Puppets Get a New Home

One of my favorite things about my job is building relationships with the people and places that I visit on a regular basis. One of those places that is close to home is the Early Childhood Resource Center (ECRC) in Canton.I have performed numerous children’s programs for them as well as taught some professional development classes for early childhood educators.

For awhile they used to have a display of puppets for sale right when you walked in the door. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love puppets. Put me in front of a puppet rack, and I’ll be entertained for a good long time. Whenever I would come to perform at the ECRC, I would gaze lovingly at the puppets, and of course, try on my favorite ones! (They had a sale around Christmas-time and a few made their way home with me too!)

Well, sadly, they have discontinued their puppet sales, but on my last visit I decided to ask them if they still had the rack that they used to display them as I was interested in purchasing a rack for my puppet collection and wanted to see if that one would be a good fit. Children’s programmer David motioned to me and had me follow him into his office where the puppet rack sat, unused. “Take it! It’s yours,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get rid of it.”

I was pretty excited as I’d had no intentions of leaving that night with a puppet rack, just looking at one. But now my puppets have a new home — one where I can see each of them and continue plotting their next appearance in a story performance. Thanks David and ECRC for giving me more than I bargained for on my last visit!

Below are some additional photos of my performance of “The Magic Pumpkin Seed Bird” at ECRC in early October.

Storytelling in the South: Drama in Worship

From September 20-22, I traveled to Denton, North Carolina to teach and present at the Worship Arts Retreat for the Southern Territory of the Salvation Army. The Southern Territory is quite expansive, and there were leaders from Texas to Florida and everywhere in between! My job for the weekend was to present to the whole group about the benefits of using drama and storytelling in worship as well as to train a smaller group of leaders during four breakout sessions, equipping them with tools and activities that they could take back to their local churches. In addition to my sessions about drama and storytelling, participants could also learn about Visual Art (stained glass mosaic), Contemporary Music, Dance, Media and Audio.

My drama students learning about tableaux

I had a wonderful group of students who dove right into each activity. (There is nothing more satisfying than teaching a group of people who are really hungry to learn!) Furthermore, throughout the weekend, many people told me that my presentation to the general session had given them a lot of ideas and that they were eager to begin using storytelling in their home churches. Yay!

I love being an ambassador for the art of storytelling, an art form which I’m quick to remind people that Jesus himself employed! I could go on and on about the ways that storytelling has changed my life, but instead I’ll just say how blessed I feel when I’m able to ignite the spark of storytelling in others and to know that this ancient art form is going to be carried on and used in profound ways. A good story is meant to travel, and if we’re lucky, it may even come back to us someday!

 

Telling the Parable of the Sower with audience participation

A stained glass mosaic made by one of the Visual Arts students

 

Library Book Sales: Not To Be Missed!

If you aren’t checking out your library’s book sale shelf, then you are missing out! I cannot begin to express the number of wonderful books I have found on these shelves — ranging in price from 25 cents to $1. These are hard-bound books that often retail for as much as $20 online or in a store. As a lover of folktales, this is what I am always on the lookout for. And since I visit a LOT of libraries, I check out the sales at each place that I go.

Usually, I’ll find one or two treasures, but sometimes I’ll get really lucky. That was the case at my last stop during my Toledo tour. I had arrived early to get set up, but since the program was going to take place in the middle of the library, in a somewhat high-traffic area and not in a separate meeting room, I decided to hold-off on setting up so that no children would trip on any of my props, etc.

With time to kill, I veered over to the book carts holding the sale items and began to peruse. I couldn’t believe my luck! I found a couple of Anansi stories, a collection of Latin American tales, an Ethiopian version of a famous Asian tale, a re-telling of an African folktale I came across during my trip to South Africa, and some great stories that I’d never heard of but that quickly captured my attention!

I walked out with a stack of ten hard-cover books for the low price of $5! And I couldn’t have been happier! I can’t wait for my next treasure-hunting experience, and I hope that you’ll join in on the fun the next time you visit your library. You never know just what you may find!

Toledo Tour Highlights: Shy Super-Stars and Kids Who Come Back for Endings!

