“The Healing Magic of Stories,” column for March 24, 2015

Children are like sponges soaking up drops all around them, especially the drops you’d rather they not touch. But they are also excellent teachers.

My brother, blind from birth, taught me how to see the world, not just with my eyes, but with all my senses. He taught me other things, too, like how to be pig-headed and never confuse pickles with jalapeno peppers.

Mostly he taught me the power of storytelling. When I’d read to him or tell him stories, I would see that power work its magic, calming and soothing and filling his belly like a hot bowl of chili on a cold winter night. Reading and telling stories taught me a lot about my brother and myself and life.

My first year out of college I worked as a substitute teacher. Often, I’d get called at the last minute to a classroom of kids wild as penguins on speed, with no lesson plans to be found.

So I would read to them or tell them stories and watch the power of storytelling transform lunatic penguins into sponges ready to learn. More or less.

That same magic worked when I taught Sunday School. The only difference was the stories came from the Bible and were generally a lot more colorful.

When my children were small, stories were our salvation. Each week we’d go to the library to get a pile of books. My oldest loved adventure books. His sister loved books about pandas. And their baby brother loved any book he could chew.

On days too rainy or foggy to go outside (there are many such days on the coast of Northern California) we’d build a fire and I would read to them for hours. If my hands were full, as they often were, changing a diaper or stirring a pot, one of the older two would read aloud, or we’d take turns making up stories.

You can learn a lot listening to children’s made-up stories, or watching their eyes grow wide with wonder listening to yours.

I wish you could’ve seen us.

I didn’t do everything right as a mother. Far from it. My house was often a mess, we ate a lot of hotdogs and sometimes I’d forget to make the kids brush their teeth. Or their hair. But we read together and traded stories and let the power of storytelling work its magic upon us. Looking back, I feel good about that.

Lately, it seems, I’m reliving the past with my grandchildren.

Randy is 4. He tells me stories about super heroes that always save the day. Especially my day.

Henry is 3. He knows more about animals than even I could forget. We make elephants with Play-Doh and he tells me about the grasslands where they live, the watering hole where they drink and the store where they buy toys for their grandkids.

Wiley is 2. He grabs a book, climbs up in my lap and says, “Read, Nana.” Which I gladly do, mumbling words with my nose pressed into his curls.

Eleanor is 2 months old. She is smiling already, clearly gifted. I tell her stories about her daddy when he was a boy. Maybe that’s why she smiles. In return for my stories, she makes sounds like a chicken to tell me secrets that she learned long before she was born, bouncing on God’s knee.

I don’t do everything right as a nana. Far from it. I live miles away from my grandchildren, try to visit them often, and yet it never seems often enough. But we read together and tell stories every chance we get, and let the power of storytelling work its magic upon us.

Stories feed the souls of young and old alike. We need them, much the way we need air to breathe, water to drink or music to make us dance. They tell us who we are, what we believe in and why we need one another.

So pick up a book or dream up a story. Make sure it’s a good one. Then share it with someone, young or old. And may you both feel the magic.


  1. A couple of years ago, my grandson and I were on a road trip with his parents. I was in the back seat with him, (he was four at the time) and we were bored, so I started telling him a story about a little boy, four years old, who lived in a house at the very top of a tall, tall hill. This boy had all sorts of fantastic adventures during our 6 hour drive to LA. Later, I started recording the stories and emailing them to his Mom, so he could listen to me whenever he wanted to. Last year, I wrote and illustrated a story about the boy and a leprechaun. Even though he’s now almost seven, and reading his own stories, he still wants Gramma to tell him about Everett and the tall, tall hill.

  2. What a beautiful reminder to narrate stories . I did that for 3 years in India working as substitute teacher . Yes, I was going to different classes each day so only couple stories were enough to spend a day in one class . I did not get enough time to read new stories but I had great memory to whom tell same story as kids would not listen same story two times . I had to change job from professor to nursery teacher but those kids gave me enough happiness to forget my past . There were ten sections of 3 year olds ,7 sections of 4 year old kids and every day at least one class was missing one teacher ,who knows why they took off so often but every day I had a chance to teach little kids ABC or a poem or nothing ,just mind them to sit at one place ,keep quite or help myself to bear all the noises they made banging their tiny hands on tables . Some even pretending to pee on the seat if I did not send them to visit toilets where they found some freedom to shout and play . God bless them they must be having their own kids now as I had been a teacher for them long time ago . Thank you Sharon sharing always so real stories we love them all and I cannot wait to tell stories to my grand kids too who are only 2 years and 3 months old .

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