Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview on SettleStories blog

Every interview is a little different. Here's the most recent, from

I promise, I'll have new pictures soon, to reflect my shorter hair and my glasses.

Friday, December 09, 2011

How to book a storyteller

A few years ago, I wrote a list of tips for public librarians who hire storytellers. For the most part, it works for other venues such as assemblies, Family Night events and festivals. 

First find a storyteller. Here are a few ways: Google "storyteller" and your state, search the directory at, contact your state arts commission (except in Kansas), or search the directory at the National Storytelling Network. Library systems, school assembly websites, and chambers of commerce are other places to look. Storytellers also advertise at booking conferences and showcases. Ask around--word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a storyteller, appropriately enough.

Not all storytellers tell stories to kids (it's certainly one of my specialties). Do a few minutes of research on the storyteller's website to understand their scope.

Call or e-mail the storyteller. Most performers will try to get back to you quickly. (By the way, if you e-mail me and I don't get back to you, use the contact form on my website. Sometimes e-mails go into the black hole and never get to me.)

Here are some specific questions to ask the performer, depending on your situation:
  • Are you available on X date, at X time? If not (and if the date is fixed), can you recommend another storyteller?
  • What is your fee? Does this include mileage and expenses?
  • Are you comfortable working with X (ESL students, preschoolers, k-6, high schoolers, etc.)? 
  • Do you have a limit on the number of listeners?
  • Do you need a microphone?
  • Can you work outdoors if need be?
  • Do you need any special set up? Do you need a table? How much space do you need?
  • What is the name we need to put on the check?
  • Do you have a standard contract, or would you prefer that we send a letter of confirmation?
  • Could you send a short blurb of your show, a bio and a .jpeg for publicity? (for libraries)
  • Do you have a study guide for teachers? (for schools)
  • Do you have a short introduction you’d like us to use?
Tell the performer about the venue. Will the performance be in the gym or cafeteria, in an auditorium, in the library? Will the listeners be on the floor, on chairs, at tables? 

Discuss the age range of the audience and the number of listeners expected. I know, public libraries often don' t know how big the audience will be.

As you discuss the fee, ask about block booking. For example, I give a lower price when I can book more than one performance or at multiple schools or libraries in the same day. 

Tell the performer the policy on payment (on the date of performances, within a month after performances, in advance, etc.). If you need the performer’s social security number or tax id number, or if you need them to fill out a W-9 form, ask for it at the time of the contract. Some performers ask for a deposit on booking. 

Discuss contingencies for bad weather and cancellation.

Many performers have recordings or books and welcome the chance to sell them after the show. If there is a policy against sales, be sure the performer knows. 

Verify the salient details on all contracts/letters of confirmation. Be sure the address of the venue is included (especially important if the venue is not the library), as well as a contact phone number for the day of the performance. Sign and return a copy of the contract.

A week before the performance, contact the storyteller to double-check details.

Ask the performer to arrive 20-30 minutes early. This saves you thinking you’ll have to come up with a program on the spur of the moment.

When the performer arrives, introduce yourself by name. Remember, you know who the performer is, but he or she may not know you. Have a bottle of water available for the storyteller and point out the location of the restrooms. 

Introduce the performer briefly. By doing this, you build enthusiasm for the performance and you have the opportunity to make any housekeeping announcements. 

At the end of the performance, lead the audience in thanking the performer. This lets everyone know the session is over.

If you and the rest of the audience enjoyed the performance, feel free to spread the storyteller's name around. We love referrals!


A little more on writing

Last week I was in Salina, KS for three days in the schools. On Thursday, I had four sessions. The first was with three fifth-grade classes (9-10 year olds). Then I went into each class separately to do a workshop on storytelling and writing, as I described a few posts ago. I remembered to take my camera. Here are a few pictures of the students writing about candy. That's the topic I almost always start with. 

While they write, the students are usually absolutely focused. If they get stuck, I remind them to keep writing. I may give a quiet prompt, "What's the worst candy you ever had?" or "Don't forget about candy at Halloween or Easter or Christmas."

Though this was only a three minute piece, they were able to get quite a lot down on paper.

Some of the kids read aloud afterwards. If we'd had more time, we would have been able to hear more of the writings.

One girl wrote a piece that personified the candy, moving past the first stage writings which are often like this: "I like candy. Candy is awesome. My favorite candy is...." It's not a bad stage, but I'm always interested to hear what happens when they move through it to something juicy.

