Storytelling visits to schools by
The best storyteller in the world (probably)
If we want children to fully engage with the world around them we have to begin by developing their love of stories, and no one can do that better than a good storyteller.
Storytellers don’t read from books: they tell stories in a live performance which is at once immediate, intimate, exciting and engrossing. A good storyteller can take an audience from hysterical laughter to gasps of surprise (and back again) with the twist of a phrase.
It’s long been argued that children learn best when they experience something, and stories are often the best way to bring an experience into a classroom. A storyteller can take children back in time and around the world - from the top of Mount Olympus to the markets of Baghdad, from the ice and fire of the cold north to the heat and dust of the outback - and safely back again for hometime.
There aren’t many full time professional storytellers at work in the UK, and as far as we know John Harris is the only one who works exclusively with children and young people in schools. He’s spent the last twenty years visiting schools all across the United Kingdom and Ireland telling stories to great acclaim. Most of his visits are either welcome returns or the result of recommendations, and the single word most often used in response to his storytelling is “Spellbinding”.
When you see and hear him in action you’ll understand why.
John can be seen on The Oxford University Press website telling Biff, Chip and Kipper stories to camera, and he’s the author of four well loved books himself. He’s been interviewed and told stories on BBC Radio 4, BBC 6 Music and Planet Rock. School visits from John have been the prize in a national schools writing competition organised by the paper manufacturer Kimberley Clarke, and he’s been a guest speaker at The Prince of Wales’ Education Summer School, where Michael Morpurgo described his contribution as ‘a tour de force’.
His work encourages listening and speaking skills, concentration, an understanding of narrative, and the love of stories which is the basis not just of a love of reading but of a fully rounded human being.
He has a repertoire of about 350 stories in his head and he`s always researching and developing more, so he’s bound to have stories that will suit your needs (and transfix your pupils). He tells all kinds of stories from all over the world: Myths and Legends (and he can explain the difference between the two!) from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; Folk and Fairy Tales from the far east, the middle east, Europe, North and South America and parts of Africa; Spooky, ghost and grizzly (but not too scary!) tales he’s collected on his travels and many more he’s either made up or have actually happened to him and he’s turned in to amazing (and often hilariously funny) stories.
His style is relaxed and conversational – he works very hard at making it look as if he`s not working at all. He completely engages even the most reluctant of children and can tell any one of his stories off the top of his head in a dozen different ways.
He never tells the same story twice in one day (unless he`s asked to, of course) but he does ask each of his audiences to tell one of the stories they`ve heard to someone else before they get to bed that night. This leads to impromptu storytelling sessions in the playground or classroom and, judging by the feedback we`ve had, hundreds of parents get a story at bedtime after one of John`s visits!
But don’t take our word for it: scroll down to the bottom of the page to see just some of the (completely unsolicited) responses his visits have produced.
This tells you more about the stories John can tell when he visits your school, what arrangements work best on the day (and what to avoid!) and includes suggestions for follow up work (which you’re welcome to use or completely ignore!)
A storytelling visit is for either four sessions of an hour in length, five sessions of fifty minutes or six sessions of forty minutes (depending on your school’s day, the age of the children, etc. etc.), followed by a booksigning at the end of the day. The final details will be arranged by email so that John knows exactly what you need from him. Maximum audiences sizes are 50 for Reception, 70 for years 1 - 6 and 60 for years 7 upwards. This is because he works very hard at establishing and maintaining eye contact with each member of the audience to completely draw them in to the experience, and above those numbers that becomes much more difficult!
Storytelling performances need to be held where there is no through traffic and external noise is kept to a minimum - open plan spaces or school halls which are also thoroughfares aren’t suitable. A classroom put aside for the day is perfect for all concerned but John’s happy to go from one classroom to another if this means they won’t be interrupted. If the sessions are in a hall the children usually sit on the floor and John needs something to sit on which enables everyone to see him.
The storytelling session will flash by - we promise! If John had a fiver for every time someone has said ‘wow! I’ve never seen them sit so still and quiet and so engrossed for so long!’ there’d be a Porsche parked outside his house by now (trust us, there isn’t). But it’s not all silence: they’ll laugh, sigh, jump in surprise, groan with delight, be moved almost to tears and be totally transfixed by the ability of a great story brilliantly told to take them to another world, show them things they’ve never seen before and let them see the world from a different point of view. Judging by the letters and emails we get not just from teachers but also parents your children will never quite be the same again - it can be a life changing experience!
