The Healing Heart Books

by Allison Cox
Book Review by Antoinette Botsford

Imagine hanging out with many of your favorite storytellers from near and far, sharing tales, batting theories and experiences about, musing over a surprising twist on an old yarn, and then finding yourself engrossed in a totally new story from an admired teller you’ve wanted to meet for ages. All this and more is yours in this welcome pair of books brimming with essays and stories that show how storytelling can be applied “to encourage caring and healthy families and communities.” Allison Cox and David Albert bring together a rich mix of tellers whose insights, experiences, and stories create a reference that no storyteller should be without. By and large these are the kinds of stories that-if we could find a way for people worldwide to hear them regularly-could move mountains (probably literally as well as figuratively).

No question: healing through the spoken word is one of the “big themes” of our time. We all know that good storytelling is far more than pleasant distraction. As Nancy Mellon writes, “Listening to well-turned phrases spoken with wonder and affection by a storyteller primes the natural poetry in our souls and ignites our creative courage for life.”

The stories in The Healing Heart – Families touch on issues that range from the highly private (sleep-wetting, asthma, coming “out” in a homophobic society) as well as more public concerns (family survival in difficult times, angry urges while child-rearing). The storytellers’ various accounts of their approaches to “finding what divides us”-as one contributor puts it-can’t help but inspire and stimulate others to a deeper understanding and expression of our art.

The compelling companion volume reaches out to the larger world and focuses strongly on approaches to social conflict and strengthening community values. One essay–“Storytelling on the Path to Healing in Northern Ireland”– suggests a model for helping to ease some of the conflicts and misunderstandings in the Middle East and other troubled areas. Its central thesis proposes that children on all sides of a cultural and political dispute gather together for a great storysharing conclave in which they hear stories told by representatives from all the relevant factions. Another inspiring project–from the Meadow Lake Tribal Council of Saskatchewan-is designed to affirm the values expressed in the stories told by elders from many tribes.

The editors-both accomplished storytellers themselves–are highly qualified for the selection and shaping of materials from varied backgrounds. Allison Cox works as a therapist and prevention specialist in Tacoma, Washington and is one of the founding board members of the Healing Story Alliance (part of the National Storytelling Network, USA), and editor of its journal Diving in the Moon: Honoring Story, Facilitating Healing. David Albert is Senior Planner and Policy Analyst with the Washington State Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse and author of two seminal works on home-schooling, as well as a contributor to other books about storytelling.

The editors appear to have bent over backwards to retain the language and voice of each contributor, allowing their defining rhythms, vocabularies, and unique imageries to prevail. Author biographies and contact information are backed up by useful bibliographies in each volume.

This book review, written by Antoinette Botsford, was originally written for the Vancouver Storytellers’ Newsletter, October 2003.

The Healing Heart ~ Families
Edited by Allison M. Cox and David H. Albert
Foreword by Nancy Mellon
ISBN: 0-86571-466-5 (trade paperback)
The Healing Heart ~ Communities
Edited by Allison M. Cox and David H. Albert
Foreword by Margaret Read MacDonald
ISBN: 0-86571-468-1 (trade paperback)
New Society Publishers, 2003
Price (each volume): Canada $27.95; US: $19.95
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