Ready-to-Tell Tales

Ready-to-Tell Tales

By David Holt & Bill Mooney
41 sure-fire stories collected from America’s best storytellers. Each story is ready to tell.  Plus each teller has included tips for unlocking the story and telling it in performance. New stories for storytellers to tell, great stories for everyone to read. A multicultural resource with stories from Africa, India, ancient Greece, Egypt, Japan, the British Isles, Mexico, Thailand as well as the African_American, Cajun, Appalachian, Jewish and native American oral traditions..
224 pages

Price: $20.00 BUY NOW!

More Ready-to-Tell Tales

by David Holt & Bill Mooney
“A treasury of judicious, clear, succinct tales for anyone who has ever yearned to tell a story.”
~Dr. Wendy Nowlan, Director, Storytelling Institute, So. Connecticut State University and Board Member, National Storytelling Network

Price: $15.00 BUY NOW!

When David Holt and Bill Mooney collaborated on their original Ready-to-Tell Tales in 1994, they knew they had a tiger by the tail. How do you top what School Libray Journal called a “highly recommended…extraordinary collection”?
With more terrific stories contributed by seasoned storytellers, and with a number of enhanced features:

  • Stories from forty-four of the world’s finest storytellers
  • Age level and audience recommendations
  • Performance tips suggested by the contributing storytellers
  • Background information on the stories
  • An index of cultural sources
  • Thematic section groupings for easy reference
  • Profiles and photographs of the contributing storytellers

Here are some stories from the books.


by David Holt ©1979 from Ready-To-Tell Tales
In l971 I was on a music tour of the Far East for the U.S. State Department. We spent several days in Chiang Mai, Thailand performing and meeting the people. At this time the Thai people were afraid the Vietnamese were going to overrun their country and everyone was on edge. I heard this simple yet powerful story from a young boy who was our unofficial guide around Chiang Mai. He said, “The story gives us courage.” The song in this tale is a melody the children in Thailand use to taunt one another. Since that time this story has found a life of its own in the storytelling community. I am glad to see it is being told.

Once a long time ago there was a hunter walking through the woods. Far off in the forest he heard the faint sound of a bird singing a very strange song:

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

(audience repeats nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah)

The hunter walked and walked until at last he came to a tree with a beautiful golden bird sitting in the top.

He said, “Why does such a beautiful bird like you have such an ugly song?”

The bird looked down at the hunter and sang:

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

(audience repeats: nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah)

The hunter said, “If you don’t stop singing, I’m going to shoot you with my bow and arrow!”

The bird just looked down and sang again in a mocking voice:

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

(audience repeats: nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah)

The hunter put an arrow in his bow and shot…..and he missed. The golden bird sang again:

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

(audience repeats: nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.)

The hunter put another arrow in his bow and shot again. The arrow went right through the bird’s heart. As the bird began to fall, the hunter rushed under the tree and caught it in his sack. He pulled the sack tight and started to walk home. But from down inside the bag, he heard the muffled singing of the bird:

(Storyteller keeps mouth closed and hums)

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

(audience mimics and repeats: nah, nah, nah, nah,nah,nah,nah).

The hunter took the bird home, pulled it out of the sack, put it on the chopping block and plucked all the feathers from it. When he turned around to get a knife to cut the bird up, he heard over on the chopping block:

(Teller and audience fold their arms and shiver when they sing this line.)

“Brr, brr, brr, brr, brr, brr, brr.”

(audience repeats: brr, brr, brr, brr, brr, brr, brr)

The hunter took the knife and cut the bird up into a hundred small pieces, and then scraped them into a large pot full of water and put it on the stove to boil. When the water began to boil, he heard from down inside the pot, the bird singing:

(Teller and audience make a gurgling type sound when they sing the song.)

“Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh.”

(audience repeats: Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh)

Now the hunter was starting to get mad. He took the pot outside and put it on the ground and found himself a shovel and started to dig a deep, deep hole. When the hole was way over his head, he climbed out and poured all the parts of the bird into the hole and covered it with dirt. And as he turned to go back into the house, he heard from deep down in the ground the bird singing:

(Teller and audience sing song with hand over mouth to give muffled sound).

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

(audience repeats: nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah)

Now the hunter was furious. He grabbed his shovel and dug up every piece of the bird and put them in a little wooden box, and tied a large rock across the box with some rope. He went down to the river and threw the box as far as he could out into the water. It splashed and went straight to the bottom. He stood on the bank waiting to hear the sound of the bird. He heard nothing, so he went home. At the bottom of the river, the water loosened the rope around the box. The rock fell off and the box floated to the top of the water. It drifted along the river for three days. On the third day, the box floated by some children who were playing on the banks of the river. They saw this beautiful wooden box passing by and they wanted to know what was in it. They waded into the water and brought the box to shore.

