Storyteller Jay O'Callahan - Home Page

By Marty Layne, Life Learning Magazine



In Victoria, BC, where I live, spring can be a gentle deceiver - bringing warm sunny days followed by weeks of rain. When my children were little, we would welcome those sunny days, enjoying the chance to be outside much of the day. When those sunny days were followed by rainy days, we'd be at a loss for things to do. Recorded stories were a lifesaver during that time. I'd pop a tape in the tape recorder and we'd be transported to another world. My children would play on the floor with blocks, Legos or dolls; or we'd sit together on the couch while our favorite storyteller, Jay O'Callahan, took us to Artana, a land of blacksmiths and girls with golden drums or to Super Bowl Sunday for a battle between the bananas and the maraschino cherries. You may not have heard of him. He's not a common household name, but he should be. He's well known in the storytelling world. I hope, after reading about him, you'll get to know him as well.


I'll start with his tale of "Herman and Marguerite." Herman is a worm and Marguerite is a caterpillar. These don't sound like the most exciting characters for a story. How could a worm and a caterpillar capture the interest of a 4-year old, a 10-year-old, or their parents? But they do. Jay brings you into Herman's world in the first few sentences. Before you know it you're down under the ground with "Herman the wormin' and I can't stop my squirmin' and I like to be close to the ground, boom! Boom!" Marguerite, the caterpillar, isn't sure she wants to change and become a chrysalis and then a butterfly. She's afraid. This marvelous story revolves around Herman and Marguerite's developing friendship and the change she must undergo.


Another favorite of ours was "The Little Dragon." Monsieur Le Flute brings us to the land here the little dragon must save the world from being frozen. Elizabeth helps him realize his potential so that he can de-ice the sun. We still repeat phrases from this tale - "Keep your tail up" or "It's a good game. It's a good game." A delightful story for ages 4 and up.


Jay's latest recording, "The Spirit of the Great Auk," recreates Dick Wheeler's 1500-mile kayak voyage from Newfoundland to Buzzards Bay - following the path of the now extinct great auk. Dick Wheeler asked Jay to help him tell the story of his journey so that others could become aware of his experience and the plight of the fish and fishermen. It's a powerful tale that had me spell bound when I listened to it a few months ago.


Jay's other recent recording - "Pouring the Sun" was written at the request of the town of Bethlehem, PA. Jay worked for three years to create this story, looking through many photo albums, listening to many people's stories before he chose his central character, Ludvika, an immigrant Polish girl who comes to Bethlehem, PA when she is 18 years old. "I wanted someone to represent the immigrant journey as well as the steel," O'Callahan says. "They are the people who built the country, and we say that but we don't know it. If we have stories where we meet them and see them, then for the first time we have a sense of who built this country and on whose shoulders we stand." This story made me cry, laugh, and then cry again. It is very powerful.


Jay, like all good storytellers, uses stories to communicate the hopes, dreams, beliefs, and the problems of his characters. His audiences are entranced by his stories. His voices for the different characters make him a cast of many in one person. I become so involved in his stories that when they end, I am startled to find myself back in my life, my everyday world. But I am richer for the experience.
Jay also gives workshops to help others find their storytelling voice. (His schedule is on his web site) He, like other storytellers, encourages and supports people in the business community to find their story telling voice - including lawyers. While this may seem a strange thing for lawyers to learn, it's an important skill that helps them tell their clients' stories well.


Storytelling is used in other fields as well. If you check out the web site for the Storytelling Center International you can read about the many ways that people use stories to bridge communication gaps in the fields of health and healing, conflict prevention and resolution, leadership management and in work with families Here is a quote from their site about their work in the conflict resolution area:


"Storytelling provides a vehicle for helping people, both children and adults, understand and honor the world in which we live and the people who live in it.


"Through our work, Storytelling Foundation International is using storytelling to help build a more harmonious world - steering us toward a greater mutual understanding, a greater sense of responsibility, and a greater solidarity through the acceptance of our differences and a celebration of those things that unite us."


There's a big storytelling festival held in Jonesboro, Tennessee every October. This year is the 30th year of the festival and Jay O'Callahan will be telling stories there. He and many others will share the tents and stages for a weekend filled with stories of all kinds from all cultures and peoples. You can go to the web site for the festival for more information (


Whether or not you attend this storytelling festival, you can still listen to Jay O'Callahan through his recordings. Check your local library to see which of his recordings they have and try them out. Check his web site for a list of all of his titles from stories for little ones to stories for adults.


I hope you'll invite Jay into your family's life and let his imagination and incredible storytelling gift enrich you. You'll find your children saying things like "Give him a pickle to quiet him down" or jumping in the air and singing "Raspberries." As Time Magazine said a few years ago, Jay O'Callahan is a "national treasure."



Marty Layne is the mother of four young adults who have never gone to school. As a result of helping her children learn at home, she wrote and published "Learning At Home: A Mother's Guide to Homeschooling," now in a revised edition, and recorded and produced a children's music CD "Brighten the Day - songs to celebrate the seasons." She speaks at homeschooling conferences in Canada and the U.S. She's working on a book about mothering and burnout. You can read more about her at


Reprinted from Life Learning Magazine
May/June 2002


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