My only regret in these workshops is that we could have used another hour or two. I like to give two topics at a time: "Write about armadillos and/or roller coasters." We expand to five- and ten-minute writings. With more time, we also have more time for other writing games. Even with this short amount of time (50 minutes for the storytelling session, 50 minutes for the workshop), the kids were jazzed about writing and would have happily have spent much more time exploring with pencil and paper.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Video of Peeps at Maple Valley School

A friend was looking me up on youtube and found this--I didn't even know it was up. It was filmed at Maple Valley School in Kansas City, MO, during the Kansas City Storytelling Celebration earlier this month.

I had two different groups at this school. The kids responded really well. I think my favorite part was walking around after the stories inviting each of the kids to shake hands or touch my puppet Trixie. She's quite gentle in this kind of setting.

By the way, I DO have my own youtube channel. Check it out!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Magic box story game

I guess I could pretend that I put that box of trinkets in the picture yesterday as a teaser. Here it is again.

The box is for a game I use with kids from about age 6 and up. It's called "Magic Box," and I have two versions. 

Magic Box Full
In this game, I put a variety of little toys in the box and have kids draw one out so we can tell a story about it. If we get stuck, we pull another toy out to move the story along. 

Magic Box Empty
There's nothing inside but my imagination. I open the box slowly, toward myself, so I'm the only one who can see what's inside. "Oh! I can't believe it! There are two chickens playing football in here!" I might say. Then I pass the box to the person next to me and ask what they see. We pass the box around the room until everyone has had a chance to say something. 

I prefer Magic Box Empty. I find that kids often will follow the pattern I set. If there are animals playing a sport, they continue with that idea. Sometimes I prompt for other details: "Really? Who's watching the game?" It's even more fun when they come up with something unusual. Once I played this with a group of second graders. The game was going along fairly predictably until one little girl looked in the box and said, "There's a big old tooth in here!" 
In the spirit of improvisation, I accepted this. "Really? Whose is it?"
"Mine! I didn't even realize I'd lost a tooth!" 

At a workshop in at St. Francis College, Sao Paulo, 2008
Sometimes there will be a literal-minded kid who says, "There's nothing in here." I suggest quietly that they pretend there is something. This may or may not work. It's important to be respectful of the student, not to make this into a big embarrassing deal. I may say, "That's okay, maybe you'll see something in there another time," or "Darn, it got invisible again.

Any little box works. You could decorate a shoebox or use a small recipe box. I like the one I have because it's in the shape of a book. I got it in Brazil in a hobby shop. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Storytelling, storywriting

In my last post, so very long ago, I promised to write about the residency I did with 8th graders in Scott City. I'd rather write about the program I offer called "Storytelling, storywriting." I know I've written about this before, so this is mostly a reminder.

Sometimes other storytellers ask me how I can give workshop plans away like this. I remember what Eric Booth says in The Music Teaching Artist's Bible: 80% of what you teach is who you are. If somebody takes my workshop outline and puts it into practice, it will be completely different from what I do. Maybe better!

Stuff I use, sometimes, for "Storytelling, storywriting"
Back to the workshop. This is an adaptable program. I can do a 45-minute version, a 90-minute version, a  two-hour in one fell swoop version, or a multiple day version. It works best with grade 4 (age 9) and up, with kids who can read out loud fluently. I've done it in Mexico with kids from all over the country who study at English schools, in Salina, KS with fourth and fifth graders, at a Juvenile Detention Center.

In the best case scenario, I have a whole session of storytelling before we even get to the writing. That's what will happen next week in Salina when I work with fifth graders. I'll tell mostly stories I wrote, pointing out story structure and the way descriptions in the stories evoke the senses. We'll have time for questions about stories and storytelling. The kids usually feel comfortable with me by the end of the session. That's intentional. I need to connect with them for this to work.

In the second session, I read a story out loud. I like "The Big Stone," which can be found in The Guizer by Alan Garner. It's written in a slightly archaic style, and though I read with expression, the students glaze over. Then I tell it the way it is on my CD The ghost with the one black eye, to demonstrate the difference between a written and a told story.

I ask what they notice, reminding them that there is no way they can be wrong in what they say. We talk about the use of gestures, facial expressions, the voice and the body. We might do an exercise or two to underline this.