John’s books are based on stories that he’s been telling for years, so by the time he writes them down they’ve evolved into probably the best version you’ll find. At the moment there are three in print - available on Amazon or in bookshops - and when he visits your school he’ll bring loads for the booksigning and a set of free copies for the library. (Schools can buy more copies at 20% discount.)
He’s also just finished an amazing novel for ages 10 - 14+ about which we are very excited - watch this space for more news!
Charlie lived with his mum in a village by the sea. It was a small village and a quiet one. Nothing much ever happened there - at least not until he was given his own key to the house. He promised his mum he’d look after it but things just started to go wrong.....
Essex Life Magazine
The School Librarian magazine
Imagine you’re so poor you have to scrape a living by selling wild grass. When the rains don’t come the ground dries up and nothing can grow. You go hungry. Eventually you’ll starve.
So if you found a patch of fast growing grass in the middle of the desert you’d think your problems were over, wouldn’t you? That’s what Sheng thought. But when his mum suggested he dig up the grass and plant it in their garden his problems had just begun.....
This is a very old story from China, and one of John’s most popular, either told or written.
The School Librarian magazine
Carousel, the guide to children's’ books.
The Danes’ tradition of gruesome horror stories predates Scandi Noir by a long stretch. This is the story of Beowulf, the only warrior brave enough to take on the monstrous Grendel. This story is at least a thousand years old and is still gripping readers and audiences all over the world!
The School Librarian magazine
The Daily Telegraph
Carousel, the guide to Children's’ books.
To see John’s Books on Amazon please click here
(depending on your browser this may take you to another page)
Have a good look at this website and download the information pack (which you can then pass on to colleagues) and if there are any questions we haven’t answered here or in the pack (we think we’ve covered everything but we might be wrong) then do, please, get in touch.
Once you’ve decided you’d like John to visit your school please email him as soon as you can. Since he visits schools all over the country logistics play a big part in his life and even if you don’t want him to visit until next year it’s best to get in quick so that he can plan the visit - he always has a smattering of bookings up to a couple of years ahead that he has to work round. If you have specific kinds of stories you’d like him to tell particular year groups please let him know in advance, otherwise he plays it by ear and waits until he sees the school, the children and the displays on the wall before deciding which stories will work best with your pupils.
Once a date has been agreed he’ll email you a letter confirming the booking and setting out what’s been arranged as well as a letter we ask you to send out to parents about his books (as a thanks for which he will leave you with a set of his books for the school library). He’ll also include an invoice for you to pass on to the office so that they can sort out payment. (The invoice includes all his tax and NI details as well as his DBS Certificate number.) We’ll also send you some posters to put up around the school in advance of the visit (he’ll happily sign them if you want to keep them on the wall but not if you want to keep them to line the hamsters’ cage - it’s up to you).
On the day of the visit he’ll need a parking space and he’ll bring with him photo ID (even though there should be posters of him all over the place), his DBS Certificate and his own lunch (but a cup of tea is always nice!). For the booksigning at the end of the day he brings a float and loads of books so all he needs you to provide is a table and chair.
For schools within 100 miles of John’s home in Essex
a full day’s storytelling visit costs £400
Beyond 100 miles the cost is £500 to allow for overnight accommodation etc.
and for schools more than 200 miles away the cost is £600 per day
(or the Euro equivalent, based on the exchange rate at the time the booking is confirmed)
These costs are fully inclusive – there are no hidden extras!
For more information or to make a booking please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email is the only way to do this - if he's telling stories he can't answer the phone and when he can phone you back you probably can't get to the phone yourself.
Please include the school’s name and address in your message and mention your own position within the school.
Thanks for stopping by
we look forward to hearing from you!
“That was the single best performance I've ever seen of anything - thank you so much!“ Year 8 pupil, Cottesmore School, West Sussex
“I've never seen children so spellbound!“ Clockhouse Primary School, Romford.
“The whole school is buzzing with your stories - I've heard nothing but praise all day.“ Wilstead Primary School, Bedfordshire
“Thank you so much for a day packed with such extraordinary stories.“ St James Junior School, London W8
“We've had two days of absolute inspiration.“ Emerson Valley School, Milton Keynes.
