My entire life has been surrounded by great storytelling and wonderful
books. I grew up in the Midwest in the United States. During the
summers, my family traveled to northern Mexico and lived in an adobe hut
with a dirt floor in a village called Nacimiento. The population was
about 250 Seminole Indians, Seminole blacks, and Mexicans. Once or twice
a week my family, and villagers wishing a ride, drove two hours into the
city to get a block of ice to keep vegetables and milk fresh. We had to
drive across a river twice to get to town - through the water because
there was not bridge! Once we made it to town we drank cool limonadas
(lemonades made with lime instead of lemon) in the plaza. Late into the
evenings, when we were back in the village, we listened to stories told
by the village mayor, Esteban, and by my parents. My brothers and sister
and I would drift off to sleep with stories in our heads.
Father used to tell stories while driving or at the dinner table. Mother
tucked me in every night until I was in my teens; she was always
reading, singing, telling family stories, or listening to stories I made
up. My grandmother Una Wilder told me lots of stories as well. She
taught us to "pass it on." I think that’s how I became a storyteller.
The neighborhood I grew up in was rather run down but had a wonderful
old Carnegie library. I remember my first visit, walking through the
great stacks of books towering over my head. I was alone. It was almost
too dark to read the titles and see the covers. I would have been
frightened except the dark walls that surrounded me were made of
stories. I grabbed a load of books like a hungry man grabbing food at a
free buffet. The next thing I remember was sitting at a table reading
about an African boy who had changed into a giant fish and was swimming
down the river. My mother came and said it was time to go. I was very
sad because I thought I had to leave the books behind and would not be
able to finish them. “Oh no, Honey, you can bring them all home with
you.” I couldn’t believe it! All those books - for free! I knew then that
for the rest of my life I would never be bored or too poor to have fun -
there would always be libraries with free books!
My grandfather Wilder had his own library. It had a big orange chair
with a reading lamp next to it. Grandpa would drive to work in the
morning and I would go sit in his orange chair and read. Grandpa would
come home and be startled to see me sitting in his orange chair, focused
on whatever book had taken over my imagination. He always asked what I
was reading and we would have a chat. When Grandpa passed away, he left
me his orange chair.
I have lived in Alaska since 1981. It is a very wild environment; black
bears roam the streets in the summers and it is not uncommon to look out
the window and see killer and humpback whales swimming in the channel.
My book Raven Day was inspired by the giant black ravens that soar the
skies, cawing and tricking people and animals out of their food.
Performance Literacy Through Storytelling, which I wrote with Dr. Nile
Stanley from the University of North Florida, is our dream of providing
teachers with the definitive text to teach children how to write and
tell their own stories - my passion in life (other than my family!). It
is how I try to “pass on” the lovely stories and adult caring and
wonderful library I had as a child. Perhaps those I touch will pass it
on in turn and our lives will always be rich.
Guest post by featured author Brett Dillingham