Stories for the Season: Christmas Stories to Share!

So it’s Christmas, and you’re looking for some great new stories to share with family, friends, students and story-lovers. Well, here are a few favorites that I have come across in my own search. Wherever possible I have listed the book(s) in which the stories can be found and/or given an online link to a similar version. Enjoy!


Joy to the World: Christmas Stories from Around the Worldby Saviour Pirotta

This book contains such favorite folktales as Babushka (Russia), The Brave Little Camel (Syria) and Flowers for Jesus (Mexico).


The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories compiled by Ian Whybrow contains such goodies as:

A Cinderella-type story in which a poor orphan girl discovers that for one magical hour on Christmas Eve she can talk with things that don’t normally have voices. A cat, a clock and a fire teach her a lesson in doing her duties with joy.

  • Old Pierre’s Christmas Visitors (France)

A man dreams that Jesus will visit him on Christmas day. But after a whole day of helping needy neighbors, he has not seen him. In the end, he learns that Jesus has already visited in the form of each of those neighbors. Leo Tolstoy has a version of this story entitled Papa Panov.

  • The White Cat of the Dovre Mountain (Norway)

An uproarious tale of pesky trolls confusing a polar bear for a cat on Christmas Eve. (Jan Brett also has a version of this story titled “Who’s That Knocking On Christmas Eve?” And for some different folk variations click here.)


Hans Christian Anderson is famous for such beautiful winter tales as:

The sad tale of a tree who is too busy wishing for the next stage of its life to enjoy the present moment. (I would recommend it for older children, as the ending may be too sad for the little ones.)

A poor elderly couple who work as shoemakers receive help from some kind elves. (This story has also been attributed to the Brothers Grimm.)


And last but not least, a few more favorite folktales:

Find out the origins of tinsel in this story of how some spiders made a very special Christmas for a poor family.

A special singing fir tree is destroyed by a man in his quest to find the perfect piece of wood for his carving. A great examination of how the beauty of nature is meant to be enjoyed by all and what happens when we destroy it for our own reward.


What is your favorite Christmas story?

A young actor and I showing our polar bear growls after my telling of the Norwegian folktale, “The White Cat of the Dovre Mountain,” which I like to call “The Very Big Christmas Kitty”

“Voyage to Russia” Premiere Recap

Last Friday evening we had the premiere for my new film, Voyage to Russia: A Journey of the Imagination. Usually when you hear the word “premiere,” it conjures up images of red carpets, Hollywood stars decked out in their best attire, and crowds of adoring fans. However, this premiere was a bit different.

There was red carpet, but only because that’s the color of the carpet in my church where the premiere was held. I tried to dress nicely, but there was nothing close to a fancy evening gown. The most notable part of my wardrobe was my character’s signature multi-colored rain boots that didn’t even match the rest of what I was wearing. My mom felt I should choose more suitable footwear, but those were the only part of my outfit that I was certain must be worn. And as for crowds, the attendance was somewhat modest, which I had expected due to the holiday season and the fact that I got the invitations out rather late.


And yet, despite the lack of Hollywood flair (or perhaps because of it!), I count the premiere a great success. First of all, three of the cast members and their families were in attendance. Two of these cast members were in the previous film, Flight to India, which means that I have known them for over three years now. It has been amazing watching them grow, not only as actors but as people, from one film to the next. I feel blessed by the support of their families who have spent hours in the car driving them to rehearsals and film shoots (at times in the midst of perilous snowstorms!) as well as helping them memorize lines. I have also been supported by friends who gave up their weekends to serve on the crew. And in my conversations with those involved in the production, I couldn’t help but come away with the feeling that this film has meant more than just serving as a nice little notch on their resumes.


from left to right: Music composer, Aryavarta Kumar, Director Peter Fields, Trinity Tyler (Andre), Screenwriter Lindsay Bonilla, Jeremiah Joreski (Adam), Sri Tyler (Gracie)

Instead, there is a very real sense that this is a journey we were all on together. A journey of new experiences, new challenges, new adventures. And while it culminated in a beautiful film that was greatly enjoyed by the audience, it’s the journey that remains on my mind.


