Storytelling festival wows kids, parents

By Lisa Hutto
Associate Editor
March 16, 2005

Parents and children could almost feel their hair blowing back and hear the rustle of feathers flying over the dark auditorium as professional storyteller Bobby Norfolk captivated the audience with the highly animated performance of his humorous story “Baby Hawk” at the Garner Target’s Reading Storytelling Festival on Sat.

Coordinated and hosted by the Garner Education Foundation, the exciting event held at Garner Senior High School was sponsored by local organizations, schools and businesses. Chick-fil-a provided lunch for the volunteers. The Target store on Timber Drive donated $2,500 dollars for the festival and the North Carolina Community Foundation donated $300 dollars for student gift bags filled with story telling journals from Scholastic. Representatives from the Wake County Public Library Southeast Regional Branch generously donated in-kind services as well.

Elementary students and their parents had the privilege to spend the day wandering the school and choosing which professional story teller they wanted to hear or watch the performances of student storytellers from Rand Road, Timber Drive and Vance Elementary Schools. They also had the opportunity to attend storytelling workshops and meet and greet the notable guests to get autographs or have books signed.

Three professional storytellers performed at the festival and each received rave responses.

Having enjoyed the festival last year, Rand Road Elementary students Kaia and Evan Parker came with their parents to spend the day. When asked which story they had liked most, both enthusiastically agreed on Norfolk’s rendition of Little Red Riding Hood because they “liked the rap” that went along with it.

However musical ability is only one of his many talents. Bobby Norfolk is a three time Emmy Award winner for his work as host of the CBS television series “Gator Tales” and was also nominated for hosting “Children’s Theater at Bobby’s House.” He is an author and has six award winning tapes. Originally from St. Louis, MO, Norfolk worked at a National Park Ranger at the Gateway Arch for ten years and he also performed with the Black Repertory Theater Company. He also worked as a stand-up comedian for eight years.

To see him perform, one would never guess that he had a stuttering problem from kindergarten to tenth grade. Norfolk credits his master teachers in the St. Louis schools for helping him overcome his speech impediment by involving him in theater. While doing so, he claims to have been bitten by the story telling bug. He decided to turn his storytelling ability into a career in 1987 when he realized his natural knack for making stories exciting hindered his ability to put his son to sleep with a bedtime story.

However Norfolk knows that there are benefits from storytelling far more valuable than the amusement of children.

“For me, story telling is more than entertainment; it teaches morals or lessons in life and how to go through life and make correct choices.”

Kids’ giggled hysterically as their eyes grew wide at the festival, watching professional storyteller and children’s book author Donna Washington perform her tale of “The Exploding Frog.” Swaying back and fourth, thrusting out her arms and puffing out her cheeks, Washington did a most convincing impersonation of an inflating frog determined to be the biggest creature in the pond. Her array of voices, sound effects and movements entranced her audience members so much so that one could feel as if he were bobbing along in the pond with her.

Washington, born in Colorado Springs, Co, has been in the field for professional storytelling and children’s literature for 17 years. She and her family live in Durham and she has written The Story of Kwanzaa, A Big Spooky House and A Pride of African Tales. She has another children’s book, Little Rabbit’s Kwanzaa due out soon.

Washington appreciates the many purposes of storytelling and folk tales, including using them to educate people about their own culture, including some origins and aspects of it.

“We are not a homogenized culture by any means; what storytelling gives me a chance to do is to reintroduce people to themselves,” said Washington. “That’s what America is and the fact that we are all sort of part of each other.”

Gathered around a crackling campfire is Hawk Hurst’s favorite way to share a story with children. His vibrant depictions of Native American folk tales captivate his listeners. Children and their parents sat around him in the gymnasium as he told the spirited story of “How Turtle Got His Cracks,” his adaptation of a Creek-Muskogee Indian folk tale. Telling the kids how the sour persimmons turned the wolf inside out was enough to make even the parents pucker.

Hurst Grew up on a farm and ranch in Kansas and was inspired by his Grandfather Hurst who was a musician who played the harmonica and told him stories of Depression era Oklahoma. Hurst carried on a similar tradition and has been a professional storyteller for 15 years. He also an accomplished musician who plays Native-American drums and flute with his Grammy nominated band SAPIEN.

He is an environmental educator with a background in psychology who has worked with emotionally disturbed children and has used his storytelling as a form of therapy for them. He also runs a non-profit nature camp for children called Earth Camp and for teens called Walkabout.

“I just saw the value and learned how important story telling could be as a disciplinary and as a tool of compassion,” said Hurst who believes that children can also be helped by relating to a character in a story going through similar circumstances.

The Festival turned out to be a huge success with 1,012 people in attendance compared to approximately 400 last year.

Thanking all of the area schools and businesses for their sponsorship, Margaret Bishop of the Garner Education Foundation and Chair of the event said, “It has been an exciting day and their assistance in putting this on has been a tremendous benefit to the community.”