Tell Me a Story
THE VERY first time Mrs. Roy Stokely of Oklahoma City played her recording of "The Galloping Butterfly" for her four-year-old son, Craig, she knew it was a solid hit.
What child wouldn't be delighted with a record all his own—a story told just to him about his playmates, his pets and his own little sister Joanie. In fact, it was such a hit that soon Mrs. Stokely found her attractive red brick bungalow overflowing with his neighborhood pals who had come to hear this marvelous story.
Children being the most voluble of press agents, the word spread. When the parents of neighboring children learned that Mrs. Stokely had found a charming and subtle way of teaching a child such things as cooperation, neatness and obedience, orders for personalized records started coming in and this young woman found herself in business.
THIS NEW business, which is still within the first year of its infancy, started out as a hobby. It was last Christmas that the idea was born. Neta Kaye Stokely and her husband, Roy, noticed that Craig enjoyed the storytelling records they had given him more than any of his other presents.
"Neta, how about recording a story just for Craig," Mr. Stokely suggested. "I think he'd get an even bigger kick out of hearing his own name on the record."
This sounded like a first-rate idea so the Stokelys went over to the house of some friends one evening and cut the first records on a home recording attachment. At the time there was no thought of the idea ever becoming anything more than an excellent means of both entertaining and instructing their son. Inexpensive paper discs were used because if the story teller should make a mistake, the record was ruined. "I made a few, too," Mrs. Stokely recalls cheerfully. "But it didn't take long to get the hang of it."
Craig immediately fell in love with the galloping butterfly, a magic butterfly whose wings were bright blue, all spotted with gold and silver. This magic butterfly knew Craig's name and all about him, and in the story he took Craig for a ride on his back to visit butterfly heaven where all the butterflies cooperate and are very happy.
"Believe it or not, Craig played that record over and over until it was worn out," his mother recalls. "I thought he'd get tired of the story. Instead he wanted more."
MRS. STOKELY was delighted, because here was a hobby which would not conflict, but help, with what she considered her most important job—that of wife and mother, and at the same time would utilize her talent and skill for telling stories. Writing and broadcasting children's radio programs and women's commentary programs for advertising agencies in various parts of the country had been her profession before she settled in Oklahoma City. Her home would be her studio, and her working hours would be in the evenings after her children had gone to bed.
Of course, not everyone has had this kind of training but almost everyone has had some experience in telling stories to children. "Forget about it being a script," Mrs. Stokely advises. "Just make up the kind of stories you tell your children for fun. If you can't think of any, get out some of the books you loved as a child. They're still good stories. Take a mythical character like 'Jack the Giant Killer' or 'The Lady Who Lived in a Shoe.' Keep the story simple and remember it's a conversation between the child and the character."
Suppose the child you're creating a story for is a little five-year-old girl named Sally whose greatest desire is to have curly hair, but Sally always makes an awful fuss when mother wants to pin up her hair to make it curly. Well, in Sally's story she meets the Good Fairy, a beautiful lady with long, softly curling hair. This beautiful lady tells Sally that alas, her hair isn't really curly. She has always pinned her hair up on curlers ever since she was a little girl.
Naturally there is more to the story than this, but it gives an idea of how to work in intimate facts which will astonish and enchant your young listeners. Brushing teeth every night, not being afraid of the dark, and other sometimes unpalatable subjects can be served up to the young fry in entertaining fashion.
SINCE A child's imagination is marvelously flexible, the storyteller can make profitable use of magic carpets, talking animals and the like. Story material can be drawn from a child's favorite comics or from the classics themselves if the records are for the family or friends. But care must be exercised here if records are to be sold, since names of characters or actual plots cannot be lifted from published stories unless they are in the public domain.
Information and color from other lands can be worked in. If you feel up to a bit of a Spanish accent, try some Mexicana. The character doesn't have to be all virtue. Disney's character, Dopey, made quite a hit with children and the moral lesson can be taught just as well. Your listener can be made to feel superior to the lazy, bad little boy who wouldn't cooperate and consequently never got any place.
No great acting talent is required. After a little practice, reading the two parts, that of the character and the child, will not prove difficult. Catch his attention, pique his interest and the child will believe in your story. Just as he believes in Gulliver and the little people, or Alice and the queerly assorted personalities she encountered in Wonderland.
TO GET the feel of making your own recordings, a wire or magnetic tape recorder might be borrowed from a friend. In some towns they can be rented. The wire or tape should then be taken to a sound recording studio for a technician to put on a disc.
"When you discover how much fun it is, you'll want your own recorder," says Mrs. Stokely. "It's easier to use tape or wire because if you make a mistake, you just turn back the machine, erase, and start over."
