When I chanced upon This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien, I knew this was what I wanted to work with. There are no words in the book and the pages are images or settings with seemingly no relation to one another. It’s a great piece of material to provide both visual and audio stimulation to young children, and at the same time allows creativity and imagination to determine the premise of that stimulation. I wanted to also demonstrate to parents that there’s no need to buy many toys or books, they can use just one book to create many different stories that can stimulate the imagination in different ways.
With just a single book, I created 3 stories for our programme in May, involving simple props to add onto the pages and using the pages as backdrops for these props, or simply using the pages as a storytelling tool. Through these sessions, there were important exchanges between me (as the main storyteller) and the audience (my secondary storyteller). Without the limitation of the words, the children were able to guide the story and use their own agency and power to drive the narrative.
For example, I created a character called “Ah Girl” who went missing. I asked the children in the session to help me to find Ah Girl (a stick figure drawn on a piece of paper). When found, Ah Girl confided that she was not invited to a birthday party and she felt lonely. The children spontaneously went up to her and consoled her, told her that she can attend their birthday parties, helped to explain that maybe her friends didn’t meant it, maybe there was a miscommunication. In that period of 30 – 45mins, the children suspended their disbelief and allowed their imaginations to take over. They could show concern and be empathetic towards a stick figure, even help to resolve the character’s dilemma. This was an unplanned, but it was such a delicate and precious moment that I couldn’t bear to put aside. So the session became a counselling session for Ah Girl, which was an interesting role reversal scene for the adults watching!
The second session was about a monster and his fear of the dark. This was something that was slightly experimental as I tried to create that feeling of fear during the story-telling, almost like how it should feel while telling a horror story. This was something that I hope to explore – how do young children manage their fears even though cognitively, they knew that the “monster” is just a page on the book? I prefaced the session with the idea that we would be telling stories with the pages of the book. Unsurprisingly, there were many children, aged 4 – 7, who expressed fear and apprehension when I flipped to the page with the monster. I saw how the children negotiated their own curiosity and their fear (moving from parents’ laps towards the book and then back again). There was one boy who was so afraid that he did not want to get near the book. He finally managed to conquer his fear when his friends in the session encouraged him and promised him profusely that the monster was fake and it was just a page.
During the last session, where the story revolves around me as Myra and my aspirations in different parts of my life, the children started sharing their dreams and aspirations with me. One wanted to be an architect, one wanted to be a pilot and fly his parents around the world, one wanted to be a chef. Parents also started sharing what they wanted to be when they were young and their occupations now. During that moment, these words were no longer adults words or children’s words, they were words that we wanted to share with one another.
And so I guess, it is true.
This is not a book.
It is a vessel of many stories.