Then, using a different story, we work on backstory. I want them to understand that in order to tell a story well, I have to see it fully. I must be able to answer any question they might ask me about any character, setting, or bit of action in the story, spoken or unspoken. The color of the big sister's shoelaces in The ghost with the one black eye? Pink, absolutely. Is there a pet in that story? Yes, a big dog. (Note: if I get in a rut with a story, sometimes I change the picture in my head)

Then what? We move on to writing. I use an abridged version of Natalie Goldberg's list of rules for writing practice from her fabulous book Wild Mind. I insist that the kids write them down so these rules will go in their pencil hands to their brains. Then, using the rules, we write for three minutes on a topic I give them. As they write, the room is absolutely silent. Occasionally I prod them with a reminder to keep their hands moving, or I give a slight suggestion if they think they're really stuck. After the timer goes off, we read a few aloud.

Then we play a game I adapted from Gianni Rodari. It's like "Heads, Bodies and Legs," which I've just learned is also called "Le cadavre exquis," or "Exquisite corpse," but with writing. Here's how I described it in a post in 2008:
 It's a game where we write a story line by line, folding the page backwards after each line and then passing that paper to the next person. I prompt the kids for each line: "Who was it?", "Where was he/she?", "What did he/she do?" and so on until the story is done. After each line, the paper is passed to the next kid. They're not supposed to look at the previous lines, so when the paper is unfolded, it's a completely ridiculous story. Some of them make a strange kind of sense.

It's a great game to teach story structure. I also point out this even simpler story structure:
Somebody wanted...

If there's time, we extend the timed writings or the game, or we can add another game, either a storytelling game or a writing game. Even as I'm going out the door, the students often are asking if they can do this some more. They're having a blast writing and storytelling!

Did I ever mention how much I love what I do?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

More travels in Kansas and Missouri

I've been happily busy this past month, traveling around Kansas and Missouri. I've been to Columbia, Stockton and El Dorado Springs, MO, as well as Topeka, Scott City, Burlingame, Altoona, Fredonia and Overland Park, KS. This has been an eclectic month. Since Oct. 1, I have
  • told stories for the public, including a large group from a Montessori school, at a community center, 
  • guest taught a community college class in public speaking for my friend Kareen King,
  • visited a high school art class for a performance/workshop designed to get the kids to think about how to translate storytelling into visual images,
  • worked with four groups of 8th graders for two days on storytelling, oral communications and writing,
  • performed for elementary school assemblies,
  • joined the Fine Arts Chorale of KC for another fun Halloween concert at the library (program: music, story, music, story, music, story, music, milk and cookies),
  • told stories at public libraries for kids and a large group from a nursing home,
  • told funny-scary stories at a Halloween celebration for families at a large corporation.
It has been a blast, as always, and has involved a lot of driving. Here is some of what I've seen:

Old School, literally.
I drove past Claflin on my way to Scott City (that's about a 7 hour drive from my house). I always think of storyteller Willy Claflin when I see this sign.

This is in Scott City, KS. I ate at the adjoining Mexican restaurant, where they had a lovely chile relleno. Not roadkill.

This abandoned limestone house is a typical sight on the plains of Kansas. The early settlers built these houses to last! 

I love the colors of Kansas in the fall. The red is a field of milo (sorghum). 

Here's milo close up.

Classic advertising on the walls in Fredonia, KS.

Last month I wrote about Gas, KS and said I regretted not getting a picture of the Bank of Gas. I passed Gas (pardon me)on my way to Altoona and Fredonia for this photo.

Next I'll write about the residency in Scott City with 8th graders.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Back to Jonesborough

I went to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee this year for the first time since 2008. I started going to the festival in 1989. I think I've been eight times now--I'm jealous of my storytelling friends who go every year. I went late this year, traveling with my friend Joyce Slater on Friday instead of Thursday. We had a 6:00 a.m. flight from Kansas City (I almost wrote "plight" and that wasn't too far off). Though that meant getting up at 3:45 a.m., we arrived in Tennessee at noon and got to the festival in time to get lunch and listen to stories.

I'm not going to write here about the ongoing political issues with the festival, the town and the storytelling organizations, so if you expect me to dish some dirt, you'll have to look elsewhere for mudpies.

Of course I go to the festival to hear great stories, but I also go to see my "tribe," other storytellers. It's a place where we don't have to explain what it is we do, or why. I always come home refreshed.