In fact, Voyage to Russia is subtitled “A Journey of the Imagination.” And watching the film from the back row at Friday’s premiere, I was blessed to see children and adults taking that journey together. As Peter, the film’s director, said during his opening speech, “What I am most proud of about this film is the fact that it’s a true family-film. And unlike so much of modern technology which seems to remove us from meaningful relationships with others, these films are about connecting us to others and increasing our engagement with them.”


This is what I want to be about. This is why I tell stories, why I make family-friendly films. This is the journey that I want to be on and that I want to take others on as well. Sometimes this happens in ways I don’t even realize, and I am grateful just to be a part of it.


Many friends have shared that Flight to India has been a springboard of creativity for their children, taking them on exciting adventures as they re-enact the story and invent new destinations to visit through the power of their imaginations. My sincere hope is that Voyage to Russia will do the same. After talking with one young fan after the premiere, I have no doubt it will do just that. How can I tell? Perhaps it was in the mischievous gleam that came into her eyes as her mother told me about the Russian nesting dolls that she had at home. It was obvious that for this young girl those dolls had already taken on a life of their own in her mind. And thus, she was far ahead of me – eager to get home so her new adventure, her new journey, could begin.

New Film Premieres in December!

I’m excited to announce the premiere of my second film, Voyage to Russia! Voyage to Russia is the second film in the “Journey of the Imagination” series, following up “Flight to India.”  If you’re in the Akron area, come see the show on a big screen and meet some of the cast and crew! For those not in the Akron area, the film will be available for purchase on within the next few weeks and would make a great gift for the children in your life! Below are the details for the premiere as well as a synopsis of the film.




WHEN: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 7:30pm

WHERE: Salvation Army Akron Citadel,  190 South Maple Street; Akron, OH  44302

Admission is free so bring a friend! 


Young Leah is ready for a fun day of baking Christmas cookies with her mother. But when Mom has to work yet again, her hopes are dashed. Enter zany babysitter Lindsay, who upon discovering that Mom is too busy to spend time with Leah, is reminded of a story from Russia. Turning their kitchen table into a boat, Lindsay draws Leah and older brother Adam into a second adventure which takes them across the sea to Russia. Transforming Leah into an old lady on a mission and Adam and friends into the three kings, she guides them along on an imaginative Christmas journey, bringing the famous Russian folktale, “Babushka,” to life with the help of items from her unusual traveler’s bag. In the process, Lindsay teaches the children the unforgettable lesson that you should never be too busy for what’s truly important.

Who’s A Storyteller?

Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching my workshop, “Everyone’s a Storyteller,” to six classes of 2nd graders at an elementary school in North Ridgeville. One of the reasons I named my workshop “Everyone’s a Storyteller” is because I am amazed at how often I hear people say, “I’m not a storyteller.” These words come out of the mouths of young and old alike, and it is my mission to prove them wrong!

As I like to say, if you have ever shared the events of your day with someone, whether over the phone, over a cup of coffee or over the dinner table, you are a storyteller. All of us tell stories. It’s one of the ways that we find and construct meaning in our lives. It’s how we make sense of everything from our routine daily activities to life’s major events.

Yesterday, while presenting my workshop, I came up against one of those people who refused to admit that he was a storyteller. He was only seven years old, and we’ll call him Anthony. When we did a partner activity of sharing life stories, Anthony said he didn’t have any. He sat there staring at his partner while I tried to prompt him with some ideas, but after awhile I had to move on to help some other groups.

When the time for partner sharing came to a close, I asked who would like to share one of their partner’s stories with the rest of the class. Anthony’s partner raised his hand, and he stood up to begin. As he told, he struggled with some of the details and turned to Anthony for clarification. It was then that Anthony began to share in detail about a new pet frog he’d received. He even spread out his hands in front of him to demonstrate how the frog could glide across the water. His eyes lit up as he shared. When he’d finished, I said, “Give me a high five! You just told a story! Now everyone in this room truly is a storyteller.” Anthony smiled, and so did I. Mission Accomplished!

