Pacing back and forth from the classroom to the gate of the school, I peek once more to see if anyone else is coming up the road. A few children chase each other around the carpark beside me.
“You guys coming in for Story Night?” I ask curiously.
“Yes!” one of the boys exclaimed. “We’re just waiting for our mother.”
Not sure if I should take their word for it, I walk back down the corridor toward the classroom at the end of the building. Reaching the final door, I step in and take another look around. Four families sit scattered throughout an assembly of empty chairs. A feeling of uncertainty bubbles up inside me. To the right my laptop sits on a small, brown table next to a projector. A large, canvas screen is stretched across the stage. The words, “Welcome to Story Night at St. Peter’s R.C.!” shines brightly from the humming projector.
“What do you think?” Teacher Rita, my counterpart teacher, asks me. “About five more minutes?”
Glancing down at my watch, it read 4:42 p.m.
Biting my lip, I hesitate. The first-ever “Story Night at the RC” was scheduled to begin at 4:30. We were already behind schedule, but I didn’t want to start just yet. I was still hoping more than just four families would show up. As many as eighteen families had indicated interest in attending when I had first announced the event just a few weeks prior.
“There has to be more coming,” I think to myself. After all, scheduled events do tend to run on their own time here in the West Indies.
“Yeah, let’s start in five more minutes,” I finally concede.
I pace back down the corridor, climbing the stairs to the second level of the school to see if I could get a better vantage point of the road. The same kids continue running around the carpark, still without a parent to accompany them.
“Oh!” I exclaim, remembering something I should’ve done already.
Hustling back down the stairs, I slip into the principal’s office and grab the keys to the library. Running back upstairs, I hurry down the corridor to the library at the far end of the school. Unlocking the padlocked gate and turning loose the deadbolt on the door, I poke my head inside to see if everything is in place. Content with what I saw, I switch back off the lights and close the gate softly.
A light rain had begun to fall, the soft sprinkling sound of the rain on the rooftop subtly drawing my attention. Looking out to the mountains beyond the school, the rain visibly fell from the approaching gray clouds and into the rugged, green landscape below. The palm leaves of the banana trees in the small farm adjacent to the school rustles in the breeze. Just beyond a house in the near distance, a bright rainbow appears like a promise, waving its way from the clouds to the trees to assure me it was all going to turn out all right.
“That’s gotta be a good sign,” I exhale hopefully.
Returning downstairs, I step into the classroom and pick up the microphone. It was time to get the Story Night started.
“Good afternoon, and welcome to the first-ever Story Night at St. Peter’s RC!”
After welcoming the families, I explain the itinerary for the evening. As I do this, a family appears in the doorway at the back of the classroom and quietly takes a seat. A few minutes later, the children from the carpark walk in with their mother, who evidently had finally arrived. Then another family walks in, followed by another. My heart began to skip with excitement, relieved to have more families arriving. By the time all was said and done and the story was about to begin, thirteen families were seated throughout the assembly. The rainbow’s promise had held true.
Handing the microphone to Teacher Rita, she takes a seat in front of the audience. In an animated and enthusiastic fashion, she reads Chicken Licken (a spin-off tale of Chicken Little), the featured story of the night. On the big screen behind her, the pages of the story appear, as I had taken pictures of the pages and put them in a slideshow for the audience to follow along (a tip I picked up from fellow PCV Deb Campelia). With a green pointer, I trace underneath each word on the screen as Teacher Rita reads along. With every voice change and exaggeration Teacher Rita would make with each of the characters, the children would giggle to the delight of their parents. Taking a peek back at the audience, all their eyes were fixed on the screen, anxiously following along to see what would happen to Chicken Licken and his friends. A few fellow staff members, evidently not having left the school yet, discreetly linger in the back as they, too, listen along to the reading. When Teacher Rita finished the story, the families erupted in applause.
“All right, thank you Teacher Rita for such a great and enthusiastic reading of our story,” I say, taking back the mic. “Now that we have finished our story, I have some questions I’d like us to answer.”