When they opened it, out flew a hundred golden birds all singing in a full voice:

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

(audience repeats: nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah)

About a year later, the very same hunter was walking through the woods. And far off in the distance, he heard the strange sound of the bird singing. He walked and walked until at last he came to the same tree where he had first seen the strange bird. But this time when he looked up in the tree, instead of seeing one bird, he saw a hundred golden birds. He raised his hands and hollered out, “I know who you are now. You’re the Freedom Bird, for you cannot be killed.”

And all the birds looked down and sang to him at the same time:

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

(audience repeats: nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah)

Telling tips: This story is easy to tell and always works. Although the tale is aimed at children, adults respond to the powerful ending. I usually start out by reminding the audience of our own cultural taunting song. Then I demonstrate how the Thai people sing their tune and get the audience to sing along. You could then mention where you got the story and then launch into it.

Throughout the story when the bird sings his song I usually sing the tune first and then motion to the audience to sing it again with me. Some of the singing has a gesture with it, such as shivering or covering your mouth. The audience will quickly catch on and follow your lead.

Classical composer Carl Orff has arranged a version of this story for the Orff insturments. He added the clap at the end of the tune which I have included in my version as it rounds out the melodic timing and brings the audience together.

THE MAGIC POT by Pleasant DeSpain ©1985 from Ready-To-Tell Tales

A Tale from China

Once a poor, but hardworking woodcutter was walking home from the forest, with an ax strapped to his back. Suddenly he came upon a large old pot made of brass. It was the biggest pot he had ever seen.

“What a fine pot!” he exclaimed. “But how will I get it home? It’s too heavy to carry…Wait, I know…” He untied his shoulder strap and dropped the heavy ax into the pot. He proceeded to tie one end of the strap through one of the pot’s handles and the other end around his waist. Then he began the hard work of dragging the clumsy pot down the path to his small house.

The woodcutter’s wife was most pleased to see the pot and said, “What a fortunate day, husband. You found a wonderful old pot and another ax.

“No, wife, I just found the pot. I had the ax before.”

“But there are two axes in the pot,” she said.

The woodcutter looked inside and was speechless. Two identical axes sat side by side. As he leaned down to pull them out, his straw hat fell from his head and into the pot. Now two hats rested near the axes.

“Wife! The pot is haunted!”

“Or it’s magical!” she said happily. “Let’s put tonight’s dinner inside and see what happens.”

One dinner became two.

“Quickly,” said the wife. “Get our savings from the jar on the shelf!”

The handful of coins doubled.

“It is magical!” cried the woodcutter. “What shall we put in next?”

“The money, of course,” said his practical wife. “Let’s get rich while we can.”

They placed the coins inside repeatedly, and the amount doubled each time. An hour later every jar, pan, basket, pocket, chest, shelf, and shoe they owned was filled with money. They were, indeed, rich!

“Dear wife,” said the woodcutter, “we can build a fine house and have a big vegetable garden, and I won’t have to work so hard from now on. I’m so happy that I could dance!”

Then he grabbed her around the waist and began to dance around and around the small room. Suddenly he slipped on some loose coins and accidentally dropped his wife into the pot! He tried to pull her back out–but it was too late. He now had two wives. They stepped out of the pot and looked closely at each other. It was impossible to tell them apart.

“What have I done?” cried the woodcutter. “Can a man live with two vies at the same time?”

“Not in my house,” said the first wife.

“Not in my house,” said the second wife.

Both women smiled and grabbed the woodcutter and made him get into the pot. Two woodcutters climbed back out.

“Can two families live in the same house?” asked both of the men.

“No,” said the first wife.

“No,” echoed the second wife.

Half the money was given to the second couple and they built an elegant house. It was right next to the first couple’s fine, new house. Ever since that time, the people of the village have remarked on the strong resemblance of the woodcutter and his wife’s new relatives, the ones who must have brought them all that money!

After this tale I often hear, “Wow! I want one of those pots!” Materialism must be a timeless and multicultural trait. Another version is in The Arbuthnot Anthology of Children’s Literature by May Hill Arbuthnot (Chicago: Scott Forsman, 1961, pp. 333-334.)
TROUBLE by David Holt and Bill Mooney ©1992 from Ready-To-Tell Tales
Hear “Trouble” on Why The Dog Chases The Cat – Great Animal Stories

Once a long time ago, when stories walked and animals talked, the alligators had beautiful smooth golden skin. They had the easiest life of all the creatures. During the day they swam around the swamp, fishing and eating. When they got tired of that, they would sun themselves on the banks, or chase rabbits for a snack. If it got too hot and tiring for them, the alligators would slide down into the water and cool off.

One hot summer day when all the alligators were lazing in the water, Rabbit came hopping along the bank. You see, not long before, he’d had his tail bitten off by these same alligators. And he was coming to pay them back. So he started singing like he didn’t have a care in the world.

“Trouble, Trouble,

“Trouble’s in the air,

“Trouble, Trouble,

“Trouble’s everywhere.

