The sign on the librarian’s desk read: “Readers Wanted for Project Read Aloud.” Sherene stared at it as the librarian stamped the book that she had selected for her weekly reading fare with a return by date.
“There you go,” said the librarian startling Sherene who had been lost in thought.
“What is Project Read Aloud?” Sherene asked.
“Thank you for your interest. Here’s the brochure about it. There’s a form inside to fill out if you want to become a reader,” the librarian said with a smile and a nod of dismissal already signaling the next patron to step forward to check out books.
“Thank you,” replied Sherene moving away clutching the brochure and her book.
She walked home. She loved living within walking distance of her town’s public library, one of many Carnegie Libraries financed by Andrew Carnegie in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in America. She loved to sit in one of the overstuffed reading chairs in the reading room with the smell of books all around her and lose herself in a book. She had known this library as a child and moved away after high school and had recently moved back. The library and fond memories of her childhood had drawn her back to this small town, which was larger than in her childhood and had changed in many ways, but the library was the same.
Once home, she made herself a cup of tea and sat down to read the brochure. She lingered over the primary goal of the project: “Project Read aloud seeks to provide the opportunity of hearing stories read aloud in a comfortable setting.” That is a fine goal, she thought.
Sherene filled out the form. She loved reading aloud. When she was a child, she read aloud to her teddy bear. Later, when she grew up and became a teacher, she read aloud to her students many times throughout the day. She read aloud picture books, novels, short stories, and poetry. Using reading aloud as a teaching tool, she would select readings to augment the lesson. She developed read aloud skills as a way to bring stories alive by giving the characters voices, varying the pacing, pausing for emphasis, and more. She understood the power of reading aloud to a living audience.
Since her retirement, she read aloud only to herself and Boots, her cat, who loved to cuddle with her purring contentedly as she read aloud from whatever book she was currently reading. Boots was not picky. It would feel so good to have a human audience once again to share stories with by reading aloud. She fell asleep that night thinking about what stories she wanted to share with others by participating in Project Read Aloud.
She awoke early, fed herself and Boots, picked up the form and walked briskly to the library.
Upon arriving, she noticed there weren’t many people yet at the library. She approached the librarian’s desk. The librarian looked up.
“Oh, good morning, how may I help you?”
“I filled out the form for Project Read Aloud. Here it is. What’s next?”
The librarian looked over the form. “You are in luck, the librarian from the county office is coming today to pick up forms and interview any potential readers who are present. No appointment necessary.”
“When?” asked Sherene.
“In about an hour if you want to wait.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this yesterday when I got the form?”
“I didn’t know.” She looked at the form, “Would you like me to add your name to the potential readers’ list to interview, Ms. McNamara.”
“Yes, please, I’ll wait, thank you.”
Sherene went to one of her favorite sections of the library which contained folktales from around the world both illustrated and unillustrated anthologies, as well as individual illustrated tales. She read the spines and chose an old favorite of hers titled Favorite Folktales from Around the World edited by Jane Yolen. She settled into a comfortable reading chair and began reading silently to herself story after story. As always, she was swept into the world of the stories. The hour passed quickly and pleasantly.
She was brought back to the library, when she heard the librarian say, “Excuse me, Ms. McNamara, the county librarian is here and will see you now.”
Sherene looked up from her book, smiled, and nodded. She carried the anthology of folktales with her as she made her way to the reading room the librarian point to where the county librarian awaited her. The door was closed, so she knocked lightly.
The county librarian opened the door and with a sweep of her hand invited Sherene to have a seat. She sat. The county librarian sat across from her, nodding when she saw the anthology of folktales Sherene carried.
“So, you wish to be a reader in our Project Read aloud.”
The county librarian looked at the form. “May I call you Sherene?”
“Yes, I would like that,” Sherene responded politely.
“Why do you want to join this strictly volunteer project?”
“I love to read aloud, and I believe in the efficacy of stories,” Sherene answered.
“You understand there is no pay?”
“Yes, may I ask a question?”
The county librarian nodded affirmatively.
“Who chooses what I will read?”
“Ah, there is a process. There will be a monthly theme and you will know that ahead of time. You submit three titles within that theme. The titles should be noted as 1. for children ages 4-10, 11-14, or 15-18; 2. for adults; 3. for all ages. The committee of librarians will stamp approval of one of your submitted titles. Understand so far?”
Sherene nodded affirmatively.
The county librarian continued, “There is also a time limit which is one hour from start to finish per read aloud session. You read aloud no matter the size of the audience. I see you have an anthology of folktales, please choose one you would like to read aloud to me here. This will be a ten to fifteen minutes reading, so do not worry if you cannot finish the whole story. Begin, please.”
Sherene smiled, “With pleasure.”
And with that, Sherene launched into reading the Ashanti story
“How Spider Obtained the Sky God’s Stories.” She became lost in this story of Anansi the spider and read smoothly with passion.
