Judy Sima has an amazing ability. She can get a classroom of middle school students to pay attention.
The Michigan storyteller and former school librarian has been performing for children for almost 30 years. She now travels the country telling stories, including making frequent appearances at the acclaimed National Storytelling Conference. She is performing in Beaufort County schools this week and will put on a show tonight at ARTworks in Beaufort.
Sima explains the power of storytelling.
Question. What are your plans for the Beaufort show?
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Answer. It's a family show, so we'll have a good mix of people. We'll do a lot of audience participation. I figure we'll get some young children. They'll join in and help tell a story or sing a song.
Q. Is it that much different telling stories to middle schoolers than, say, elementary schoolers?
A. The younger they are, the more participation and the shorter the stories. Elementary students are usually pretty eager to engage. Middle school kids, they kind of look at you. When I do a middle school, maybe I'll tell a few ghost stories to catch their interest, and then they'll get up and participate. They have to trust me first. I was a middle school librarian for 37 years, so I have an idea of what it takes.
Q. What made you want to get into storytelling?
A. I saw a few storytellers at a library conference. It looked like so much fun. When I do workshops, I tell teachers that I got into storytelling not so much because of the stories but because of the power. I can hold 100 middle school students in the palm of my hand on a Friday afternoon after they've just had a bunch of sugar (laughs). It's the connection with the audience that really drew me in.
Q. Where do you get your stories?
A. Most of my stories come from children's literature and folklore. I have some stories that I've created myself. But as a former librarian, I've picked up a lot from literature.
Q. Are there many stories that you've always told throughout the years?
A. I have three or four stories where I rely on participation. I have some scary stories I like. There's certain ways you can play to the audience. For the younger ones, I'll say "Ms. So-and-So said I can't tell any scary stories." Then they'll say, "Oh, we love scary stories." And then I'll tell a scary story with a funny ending. They want to be scared but not too scared. The teachers appreciate that, too.