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Library program turns readers into 'actors'

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

While narrating the wolf's side of the story during a dramatic reading of "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs," Bailey Stevens, 11, switched between a posh British accent and the voice of a refined Southern gentleman.

During "Reader's Theater," at the Clayton County Library System headquarters branch in Jonesboro, students like Stevens are able to explore the idea of acting without the pressure of memorizing lines.

The program, according to library officials, started in June in conjunction with the library's Summer Reading Program. Janice Arcuria, assistant director of youth services for the Clayton County Library System, said the program gives children a chance to perform in a stage setting - without the stage being present.

"It was an idea that we [library officials] discussed, because a lot of times children often like to be in plays, but we don't really get to see the kids enough to really practice like you would do in a school," Arcuria said. "With a minimal amount of practice, you can receive a play script, review it, and present it in one session. It is a good way to promote literacy because it is a form of reading out loud. The kids are improving their literacy by picking up new words and gaining presentation skills."

According to Breana Florio, a youth services assistant at the headquarters library, the group of young readers has been meeting every Friday since June, reciting first-person scripts extracted from kid-friendly, third-person stories. Scripts used by the students have been taken from stories such as "Sideways Stories from Wayside School," by Louis Sachar, "Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye," by Jason Sanford, and "The Princess Mouse," by Aaron Shepard, she said.

"It ranges from classic fairy tales to really funny, made-up ones that we have found online," Florio said. "It think it's been somewhat successful. There are some kids who come regularly, they really enjoy it, and they are really into acting. It helps students realize that reading can be fun. It doesn't have to be just, 'Here's a math book, here's an English book.'"

Mike Stevens, a Jonesboro resident, said his son, Bailey Stevens, has attended the sessions since the beginning of the summer. He said the program has helped his son begin to discover his own talents.

"He was interested in taking drama in the next school year," the elder Stevens said. "I think this may have helped him make up his mind about it. I'm sure it will have a positive impact on him in one way or another."

Arcuria said she believes the Reader's Theater concept can be replicated around the county and hopes to eventually grow the program.

"I encourage our staff to do more Reader's Theater because it doesn't require that much advance planning," she said. "In some of the sessions, we had kids [for] whom English wasn't their first language. This is another way to build their confidence.

"You're kind of a star," Arcuria added. "You're not just passively listening to someone else reading ... you're actually part of the story."