* * *

The next classroom I visited was extremely engaged and imaginative. They came up with some of the most creative ideas I heard all day when we brainstormed story ideas based on tableaux. But the thing that really amazed me about this class was what happened at its conclusion.

I was gathering up my clipboard and purse and preparing to move on to the next class when a little boy came up to me and said, “We can tell true stories about bullying too.”

“Is that something you are going through?” I asked.

He nodded his head and said, “I told some kids on the bus that when I get scared I suck my fingers. Now they make fun of me and call me ‘finger-sucker.’”

I was amazed that after only a 40 minute workshop session, he had felt comfortable enough to share that with me. When I talk about the reasons that we tell stories with students, I always mention the fact that it builds relationships, and this was a good example of that. I wished I could have stayed and talked some more with the student, but time would not allow it. Instead, I made sure that he had shared what was going on with his teacher and that he was getting help. I also told him how brave he was for letting an adult know what was happening.

These two stories from yesterday are great examples of why I love my work. Storytelling helps people to find their voice. It creates and builds relationship. And that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what story can do!


Tips for Tellers

Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. 

 I recently came across this quote and cannot express how true it is in the world of storytelling. There are many times that I have come up with a wonderful idea for a story program, but rather than getting to work on it, I put it off. Why? Because I’m afraid that I won’t be able to tell it perfectly. And if I feel this way as a working storyteller, I can only imagine how someone who is trying to learn a story for the first time must feel!

Well, this past week I attended a seminar conducted by John Walsh. John is the founder of BibleTelling, and while his emphasis is on learning Bible stories, his helpful tips can be applied to learning just about any type of story.

Today I’d like to share a few of his tips in the hope that they will encourage you to stop procrastinating and start telling!


1. Be willing to tell the story poorly

I know this may sound funny. But John is right. The primary reason we procrastinate is fear of failure. Fear of doing a bad job. But when we begin anything new, chances are we will do a bad job. And that’s okay. It’s a starting point. Being willing to tell the story poorly at first gives us the freedom to set aside the text and get the words in our mouths. And the sooner we take this step, the sooner we can work on improving our telling.

2. Find story listeners

You are much more likely to practice your story if you have a dedicated listener. As a professional teller, there are plenty of times when I work on stories when no one is around, but nothing motivates me to practice more than the knowledge that I’m going to have an audience. Even if that audience is only one person! Oftentimes when working on a new program I will ask my husband before he leaves for work if he can help me that evening by being a listener. I will spend more time practicing that day than all the other days combined.

Sometimes, I engage my listeners in a less formal way. For instance, I have a good friend, Jeff, who is my running partner. We run anywhere from six to twelve miles together. I take advantage of those miles to tell him as many of my new stories as I can. It makes the miles go by much faster for both of us and gives me lots of practice.

Not only does having listeners help you to practice, it also helps you learn how to improve your telling. If you see your listeners eyes glazing over at a certain point of the story, perhaps you need to spare some details and move more quickly to the plot. If a look of confusion passes over your listener’s face, perhaps you have left out an important detail. Conversely, if you see their eyes light up, you know that this is a particularly enjoyable part of the story.

While storytelling is a performance art, it is not static. It is a fluid conversation between the teller and the listener. The listener gives feedback (most often silently) and the teller responds accordingly. This connection with the audience is one of my favorite parts of being a storyteller. And while this level of give and take may sound daunting to a new teller, I assure you, it becomes easier with practice.

John recommends having five dedicated story listeners. These are the people that you can go to with each new story that you learn. If you can identify these people and begin to work with them, it will keep you motivated to practice telling and to learn new stories. In fact, there is a good chance that your dedicated listeners will hold you accountable, asking you for new stories!

These are just two simple tips to start with. In the coming days, I’ll share a few more.

In the meantime, what strategies have you used to avoid procrastination?


If you’d like to learn more about John and his work, you can visit his website at