School Programs

 jon-sundell-perfect-storm-edutainment (link to general school flyer)

Jon Sundell is an ideal performer for school and library settings. In addition to his 45 years as a professional storyteller and folksinger he worked 10 years as a school media specialist and 22 years as public library children's specialist. Through "Perfect Storm Edutainment" he employs his performance skills to inspire reading and support the curriculum.

All of Jon Sundell's programs are presented in a multimedia format, using color slides along with folk songs and tales.   The slides help to provide context and background knowledge, so that students can understand songs and stories more completely. They are also used to draw connections with books that have been used as a resource or that students can use for follow-up reading and research.

Below is an annotated list of performance themes, workshops, and other follow-up activities. Often these programs can be adapted to suit your needs.  The blue links will take you to sample lists of program content and to video samplers with excerpts from different programs. 

All of Jon's programs encourage reading through specific connections. However, the programs that bring book talks front and center are the first three of the "Books and Literature" series.  "The Magical World of Fairy Tales" and "The Wide World of Hispanic Heritage" also dedicate considerable time to book talks, though not as much as the "Books and Literature" section.

Jon Sundell is a sensational musician whose folk music is enhanced by wonderful stories from many cultures, so his performance is entertaining as well as educational.  Jon’s first visit to Keene was for one performance at an elementary school; his next visit will be for a three-day residency, since word of that one performance has spread. Jon is very professional and accommodating, a joy to work with.
–Judith Perry, Project Coordinator, Grand  Monadnock Arts Council, Keene, NH.


Performance Themes



Introduction to Folk Songs and Tales

Jon shares simple folk songs and tales with lots of participation, demonstrating guitar, 5 string banjo, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, and spoons. Explains why the folk process of oral transmission was crucial before mass communication and entertainment. For all grades, especially k-2.

 North Carolina Folk Tales and Songs 

Jon demonstrates 5 string banjo, guitar and singing styles, mountain dulcimer, autoharp and spoons. He presents folk songs and tales from Anglo American, African-American and Native American cultures, illustrating how NC folklore reflects an early way of life, including the strong sense of tradition, closeness to nature, and balance of self-sufficiency with community interdependence. Includes excerpts from his book, Stay With Us: Visiting with Old Time Singers and Storytellers in the Southern Mountains, written by his high school students, and visible on his web site.  Especially suited for Grades 4 and 8.

Folk Tale Genres

What is  the difference between a tall tale and a legend, an animal fable and trickster tale? What are the characteristics of a “fairy tale” or “wonder tale”? This panoramic sampler provides an overview of all the subgenres: Tall tale, legend, myth, animal tale (fable & trickster tale), fairy tale, and wisdom tale. Ballads and “cante-fables” (story-songs) will be included, providing music and participation. Especially suited for grades 2, 3 & 4

Wise, Clever and Foolish

Presents songs and tales from many cultures in which humans and animals employ widely varying degrees and types of intelligence - or lack thereof! The material ranges from hilarious to serious and thought-provoking. Grades 2 - 8.

The Magical World of Fairy Tales

Using a PowerPoint format Jon explains basic ingredients that often occur in fairy tales  – magical events,  stock secondary characters such as a witch or a giant, a main character that is an underdog, and lessons in social behavior – and applies them in sample tales. He also introduces some recent books with "fractured" fairy tales which parody, reverse or extend original fairy tales. While some are funny, others are thoughtful, complex and adventurous. Grades 2 - 8.



Songs and Tales Around the World

Schools choose several geographic, national and cultural regions, including Native America, Latin America, United States and Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Australia to be represented in a multimedia program emphasizing folktales. Several contemporary folk songs are included, emphasizing a theme of multicultural understanding. Appropriate for all grade levels, with age-appropriate differences in story selection.

