Award-win­ning sto­ry­teller vis­its lo­cal el­e­men­tary school

Huff en­cour­ages chil­dren to use imag­i­na­tion

The Covington News - - EDUCATION - By Jenny Thompson

Award-win­ning na­tional sto­ry­teller, au­thor and ed­u­ca­tor Mary Jo Huff brought her own fla­vor of oral lit­er­a­ture to the stu­dents of Palmer­Stone El­e­men­tary School Fri­day — she also in­tro­duced stu­dents to the “crazy chicken” song.

Huff, who re­sides in In­di­ana, trav­els the coun­try telling sto­ries with rhythm, rhyme and props. Once a preschool di­rec­tor, she has vis­ited schools and hosted teacher work­shops in 46 states in 15 years.

“The ace num­ber one thing is chil­dren have to use their imag­i­na­tions,” Huff said.

“That’s some­thing we as a so­ci­ety have left out of their lives— we do it all for them.”

She said television does not al­lowchil­dren to de­velop their own im­pres­sions of how char­ac­ters and set­tings should look.

“Sto­ry­telling is re­ally a lost art,” Huff said, “be­cause I’m not a television, I don’t have a re­mote and you can’t change my chan­nel.”

Huff per­formed to kinder­garten through sec­ond grades first, and then to third through fifth grades.

For they­ounger­crowd­she­be­gan by singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” com­plete with hand mo­tions and dance moves, and in­vited the chil­dren to join.

The en­chant­ment en­sued when Huff held up a story book with blank pages. She asked the stu­dents to close their eyes and draw five of their fa­vorite things in the air and then to throw the air-il­lus­tra­tions at the book.

Mag­i­cally black and white pic­tures ap­peared on the pages. Then she had the stu­dents mix imag­i­nary col­ors to brighten the pages and throw them to­ward the book.

When the chil­dren saw the col­ored images, they screamed with ex­cite­ment. Huff had them hooked. She kept their un­di­vided at­ten­tion by ver­bal­iz­ing the story of “What, Cried Granny” by Kate Lum and Adrian John­son. Huff de­scribed the story as an “al­most bed­time story.”

She used an apron on which to at­tach cutouts of the char­ac­ters faces and ob­jects in the story.

“Some­times hav­ing a pup­pet or prop is im­por­tant to telling a story,” Huff said.

TheGranny char­ac­ter­was try­ing to put her grand­son Ja­cob to bed, but her guest room had no bed, blan­ket, pil­low or teddy bear.

Granny then went to the woods to chop down a tree for tim­ber for the bed, sheared a sheep and spun a blan­ket, yanked the feath­ers off of a goose to stuff a pil­low and climbed to the at­tic to find ma­te­ri­als for a homemade teddy bear.

At­the end of all her toil­ing Granny pleaded with Ja­cob to please go to bed.

“B-b-but Granny, it’s not dark out­side any­more— we missed the night­time,” Huff said, “and that’s an al­most bed­time story.”

Stuffed an­i­mal props and stu­dent vol­un­teers as­sisted Huff in telling the story of a honey-lov­ing bear.

Huff then demon­strated how to per­form a pup­pet show us­ing only one’s thumbs. Mr. Wig­gle and Mr. Wag­gle are thumbs who are friends who live a few hills away from each other and tra­verse the jagged land­scape to chat with one an­other.

For the older stu­dents, Huff be­gan by show­ing the stu­dents a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, which makes a mara­cas-like sound and ask­ing them what they thought the items hang­ing off it were.

An­swers such as sea shells, ar­row­heads and shark teeth were all met with Huff’s an­swer of “nope.” The in­stru­ment was made with the cleaned toe­nails of South Amer­i­can goats.

She told the stu­dents they could take some­thing old and use it for a new pur­pose. She shook the toe­nails to make the sound of hooves in her up­dated ver­sion of the long­stand­ing tale of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

The story had dif­fer­ent lan­guage than the orig­i­nal, but re­tained the same mes­sage.

Af­ter wind­ing up in the hospi­tal for mess­ing with the largest Billy Goat, the troll de­cided some­thing.

“Thenext time a stranger knocks on my door, I’m not go­ing to an­swer it,” Huff said.

She then made a pup­pet out of a green glove, re­cy­cled from a Toy­ota plant near her house, and eye­balls that fit around her mid­dle fin­ger. She told the story of hun­gry, Willy the­Worm.

Af­ter the story, she gave some chil­dren their own set of eye­balls and hair ties to cre­ate furry, singing pup­pets. The song play­ing had the pup­pets sing hello in English, Span­ish and Swahili. The verses pro­moted di­ver­sity.

The chil­dren then lis­tened to the story of “Lazy Jack” who lived in Ap­palachia. One day Lazy Jack’s mother forced him to find a job within a week, or else.

Jack­worked for a farmer, a dairy farmer, a cheese fac­tory, a baker and a butcher shop, but he seemed to al­ways lose or de­stroy his daily wages whether they were coins or a cat.

Fi­nally, he went to work for a mule driver, who paid him with a mule. The day be­fore, he had dragged ahamhome on the ground — re­duc­ing it to noth­ing more than a dirty bone — so his mother told him to carry things like that home on his shoul­ders.

Jack took this ad­vice to heart and car­ried his mule all the way back into town on his shoul­ders. At the sight of this, a moth­er­less child­who had never smiled be­gan to laugh un­con­trol­lably.

The­girl’s fa­ther paid Jack for his daugh­ter’s mirth with three bags of gold, which he car­ried home on the back of his mule.

“Nobodyin that town­to­day calls him Lazy Jack,” Huff said. “They call him Mr. Jack.”

Huff had both age groups flap their wings to a song she wrote while on the road in Kansas. She set the “Crazy Chicken Song” to the tune of a mil­i­tary cadence.

“Chicken four and chicken five,” Huff said and the chil­dren echoed. “Let’s all do the chicken jive.”

A lit­tle fin­ger-wag­ging shimmy fol­lowed that verse.

She said ju­nior-high age stu­dents have done this dance and gave the more timid dancers this bit of ad­vice.

Huff con­cluded her per­for­mance by open­ing the floor for a ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion with the older set of chil­dren.

One stu­dent wanted to know how to be a good sto­ry­teller.

“Do you know the only way I can be a sto­ry­teller,” Huff said, “is be­cause I read, read, read.”

She said it was im­por­tant to write too. Huff has pub­lished seven teacher re­source books and is shop­ping a pic­ture book around to dif­fer­ent pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies now.

“I hope you all go home to­day and pick up a piece of pa­per and write the be­gin­ning of a story,” Huff said.

Shetold the stu­dents if they write the be­gin­ning and end of a story, the mid­dle of the plot will fall into place eas­ily.

An­other stu­dent asked Huff how she be­came a sto­ry­teller.

“My momma said I was born a sto­ry­teller,” Huff said. “She said it was a ge­netic fac­tor be­cause my daddy was a used car sales­man.”

Af­ter the per­for­mance Huff left to spend time with her grand­son, who lives in Lawrenceville and who at­tended the per­for­mance. Soon she will em­bark on her hur­ried sched­ule again go­ing from school to li­brary to con­ven­tion.

“I have a wild sched­ule,” Huff said, “but I love ev­ery minute of it”

For more in­for­ma­tion on Huff’s sto­ry­telling pre­sen­ta­tion­sandteacher­work­shops vis­itwww.sto­ry­tellin. com.

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

In­ter­ac­tion: Sto­ry­teller Mary Jo Huff, left, in­ter­acts with third-grader Me­gan Knight as she and fel­low stu­dents join in Tues­days per­for­mance.

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