The art of the story

Parents, grandparents can carry on tradition

Storytelling has been around for centuries. It's how we have taught history, values and important lessons from generation to generation. Classics such as Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling and Hansel and Gretel were passed on by word of mouth. The print versions came later.

Today, some parents and grandparents continue the storytelling tradition by telling children their stories. But storytimes and professional storytellers, who tell stories from memory rather than read off the pages, are only as far away as your local bookstore or library.

The job of a storyteller is to "paint a picture that takes the listener on a journey that entertains them and hopefully inspires them to tell stories. Part of the tradition is passing it on," says Kenny Haas, who has been telling stories for more than 20 years and is the namesake of the public access television show, "Mayor of Storyville." (The show airs Saturdays on CAN TV. Check your local listings for channel and times.)

At Children in Paradise Bookstore, 909 N. Rush St. in Chicago, manager Sara Wright tells stories at scheduled storytimes, 10:30-11 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It's never too early to expose children to books," she says.

Wright has seen children grow up at the bookstore. "They start as babies who have no visible reaction. As they come back year after year, they become interested and active participants."

She usually chooses shorter board or pop-up books to engage toddlers. "The cadence of rhyming books keeps little ones interested. I find that reading a lot of shorter books works better than one or two long stories."

Wright is also a strong believer in shared storytime, especially for babies, because it provides an introduction to socializing. Is Your Mama a Llama? is a Children in Paradise favorite, with clever rhymes and funny animals.

Books with multiple characters allow readers to create fun voices to interest small children.

"Whatever voice you choose, the child will like it, because it's yours," Haas says. His favorite book is If You Give a Moose a Muffin. Haas suggests focusing on the moose, giving him a deep, dopey voice.

"Storytelling is a one-on-one time, it's intimate," Haas says.

Alena Murguia and Kate Pancero


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