Neta Stokely uses a Pentron Magnetic Tape Recorder which costs approximately $185. It is not essential to use such an expensive machine but you do want high fidelity of sound. In the long run, this method is less expensive than cutting direct on the record. There, if you make a mistake, it's just seventy cents out the window.
To tell her stories Neta worked out two simple story frames. One about the galloping butterfly and the other about an absent-minded cricket.
A pretty little eight-year-old girl for whom Mrs. Stokely made several records was quite chagrined the first time she heard the absent-minded cricket take her to task for stalling at bedtime. The young miss had thought this her own private secret. "You should have seen her face," laughs Mrs. Stokely. "It was quite a study. But her mother tells me they have far less difficulty about the problem now."
WHEN MRS. Stokely started getting orders for personalized records from people she didn't even know, she devised a handy questionnaire to send out to the individuals ordering the records. This calls for such information as nicknames, as well as given name; names of others in family and playmates; the age of the child and his or her grade, and name of the school attended. Also, there's space on the questionnaire to list some of the most important things in the child's world, such as a new tooth or a gold star in Sunday school. The script also calls for the donor's name and whether it's a birthday, holiday, or a surprise gift; one of the biggest events in any child's life.
After Mrs. Stokely receives the questionnaire, she studies it until she feels that she knows this small boy or girl almost as well as one of her own. Then she fits the information into the script of whichever of the two story frames the customer desires.
In the evening when the dishes are done and the two young Stokely children have been put to bed, it's time to go to work. Mrs. Stokely, housewife, becomes Neta Kaye, storyteller. First, she reads her script aloud to see that it flows smoothly. Next, stopwatch in hand, she carefully times her copy, reading slowly and distinctly just as she will when recording. If a stopwatch is not available a clock or watch with a second-hand will do.
"Never try to crowd in so much information that the story will sound hurried," warns Mrs. Stokely. "Children want to understand every word of their story. I record my stories on ten-inch unbreakable aluminum discs and these carry from three to three and one-half minutes of copy on each side."
The length of the script will vary, depending upon how many names, incidents and other personalized information are to be included. The storyteller must know approximately where in the script the break will occur so that there will be a carryover of interest to the second side. The technician at the studio will figure this out exactly when reproducing the sounds on the tape onto the permanent record. He must have the exact timing of the copy to do this.
AFTER HER chief assistant and production manager, Roy Stokely, sets up the tape recorder, Neta relaxes in a comfortable chair with microphone in one hand, script in the other and starts to read her stories. She is able to record about five stories an hour.
Upon completion, the tape is removed from the machine and taken down to the sound man at the studio. He also will dub in suitable background music such as the "Sugar Plum Waltz," or other music in the public domain. It is permissible to use this music without paying any fee. Sound effects can also be dubbed in but it makes the timing more difficult.
The price of "My Own Story" records is quite reasonable—$3.50, which also includes postage if records have to be mailed to the customer. Already within the short time Mrs. Stokely has been in the children's record business there have been numerous requests from neighboring states and some from as far away as California and Washington. No advertising has been done except the word-of-mouth praise of her satisfied customers. But the record shop through which these records are also sold is planning a statewide promotional campaign.
THE AVERAGE cost of a blank record is seventy cents and studio charges are approximately eighty cents. If you are planning to sell through a record shop, the commission will be something less than a dollar.
Mrs. Stokely agrees that her profit is not too large and that probably no one will ever get rich making these records, but she says, "If other people have as much fun as I do, they'll find it a very profitable hobby."
She isn't interested in seeing her hobby grow into a really big business, although she feels that with good promotion it could. But already the secretarial work and bookkeeping are beginning to encroach upon her time. If her hobby provides pleasure for children and stimulation for her, that is enough. Mrs. Stokely feels that her hobby will never allow her to grow stale and no longer interesting to her children when they become young adults.
THE AGE group for which personalized records have the greatest appeal is from three to eight. After that, youngsters are just a little too sophisticated for make-believe.
For the pre-school fans there are two different labels, one bright yellow, the other blue, so they will know which side of the record to play first. These were especially designed for the Neta Kaye personalized records and are appealing to the child's eye, particularly in contrast to the brilliant ruby red unbreakable records.
These are high quality records but Mrs. Stokely cautions, "Even these records won't stand being pawed by sticky hands. My little fifteen-month-old daughter, Joanie, is fascinated by them and has left her indelible imprint on several."
So far there are only two story frames. When a child wants new records the stories can be changed by adding new names, accomplishments and the like. Children like the old stories best as anyone knows who has read "Little Black Sambo" or "Br'er Rabbit." If, as time goes by, new stories become necessary, they can be created along the same lines. What the child really wants to hear about is himself—"My Own Story." That's the secret of the tremendous popularity of these records.
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.