more challenging, personal stories.

After reading this book, I partnered with an upper school English teacher to introduce the concept of digital storytelling to 20 juniors and seniors for their final writing assignment. We used WeVideo, a cloud-based video editing software, to create their products. This two-week process was a learning experience for both the students and instructors, as we explored the digital storytelling process highlighted by Morris in chapter 3. New assignments and concepts often bring challenges for students and this project was not an exception. The students struggled with the idea of writing compelling personal narratives and adding meaningful images. However, I feel that some of them came away with a better understanding of themselves and a sense of confidence after tackling something new.

Engaging Teens With Story would be a great resource for any professionals working with teens who are looking to expand their curriculum. In addition to the numerous examples of embedding storytelling into a school’s culture, and the information on brain development, the book also highlights the positive impact storytelling can have on a teen’s self-image. Storytelling can help aid in the search for identity, provide a sense of belonging, and improve listening and language skills. As educators, we need to challenge ourselves to find ways to bring the magic of storytelling into the classroom. Whether by using traditional folklore to introduce another culture, culminating a research project with the creation of a podcast, starting a storytelling club, or creating digital stories, the overall goal is to recognize the role that stories play in our communities and the positive impacts that can be had by embracing them.





Nicole Collins is the head librarian for middle and upper schools at Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC.

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