Storyteller lures kids from TV, games
Storyteller John Porcino gestures during a part of Saturdays kick off of his six week story telling series at Northfield and Erving libraries; here he is expressively acting out a series of basic rules for the children attending the series.
John Porcino gets an origami popper to make a pop sound to during the beginning of Saturdays storytelling series at the Dickinson Library in Northfield. The day kicked off a six week series to be held alternately in Northfield and Erving .
Storyteller John Porcino high fives Gavan Brunetto,9 of Brookline, Vt. who is a participant in the Northfield and Erving library storytelling series. Saturday was the kick off day for the series at the Dickinson Library in Northfield. Porcino is holding an Australian instrument called the bullroarer which he used to signal the end of one of the games participants played.
NORTHFIELD — The local library was packed with kids from toddlers to tweens, and their parents, all there to embark on a Family Adventure in Reading Saturday morning.
One passing by the Dickinson Memorial Library’s children’s room would never have guessed there were 19 children inside; they were quiet enough one could hear a pin drop as professional storyteller John Porcino began to speak.
“Is there anyone here like me, who gets bored with TV sometimes?” he asked. The hands of just about everyone in the room shot toward the ceiling.
Porcino pulled a book from his knapsack and held it high. The title was “Complete Origami.”
“One day, when I was bored with TV, I decided to learn something, so I went to my library and got this,” he continued. “I liked it so much, I bought a copy.”
It was full of hours of creative fun for Porcino, and he showed the kids a couple of his favorite projects. Leaping paper frogs, a “paper popper” noisemaker, and a little mouse folded from a cloth napkin and animated by Porcino; it scampered up his arm as one of the children tried to pet it.
But new skills and activities aren’t the only thing that can be learned in the children’s section of your local library.
“I’ve found that stories can be an amazingly useful tool to teach people,” Porcino said after the event.
He may not have realized that when he was a child, squeezing onto his family’s sofa with his six siblings, as his mother flipped a book open to where they’d left off last.
“She was such a good storyteller,” he reminisced. “She would read books to us, and we’d talk about them. We learned how to be good human beings on that couch.”
Those lessons came wrapped in fun, engaging entertainment. It must have rubbed off on Porcino, who had no trouble getting his audience to become active participants.
The first session was mostly meet-and-greet; Porcino will start telling tales at the next session.
It’s not just about enjoying good books, he said, but about spending time with family and making new friends. To that end, he engaged the crowd in several “getting to know you” games to get the conversation flowing.
In one, everyone silently lined up by height, then turned to their neighbors and figured out common interests. Then they formed bigger groups and did the same. When they were done, the whole crowd shared their findings.
Just about everyone liked animals or outdoor activities, and — a nice surprise — none of the groups said “TV” or “video games.”
This weekend, it’s back to the books, though there will be plenty of interaction as well.
Saturday, Porcino will read folk musician Pete Seeger’s “Abiyoyo,” the Chinese Red Riding Hood tale “Lan Po Po,” and the late Maurice Sendak’s classic “Where the Wild Things Are” aloud.
The theme for the day will be courage, and the group will discuss what the books teach about the subject.
“I didn’t realize how much the program entailed,” said Julie Plummer of Brookline, Vt. “The kids have fun, and they learn things like character development.” Her son, Gavin Brunetto, 9, gave the event two thumbs up and a big smile. The family used to live in Northfield, and still considers Dickinson Memorial their home library.
“It has some wonderful people. It’s really the people who make the library what it is,” she said.
Plummer and her son plan to make the interstate drive for the next five Saturdays, so they don’t miss a bit of the fun.
Porcino said this is the fifth time he’s done the FAIR program, thrice in Springfield and once in West Boylston.
“The crowd today was bigger than the usual crowd in Springfield,” he said Saturday.
Though it’s the first time FAIR has come to Northfield, Porcino’s is a familiar face to many. He’s done programs in the Northfield, Bernardston, Warwick and Leyden elementary schools, and many of the kids Saturday know him by name.
“It’s great; I get to bring joy and laughter to people, and spin connections, too,” he said, when asked what he loves about storytelling.
It’s been a 30-year career for the Amherst native, who also often incorporates music into his programs.
The six-week Family Adventures in Reading program is a collaboration of the Dickinson Memorial and Erving Public libraries, funded with a grant from Mass Humanities, which selected the books for the series.
Deb Kern, director of the Dickinson Memorial Library, said the two towns were almost passed over for the grant.
“Halie Thoharides, our programming director, got creative. She knew Erving wanted to apply for the grant, and suggested that we apply together to better our chances,” said Kern. She said Mass Humanities is sometimes hesitant to sponsor programs in small towns, for fear that they will be sparsely attended.
Saturday’s kickoff of the FAIR program proved that fear unfounded. Kern thought there would be a total of 15 people between parents and kids, but the total turnout was more than twice that.
The next session will go from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, held in the Erving Senior Center, rather than the town’s library. Erving Library Director Barbara Friedman decided to change the venue when she saw how many people came to the first week’s session. The towns will alternate hosting the program each week.
The week after, back in Northfield, they’ll read “Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock,” and “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters,” and talk about the merits of treating people kindly and the perils of greed and selfishness.
Those who came to Saturday’s session got to take home a tote bag they can keep, filled with books from the program, which they’ll have to return at the end.
Porcino stressed the importance of promptness, and told the crowd that everyone who arrives on time will get to learn a fun activity or trick while they wait for stragglers. Saturday, as people filed in, he taught the kids how to make jumping origami frogs out of playing-card-sized pieces of paper. Anyone who’s early, he said, will get to embark on a pre-activity scavenger hunt.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279