My first public performance as a storyteller was in my first grade classroom. I remember sitting on the floor playing a game with my classmates when my teacher, Ms. Foster, came over to remind me that it was my day to read aloud to the class. My heart skipped a beat. I'd forgotten my book. Was I in trouble?
Trying to be helpful, I offered a solution. "I forgot my book but I remember the story. I could just tell it."
Ms. Foster wasn't the least bit upset. She smiled. "Yes, you may tell the story."
She dragged her teachers chair to a spot where the other children had room to sit in a semi-circle before me. I scooted up onto her roomy wooden chair and sat, my legs dangling back and forth, and I began telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Having read the book so many times, all I had to do was to look into my mind's eye and there were the illustrations and I could see the words printed on the page. I actually read the book, pages turning in my mind. Every one of my classmates listened, no one talking, no one fidgeting.
As a grown woman, a grandmother now, I am in wonder of that child's poise and ability to do such a thing. I was a shy child. Yet that day I confidently told a story.
Something happened to me recently that reminded me of that day in first grade. I was visiting Wonderarts, a summer program for kids in our community. I'm the Youth Librarian at the village library and I was asked to come and read stories. Since the theme changed each week, I had brought several books with me that I thought would fit. The last class for the morning was 4th, 5th and 6th graders. I showed them the book I was going to read but before I even began, one of the children piped up. "Can you read us the story you read last week?"
I was so surprised at this request. When I had read the story the week before, I was thinking that it was too simple for this older crowd. Now, here I was getting a request.
"Well, I didn't bring that book with me today, but I remember the story. I could just tell it to you."
That's exactly what I did. Everyone listened; no fidgeting, no talking. They had fallen into story. One boy in the back, leaning on his elbow, being his cool self, surprised me by exclaiming, "And then he …" and I said, "Yes, that's right… " and continued on. Toward the end of the story, a girl in the front said, "And then he made the little mouse." I couldn't help but smile. All the while that I was telling this story, I was in a state of amazement that this older group of students were so into this story.
When the story came to an end, one of the counselors spoke in a soft voice. "That was a good story."
Well, this was a wonderful moment - for me and for those listening. For a little while, we were no longer in this world. We were in the story. For a time, we all journeyed together. I'm certain I will hold this memory forever.
ps. The story I told was based on the book, My Grandfather's Coat by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock.
pss. I still love the story of Little Red Riding Hood