Release of Harper Lee’s new book reminds us that stories can have a lifelong impact on readers and listeners—sources for the stories come from many people, places, and adventures.
Practically each week, in libraries throughout the city of Birmingham, families gather in small spaces to enjoy stories led by seasoned library storytellers. The major objective, states Eve Parker, "is to catch them in the cradle and hopefully create lifelong library users." Just as Harper Lee referenced memories of growing up in small-town Alabama to create a following of worldwide readers with her book To Kill A Mockingbird, library storytellers use music, tales passed on by grandparents, and their favorite books to create an imaginary world filled with colorful characters, all designed to teach, inspire, and create enduring remembrances for listeners.
"I begin each Tot Time with the Bean Bag Rock," Parker said. "The song encourages gross body movement, listening skills, following directions, and identification of body parts. These stories and songs stick with the children, and quite often the adult participants, for years." For many library visitors, storytime is the first opportunity to experience live, theatrical-like performances. Storytellers have unique opportunities to touch lives in memorable ways which often influences behavior, decisions, or encourages further exploration. Parker recalls a conversation she had about two years ago with a young woman outside of the library. "She told me that she attended my storytimes at North Avondale when she was a student at Whatley Elementary School. The student was so inspired by the musical instruments that she signed up for band when she got to middle school. She thanked me for that."
Participants can often find a variety of stories presented by various library storytellers. Casandra Scott has worked as a storyteller for the past fifteen years. She brings with her over twenty years of experience working in theatre production and design. Scott believes storytellers have a responsibility to their listeners that goes beyond entertainment. "We are responsible for their well-being in the choosing and telling of a story. I like to build around a theme—an anchor that provides context for what we are about to see and hear. A theme can be concrete like 'bears' or something conceptual, like 'kindness' or 'cooperation,'" stated Scott.
Just like the memorable books written by authors such as Harper Lee, library storytellers impact lives in remarkable ways—the stories live on with the listeners. Several years ago, after a session with one of her weekly preschool groups, Scott remembers a little girl who loved listening to and telling stories and what she had to say. Scott recalls the student saying, "Ms. Cas, when I grow up and go to a place where you're telling stories, can I come on stage and tell stories with you?" Scott’s response was, "Oh yes! And I look forward to that day."
The Birmingham Public Library system offers storytimes throughout the year at several library locations. A schedule for all library programs can be found on the website at www.bplonline.org. Families, local day care centers, and church groups are invited to attend.