Category Archives: Story for Telling

Why the Chimes Rang

Story in Worship Why the Chimes Rang

“Why the Chimes Rang”
original text by
Raymond MacDonald Alden,
Adapted by Kristin Maier

available in A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story;  ebook available

A Good Telling Bringing Worship to Life with Story by Kristin Maier
The angelic chimes in the giant bell tower would ring each Christmas Eve when the best gift to the Holy Child was laid upon the Altar.  The chimes had been silent for years, though, as everyone tried to out give everyone else.

Pedro and his sister Luisa heard of the beautiful Christmas Eve service and are determined to make the trip to see it for themseleves.  When they stumble upon upon  a woman in the snow, Pedro insists that Luisa go on without him to offer their one copper piece to the Holy Child. What will happen when that one modest gift is placed upon the altar?  Will the chimes finally ring once again?

Raymond MacDonald Alden’s classic tale, “Why the Chimes Rang,” has been adapted for the contemporary ear.  It is a lovely variation on the theme of genuine giving and the true spirit of Christmas.  A little sister, Luisa, has been brought in to offer some gender balance, still a rare thing in 2014, even rarer back in 1910 when the original was published.  This story will bring warm memories to your older listeners and will be brand new to your younger ones.

Note:  Raymond MacDonald Alden’s original story, “Why the Chimes Rang,”  is now in the public domain and is widely available online.  The adaptation by Kristin Maier is available through her book, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story, including an immediately available ebook via Google Play or Amazon.

Themes: Generosity, Genuine Giving, Christmas, True Meaning, Helping Others, Sacrifice, Good Samaritan, Charity, Compassion

Motifs: Christmas, Holy Child, Jesus, Chimes, Organ, Music, Money, Penny, Copper, Gift, Wind, King, Altar, Angel, Tower, Heart, Winter, Snow

William’s Doll

William’s Doll
Charlotte Zolotow (author), William Pene Du Bois (illustrator)
1972, HarperTrophy
William's Doll - Story in Worship

More than anything William wants a doll. He wants to take the doll to the park, push it in the swing, bring it home, kiss it goodnight and wake it up again in the morning, just as if he were its father and it was his baby.

William dutifully plays with the train set his father gives him. He gets quite good at shooting the basketball from his father. Still, though, he wants a doll.  His brother and friends call him a creep, but what will Grandma say when she finds out?

William’s Doll has been in print for forty-plus years because it does what a really good story is does best; it allows the reader to enter someone’s experience in a meaningful and touching way, without schmaltz or heavy-handed moralizing.

Zolotow’s tone is warmly matter of fact, as if written in the voice of the grandmother character. The grandmother in the story is what we should all aspire to be  if we are blessed with a grandparent role.  She is interested, attentive, kind, and gives her grandchild the space to be who he is.

Part of the beauty of Zolotow’s book is that she expresses the tension of the character’s experience with gentle, skilled, and spare writing.  When William confesses his desire to care for a doll, his grandmother’s simply says, “Wonderful.” When he explains that it isn’t wonderful to his brother or father, she simply says “Nonsense.”

Without ever sounding heavy handed or appearing to baldly push home a point, Zolotow’s story makes several very strong ones. The nurturing capacity of men and boys and the importance of fatherhood ring throughout this book. The innocent nature of children simply being who they are regardless of gender is made abundantly clear. The power of caring adults to gently and clearly speak out on a child’s behalf is evident.

There has been much change in our society and our congregations in the forty some years since this book was written.  Men are allowed and expected to play nurturing roles as parents and grandparents in ways they rarely were allowed when the book was written.  Men and children have benefited from that greatly.  And yet, we have not come so far that this book is no longer relevant. Far from it.

At various developmental stages, children tend to take in and amplify gender expectations. They are trying to make sense of the rules of the world and how they fit in. This book, read in their place of worship, will help them to understand that a loving, kind, and accepting response is more important than whether someone fits into “the rules” of convention. This book will be especially powerful in helping them know they are each valuable and okay as they are, even if they are different than their peers. It is a powerful illustration of non-judgment and compassion, cornerstones of every religion.

Themes: non-judgment, compassion, acceptance, difference, bullying, gender, fatherhood, parenting, teasing,

Motifs: Doll, Toy, Train, Basketball, Father, Son, Grandparent, Grandmother

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

The Mountain that Loved a Bird

The Mountain that Loved a Bird
Alice McLerran (author)

The Mountain that Loved a Bird is one of my all-time favorite books. Ever. I have told it numerous times and invariably listeners find themselves enraptured.

The Mountain that Loved a Bird -by Alice McLerran, Eric Carle (Illustrator)

The Mountain that Loved a Bird - by Alice McLerran, Stephen Aitken (Illustrator)






It is the tale of a mountain made of bare stone. No rivers or streams flow from it. No plants or animals have ever touched its surface, until one day a small bird stops to rest on its side. The mountain has never known anything like this bird and desperately wants it to stay, which of course it cannot. That deep desire to connect and the kind loyalty of the bird, however, are enough to crack open big changes in the mountain.

