Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story by Kendall Haven
Libraries Unlimited, 2007
Like Stephen Krashen’s important work in “The Power of Reading,” “Story Proof” collects and analyzes the research that validates the importance of story, story reading, and storytelling to the brain development and education of children and adults. Accomplished researcher and storyteller Kendall Haven, establishes the need for understanding the research findings in neural psychology and brain development and the value of a common definition of story if one is to fully grasp the importance and necessity of story to the development of the human mind. To support his case, he reviews a wealth of research from storytellers, teachers, and others who have experienced the power of story firsthand.
The author has collected anecdotal experiences from over 100 performing storytellers and from 1,800 story practitioners (mostly teachers) who have made extensive use of stories. He has read more than 150 qualitative and quantitative research studies that discuss the effectiveness of stories and/or storytelling for one or more specific applications (education, organizational management, knowledge management, medical and narrative therapy, etc.). Forty of these studies were literature reviews and comparative studies including analysis of over 1,000 studies and descriptive articles. He has also gathered research evidence from his own story performances for total audiences of over 4 million and from conducting story writing workshops with 200,000 students and 40,000 teachers.
This was a required text for my Storytelling course in Grad school. Kendall Haven was a co-author on a previous required text, which I enjoyed immensely. This one, however, wasn’t nearly as engaging for me.
I found parts of this to be awfully dry in places, particularly chapter nine when the author is relating the findings of all these different studies, and terribly technical when he’s talking about how the brain processes stories. I also felt like the purpose of this book was kind of a “preaching to the choir” for me personally, because I obviously feel storytelling and stories are important, or I would a) be working with kids b) want to be a Youth Services librarian or c) be taking this course. I feel like the general gist of this book could have been achieved for the purpose of this class by simply reading some articles.
That being said, here’s what the author was trying to get across: stories have the power to catch your attention and draw you in. They are easier to comprehend than other types of nonfiction/technical writing, and by exposing children to stories, you’re setting them up for an easier time of it in school when it comes time for them to start writing. Stories even translate to higher math/science skills. Exposure to stories actually helps students become better able to comprehend the other types of writing they’re going to be exposed to on state standardized tests. I particularly found it interesting that reading fiction prepares you for nonfiction; I wish this was something I could get our principal to see, because this year she made a huge push to get kids reading and working with nonfiction tests, because our school struggles when it comes to the reading portions of the MAP test. But the reasons they struggle is simply because they struggle with reading PERIOD. It doesn’t really have anything to do with nonfiction vs. fiction, for the most part.
Anyway, I digress. In a nutshell, here’s a one line sentence to sum up this book: Read to your kids!
(Also, I found it kind of funny that the author goes the entire book saying that people retain more of what they’ve read/heard when the information is delivered in story form, but that’s totally not what happens in this book. It is very info-heavy, very technical, and very dry. Quite the opposite of what he’s preaching to everyone who reads the book!)