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Bangkok Faces: Anna Manuel, Storyteller, Heads & Tales

Your Name: Anna Manuel

Job Title: Storyteller & Creative Program Director of Heads and Tales 

What is your nationality and background?

I have been working with children for over 13 years – 7 years in Manila, 6 years in Bangkok. Having both parents and older sister who were teachers, this influenced my decision to pursue degrees in Education – English Language and Special Education (B.A.) and Reading Education (M.A.Ed.).

What is your profession?

I started a business which I named Heads and Tales roving storytelling, in which I play the role of creative program director of children’s activities and storyteller.

What are the key skills and responsibilities of this role?

Having a basic understanding of children and how they are – both theoretically and through experience being with them – is a very important skill set to be able to connect with, create experiences for, and respond to children. As the creative program director, I can ensure that the programs are appropriate and enjoyable, promoting maximum learning experiences for the kids. While on the floor, as a storyteller and program facilitator, I need to BE, and BE WITH the children – meaning to say, to be mindful of myself, my actions and words; and to listen, speak, encourage, and resolve issues in ways children can easily relate to.

From children’s needs and my specialized skills, I create programs that involve stories:

  • Stories + crafts (for 4-7 years old) – for an hour I read to them a story/stories and we create an art piece related to the story which would enrich both the story’s central element and the children’s creative skills
  • Storybook making workshop (for 6-12 y.o.) – a series of activities which helps the children explore and write their own stories, design their characters and book layout, and tell them to an audience in the end.
  • Storytelling Troupe (for 6-12 y.o.) – a series of activities involving skills for story and character study, creative interpreting skills, and audience connection.

How did you get involved in your profession?

I have always wanted to combine reading and art in my work with kids – and last year, when I talked to Gili Back of Chomp about this dream, she supported me right away by giving me a space in the art gallery of her restaurant to do it!

Having experienced working with children in different capacities, contexts, and ages, I have come to find that sweet intersecting spot among these aspects: doing what I love, doing what I’m good at, and getting paid for it (storytelling) and doing what the world needs (for me it’s peace and empathy, and those can be gleaned from stories).

How does your role enhance the wellbeing or experience of children?

The stories and activities we do in my sessions have a positive value, which we all explore as we engage in them. Each session is also carefully crafted to promote a happy attitude towards reading. I am a firm believer in the power of reading to influence critical and creative thinking all throughout our lives. So we need to start training at a young age!

Also, I create a safe space where children can be themselves, encourage different ways of thinking, creative expression, and communication skills.

Doing it in a non-school set up, children learn a great deal of social skills in interacting with familiar/unfamiliar children, teacher, rules and routine which might be different from what they are used to. In my sessions, I put primary importance in being respectful and accepting — through words and actions. I want everyone to be free in expressing themselves, their appreciation of others, and joining in discussions where different ideas are present.

What do you hope to achieve within your industry?

I’d love to reach more Thai families – I hope they can see this kind of activity beneficial for their children. I still want more believers in the power of stories – more people supporting alternative learning environments where kids can also grow socially and emotionally.  

I also wish to have more storytellers and creatives with me, spreading a happy attitude towards reading and adding value to the existing programs and even making new ones! I am looking forward to more collaboration with other professionals, families, and spaces to affect children who come from different communities and backgrounds.

Who or what inspires you?

Working with children itself gives me so much joy. I believe we can learn a lot from them and we need to listen to them more. They are the most authentic people I have come across!

The possibilities of having peace, connectedness, and compassion among people, among societies, and with the environment inspire me immensely. My personal mission is to plant these seeds in children – who will become future leaders, parents, teachers, decision makers – through stories.

 Only a Bangkok local would know…

The skyline might be changing fast and small businesses are bumped off by bigger ones, but there will always be individuals who are initiators, creators, who work at their heart’s pace and scope.

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