Story Squad – Enhancing lives through storytelling

September 23, 2013

According to Dr. G. Reid Lyon, former chief of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, 70 percent of American children will face some difficulty in learning to read.  Story Squad, a program created by Dr. Brian Sturm, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science (SILS), hopes to make childhood literacy simpler and more enjoyable.
Story Squad is an initiative that is designed as a community intervention to help young children gain pre-literacy skills, to help older children develop a concept of story structure and build visual literacy skills and imagination and to help older adults retain their mental agility and imagination and reflect on their lives from new perspectives. 

“Story Squad brings world folklore into schools, public libraries, day care centers, senior centers and other cultural institutions to: 

1. Grow children’s pre-literacy skills of focused listening and attention
2. Develop children’s knowledge of story structure
3. Build an understanding of world cultures to help develop empathy for others who are different from ourselves
4. Develop the storytelling talents of seniors to connect them with today’s children.”

"Story Squad, an initiative Brian launched in fall 2011 to bring storytelling into the larger Triangle community, has a twofold effect," said Katherine Barr (MSLS ’13). "Not only does it enhance the lives of community members who might not otherwise have access to storytelling, but it gives graduate students an opportunity to practice storytelling skills for public audiences - a skill applicable in such varied settings as business management, heritage preservation and of course, Brian's specialty, children's librarianship. Story Squad has gone to such varied locations as Charles House (a senior center in Chapel Hill), Community Church of Chapel Hill and numerous area libraries."

The initial idea for Story Squad came from Sturm's storytelling class.

"I have always required my storytelling students to do a public performance and evaluate it, so that they get experience with an audience other than their classmates," Sturm said.  "In 2011, I decided that it was time to make this community outreach more formal and "brand" it, so I devised the Story Squad idea."

The membership of Story Squad varies with each semester and is currently made up of 12 current students and 14 alumni of the course. Story Squad members visit churches, libraries, senior centers and more to share stories throughout the city. Recently, Story Squad shared versions of three of Aesop's Fables at the Charles House Senior Center and told world folktales for the First Baptist Church in Raleigh, and they will soon be performing folktales of the moon in collaboration with the UNC Morehead Planetarium.

"Storytelling builds community as we listen and enjoy stories together, and as we watch characters from multiple cultures live out their lives," said Sturm. "We come to understand that difference is not a dividing thing; rather it is the source of curiosity and empathy."

In addition to local venues, Sturm has taken his master storytelling to states around the nation. According to Sturm, Story Squad is only in its first phase. With further community support, he hopes to soon be able to expand the organization.

"In phase two and three of my plan, I want to develop a digital library of video folktales that children and adults can access 24 hours a day seven days a week on the Internet,” said Sturm.  “I want to eventually have my students become storytelling trainers and coaches for area seniors so that we can help seniors reconnect with their communities and with children," said Sturm.

Once the model is established in communities, Sturm plans to take Story Squad to a national level.  His hope is that government will take notice of the benefits of storytelling for the community and for elementary students and find that it belongs in the core curriculum for elementary schools. His goal is to eventually see Story Squads spring up across the country.

For more information and to support the program, visit the Story Squad Web site at