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The Power of Story
pp. i-xiii
by Joan Wink
Published by Libraries Unlimited/ABCLIO
Copyright © 2018 by Joan Wink

This is a book about the power of story. The purpose of the book is to link libraries and literacies through the power of stories, both oral and written. This book is written for librarians, teachers, and families who love literacy. Readers will discover that it is not filled with data in the form of pie-charts, graphs, and scatter plots; rather, the truth of the research is grounded in authentic stories that reflect not only the interpretation of these data but also the transformative nature of literacies and libraries. 


“Joan, you know what you are? You are a storyteller,” a teacher said to me. “And, all we want is a story.” She stopped me in my tracks with that comment, as I was mid-career and perhaps a bit too serious about my lectures and my overhead transparencies. At that time, I really did think that teachers/participants only wanted me to talk about those transparencies. However, since then I have focused on storytelling, and I consistently find that, not only do stories break down barriers among people, they also help people access complex constructs, which are reflected in those stories. 

It has become clear through personal experience and from social science that simply providing people with facts, information, and research does not change peoples’ behavior; however, tell a story, which has the data embedded in the life of a person, and often people will remember and begin to change behavior or at least consider an opposite point of view.  Stories can move the human heart and head in ways that research cannot. 

Literacy stories are loaded with data that are buried in the daily routines of real people. A story can make complex information accessible for all. People don’t want data; they want a good story. Also, an image does not hurt. Or, as storyteller Kendall Haven (2014) states it, “Picture, please! … By far the most important of these images is the one (or ones) that your audience will associate with your theme” (p. 146). For example, Figure 0.1 captures what you will read about in this book. 

Stories bring together readers, writers, librarians, teachers, students and families in the libraries of today and tomorrow. 


Let me remove all mystery and share my perspectives, which will flow throughout the chapters. First, librarians are teachers, too—the entire school or the public library is their classroom. Therefore, throughout much of this book, I will use these three words interchangeably: teacher, school librarian, and librarian. I will try very hard not to use words like, libreachersor teabrarians, but that is exactly what I mean.  I find that I am in very good company in this new and emerging understanding that librarians are teachers, too. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has a new position statement (, which supports my understandings. In addition, as you read the following chapters, you will find that libreachers or teabrarians are some of my favorite people in the whole world.

A second perspective relates to languages, literacies, and language acquisition, all of which have been central in my career. I began as a terrified and overwhelmed Spanish teacher with five different class preparations daily (1966), but somewhere along the road, I morphed (1970s) into a “nice Spanish teacher.” Eventually, I started to notice that it wasn’t just about some neutral use of words that fascinated me, and I began to realize that language had power. At that point, I found myself at home in the world of bilingual education, ESL, and dual-language immersion programs (1980s). I came to recognize that language was not only culturally grounded, but it was also historically, socially, and politically grounded (1990s), and I began to thrive in critical pedagogy. Now, that I’m near the end of my career, I am a wife; mother; grammie; rancher; professor emerita; writer; and, of course, a storyteller.


One day, I unexpectedly received an email from a colleague whom I had known for several years. 

“I was just reading your blog post, which reminded me so much of my own teaching experience in rural Kansas with the farm kids who were in the eighth grade and still couldn’t read and didn’t want to read the basal. Suddenly, the thought hit me that you might be interested in writing something about the power of story as it relates to reading–so very important in classes and school libraries.”

“Yes,” I responded, “but, what story did you read?”

“The Benson Kids,” she replied (this story is available at

 “Those kids taught me most about what I know about reading, writing, thinking, and teaching,” I told her. 

This book was born. I am so grateful for Sharon Coatney and colleagues at Libraries Unlimited, ABC-Clio.  Sharon Coatney, my acquisition editor, thank you for saving me from myself on several occasions. Even though, you have a demanding and complex life, you consistently found time to respond promptly and thoroughly. I very much appreciate your constant support. Emma Bailey, production editor, you also came through with details, when I needed them most. This book would never have been written with some background work by Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Eddie Wilson of Abydos Learning, as they were instrumental in bringing Sharon and me together and providing time for us to tell each other stories. Thank you, Joyce and Eddie. Blanche Wools of Libraries Unlimited, I believe you were supporting Sharon and me from the beginning, too. Thank you.

Denise Wurm of Accent on Wordsand Susan Henley Spreitzer of Excellent Webs, you seem to have all of the skills, which I do not have, and I so appreciated your professionalism and unfailing good humor throughout the months of writing. I love it when my colleagues become friends, and that is what happened with us.

Katie Knox, your images capture, what I want my words to say: Thank you for your magical depictions of little children reading. Missy Urbaniak and Atall families: You continue to inspire me to keep on, keeping on. Annette Chaudet, thank you for being my “but-I-don’t-read-educational-books” reader.

Missy Urbaniak, you not only shared stories, but you and the 13 students have consistently welcomed me to your one-room country school. Atall School, it means a lot to me that you include me in your community. Yes, readers, one-room schools still exist, and this one is filled magic.

Stephen D. Krashen deserves special recognition, as no other person has had such a profound effect on my teaching and learning. I remember in the late 1970s, when I drove from Benson, Arizona to Phoenix, Arizona, and heard him talk about how students memorize and then often forget after the test. I suddenly realized that this had been my pattern as a student. Too often I had memorized, received an A, and immediately forgotten the information. Dr. Krashen challenged us, as teachers, to move from memory to meaning. He said that if we could make the learning meaningful for students, they would be less likely to forget. He further told us that we had to create authentic language in real contexts. I drove back to my middle and high schools students in Benson and explained to them what I had heard. We agreed to give it a try. Out went my quiet, scripted, and controlled classroom. In came real questions, real inquiry, and real conversations. All this raised the level of noise. Until then, I had previously thought “teacher talk” was how students learned. Turns out, students have to talk to in order to solve problems and make meaning. It seems so obvious now, as when a group of adults has a problem, they talk to each other to find solutions. Fortunately, I worked in a district, where they believed that if the kids were achieving (and, they were), and if they were engaged (and, they were), and if they were well-behaved (and they were), the administrations left us alone. However, I did wonder a bit when my classes were moved to what had previously been a shop classroom, right next door to the band room. Memory to meaning requires some flexibility by all.

Colleagues, former graduate students, librarians, teachers, professors, and dear friends have shared stories, which are included in this book. I am grateful to each for the unique literacy story:Audrey and Gloria Smallwood;Candi and the California Reading Association; Linda Huff; Miss Noor; Lorna Larson; Gary Robson; Ray Lauk; Ruthie and Violet Wienk; Deb Harrison; Sue Doherty; Joanne Yatvin; Ron Gresham; Sally Fox, Rima Simann Haroun, and colleagues of GLAD®; Russ Walsh; Lindsay Peak; Fay Shin; Janet Towell;, Sharon Raimondo; Lance Keith Curry; Julie Moore; Nadine Pinkerton; Deb Schneider; Lisa Westbrook; Karalee McClymont Ruelas; Kim Dike; Sarah Cohen; Padma Sastri; James Cummins; Jo Holzer, SammyKan, and Kaj; Juie Shen; Samuel Betances; Jill Outka-Hill; and Christy Delbridge Sandquist.