I had a lot of wonderful experiences during my Toledo tour for Hispanic Heritage Month, but perhaps the most memorable one occurred at an afternoon program at a small urban library. The crowd that day was small (in size and stature!), but boy, did they surprise me! I was performing the Mexican folktale, “The Ram in the Chile Patch”, and I ended up getting a very small, shy-looking, boy up to play the part of the ram. Let’s just say he did not appear to be the most likely candidate for the role, but when he alone put his hand into the air to volunteer, I couldn’t ignore him — even though I had my concerns about how well things would go.

The boy was only a few feet tall and wore the kind of glasses that wrap around your ears in the back. His face wore a squinty expression and one of his hands was shaking, whether in fear or due to another cause I’ll never know. At first, he expressed some trepidation about putting on the costume hat for the ram. His grandmother whispered to the librarian that he was “funny” about those kinds of things and wouldn’t do it; but with some gentle encouragement, he soon put it on, and once he did, he was fully invested.

He played the part with gusto! The ram has to flex his muscles, give them a kiss, lower his head to the ground and paw at it with his hoof and even let out a terrible battle cry. He did all of these, even throwing in the battle cry the second time around, when I had forgotten to mention it! In the moments where I was working with the other actors, he stayed in character, continuing to munch on the chile peppers just as the ram is supposed to.

It wasn’t until the program had concluded that the librarian told me that he was only three years old! I knew he’d been young, but never would I have guessed he was that young! She told me that before I’d made my entrance for the program, she’d been talking to the children and asking them questions. This boy never spoke; his older sister always answered for him. Thus, she’d been pleasantly surprised at how outgoing he was in his role. Not only that, she was impressed with the way that his being involved in the story had engaged him to such an extent that he was able to remember details of the story and actions of his character (such as the battle cry) even when I had not mentioned them. This had convinced her that involving young audience members in the story should be employed more often in early literacy programs! Yay!

This was not the only exciting happening from this program. There was another boy in attendance with his grandmother. He was probably about 4 years old. Mid-way through the program, the grandmother began to quietly lead the young boy from the room since they had to pick up his grandfather from the barbershop. The boy followed his grandmother, but his eyes never left the action of the story. When the program had just concluded, the librarian and I were both surprised to see the little boy, his grandmother and grandfather coming back into the room. When the librarian asked him about why he’d come back, the little boy looked up and said, “I had to see how it ended.”

Talk about engagement with the story! The little boy was so invested that he’d convinced his grandparents to return to the library just so he could know the ending. Of course, I was more than happy to tell him! These are the kinds of moments that make my day. These are the moments that remind me just how much children need stories and how their participation in those stories gives them a voice and a confidence that maybe they (or their family members!) didn’t know they had.

Lastly, an older boy in the audience pipes up, “When you come back, will you tell us another story?”

When you come back. Not if you come back. I love the faith of children.

In answer to his question: “Yes, young man. I’ll gladly do just that. I’ll gladly tell you another story.”

 

Whimsy and Imagination at Toledo’s Main Library

From September 16-18, I had the opportunity to perform at a number of libraries in the Toledo-Lucas County Library system. The first stop in my tour was the Main Library, and it was absolutely magical. From the moment you enter the children’s area, you are greeted by a larger-than-life book with the words “Once Upon A Time” and “they lived  happily ever after,” inscribed on its pages. This book invites you to step through a door of amazing reading adventures!

A real Caddy that young patrons can “drive” as featured in Toledo author Mildred D. Taylor’s book, “The Golden Cadillac.”

Once inside you are greeted by some of your favorite literary characters like the BFG and Nancy Drew who adorn the bookshelves. There’s a colorful fish tank, as well as the front end of a real Cadillac which invites young patrons to climb inside and “take a drive.” The library is also home to an impressive collection of original artwork by local as well as nationally-known illustrators. Below each original piece of artwork is a shelf holding the book to which the image corresponds. The library is truly a visual delight, a feast for the eyes, and an invitation into the realm of imagination for even the biggest of kids!

The BFG (one of my personal favorites!) watches young readers from above!

Nancy Drew clings to a working clock at the end of a book shelf!