The Wide World of Hispanic Heritage 

Features a wide range of stories from the pre- and post-Colombian eras in the Americas, representing different cultures, countries and geographic regions. Includes personal slides from  Jon's many visits to Mexico, Central and South America, as well as others that help students visualize the region's cultures and history. A display of traditional Latin American crafts enriches the experience. Several bilingual and Spanish language songs with choruses are included. Grades 2-5.



What’s So Great About Reading?  

Books, storytelling, folk songs. Books take us both outward and inward. They open up a world of adventure by taking us to many real and imagined times and places. And by leading us deep inside the personal experiences of characters who are struggling to overcome problems and find happiness, they help us understand and accept ourselves. A bibliography can be provided in advance. For any grade, but especially 3-12.

A Multicultural Reading Tour

To develop multicultural understanding we need to go beyond the outward symbols of other cultures to a deeper encounter with the feelings and experiences  of individuals within them. Book talks and a few folk tales presented here enable students to form a more personal impression of people with ancestry or experiences in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe and native America.  Especially valuable for grades 4-12, but other books can be selected for primary grades.

Time Travelling through Books,  Songs and Folk Tales

Jon present excerpts from historical fiction paired with traditional folk songs, folk tales, and history. Jon brings this genre to life and demonstrates how it takes us inside the minds, hearts and experiences of people throughout the ages. Grades 4-12.

The Power and Beauty of Figurative Language

Robert Frost defined poetry as “feats of association.” This program not only helps students recognize figurative language, but appreciate its value - creating a more dynamic, multi-dimensional experience through the vibrancy and sensory impact of its imagery. Slides of the poetic image are projected on the screen to help students appreciate the impact of the figurative language.  Covers concrete language, metaphors, similes, word play and symbolism. Includes a few stories that are based on analogy to make a point. Grades 4-12. Song selection varies according to group's age.



A Nation of Immigrants

 Jon brings the story of immigrant America alive by combining the folk songs and tales and personal anecdotes of European, African, Asian and and Hispanic immigrants together with excerpts from current children’s literature and a historical slide show using primary sources. Grades 4-12

Westward Expansion

No topic more encapsulates the mythology of our country, with its contradictory mix of adventure, hardship, and exploitation, than the story of Westward expansion. Through songs, anecdotes, historical background and primary document slides, Jon highlights varying points of view of White, Black, Hispanic and Native Americans during this complex and momentous period. Especially recommended for gr 5 & 9-12.

The Industrial Revolution & the Fight for Workers’ Rights

This program focuses on the textile industry, coal mining, and the farm worker industry, the fight against child labor and the fight for labor unions and better working conditions. Powerful, expressive songs about those industries and movements are presented along with anecdotes, history, and booktalks, against a backdrop of slides. Grades 5 -12.



All Critters Big & Small

Folk songs and tales, information, slide show - Folklore is filled with a myriad of wonderful songs and tales reflecting the animal kingdom. Relating these to real life information provides an entertaining and useful exercise in comparing and contrasting fiction with non-fiction. Especially suited for k- gr 3.




Presents a thought-provoking series of songs and stories dealing with personal choices we make about friendship, love, and our path in life. Included, as well, are collective choices we have made as a nation about how we treat our resources and groups of people. Some humor is included to lighten the mood, as well as some portraits of leaders who have made tough but positive choices, such as labor organizer, Cesar Chavez; Harriet Tubman; and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians.  For grades 6-12.

Other Performance Themes

Many of the above programs are appropriate for middle school, and several, particularly the historical group and the Books and Literature section, especially  "The Power and Beauty of Figurative Language" are well suited to high school as well. Grade appropriateness is listed at the end of each annotation.

I especially loved how Jon talked about the sources of the stories and then linked books found in our own library to the stories he told. Jon’s slides were spot on for reinforcing his presentation and engaging the students.
– Colleen Yarnell, Union Cross Elementary School, NC



 These are interactive programs  aimed at smaller groups (15-75, depending on the topic). 

