Simon and Nina had been so engrossed in their first 82 minutes of parenthood, they barely registered the arrival in the maternity ward of a serene lady wearing a pale blue hooded tunic and waving a sparkling wand.
“Well, well. She is beautiful!” exclaimed the Fairy Godmother.
The couple, whose world had been so completely discombobulated by the afternoon’s events, were barely surprised to find themselves in conversation with a complete stranger.
“Don’t worry, I’ll leave you alone in a moment. I just want to ask what you wish for your child’s future?”
This was quite a question to ask a couple who had barely slept for two days. Fortunately, Simon had earlier taken a well-deserved break from holding damp towels in the birthing centre, during which he’d spent fifteen minutes trying to make sense of what was about to happen to his life. Struggling for answers, he had picked-up his phone and spoken to the partner he trusted most.
“Google, what do parents aspire to on behalf of their kids?” he had asked, full of curiosity.
He had been directed to articles by Journal of Clinical Psychology, the Journal of Happiness Studies and even UNICEF. And now, looking into the tightly shut eyes of his firstborn, Simon understood that money and fame and success are not what parents really want.
“Thank you for asking Fairy Godmother” he answered. “You may be surprised to hear that I do not aspire for my little princess to win Celebrity Dancing on Ice or become a Tik Tok influencer (unless those things truly make her fulfilled). What I really want is for her to enjoy a life of happiness, good health, independence and confidence.”
Simon’s partner Nina looked a little surprised but also impressed, because it was only yesterday that Simon had hoped his daughter would one-day garner a million followers on X formerly known as Twitter. But the miracle of childbirth had clearly worked its magic.
“I cannot promise you all that, for life is impossible to control. But I can tell you precisely how to maximise your chances” explained the Fairy Godmother who may have occasionally moonlighted as a management consultant.
“In the words of the great Ursula Le Guin, ‘there have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories’. The magic of storytelling is limitless.
“Stories are the true elixir of happiness. ‘Once upon a time’ leads us into our very own spaceship or time machine.
“Read to her. Tell her stories. Introduce her to the magic of books. Encourage her to read anything that catches her imagination. Give her access to inspirational tales, to great works of fiction, to comic books and ebooks and the world of film. And, as a direct result, your wishes will, in all likelihood, be realised.”
“Golly” said Nina, who, despite her aching body and immense fatigue, was feeling rather upbeat.
“Amazing” said Simon, who, despite his own exhaustion, was overcome by the realisation that through storytelling comes moral reasoning, empathy and character development. As well as a direct route to literacy. To cap it all, he realised with increasing excitement, it’s all pretty much free, give or take a few library fines.
“Literacy is a source of pleasure and an effective medicine too” the Fairy Godmother explained softly. “According to the ninth Annual Literacy Survey of 49,047 children and young people in the UK, those who are most engaged with literacy are an extraordinary three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who are the least engaged.”
“Wow! It’s a tonic. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” exclaimed Simon, his sense of exhilaration growing by the second. It was as if his understanding of parenthood had emerged from the thickest of fogs.
“But please be aware that, on the horizon, lie terrible threats to your baby girl.”
The new parents looked aghast. Because moments of profound joy and insight should not be clouded by doubt or fear. And Nina was certain there was neither an old spinning wheel in the attic, nor a pea under the mattress in the spare room.
The Fairy Godmother continued regardless.
“Yes, many children are gifted a love of stories. Hearing them, dreaming about them, telling them and even trying to write them. But there will be times when you are too busy to engage with her. When it is easier to leave her in front of a screen rather than a book. For many, that is the beginning of the end. This year, fewer children say they enjoy reading or writing than ever before. And in the county of Oxfordshire, a child born into a town with serious literacy challenges is likely to live for 26 years fewer than one from an area with high levels of literacy.”
“Gosh” exclaimed both new parents in unison.
“That’s more than a quarter of a Century” gasped Simon, who, in the presence of the lady in the powder blue tunic, was increasingly sounding like an eight-and-a-half-year-old.
“Sadly” continued the Fairy Godmother, “the art of story-telling is not always understood in the world of education. Some teachers become jaded and forget the magic of stories and the imagination. They will teach only from textbooks. Fill screens with facts and bullets. And forget that stories are the key that unlocks hidden worlds of knowledge and learning.”
Simon nodded sagely, having lost all interest in science under the influence of a teacher who spent lessons projecting long bullet-pointed sentences onto the classroom wall, reading them out word-for-word in a lifeless monotone. Simon had spent those lessons mastering the art of nose picking with an HB pencil.
“And even if her love of story-telling survives into adulthood, she will be met by Wicked Witches who use PowerPoint as a weapon that can numb the sharpest minds and suffocate the most vibrant of imaginations.
“Have you heard of the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso?”
Nina nodded. “Yes” shouted Simon, raising his arm into the air with the vigour of a boy hoping he was about to be awarded a house point.
“You must help your daughter understand the wisdom of his words: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’ Because every child is also a story-lover and they must learn to remain so.”
Simon and Nina looked each other in the eye, knowing that they had, at some point, fallen out of love with story-telling, and that their lives had been the worse for it. Simon visibly flinched as he remembered a Zoom call with a potential client that he had begun with the words “There are seventeen things I’d like to tell you about our company”. And even on his dusty laptop screen, he had seen the lady’s eyes glaze over, and the prospect of business fly away.
The Fairy Godmother must have sensed the change in mood.
“Don’t worry my dears. It is not embarrassing for you to wish success for your daughter in the field she chooses. And even in the cynical and relentless world of business, stories win through.
“The Harvard Business Review Insights conclude that emotional connections with consumers, showcasing the immersive power of a brand’s story, create a 25% increase in revenue.”
Nina began to suspect that this was no normal Fairy Godmother.
“Yes, Apple and Nike are brilliant examples of businesses who have mastered the emotional grip of narrative. And it’s the very same logic that makes us all love a great TED talk. Studies indicate a 20% leap in comprehension of complex subjects after someone has watched one. Which, in a nutshell, is the power of story-telling.”
And, as if by magic, the Fairy Godmother turned round and skipped out of the room, leaving Simon and Nina entranced and excited by all they could do for their child.
“Did you know” said Nina, “that storytelling potentially elevates kids’ levels of empathy by 35%?”.
“Oh yes” Simon replied. “I read that paper by the American Psychological Association during our last NCT class.”
“I think this has ceased to be a fairy tale.”
“Agreed. I need to re-think my business pitch.”
“And I want to call our baby Rapunzel.”
Simon looked up at Nina who was staring lovingly at their daughter.
We have always been passionate about storytelling as a communication tool. Stories hook audiences and readers in. They enable us to persuade, inspire and succeed.
More importantly, it provides children with a gateway to literacy, imagination, and wellbeing with extraordinary lifelong benefits, including longer life expectancy. That’s the magic of storytelling.
And it’s why we are so proud and delighted to announce our partnership with the Story Museum in Oxford whose mission is to enrich lives, especially young lives, through stories. The Museum is a brilliant, creative and inspirational place to visit. It also runs outreach programmes to help develop literacy in places where it is needed most.
This Christmas, we are matching donations made to Start With a Story this Christmas – JustGiving. If you’d like to know more, arrange a visit, or make a pledge, please contact Story Museum Senior Fundraiser, Niamh Walshe.