Friday, November 1, 2013

A Born Storyteller

Ashley Bryan
Ashley Bryan is a born storyteller. In his latest book, Can't Scare Me!, we can see that the boy narrator is a budding storyteller, and his grandma is a pro. She tells her grandson a tale to help him turn his hubris to humility.

The first time I saw Ashley Bryan at a conference, he performed "Things" by Eloise Greenfield. It's a poem about how, after other things are gone, a poem is something you have forever. Ashley Bryan really does "perform" a text--he inhabits each word. He had "Things" memorized, but he continued to look down at the book in his hands (Honey, I Love), as he explained it, to show children the power of the written word spoken aloud. He wants children to make that connection. 

With Can't Scare Me! the boy's grandmother tells him of a two-headed giant and his three-headed brother, who come out after dark. His reply serves as the book's refrain, "Tanto, tanto, I'm wild and I'm free./ Grandma's stories can't scare me./ I'm bold! I'm brave!/ And though I may be small,/ No many-headed giant/ Scares me at all." With the rhymes and the scanning of the lines, the text rolls off the tongue; it's a foolproof text for reading aloud, even for those who are just starting to read aloud to young people.

From Can't Scare Me!
Bryan's approach to art is as playful as his choice of words. The bright rainbow of colors helps take the fright out of the scary scenarios that the boy confronts. The green and pink faces of the two-headed giant who appears in the boy's path look like masks. Bryan always puts himself in the child's shoes. So as "willful" as the young hero is, we, like his grandma, also delight in his thirst for adventure--his "thrillful" side. In fact, this serves the hero well when the three-headed giant (who comes along next) pops the boy in a sack, because he never gives up trying to escape.

It's a wonderful story about bravery starring a hero who loves to scout new territory and try new things, but who also realizes that sometimes those with more experience (like Grandma) have some helpful guidance to give. Ashley Bryan is a born teacher as well as storyteller. 

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