 For teachers & librarians:

  • Bilingual storysharing - How to share stories effectively in two languages; recommended books for storysharing
  • Recommended bilingual and Spanish language books
  • Teaching students &/ or parents how to read to younger siblings and cousins (1-2 sessions)
  • Teaching students to tell folk tales (1-4 sessions)
  • Using oral exchange of personal stories to develop capacity for writing (See "Writing Skills" under Curriculum Connections below for details.)

For students &/ or teachers:

  • Singing games from different cultures – Appalachian, African-American, Hispanic (1-6 sessions)
  • Learning to tell folk tales - from reading selections, through development & practice to final performance (3-8 sessions) 
  • Sharing personal experiences as a pathway to writing (See "Writing Skills" under Curriculum Connections" below for details.)
  • Learning to play spoons (1-3 sessions)

For families:

  • An evening square dance, possibly to include an interlude of folktales and songs

For parents (English and/or Spanish speaking):

  • How to select, read aloud and discuss books with  children ages 1-9)


Curriculum Connections (CC) & Related Projects (RP)

The suggested projects can be led by classroom teachers or school media coordinators with input or collaboration from Jon Sundell.

CC: Classroom study of folktales

  • RP: Researching fairy tale “motifs” (elements of character or plot) in different stories;           creating a new fairy tale using motifs or alternate versions of a traditional tale;
  • RP: Selecting, learning and performing a folk tale. (See also under workshops.)
  • RP: Comparing and contrasting fairy tale variants

CC: Writing Skills

  • RP: Listening, Telling and Writing Personal Stories - Coached initially by Jon Sundell, students in small groups spend several sessions listening to and orally sharing personal experiences (including answering classmates' questions) on topics such as a pet they once had or mistakes they have made. After they have used this interactive exercise to "develop the film" of these experiences in their head, they translate their story into written form and refine it.

CC: Hispanic Heritage

  • RP: Research projects on different countries that can include interviews with Hispanic family members and other local residents.
  • RP: e-correspondence projects with Hispanic students in other countries

CC: School-wide multicultural or international day

  • RP: Research a country and its folk tales with a partner; one student presents a country report using PowerPoint or some other format, while the other performs a tale.
  • RP: e-conferencing with foreign students.

CC: Independent reading; summer reading kick-off

  • RP: Students read from fiction (and possibly non-fiction) representing different cultures, time periods or  sub-genres of fiction. They write reviews and share them with each other, then compare and contrast them according to certain issues. This can lead to creation of a school book review blog, such as Jon set up at Old Town Elementary School when he was media coordinator.

CC: Group reading project

  • RP: Lunch group - Students read and discuss 2-3 books together from the same or different cultures, comparing and contrasting the characters' experiences and relating them to their own lives.

CC: Social studies - study of immigration

  • RP: Partners research  an immigrant group – its reasons for immigrating, challenges,             contributions.  Students can choose from their own ethnic group (including African American), or or a different one. A final project could be creating a presentation where group members read or act out a script they write based on findings.

CC: Social studies/ American History  (5th grade or high school) - Westward Expansion

  • RP: Paired research projects  wherein student pairs research one aspect of this topic, such as the Louisiana Purchase, transcontinental railroad, or Mexican War, examining and presenting different points of view from different stakeholders, such as White, Black, Hispanic, Native American, rich and poor.

CC: Christmas In the Trenches (5th grade through high school)

  • RP:  Jon shares the song, "Christmas In the Trenches," by John McCutcheon, which gives a moving, thought-provoking  first hand account of how English and German soldiers unexpectedly left their trenches and joined hands as friends on Christmas Day in 1 914. After the class discusses the song, students work in groups investigating several internet sites to compare and contrast specific aspects of the World War I truce as it took place in different spots along the English/ German trenches. For example, What led up to the truce? What took place during it? How did the high command react to the truce? How did it affect soldiers' views of the "enemy"and the war? Finally, the class will consider how this situation might apply today in international relations, as well as domestic situations like gangs.