Once upon a time there lived a girl. The girl loved rainbows and elephants and yellow shoes. She loved the sea, the sky, stones and stories. She could juggle and do cartwheels and make paper stars but, best of all, she climbed trees. One day, the girl was feeling tired for she had seen many things and been to many places. So, she climbed to the top of the tallest tree she could find and on her back she carried a bag of books, crayons, toys and a rainbow. Once at the top of the tree, she reached into her bag and as she did everything in the bag fell to the ground and scattered at the bottom of the tree. Three children were passing by and saw the things fall. The girl watched them. She watched them as they played and drew and read stories. She listened carefully as they played, she listened to their stories and collected them in her jar of stars. Slowly, she began to climb down the tree. ‘Who are you?’ they asked when they saw the girl with the yellow shoes and the rainbow and the bag of stories. ‘My name is Kate’ she replied ‘and this is my Storytree.’ And from that day on, the girl carried her books and crayons and toys and wherever she found a tree, she climbed up and hung the rainbow and shared stories with everyone who came to listen.
The Storytree is a space. A space made of people and stories and toys. It is a museum and a library and a great big art cupboard. It is a space to share and a den in which to hide. It is bright and it is messy. It is calm and noisy. There are tin elephants and big blue stars and a wooden rainbow, some Russian dolls, monkeys and birds. There is a big rainbow and a dream catcher in which to catch dreams both big and small. It is filled with paper hearts and hole punches and coloured tape. A jar of paper stars on which to make a wish or two or three. There are books and paper. Pens and sharpened pencils. There is glue and stickers and pictures and paperclips. There are scarves and carpets and fabric strips and bags and purses. There are boxes, big and small and jars with lids and bowls and spoons.
It is a space within a place … up the stairs and under the wooden eaves of the cafe, between the bookshelves of a bookshop or library, under the lights of a theatre space. It is under the branches of a tree, in a boat next to the river, in the wigwam in the forest. There are paper hearts and stars stuck in the cracks of the floor. It is inside. It is outside. It is sunny and rainy. The big rainbow appears and doesn’t go away. It is living, it breathes and it moves from place to place. It changes and grows and still, it is the same Storytree. Toys disappear, things are lost and found and new stuff arrives. It is a place of lost things. People come to it to play, to make, to listen and to create.
I fell in to loving children’s books. I guess there are worse things to fall for. And if one is going to do something, falling in with both feet, eyes open and nose held is a good way to start. I began working as a bookseller in my early twenties and had been given the responsibility of managing the Children’s Books section. I floundered around in the waves of books I had never heard of, new stories that had appeared after I’d been busy being all grown-up. Appearing after I’d been away growing up in a foreign land. So I returned. Back to a place I knew and started from there. The land of Narnia and The Jolly Postman and The Faraway Tree. I revisited Pippi Longstocking and Matilda and The Worst Witch. Looking and taking in the illustrations of Jan Pienkowski and Quentin Blake and Shirley Hughes.
And it was from then that I began to remember the child I was, the child I had become, I child I am. It was nice to go back, to return to that place and I was happy. I moved out of bookselling and became a teaching assistant where I continued to play and draw and tell stories and soon these stories began to change from the stories of my childhood, to the stories of the children around me. I trained in therapeutic storywriting, a process in which the writer tells their story, with all the good bits and bad bits. Where the voice of the writer is held and honoured and preserved. It felt good, it felt right and I wanted more, I wanted to hear more stories from the children I held dear.
And so, my mind began to wander again and I read the words of Maria Montessori, the Italian educationalist and I went to study and train as a Montessori teacher. I continued to tell stories and took a plane to a forest in Northern Israel. It was here that I met many wonderful storytellers, people who told stories every day, who went places to tell stories and people would go to listen to them tell their stories. I stayed with these people and played and drew and wrote, daring to hope that one day, I too may be a storyteller and travel places.
And I became one, a storyteller that is. It happened in a park in London W14. I was 33 and swinging on a swing and beside me were three children. They too were swinging on the swings and as we continued to swing our legs we started to flow, move at the same time, get in sync. I was a nanny, or so I thought. Like Mary Poppins, I lived with these three children and their parents. But what I didn’t know, was that I was the storyteller I had always been and all I’d needed was for someone to listen. And so, The Storytree became and began to take form. The roots had always been there, now it was starting to grow.
The Storytree was founded on a love of books and stories, a foundation of following the child and the need to know that my voice and that of others is listened to, prized and cherished.
Stratford is very lucky to have her in our midst.
I have known Kate for many years and we have worked with Kate Storytree on several occasions at the festival. She is both creative – bringing children to a love of stories – but also efficient and reliable. This year 2018, she curated our entire pre-school programme and brought fresh new ideas which were appreciated by a growing audience. She is gentle and thoughtful and brings a unique and refreshing perspective as a storyteller. Stratford is very lucky to have her in our midst.