There were five tents this year. I think each holds about 1800-2000 people. As always, some of the sets were olios, an old vaudeville term for sessions that offer several storytellers one after another. Some were solo performances and some were shared sets with two storytellers.

The Library Tent from the outside
The Library Tent from the inside
I had some favorite storytellers this year, as I always do. Though I am not a costume-wearing storyteller myself, I thoroughly enjoyed Dolores Hydock's Eglamore and Cristobel, in which she is the Medieval narrator: 

I also heard her tell more contemporary stories in a couple of other sets without costume and it was just as compelling. 

Speaking of compelling, Clare Muireann Murphy was also fabulous. She's from Ireland, which doesn't mean she only tells Irish stories (I was reminded of my friend Synia who made the point that though she's African-American, she didn't want to be hemmed into only telling African and African-American stories). Here's one Clare told:

And of course, my friend Megan Hicks was wonderful. She was a "New Voice," the designation the festival gives for tellers who are new to the main stage--some "New Voices" have been telling for decades. Megan's telling was strong and true. I saw her get three standing ovations! Yay! This video isn't a story I heard her tell, and of course in Jonesborough she was on the main stage, not in a place where a cat might walk behind her (I love that!), but this shows one of her styles, a fractured fairy tale: 

I say one of her styles, because she also told a historical tale and traditional tales that were not fractured. 

There were many other amazing storytellers there: Willy Claflin, Bill Harley, Donald Davis, Lyn Ford, Gene Tagaban, Elizabeth Ellis and others. I went to the Exchange Place, the regional showcase (I was in this in 2001) and joined in the cheering on of these storytellers who may one day be on the main stage. We all missed the venerable Kathryn Tucker Windham, who died earlier this year. We all wondered if we'd be back next year for the 40th anniversary of this festival.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Images of Allen County

I thought I'd add a few images from my residency in Allen County, Kansas last month. This first one is of the steps up to what was once the old bank (for rent, if you're interested): 

Many small towns in Kansas have ornate storefronts, at least on the upper storeys. These days, you'll often find flea markets and antique stores in rural towns. Here are a couple of views of downtown Iola:

Between Iola and Moran is the town of Gas. Yup, that's it's name, after the natural gas found in the area. I didn't get a picture of the Bank of Gas, but I did stop at Bonnie's Corner Cafe. Alas, this venerable establishment is closing. I had a good burger there and listened to the local news broadcast by the waitress, Bonnie's daughter. If you can't see the words on this sign, read the caption.

Bonnie's Corner Cafe--Don't just pass Gas, stop and enjoy it!--Golden Dipt Chicken

Humboldt is one of those towns with a big water tower downtown. Sometimes these structures are on the outskirts. When I'm driving to a small community in Kansas, I keep my eye out for the next water tower, because I know there will be a town there, maybe even my destination.

I'm happy to see beautiful buildings like this one in Humboldt getting smartened up. Check out the brickwork! There were some amazing masons in Kansas in the past.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Residency reflections

I'm home, after spending most of four weeks in Allen County, KS, telling stories in every elementary school class in the county (three towns: Iola, Moran and Humboldt). I did 56 sessions in all, shaping each performance to the grade and attention span of the kids, as always.

I had up to four sessions a day, then most often went back to my hotel for a nap. When I'm doing a residency like this, after work I sleep, read, do office work on my laptop, answer phone calls, explore the town, even watch a little tv. By the end of the residency, I'm famous--just going for a walk, I run into kids who says "You're the storyteller! I told my mom that story, the one about the baby!" This happens in the restaurants and stores, too. I never mind this. Whenever possible, I stop and talk with them. I had a great conversation with a fourth-grader in the grocery store in the second week. She waved me over to show me to her mother and father, and to tell me that her mother knew the Mexican story I'd told. She translated for her mother as we talked about different versions of La Llorona.

The whole point of storytelling is to connect, and this is part of it. I know that in a few years they might have forgotten me, but they'll remember the stories. That's what is most important. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Iola Residency, 2012

I'm back in Iola, KS this month, doing another performance residency for most of September. This is thanks to the Bowlus Fine Arts Center

I don't think I've given enough credit to the Bowlus in the past. This is an excellent arts center in rural Allen County. The Bowlus presents all kinds of performances--music, theater, arts--from regional and national companies throughout the year. The Bowlus is also well known for the annual Buster Keaton Celebration, coming up on Sept. 24 and 25. The Center hosts the school district art, drama, speech, forensics and music programs. It's one of the reasons I have hope for the arts in Kansas. 