After about ten minutes, the county librarian raised her hand.
“Thank you, that was well done. Is that book from this library?”
“Please leave it with me. I would like to finish the story before I leave this library today.”
Sherene handed her the book.
The county librarian continued, “I am delighted to offer you a Reader position in our Project Read Aloud. I will be in contact with you with further details through the email you included on your form. Do you accept?”
“Oh, yes, thank you,” replied Sherene, who in her heart had never doubted the rightness of her participation in Project Read Aloud. “I look forward to hearing from you.”
The county librarian stood up and Sherene stood as well realizing the interview had ended.
“Oh, and one more thing, said the county librarian, all your reading choices must come from this library’s collection. You may read excerpts from longer books. We want to encourage circulation among our patrons.”
“Of course,” Sherene replied and left the interview. After all, she loved her local library and would be very happy to encourage circulation and more reading from the library’s collection.
A couple of days later, the email arrived with the first assignment. It read:
Genre: Folktales from Around the World.
Directions: Send a list of three possible stories for you to read aloud in the small theatre (capacity 50 seats) of the Beckonville Public Library on Saturday next at 11:00 AM. Your arrival time is 10:00 AM. This will give you ample time to prepare yourself to do the reading of your story. Be prepared to read aloud any one of your three entries. One will be chosen by the Committee, but you will not know which one until your arrival at 10:00 AM on Saturday next. Make sure you have access to all three.
Sherene already knew which book she wanted to choose tales from, the Jane Yolen collection she had read aloud from in her interview with the county librarian. She knew the library was still open, so she hurried there to check out the Yolen collection, but alas, it wasn’t there. She looked further along the shelf and almost shouted out when she found The Best Loved Folktales of the World selected by Joanna Cole. She sat down with it perusing the Table of Contents. there she found a telling of the same tale she had read from for her interview: How Spider Obtained the Sky-God’s Stories. It was a sign to her.
Sherene checked out the book and hurried home. She read through several stories. She wanted to choose stories that reflected cultures different from hers. The stories were arranged by continent. Here is the list she made and sent.
1. From Africa, the Ashanti story
“How Spider Obtained the Sky God’s Stories.”
2. From Asia, Japan
3. From Northern Europe, Scandinavia, Norway
“The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”
The dawned clear and bright. Sherene dressed simply but nice, picked up the Joanna Cole anthology and walked to the library arriving at precisely 10:00 AM. She was handed an envelope by the librarian and directed to the now empty small theatre. She opened the envelope and read with glee the title of the story she would be reading that morning. She sat in the overstuffed comfortable chair provided for her and began to read aloud to herself for what was likely the 10th time in a few days the story the committee had chosen for her to read aloud.
At quarter to the hour, the audience began to wonder in and find their seats. For the Project Read Aloud the small theatre had been renovated to resemble a large living room. there were armchairs and a few couches spread around but always facing the stage. The Reader’s Chair was center stage with a reading lamp beside it and a small table with a pitcher of water and a glass, should the reader need a sip of water to read on. The theatre was half full at the 11:00 hour.
Sherene stepped to the edge of the stage and introduced herself. She explained the origin of the story.
The title of the story I’m reading today is “How Spider Obtained the Sky God’s Stories.”
She opened the book and began to read. She wove the tale masterfully creating voices for the characters, pausing for emphasis, and taking the listeners into another world.
When she read the last words of the story, there was a momentary silence as it all sank into the listeners and then a burst of enthusiastic applause. Sherene bowed her head and thanked the audience for their enjoyment of this Ashanti tale.
She ended her session saying, “Invite others to come and listen to stories read aloud. Please, keep on reading and sharing stories.”
Project Read Aloud was a great success and many patrons came week after week to hear stories and spend time in the library with others who loved stories. Sherene came even when it wasn’t her turn to read aloud. She came with a full heart and an open mind to learn about the lives and worlds of other humans from stories read aloud by her fellow Readers. This attitude replicated and spread throughout the listening audiences from their shared experiences of hearing stories from around the world. Sherene often thought about an Ethiopian proverb which said, “When the heart overflows, it comes out through the mouth.” Truly, she thought, understanding of others grows through the sharing of stories. Understanding did grow in that town and in that county through the power of stories from around the world. Sherene’s belief in the efficacy of stories grew rock solid. She stayed dedicated to Project Read Aloud until her death twenty years after that first reading of the Ashanti tale. On her tombstone it read: She loved stories and she loved to read them aloud. Lucky are those who heard them.
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Loved Sherene, you did a good job of creating a character's effect on the community. Would have loved a little flashback to a specific story of her reading. I think it would have made a bigger impact when she read her story to the audience.
Thank you for your constructive comment. I will keep the use of flashback as a strategy in further stories.