Bringing kids Stories to Life

. October 30, 2012.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Laura Pershin Raynor loves telling stories. It all started with her grandma Dinah, who told them until the end of her life, at age 105.

“She was an incredibly dramatic story- teller. She would tell supposedly true sto- ries about her own life and add juicy bits,” said Raynor, youth and adult services li- brarian for the Ann Arbor District Library. “She would leave us waiting with bated breath for the last line as she grabbed a tis- sue from her sleeve.”

Carrying on tradition

Today, Raynor is one of nearly a dozen storytellers sharing their tales with young- sters at the district library. Raynor’s efforts began years ago when she started work as an outreach librarian, visiting children at hospitals, day cares and community centers. Over the years, she’s found her favorite yarns are the trickster stories. “They usually have one character who’s unpredictable. He may be very smart at times and stupid and silly at other times and he’s always playing tricks,” she said. “Nothing is as fun as a tale about how not to behave.”

Musicians playing guitars, banjos, Af- rican drums and penny whistles accom- pany the storytelling sessions. “That makes for magic,” she said. “The babies will start rocking or dancing on their parents’ knees.” Babies benefit from listening to grown-ups telling stories, even if the children don’t understand all the words, said Raynor. “The language of literature is different from the other language they hear – the cooing from parents or radio and television,” she said. “Being exposed to that carefully cho- sen language is amazing.”

There’s another benefit for the crowds of little ones drawn to the storytelling ses- sions, a factor that’s proven true through countless generations. “I think most tales originally were to teach wisdom to young- sters,” she said. While everyone enjoys hearing stories, everyone isn’t born with the gift of telling them. Raynor’s father was a great storyteller, and a trickster in his own right. “He was hilarious. When
my mom would leave the house, he’d slowly remove all the raisins from her ce- real,” she said. “He’d sit there with a smile on his face listening to her rant and rave about how there are too few raisins in the cereal nowadays.”

Tall tales

Children can hear modern and tra- ditional stories drawn from cultures throughout the world at the library’s sto- rytelling sessions, and moms and dads will have as much fun as their little ones. “I can give you ten children’s books I re- ally love; they are as good an adult read as a children’s read, if the author is writ- ing from the heart.” What makes a good story? “If something happens to someone that changes them somehow — whether it’s about a chicken walking in Manhattan or a story about a homeless child.”

Over her years of storytelling, Raynor has found one thing about tales to be consistently true. “They come to life if you love them and want to share them,” she says.

For more information about children’s storytelling sessions at the district library, including times and locations, visit their web page at