By Curt Yeomans
Sharon Holley knows how to keep the attention of pre-schoolers.
The storyteller, from the National Association of Black Storytellers, held the attention of 200 children for an hour on Friday. She gave them a chance to participate in her tales by including some of the things they wanted in the story.
For example, the children got to choose whether the hunter in one tale uses a spoon, or a door, in an attempt to break open the shell of the "Turtle of Koako."
In another tale, "Anansi and the Yam Heels," the children were able to describe an elephant. They also got to sing the "African-American History Rap," while Holley played the shekere, a hallowed piece of wood with loose strands of beads attached to the outside.
"Anybody can read a story, but to be able to tell the tale, it takes the story plus you," Holley said. "You have to put yourself in the story, and find a way to connect with the characters. I'd say storytelling is a skilled art."
Holley, a resident of Buffalo, N.Y., told two stories to the children at the Virginia Gray Recreation Center in Riverdale. Her visit was part of a community outreach effort of the National Association of Black Storytellers' meeting in Atlanta to celebrate its 25th birthday. The organization sends its visiting storytellers into the community hosting its annual meeting.
Holley began her presentation with a rendition of the song "Bingo," which was adapted to be "Story" in an effort to promote reading. She then told the story of "Anansi and the Yam Heels," and followed with "Turtle of Koako." She closed out her presentation by leading the children in singing the "African-American History Rap." It takes the alphabet and gives each letter an African-American-related theme.
"I liked both the stories and the singing, because we got to learn something at the same time," said Sarah Nwuha, 4, a student from the Youth Empowerment Project, Inc., in Riverdale.
"I enjoyed the part about the spider [one of the animals in "Anansi and the Yam Heels"] because I like spiders," said Zakiya Freeman, 5, another student from the Youth Empowerment Project, Inc.
Holley's visit was the result of a collaboration among the county's parks and recreation department, library system and school district. Detrick Stanford, the county's parks and recreation director, said county officials want more joint projects for the community.
Janice Arcuria, the assistant library director in charge of youth services, credited Stanford with making space available for the storyteller's visit.
"Any time we are able to use our facilities for community programs, and expose kids to new things, then we are reaching our goal of providing new opportunities to our community," Stanford said.
"This was an exceptional opportunity to have a national story teller come here," Clayton County Commissioner Virginia Gray said, after the stories by Holley. "That's not an art we have available to us very often."