“A big thank you for yesterday and you left the boys buzzing with inspiration and ideas. It was great to hear a real storyteller.“ Cothill School, Oxfordshire
“I would like to thank you for an amazing day yesterday. I have had such enthusiastic and positive feedback from the staff and the children today. I have also received comments from all the parents of the children in my class about the stories told to them last night (their homework). Clearly the parents enjoyed watching and listening to their children retelling your stories. It was all a resounding success.“ Oakhyrst Grange School, Surrey
“Thank you again for your visit, the children thoroughly enjoyed your stories and are still talking about them.“ Keyingham Primary School, Hull
“Just a quick email to say thank you so very, very much for your visit on Wednesday. The school is buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm; I have caught numerous children storytelling on the playground this morning, and they have not stopped gushing about how fantastic they found the experience with you. Some cracking writing has come from it already today, as well as a real sense of renewed enjoyment in stories and the wonderful worlds they create for us all. I really can't thank you enough.“ Vigo School, Gravesend
‘An excellent day, presented by a consumate professional, guaranteed to enthuse and inspire.’ The King’s School, Gloucester
‘I have never seen anything like it: absolutely, utterly, completely, totally one hundred per cent inspirational!’ Blenheim Primary School, Southend on Sea
‘You completely engaged every child in the audience, and every child was completely entranced.’ Redbridge Primary School
‘All the children of this school think you are ‘Well Sick’ which, apparently, is the ultimate compliment!’ Selwyn Primary School, London E13
‘I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes: a whole bunch of four and five year olds sitting absolutely still and utterly transfixed for a whole hour. Amazing!’ Maldon Court Prep School, Maldon, Essex
‘Thank you so much for a wonderful day, all of the children came away from the day enthralled with your tales and many of them were still retelling them for a few weeks after. The yellow sock story went down a treat with my class, and I know many of them went home and secretly told the story to their siblings! Thank you so much for the donations of books to our school library. You’ll be pleased to hear that The Geat made it onto the TOP TEN library list for February! And it is still being reserved for children to read. Thank you again for a wonderful experience, it helped to get our Storytelling week off to a fantastic start. We look forward to welcoming you back again soon.’ St. Pancras Catholic Primary School, Ipswich
‘We’ve just had the most amazing couple of days. Everyone has praised you to the rooftops and been left wondering how you do it.’ Eversfield Prep School, Solihull
‘A truly amazing, utterly exceptional experience.’ Austin Friars St. Monica’s School, Carlisle
‘Absolutely the best storyteller in the world!’ St. Helen’s RC Junior School, Brentwood
‘My goodness, you earn your money. You must be exhausted at the end of the day!’ The Beacon School, Amersham
‘We have had yet another amazing day!’ Moseley School, Birmingham
‘The girls were absolutely raving about you and your wonderful stories – it was fantastic and will definitely lead into some great work too.’ Guildford High School
‘Awesome!’ The Royal School Haselmere
“Exquisite and imaginative, he paralysed us with words!”
“He makes you paint a picture in your head.”
“He raises the tension, then makes it explode in a ball of excitement.”
“He was hilarious, and I like how expressive he was with his face.”
“I liked his stories because they cheered me up. I have already read The Pearl in the Grass – it was very funny. His descriptions allowed the pictures to be very clear in my head.”