The benefactor, Thomas H. Bowlus, is quoted on the front of the building:


This residency in Iola was contingent upon funding from the Kansas Arts Commission, which of course did not come through (see my previous post), but the Bowlus is committed to the arts in this community, so they honored the contract. They have had a storyteller in the schools every year for many years. Last time I was here was in 2007.

As I've written before, residencies come in different forms. In some residencies, I visit the same classes multiple times. Some are workshops instead of performances, like the Deep Roots, Strong Kids Family Story Residency. This one is a performance residency, one in which I visit every elementary school classroom in the district (three towns) once, tailoring each session to the age and grade of the kids. It's a treat for me to visit classrooms instead of doing assemblies. 

More on residency reflections next. 

Friday, September 09, 2011

The arts in Kansas, again

"In the long history of man, countless empires and nations have come and gone. Those which created no lasting works of art are reduced today to short footnotes in history's catalogue.

"Art is a nation's most precious heritage, for it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."
Lyndon B. Johnson

Photo at a rally in Topeka by Ann Dean, with permission.
Usually I try to keep this blog non-political. However, I also try to write about what's going on in my storytelling life, and at the moment, politics in Kansas affect this.

I know I wrote about the arts in Kansas last winter, when Governor Sam Brownback abolished the Kansas Arts Commission by executive order. This was overturned in the Kansas legislature. There was bipartisan support to fund the KAC at $685,000. In May, Gov. Brownback did a line-item veto on all KAC funding, and planned the vote for a day when many legislators weren't there .Zero funding. Kansas is now the only state without a funded arts commission. Governor Brownback instead created a private arts foundation. His philosophy is that the arts should not be state-funded, but should be supported by private funds only. This completely ignores the fact that the arts in Kansas have always been a public-private partnership. It has never been a free lunch.

Before this, the KAC received matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations. Without the KAC, Kansas is no longer eligible for these funds.

I've been on the KAC Arts on Tour Roster since 1994. Organizations around the state would apply for funding for 40% of my fee from the KAC. This year, the organizations that hired me with KAC grant funds are still having me, scraping the funds together from other sources, but in the future, those contracts are unlikely to be written in the first place. A teacher workshop day I usually participate in didn't happen this year because of the issue. I'm affected outside Kansas as well: by dint of being on the KAC roster, I was on the Mid-America Arts Alliance Roster which offers grants to surrounding states. The KAC doesn't fit the guidelines, so today I received a letter telling me I'm no longer eligible for those grants. I'm not sure what this does to a grant that is pending for work in Oklahoma in November.

This affects my livelihood, but what's much worse is that it limits how much art the kids--and adults--in Kansas are exposed to. Small town arts organizations used KAC money to support all kinds of arts projects, from storytelling to murals to music. I've been brought in to tell stories to preschoolers, to provide writing workshops for fourth graders, to teach middle school kids about oral communication skills. Governor Brownback wants all the funding to come from the private sector. There are wonderful people and businesses all over Kansas that have supported the arts for years, but they're tapped out.

Not all of my work comes from the KAC, by any means, but it does make a difference. I also want to live in a state where the arts are encouraged and supported. Fortunately, there are many people in Kansas who support public funding for the arts. I know I'm not the only one to write to my legislators. There have been rallies in Topeka. Kansas Citizens for the Arts has been organizing planning meetings.

We will make our voices heard.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Vermont, and a hurricane story

I'm a little obsessed with the video coverage of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont. When I was almost 12, we moved from Providence, RI to Springfield, VT. I went to junior high school, high school and college in Vermont. Though I've lived in Kansas for 21 years, I am a New Englander to my core. Home.

It's hard to see home in such disarray. Here's a picture my friend Donn Cann took of the Cornish-Windsor Bridge a few years ago: 

That's Mt. Ascutney in the background, the Connecticut River in the foreground. This 141-year-old bridge connects Vermont and New Hampshire and was the longest covered bridge until 2008. Here's a clip post-Irene (I think this must be from the other side): 

You can hear somebody say that the river was a good two or three feet higher at the worst of it. It had better luck than the Bartonsville Bridge, which was swept away: 
That bridge spans the Williams River in Rockingham. I used to swim in the Williams River with a couple of friends after school on hot June days. Unlike kids in Kansas, we were in school until the third week of June.  The water was cold and though flowing nicely, it wasn't anything near what it was last weekend.

