Storyteller Renee Hannah jives with young audiences
Hanna said she has no discipline issues with the children.
“The reason why is because I give them ownership of the story,” she said. “They know that going in and help me tell it.”
She added that they make noise during storytime, from laughing to oohing, from groaning to sneezing.
Also, they run the gamut of emotions.
“When they walk out of there they have performed,” she said. “It’s their performance.”
A theatre student, Hanna said she knew nothing about storytelling when she began. She created a character, Auntie Clara, and went with it.
“The kids loved it, the teachers loved it,” she said.
Hanna then pursued formal training in Atlanta and learned more about storytelling. That is when she learned to develop characters based on classic books.
“Characters have to have costumes and they have to have props,” she said. Thus her story box and story box song were born.
Hanna explained that she does not read a book to the children. Rather, she shows them the story, whether it is a picture book, a folktale, or a fairytale.
“I let the children help me tell the story,” she said. “They may change it and it becomes our story.”
She stressed that when the children leave, they have a story of their own.
“It’s fresh and energizing every single time,” she said.
This process has worked for her for 18 years, she said. She has been all over the state from one end to the other.
“I’ll drive two and three hours to tell a 30-minute story,” she said. “When I’m looking at these children and see their imaginations: it’s magical. It’s the neatest thing ever.”
Hanna has dressed as Ms. Nutrition with fruit covering her head and the front of her outfit. She dressed as an Eskimo at her storytelling in January.
“They really seem to like them all,” she said. She added that she tries to keep her storytelling fresh. “I try to give them new things, try to keep them exciting.”
One of her strengths, as she sees it, is her honesty.
“I’m real honest with kids,” she said.
She said she tells children: “I am Ms. Renee. I am dressed as a character, pretending to be a character.”
“I don’t try to convince kids I’m someone I’m not,” she said. “I have found that works. They respect that.”
She added that one of the sweetest rewards she receives is when she gets hugs at the end.
Baker added that those at the library are “thrilled” that Hanna is willing to do this.
When the library no longer had the funding to pay Hanna, teachers at Morgan County Primary School asked about options, she said.
In the end, Baker said the primary school’s Parent-Teacher Organization, Children Ferst of Morgan County, Friends of the Library, and the preschool programs at First Methodist and Madison Presbyterian churches made it possible for Hanna to continue.
Printed in the March 21, 2013 edition