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.”