Award-winning storyteller visits local elementary school
Huff encourages children to use imagination
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.
Interaction: Storyteller Mary Jo Huff, left, interacts with third-grader Megan Knight as she and fellow students join in Tuesdays performance.