My family and friends are okay, though one friend told me it took him ten hours to drive what normally takes three and a half, due to closed roads.

Springfield wasn't hit as hard as some communities, but it still was bad. Here's a clip from somebody in North Springfield: 

You can hear the raw emotion in the previous two video clips. Where there's emotion, there will be stories. As the waters recede and people clear out the muck, they'll be telling those stories. 

I found myself doing that during Irene, remembering my favorite hurricane. Gloria hit New York in 1985, the year I was getting my Master's at Columbia University. I left International House, my dorm, on my way to work. I was about ten steps out the door, having passed a sign that said, "If you don't have to go out today, DON'T!" The rain was torrential. I turned around and went back inside. 

Over 500 students lived in International House. Only one-third of the residents were American, from graduate programs all over NYC. That was the only day in the year that everybody was home. We hung out, played Scrabble, went up on the roof (!), and generally relaxed. At the end of the day, the hurricane had passed, so a group of us went for a walk. The quality of the sunlight after the the storm was crystalline. 

Do you have storm memories?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Age and birthdays

I turned fifty years old yesterday. Woohoo! I had a fine celebration, with family and friends and plenty of pie. It was great to have my mother and four of my six siblings here (the other two had good reasons why they couldn't be here, and we did miss them).

Fifty. It gives me pause. I don't mind being fifty, just feel some surprise that I am.

Often I feel much the same age as in the next two pictures.

(around 3)

(around 14)

Age is a funny thing, isn't it? I've always felt that there's no sense in being upset about what age I am. It's something I have no control over. At schools, when kids ask questions at the end of a show, they often ask how old I am. I think I learned my response from my friend Judy Nichols. Here's the way it usually goes:

Audience: How old are you?
Me: I'm fifty! I never mind telling how old I am, but I want to tell you something important. What's the first question adults usually ask kids after they ask your name?
Audience: "How old are you?"
Me: Right. And guess what the one question is that you're not supposed to ask adults, especially women?
Audience: "How old are you?"
Me: That's right. It's weird, isn't it? I don't mind telling you my age, but you might not want to ask other grownups.
(I don't mention that we also don't ask about weight or income.)

Kids are very specific about their ages. Six and three quarters, eight and a half, those increments mean something. Remember how much older a kid two grades above you was? Unreachable. Even in high school, it was odd when a senior dated a sophomore or a freshman.

Back to my age. Fifty is one of those birthdays that prompts life evaluation. Am I doing what I want to do? Yes. I hope I'll be a storyteller until I'm an old lady. Are there ways to improve? Always. Is there anything else I'd like to do as a storyteller? Yes--thank goodness, because if there weren't, I'd be stagnant. Or dead.

Glad to be alive, glad to be fifty.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

DVDs galore

The Peru trip is long over, summer reading programs in the libraries have had their final celebrations and now it's time for me to turn my attention to the new DVD, The Itsy Bitsy Tiger and Other Ridiculous Stories and Songs.

Did I mention that I ordered 1000 of these and that they're in my puppet room?

Thank goodness that picture is an optical illusion, with the mirrored closet door behind the boxes. Still, those eleven boxes are daunting. Add to that the other CDs and DVDs in the storage space above the closet and some upstairs in my office, and you start to think that this little piggy could build a house out of recordings.

I still have cassettes of The Ghost With the One Black Eye and Chickens, too, hiding inside the closet (anybody want these? let me know, they're going for cheap, cheap, cheap).

At the risk of giving away all my trade secrets, here's what I've done so far:
  • Sent DVDs to my family. They're a huge support to me, whether they're close by or far away.
  • Set up an account at, similar to the one at
  • Sent DVDs to various review sources, such as, School Library Journal and Booklist.
  • Sent it to friends who review storytelling recordings for newsletters or blogs, like Granny Sue and Linda Goodman.
  • Taken them to the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence (they've already restocked once).
  • Written about it on this blog.
  • Posted about it on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Taken it to various libraries this summer.
  • Mentioned it to a few other librarians
What I haven't yet done:
  • Told people plainly how much the DVDs are: $15 plus $2 s/h, $12 plus s/h if you're a library or are buying more than 3 (e-mail me if you're interested in ordering it).
  • Made a real plan for marketing this new DVD. I'm still operating by SOTP (right, seat-of-the-pants).
  • Probably a zillion other things that will occur to me at inconvenient times, like when I'm in the shower or driving in a rainstorm or floating on a lake.
Floating on a lake. Ahh, that sounds like the best idea of all.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A headful of stories and a bagful of puppets

I was asked to be a guest blogger on the Novel Adventurers blog, so this is cross-posted there. I decided to write about a performance in Peru.

