Islington storyteller offers free podcast for locked down families

Emily Hanna-Grazebrook and her son Leo who are running a storytelling podcast Dragonfly Tales

Emily Hanna-Grazebrook and her son Leo who are running a storytelling podcast Dragonfly Tales - Credit: Archant

Professional storyteller Emily Hanna-Grazebrook’s magical Dragonfly Tales are recorded with nine year old son Leo and have been downloaded more than 1,000 times

Emily Hanna-Grazebrook and her son Leo who are running a storytelling podcast Dragonfly Tales

Emily Hanna-Grazebrook and her son Leo who are running a storytelling podcast Dragonfly Tales - Credit: Archant

Like many parents, storyteller Emily Hanna-Grazebrook has been homeschooling her son Leo for weeks.

The former English teacher is used to travelling around the UK, telling stories at festivals and community events, and running workshops in local schools.

But when the pandemic stopped her from reaching a live audience, the Islington resident turned her craft into a free podcast which has been downloaded by more than a thousand grateful parents.

Emily, who has been a professional storyteller since leaving teaching in 2015, has roped in her nine-year-old as her avid audience for Dragonfly Tales.

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“We are all trying to muddle our way through this,” she said.

“Like many people, my work dried up, and I have taken up home learning. The main joy I get is from going into schools like Newington Green and Gillespie. I thought of all those children stuck at home and I missed that communication and shared connection with a live audience who help to tell the story by joining in with actions, rhythms, and rhymes.

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“Then I realised I had an audience, right here. Someone who has been listening to stories since he was born and is a pretty good teller himself.”

Facing Leo across a mic, the pair enjoy unscripted banter before and after, but during the story they “really go for it and don’t stop until it’s done.”

“It’s hard that the audience can’t see my facial experssions or hand movemments but doing it together has been a wonderful way to have someone to bounce off. Hearing Leo’s voice, knowing there is a child there making jokes and noises, appeals to children listening. The story is recorded in one take, to keep it as close to the live experience as possible.”

Dragonfly Tales draws on her stock of tried and tested stories, while adding new ones to her repertoire. They have been enjoyed by listeners from Hackney to South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Emily, who hails from “generations of Irish storytellers and musicians” adds: “People aren’t sure what a professional storyteller is.”

“There is a musicality, a kind of sing-song delivery. I try to pick stories from different continents, many are very old and have been passed down through word of mouth for hundreds of years. My favourites are folk and fairytales from around the world – they have a lovely mixture of humour, adventure and learning.”

She always picks stories that resonate personally.

“They say tell stories that you love, if it’s not doing it for you, there’s no point forcing it, feel it out in your mouth, take it for a walk.”

And she emphasises that each storyteller tells a tale in their own way.

“It’s just my version, it will come out my way, the same but unique.”

As a secondary school teacher, she often found herself facing a class of unmotivated pupils.

“They were in the bottom set because their behaviour was bad, they may have had undiagnosed SEND and either couldn’t access the system or were on their way out of the system to PRUs. They were so demoralised, they couldn’t complete a sentence without having a meltdown. I would put the passage down and say ‘I am going to tell you a story’. It was a brilliant tool to communicate and build those relationships.”

Emily, who had started to run well attended adult storytelling events at the Mildmay Club which she hopes to revive after lockdown says: “Human beings are so beautifully wired to listening to stories and learning through storytelling. Stories can help us to navigate through life’s challenges, they take us into the woods but always bring us safely home.

“Dragonfly Tales has been important for us as a mother and son in lockdown, to spread some joy and support other families in the same situation – we’re all in this together.”

You can find Dragonfly Tales on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and Buzzsprout but most easily by going to Emily’s website

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