Children of Ditcham Park School, Petersfield
‘I just wanted to say an ENORMOUS THANK YOU for your fabulous storytelling sessions. The children absolutely loved it from Reception through to Year 6. We will definitely be inviting you back next year and the staff are agreed that, if we can find someone to look after the children, we would like our own storytelling session. Awesome!!!’ Ethelbert Road Primary School, Faversham
‘Without exception we have had nothing but good news about your visit. Stories are still emerging of tales being retold at home, and parents have been thanking the Head for such enthralling and enthusing sessions. Thank you for being such a success, so professional, so organised, so friendly, and so very understanding of children and their attitudes and behaviour.’ The King’s School, Gloucester
‘The whole school is just buzzing with stories! Every child sat agog with their mouths open and I’ve just been in the playground and seen them telling the stories to their parents and other children. Everyone has had a wonderful day, thank you so much!’ Rochford Primary School, Essex
‘Thank you for doing an amazing job when you visited. The children and teachers were inspired as a result and it has had a positive impact on their motivation and on the quality of their story writing. We carried out a weeks worth of lessons based on the visit and the children will be telling their stories to each other on world book day. You were a great model of how to use expression, tone, body language and pace to capture an audience and already I have seen an improvement in their ability to verbally communicate and their confidence in verbal story telling.’ St Helen’s Catholic Junior School Academy, Brentwood
‘Everyone has been raving about you all day, kids and staff, and I’ve been so looking forward to hearing you. You exceeded my expectations!’ Lea and Garside Primary School, Wiltshire
‘How do you do it? You just sit on a chair and all these amazing stories just pour out, it’s like magic!’ Monk’s Abbey Primary School, Lincoln
‘Thank you once again for another great day of storytelling’ Bilton Grange Prep School, Warwickshire
‘The kids have been raving all day, the staff have been raving all day, and my lot loved it - I’ve never seen them so quiet!’ St. Leonards Primary School, Heath and Reach.
‘Wow! That was amazing!’ St. Chad’s CE Primary School, Poulton Le Fylde
‘Everyone enjoyed your storytelling performances, both pupils and staff. We have one particular child who CANNOT sit still for any amount of time at all. He constantly wanders around the room, tidying trays, windowsills etc and generally fussing with things – yet this child SAT STILL for 45 mins enraptured with your stories.’ Westbury School, Nottingham
‘There is a feeling these days that children can’t sit still and quiet and simply listen. You have completely and totally blown that myth away – they have all been spellbound!’ Kenyngton Manor Primary School, Sunbury on Thames
‘I wanted to thank you ever so much for the wonderful storytelling sessions over the past two days. I had so many staff and children express how impressed they were, both with the fantastic, engaging stories and with how focused and keen the children were. It really was so great to watch the children (some of them can struggle to sit still for two minutes!) sit for an hour, loving every minute of the wonderful stories you told.’ St. Mary’s RC Primary School, London W10
‘We have had the most fantastic couple of days. Every child and adult in the school has said you’re brilliant – absolutely everyone has had nothing but praise for you.’ Newport Primary Academy School, Barnstaple
‘I’ve never seen the children so rooted to the spot and utterly absorbed – how on earth do you keep that energy level all day?’ Licensed Victuallers’ School, Ascot
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you! The children loved your stories, the staff loved your stories, and parents have mentioned today how much they love your stories because the children have done as you asked and shared your tales at home. Your energy and enthusiasm, your passion, your ability to hold us all transfixed – amazing!’ Copthill School, Uffington, Lincolnshire
‘Year 6 are at that stage in the year where they think they know it all, but you had them in the palm of your hand. It was the quietest they’ve been for months, and apparently each session had the same effect on the kids all through the school – thank you!’ Quinton House School, Northampton
‘I’d had your card on the wall in my office for a while, intending to get in touch. Then on open day three separate parents looking around the school pointed to it and said “Oh he’s great” so I thought I’d better book you. They were right!’ Abbot’s Hill School, Hemel Hempstead
‘The children are buzzing and the feedback from staff has been amazing. They all say the children were utterly engrossed and that you pitched the stories at exactly the right level for each group - that’s not easy!’ Hartsfield JMI School, Baldock, Herts
‘I am just emailing to thank you very much again for your visit today. My colleagues and the children have all been singing your praises. It was wonderful to see the pure power of storytelling take over the children as they listened, and the stories were very memorable.’ St. Edmund’s School Hindhead
‘Again I must tell you how much the boys loved it. See you next year!’ Eaton House School, London SW1
‘The whole school’s buzzing with stories!’ Hazlemere C of E Combined School, High Wycombe
‘The children have been transfixed – and the staff have loved it, too!’ St. James Primary School, Leyland
‘Thank you so much – even the 7s and 8s were just sitting there totally agog!’ Home Grange School, Wokingham
‘It was a real pleasure to meet you today. Everyone really enjoyed your visit and the school was buzzing with excitement after each storytelling session. The teachers and other members of staff who were able to watch your performances all spoke so highly of the experience.’ St. Catherine’s Prep School, Bramley
‘Your reputation goes before you – and you’ve exceeded our expectations!’ St. John’s Beaumont