I highly recommend visiting Novel Adventurers. Great reading and lots of armchair travel.

(By the way, the first picture isn't the one on that blog post. On this one, Blogger decided that picture looked better on its side, no matter what I did. Fie.)

Slow down, I remind myself. I look at the audience in front of me, this time third and fourth graders (eight- and nine-year-olds) in school uniforms. They’ve settled in, sitting in rows, wondering what I’m going to do. I pied-pipered them into the hall with my harmonica. I try to engage them as quickly as possible so we can get down to business.

That is, the business of stories. I’m a full-time storyteller, and this audience is in Peru, made up mostly of kids who are learning English as a second language. At this school, a few are native English speakers. I pull out my map of the United States. This is not just a geography lesson, but a way for the students to get used to my voice and accent before I begin the stories. I show them Kansas, where I live. “But I was born over here in Rhode Island. My mother lives in Maine. My brother lives in Oregon. My sister lives in Kansas. My sister lives in Wisconsin. My brother lives in Kansas.” By this time, the kids are laughing. “My brother lives in Vermont. And my sister lives in Massachusetts. I have three brothers and three sisters.

We’re almost ready for the stories. “I brought a friend with me, in my bag. Do you travel with your friends in a bag?” I reach in and pull out my old lady puppet, Trixie. “Una bruja!” I hear. I answer in English, “She does look like a witch, you’re right, but she’s not. She’s just old. She’s 111 years old.” Trixie introduces herself and she and I discuss which stories to tell. “Can we have a story about hair?” she asks. “Hair?!” It becomes clear that she wants either Rapunzel or Robert Munsch’s story, Stephanie’s Ponytail, (I have his permission to tell this). I sit Trixie on the chair gently, with her head in her lap. She may well fall asleep.

We’re off. I tell stories for about 45 minutes, with puppets and songs in between. My baby puppet is always a big hit—she could pop her pacifier out of her mouth twenty times and get a laugh each time. In this show, she only does it seven times. With middle school and high school students, I tell more sophisticated stories with fewer or no puppets. With this audience, I do a short Q and A at the end. They ask about stories, about puppets, about me.
Photo by Annie Tichenor

Here are some of the questions they ask:

Q. Where do you get your stories?
A. Many are folktales, which I find in books or I hear from other storytellers. Some are from books, and some are my own stories.

Q. How long have you been a storyteller?
A. I’ve been telling stories since 1988. I told stories in my job as a children’s librarian for five years and then in 1993, I left my job to become a full-time storyteller.

Q. What’s your favorite story?
A. That’s a good question. The big rule in storytelling is, only tell stories you love. So I love all my stories. My favorite is the one I’m telling at that moment. The favorite story of listeners is usually The Ghost with the One Black Eye.

Q. What countries have you visited to tell stories?
A. I’ve performed around the United States and in Belgium, Mexico, Bulgaria, Germany, Brazil, and Peru.

Q. Do you have any more puppets?
A. I have more at home. I have around 75 puppets in all. In my house I have a puppet room, where they all live.

Q. Do you like telling stories?
A. I love it. I’m lucky that I get to work at something I love.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Peru miscellany

I've got leftovers in my photo album. They don't need a whole blog post, just a line or two.

In Trujillo we stopped at the botanical garden near the school. Can you see what this is?

I'd never seen a poinsettia that big!

I don't know what this next one is. Maybe I should have left a bowl of food out for it.

And here's a built-in star at the top of the Christmas tree:

These two door knockers were in Trujillo:

And on another completely unrelated note, turtles at the botanical garden in Trujillo:

One day I saw a couple of interesting cars in Miraflores near my apartment:

In various places there were quiet tributes to the Nazca Lines, geoglyphs in the south of Peru. I never got to Nazca, but I did get these pictures in the park overlooking the ocean:

And for no particular reason, I'll end with this little bird: