Welcome to the extraordinary world of storytelling in schools!

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.

John Harris the Storyteller

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.

For more detailed information about John’s storytelling visits to schools you can download a printable information pack by clicking here.

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!)

So How Does It Work?

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!

What about his books?

John's latest book (as J N Harris) was published in October 2018.

The La'lun

Every family has a secret - this one is the last of its kind. When Camille discovers the secret her grandmother has protected for decades she knows that to tell anyone would be to tell everyone - with terrible consequences. But it could also bring the rest of her family back into her life.

This is a story about love and loyalty, truth and lies. Real news, fake news and how far you'd go to protect what you love. It's a story for now with its roots in ancient folklore.

Set in the Lake District, it's the story of a young person finding her place in the world by discovering something the rest of the world knows nothing about. The more she learns of the past the more she can see of her own future.

‘A gripping read for everyone aged from 10 - 110’

‘There is something appealing, sweet and positive about this novel. In many ways it feels like a classic children's story from a more innocent age - although, of course, it does have modern trappings too.’

His other books (as John Harris) are based on stories 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 anywhere!

For details of all John's books, published by notreallybooks, please visit www.notreallybooks.biz

Charlie’s Key

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.....

‘A sweet and lively story told in John’s distinctive, relaxed, conversational style.’

‘This will be enjoyed by newly confident readers and will be a good addition to school library shelves.’

The Pearl in the Grass

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.

This is a very old story from China, and one of John’s most popular, either told or written.

‘John Harris’s skill as a professional storyteller is evident in this retelling of this Chinese folk tale.... gossiping neighbours, wicked robbers and a terrifying dragon all lead to a hugely satisfying end.’

‘This delightful folktale provokes both smiles and sighs.... the imaginative, stylish illustrations heighten the speed and suspense of the well - paced text.’

The Geat - the story of Beowulf and Grendel

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!

‘It is a shame that the publishers of this book have had to resort to the usual hype on the cover: “This is the original horror story, two thousand years old and as exciting as ever. Read it if you dare.” This retelling of the story of Beowulf needs no such hyperbole. John Harris has spent ten years telling the story in front of live audiences, honing the version that we now have in print. It has been worth the wait. Whilst the language is suitably bloodthirsty - and no details of pain, torture and death are omitted - a wonderfully evocative atmosphere is maintained throughout the book. There are excellent colour illustrations throughout and good quality paper is used, making this a “must buy” for any library.’

‘Fearsome monsters, powerful heroes and gruesome murders should be enough to keep the most bloodthirsty young reader satisfied.... the illustrations manage to be both frightening and comic.’

‘Beowulf made easy for a new generation of bloodthirsty juniors who are up for something a bit different. Distinctive illustrations and an enthusiastic rendition of a literary classic are what make the book so appealing. John Harris is a storyteller by trade, and it shows in the pace and rhythm of the text. He narrates the tale of the Geat warrior Beowulf, who sails across the sea to take on the challenge of gruesome, man - eating Grendel, monster of the parish. Beowulf is small, and Grendel is huge. But Beowulf has cunning and wisdom, and even children for whom this is a first time story will be left with a sense of how it will end - which makes all the blood and gore of the journey safely enjoyable.’

To see John’s Books on Amazon please click here

(depending on your browser this may take you to another page)

So what do we do next?

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.

What does it cost?

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 300 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!

Contacting John

For more information or to make a booking please email info@johnharris.org.uk.

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!

“It's great to be able to just sit back and enjoy brilliant stories told brilliantly by someone who has such natural authority with children. Genius!“ Dulwich Prep, Cranbrook

“I had a lift home with the Mum of a Year 5 student and she repeated almost verbatim most of what you said! Lots of positive comments from the children and parents. We thought you were brilliant.“ Finborough School, Suffolk

“Everyone has been raving about you and your stories and all the children have been swapping stories since you left. Thank you so much!“ Our Lady of the Wayside RC Primary School, Solihul

“Absolutely inspirational - every child in the school has just sat agog!“ Milton Primary School, Newport

“The adults have enjoyed this every bit as much as the children. The stories were wonderfully told and absolutely perfect for each age group. Please come again!“ Longacre School, Shamley Green

“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 Village School, Kent

“All the staff who sat in on the sessions were so impressed with the way you captured the children's attention and kept them engaged for an hour. I found it fascinating to watch my own class, particularly the children who I know find it so hard to sit still and listen for any length of time. The children were really enthusiastic afterwards and the books you left for us were in demand straightaway.“ Hayfield School, High Peaks

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many children so wide-eyed and utterly agog!“ West Leigh Infants School, Leigh on Sea

“I have never seen anything like it: absolutely, utterly, completely, totally one hundred per cent inspirational!“ Blenheim Primary School, Southend on Sea

“The buzz around the school has been fantastic and I am amazed how many of the stories the children were able to retell today. My year 6 were writing their own stories this morning with real enthusiasm. One of them said, “He was amazing! He had a really good imagination and was very boisterous for a grown-up!” I think that unusual compliment just about summed up most of the comments I received from pupils and staff.“ Belmont School, Surrey

“I’ve known this lot long enough to know they never want to do one thing for the whole day, so for them to say they want to listen to you all day says an awful lot.“ Dyce Primary School, Aberdeen

“A truly amazing, utterly exceptional experience.“ Austin Friars St. Monica’s School, Carlisle

“The whole day was an amazing experience for our children, and from the youngest aged 4 to the eldest, aged 12, the children were absolutely captivated by your stories. I am pleased to share with you below some of the comments they made:
“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.”
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

“All the children of this school think you are ‘Well Sick’ which, apparently, is the ultimate compliment!“ Selwyn Primary School, London E13

“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

“Without exception we have had nothing but good news about your visit. Colleagues were astonished by the positive reaction from the fourth form (Y10). 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

“You completely engaged every child in the audience, and every child was completely entranced.“ Redbridge Primary School

“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 lesson’s 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

“What an amazing day we have had!“ Moseley School, Birmingham

“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!“ Year 6 Pupil, Monk’s Abbey Primary School, Lincoln

“Thank you once again for another great day of storytelling“ Bilton Grange Prep School, Warwickshire

“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

“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

“Thank you so much – even the 7s and 8s were just sitting there totally agog!“ Home Grange School, Wokingham

“Thanks for all your hard work on wednesday. The children thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and, from a personal point of view, I loved the chance to escape into the rare world of listening, without feeling the need to interrupt, make an ‘interesting point for learning’ or think about how Iwas going to challenge the more able!“ St. John Fisher Primary School, West Wimbledon

“I have heard brilliant things about Monday. One year 6 girl couldn’t sleep because of story ideas, a reception child who hasn’t yet smiled did so for the first time, somewhat challenging children behaved themselves and staff haven’t laughed so much in ages …..Can you come everyday?!
Seriously, thank you for inspiring everyone and thank you for the books for the library the children will enjoy them for a long time to come. A brilliant start to the week and the children have said that you have been the best person we have ever had in bookweek!“ St. Joseph’s Primary School, Epsom

“Everybody’s been raving about you! You were the only topic of conversation at lunch and now that I’ve heard you I can understand why!“ Caldicott Prep School

“I’ve listened to storytellers all over Europe and all over this country, and you are far and away the best I’ve ever heard.“ Milton Hall Primary School, Westcliff

“You deserve all the praise that’s been heaped upon you.“ Birchfield School, Shropshire