This story is beautiful, the language spare, and the outcome completely uplifting. It is a story of renewal and hope, loneliness and connection, and ultimately the irrepressible force of life in and around us. It has found world-wide acclaim and has been translated into many languages.

There are two English language versions that I am aware of.  The first was illustrated by Eric Carle and is no longer in print, but can be found in many libraries and through used book stores. The other English version was illustrated by Stephen Aitken and is published by Tulika Books in India.

The author, Alice McLerran, negotiated the rights to the text shortly before the book publishing world was rocked by the forces of e-books, print on demand, and looming e-tail monopolies.  She is currently looking for a publisher to release the book again with its new artwork from Stephen Aitken. Let’s hope she finds one soon – this is an enduring and beautiful tale that should be in the hands of adults and children in the US too (it’s all over the rest of the world).

As I mentioned above, I have told this tale many times in worship services and it has always played very well.  It can be read of course too, but the narrative structure is very strong, the characters solid, and the plot fairly easy to follow. It is fairly long, so requires more effort to learn than say a 500 word story, but it is well worth that effort.  Either way you present it, this one will be a joy!

Themes: Rebirth, Connection, Life, Hope, Joy, Separation, Healing, Home, Longing

Motifs: Mountain, Bird, Water, Tears, Seed, Flight, Sky, Stars, Joy, Green, Tree

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Keeper of the Rain

“The Keeper of the Rain” in A Good Telling
Kristin Maier (Author)
Skinner House, 2013

After more years than you or I can count, the keeper of the rain is weary. A new keeper has been born, but there is only one problem. He really doesn’t like rain. While he lays basking in the sun, the land around him is drying up. What will it take for the new keeper to finally whisper the word that brings the rain?

Here is that rare, engaging and funny climate change story you have been looking for. This very tell-able tale playfully engages very serious questions about our human ability to affect weather and climate.  The young keeper of the rain wrestles with his desire for comfort versus his desire to care for the world he loves. The adults and children in our congregations face this same dilemma. This story allows us to see ourselves and our own behavior from a fresh (and endearing) perspective.

GoodTelling“The Keeper of the Rain” is one of six original stories in Kristin Maier’s guide to storytelling in worship. Two more unique adaptations of classic tales are also included, as well as script for a narrator-based play.  Along with the stories, A Good Telling offers concrete techniques for delivering emotionally engaging stories, reflects on the role of  story in worship, the art of preparation, and includes an annotated bibliography of story collections, picture books, and other resources.  See the author’s website to view video demonstrations of storytelling techniques and excerpts from “The Keeper of the Rain.” A Good Telling is available in print or as an eBook from Amazon Kindle Store and on Google Play.

Themes: Climate Change, Ecology, Environment, Creation, Duty, Comfort, Self-Sacrifice, Water

Motifs: Rain, Drought, Flood, Water, Sun, Rock, Pond, Cattails, Crawfish, Whisper, Word, Cold, Warmth

The Story of Ferdinand

The Story of Ferdinand
Munro Leaf (author), Robert Lawson (illustrator)
Viking, 1936

You knoThe_Story_of_Ferdinandw a book did something right if it was burned by the Nazis and banned in Franco’s Spain. Who would have thought that this sweet classic book about the Bull who liked flowers more than fighting could raise such a fuss?  And yet, published in 1936, just around the outbreak of the
Spanish Civil War, it became an instant success and just as instantly controversial. Ferdinand became know as the “peaceful bull” and the book was understood by many to be a criticism of the anti-Republic coup that would soon break out in Spain.

Though this children’s book’s relationship to its political context is fascinating, you don’t need to know anything about the Spanish Civil War to see the charm and beauty of this book. Through a twist of circumstances, the gentle, flower-loving Ferdinand is mistaken for an angry and ready to fight bull.  He is taken by cart to the city to be entered in the ring of a bull fight. Ferdinand is far more interested in the flowers on the ladies hat than in the red cape of the matador. This book speaks to themes of peace, non-conformity, the breadth of gender expression and potentially the unfair treatment of animals.

The cruelty of bull fighting is treated very lightly in the book, which helps it to be not-so-traumatizing for younger children. However, it left me feeling as if something more needs to be said. One approach is to offer a simple, age-appropriate statement about bullfighting when introducing the book. For example, I might say: “I am no fan of bull fighting.  I think it’s mean to the bulls.  I am a fan of The Story of Ferdinand the Bull, though.  It’s been a classic for over 75 years now.  I hope you like it too.”  Also, the story could be further softened if you are telling it rather than reading it.  A more direct point could then be made through the sermon or by other means with adults.

The classic narrative structure and language already suited to the spoken word make it a great story for telling – no adaptation required.  If you do share the picture book, the black ink line drawings are charming, though perhaps hard to see unless fairly close up.

Themes: Peace, Non-aggression, Non-conformity, Gender Identity, Difference,

Motifs: Spain, Bulls, Fighting, Flowers, Bees, Red

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story