"You're never too old - or too cool - to enjoy a good story."
Andy Bell, one of our Early Childhood Literacy Specialists at the John McIntire Library, recently shared this advice with pre-service teachers from Ohio University-Zanesville, and it's obvious to anyone that knows him that he believes it.
Andy graduated from Ohio University in 2009. One of his former professors, Dr. Beverly Bell, reached out to him earlier this year and asked him to share his experience as a storyteller and literacy advocate. His background is unique, though, because his certification is in Middle Childhood Education.
You might be wondering, then, why it's so easy for him to launch into a dramatic reading of I Ain't Gonna Paint No More, a children's book that inspires its reader to sing along with the main character and to rhyme words (such as "what") with parts of the body (such as... you get the idea). When he's dancing to a silly song or putting on a costume to delight his preschool audiences, it's easy to forget that at one point in his life, he imagined himself teaching 7th and 8th grade students about world history.
But for Andy, it's just more evidence to that belief he has about the power of storytelling - at any age, on any subject.
"This took me out of my comfort zone, for sure," Andy told his audience on Tuesday afternoon. He had some experience working with young children before being hired at the library in 2010, but not enough to make the task of entertaining crowds of kids and their parents any less intimidating at first.
As he began to learn about the Every Child Ready to Read program and started to implement it into his visits to preschools and daycares throughout Muskingum County, he realized that its five core practices - singing, talking, reading, writing, and playing - are present at all in times, in whatever you do. That's why an essential part of Andy's job is educating parents and caregivers, and explaining that it doesn't take an expert to start a child on the path to being able to read.
For the future teachers that were in attendance that day, he stressed the importance of showing students that reading and sharing stories is an enjoyable experience. "Select books that you genuinely love," he advises, "your enthusiasm will show."
He also talked with them about the variety of ways in which a simple book or story can be enhanced with the help of guest readers, audiobooks, and websites such as BookFlix or TumbleBooks. Stories can even be told without a book at all, as seen in the video where he shares a "Draw and Tell", revealing a surprise illustration only once the story is finished.
His skill has earned him some minor celebrity status among children in Muskingum County, too. A day at the John McIntire Library usually isn't complete without at least one young patron running up to the Children's Desk to ask where "Mr. Andy" is.
During a comedy act earlier this year as part of the Summer Reading program, Mr. Andy invented his own time machine and went back in time to a point in his life where he didn't appreciate reading (the younger but misguided version was played by myself, my debut performance to the regular attendees of our weekly events) and no one was pleased to see "their" Mr. Andy disappear. But he soon was back and ready to share another one of his favorite books, and the audience was grateful that he learned how much fun reading could be.
Mr. Andy may have needed to learn that lesson for himself, but he has played a major role in allowing children in Muskingum County to discover it for themselves. We're grateful for that, too.