“Trouble is a teacher, and just like a friend,

“It won’t be long before you see it again,

“You’re not livin’ if you don’t have strife,

“‘Cause if you don’t know Trouble, you don’t know life.

“Trouble, Trouble,

“Trouble’s in the air,

“Trouble, Trouble,

“Trouble’s everywhere.”

When the King of the Alligators heard that happy little tune he called out, “Hey, Rabbit, what is this “trouble” thing you’re singing about?”

Rabbit stopped in his tracks. “Trouble? You mean to tell me you never heard of Trouble?”

“Naw, never heard of it. We don’t get outta the swamp much. We all just fish and eat and laze around in the sun all day. But we sure do like to hear about new things–things like this here Trouble.”

“Oh, I can tell you about Trouble. I’ve seen it lots of times,” said Rabbit.

“I’ve seen trouble as wide as a river

“Or narrow as a sliver.

“Big as a sky

“Or small as a fly.

“Once you see Trouble you’ll never be the same.”

“That sounds exciting,” said the King. “Sounds like something I would like to see.”

“You want to SEE Trouble?”

“Yeah,” said the alligator, “could you show me some?”

“Yes, I can show you BIG Trouble,” said Rabbit. “Trouble so big, you’ll dance a jig. “Trouble so wide, you’ll be goggle-eyed.”

“Where can I see it?”

“Well, lemme think… You and all your family meet me in the center of the hay field in the morning.

“Yes, sir,” said the Alligator King. “We’ll all be there, looking for Trouble.”

(laugh) “See you then!”

“Trouble, Trouble, Trouble’s in the air,

“Trouble, Trouble, Trouble’s everywhere.”

The next morning, not long before the sun touched the top of the gum tree, the King of the Alligators got up on a big cypress stump. He sang out in his big bass voice,

“Alligators, gather ’round,

“We’re gonna see Trouble,

“Won’t you come on down.”

And the mamma and papa alligators echoed:

“Alligators, gather ’round,

“We’re gonna see Trouble,

“Won’t you come on down.”

And all the baby alligators answered:

“Alligators gather ’round,

“We’re gonna see Trouble,

“Won’t you come on down.”

So all the alligators gathered on the banks and started off. They were laughing and singing, running and playing. It was the finest jamboree of alligators that the creatures in the swamp had ever seen. Big ones, little ones, long ones, short ones all parading to the hay field, their golden skin shining in the sunlight.

Rabbit was waiting there to meet them.

“Rabbit have you got Trouble with you?”

“Yessiree bobtail,” said Rabbit, “I brought you big Trouble! Just like I said I would. Gather all the ‘gators in the center of the field and I’ll send Trouble out to meet you.”

So the alligators all bunched together in the center of the field where the grass was high and the grass was dry.

In the meantime, Rabbit hopped off to the far corner of the field. He pulled out a kitchen match and started a fire in the grass. Then he hopped off to another corner of the field and lit another fire. In no time, he had fires burning all around the edge of the dry hay field.

One of the big alligators hollered out, “What’s that pretty red stuff comin’ this way?”

“That must be the Trouble that Rabbit is bringing to us.”

The fire moved closer, and the fire got hotter.

“MY, my, my, it’s warm and rosy.

“Trouble makes you feel all nice and cozy.”

And the fire got closer, and the fire got hotter.

“My, my, my, isn’t Trouble hot.

“Feels like the sun on a big hot rock.”

And the fire got closer still, and the fire got hotter still.

“My, my, my, it’s biting me.

“Trouble feels like a swarm of bees.”

The King of the Alligators said, “I’ve enjoyed about as much of this Trouble as I can stand. LET’S GET OUTTA HERE!”

The alligators jigged to the left and they met fire. They jigged to the right and they met more fire. They jigged forward, and they jigged backwards, but there was fire all around.

Then the King of the Alligators hollered, “Follow me.” He lowered his head and plowed through the burning grass. All the other alligators followed along behind him.

Each alligator scrambled through the burning grass till at last they reached the banks of the river. One by one they slithered off the bank and flopped into the water, sizzling and crackling as they hit. Aah! That water was co-o-o-o-o-ol and ca-a-a-alm and comforting. Yessssir. They were HOME.

As they lay in the water feeling good, the alligators looked around at each other. Their smooth golden skin had turned dark grey-green, all covered with cracks and ridges and still smoking.

The King of the Alligators started to sing in a slow bluesy voice:

“Trouble, Trouble,

“Trouble’s in the air.

“Trouble, Trouble,

“Trouble’s everywhere.”

As he was singing the blues, along hopped Rabbit. “So how’d you folks like Trouble? I told you it was a good teacher.”

“I don’t want to learn anymore about Trouble, Rabbit!”

But Rabbit said, “Oh, it’s too late for that now. The first rule of Trouble is: ‘NEVER TROUBLE TROUBLE, TILL TROUBLE TROUBLES YOU!’”

And to this day, the alligator has remained near the water ever since, so he can cool his rough cracked skin and stay away from Trouble.