Local children experience the joy of the spoken and written word at “Tell Me a Story” festival
One child played the role of a tiny, little fly. One played a proud lion— the king of the jungle. One was an elephant, another was a thunderstorm, and a third was a raging fire.
Each held a cardboard sign with words and pictures showing what they represented. They stood in front of a room crowded with families attending the “Tell Me a Story!” cultural storytelling festival. Emmanuel Solomon, a refugee from South Sudan and president of USASSCA (United Sudanese and South Sudanese Communities Association) was telling an interactive story.
“The fly wanted to cause trouble,” Solomon said in a booming voice. “He was not as big or as strong or as fast as the other animals. But he knew he could cause the jungle kingdom to come crashing down.”
The Tell Me a Story! festival drew approximately 250 people this Saturday, May 11, to the Clarkston Community Center. The storytellers were in the East Room, and there were activities, games and books for the children at tables leading into the Community Center.
The goal of the Tell Me a Story! festival was to promote childhood literacy among children and families in the Clarkston Area. The festival exposed children to the words and ideas contained in stories like Solomon’s and aimed to encourage families to read and speak to their children at home.
Solomon told a traditional Sudanese story he had learned from his family in his childhood.
“I crack it out of my memory,” he said. “We did not read, so the only way we could get the knowledge was to listen to our parents or to the elderly.”
By involving children in his story, Solomon was demonstrating a method for promoting literacy in children. Simply by talking to them, he was improving their language skills.
Deborah Strahorn, President of the Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia and another storyteller at the festival, said involving the children is the key to a successful story.
“Storytelling is more than just reading to children. You have to find ways to pull them in,” she said. “When they learn to do what we do, they can express themselves better. The more words they have, the more confident they will be.”
Parents can increase their children’s chances of success later in life simply by exposing their children to more words when they are young. According to an article in the New York Times, studies have shown that children who hear more total words when they are growing up score higher in IQ tests and perform generally better in school.
Sondra Shurling, branch manager of the Clarkston Library and one of the organizers of the festival, emphasized the importance of encouraging families to always talk to their children.
“Sometimes we forget,” she said. “But babies absorb all the language they are exposed to. When you take them to the grocery store, talk to them. Say, ‘This is an apple. This is a banana.’”
The Storytelling Festival was sponsored by the Clarkston Early Learning Network. Children were given books as prizes at the festival, and the Clarkston Community Center also donated 25 homemade bookcases to families in attendance.
Partners included Friends of Refugees/Mommy and Me, DeKalb County PHLOTES, Refugee Family Services, the Clarkston First Baptist Academy, USASSCA, the Refugee Family Assistance Program, United Way of Greater Atlanta, the Clarkston Community Center, Clarkston Development Foundation, the Global Growers Network, OurRainbow Press, Sagal Radio, the Somali American Community Center, the Little Red Resouce Center and the Clarkston Library, which held a book sale on the same day. The festival was funded in part by the DeKalb Opportunity Zone, a project of the United Way of Greater Atlanta.