Picking up my list of questions, I ask the audience various questions specific to the characters and events of the story. Hands shot up, some eagerly, others hesitantly. Sometimes a murmur of opinions would break out with each answer; other times, applause. There was one particularly difficult question I had selected, however, to challenge the audience to see who was really paying attention to detail. In the story, it was to be one of the character’s birthdays the next day; I wanted to know whose. Guess after guess, answer after answer, no one seemed to remember whose birthday it was going to be. Then a boy in the middle of the room timidly raises his hand.
“What do you think?” I ask him, as Teacher Rita passes him a mic.
“Yes! It was Ducky Lucky’s birthday, he’s correct!”
The audience boomed in applause as the boy sheepishly smiled, his mother giving him a celebratory high-five. All the questions having been answered from the list, I began explaining the follow-up activity we had in store for the night.
“Upon arriving, some of you would have received a cut-out of one of our characters from the story. Now, we are going to re-enact the story ourselves. So who does the story start with?”
“Chicken Licken!” the audience calls.
“All right, so who has Chicken Licken? Where is Chicken Licken?”
“Here!” A mother jumps up from her seat, waving her cut-out picture of Chicken Licken excitedly.
She walks up to the front and faces the audience. Taking the mic, she mimics an acorn falling on her head and proclaims, “Oh! The sky is falling! I must go and tell the King!”
Laughter breaks out at the passionate performance.
“Okay, very good,” I laugh. “Now who’s next? Where’s Turkey Lurkey?”
A boy in the front row cautiously raises his hand, unsure of what’s about to happen. The mother scurries over to the boy.
“Turkey Lurkey! The sky is falling and we’re all going to die! We must go and tell the King!” she blurts, remembering verbatim the lines from the book. She grabs the boy by his arm and pulls him up to the front as laughter once again breaks out among the audience.
Handing the microphone to the boy, he then timidly meanders into the audience to the next character. He recites his line to the girl playing the next character, Goosey Loosey, who follows him up to the front. This goes on and on until each of the characters are brought to the front, some reluctantly, some excitedly.
Finally came the turn for Foxy Loxy, the villain of our story. A small boy apprehensively walks up to one of the older boys, who was playing the role of our villian; the small boy mumbles into the mic that the sky was falling and tells Foxy Loxy that we must all go and tell the king. The older boy, completely in sync with his villainous character, confidently and smoothly asserts, “I know the way to the king. Follow me and I’ll show you the way.”
Standing up, the older boy places his arm around the small boy’s shoulder. He walks him back to the front of the room and to his “den,” where Foxy Loxy’s family then consumes all the poor, unsuspecting birds to bring about the tragic end of our story. The families chuckle in amusement and cheer for the participants as they return to their seats, smiles spread across their faces.
“Now, Chicken Licken,” I say, taking back the microphone and turning to the mother who acted as protagonist of the story, “How did playing Chicken Licken make you feel?”
“Bad,” she says.
“And why did it make you feel bad?”
“Well, because I thought the sky was falling and in panic, I led the other birds into Foxy Loxy’s den.”
“Very good!” I reply, surprised and amused by the quick and impressive response.
We continued on down the line, the parents and children sharing their experiences acting as each of characters, until finally once again reaching Foxy Loxy.
“And how did being the fox make you feel?” I ask the older boy.
“Good!” he answers excitedly.
“And why is that?”
“Because I just fed my family and didn’t even have to work for it!” he beams proudly, the audience erupting once again in laughter.
“Well done! Give yourselves all another round of applause,” I laugh. “Now, at the end of every story, we should always ask ourselves a certain question: What was the moral of the story? For those that don’t know what I mean by this, the moral of the story is the lesson to be taken away from the story we just read. What did we learn from our story of Chicken Licken, that we can take and apply to our own lives?”
The boy who played Foxy Loxy, sitting in the back alongside his mother, raises his hand. Teacher Rita walks the microphone over to him as he announces, “Don’t believe everything people tell you, in case it’s not true.”
“Good answer!” the audience applauds. “It’s important that we take the time to make sure something is true before we believe it. If one of the characters had simply asked how or why the sky was falling, they might have realized Chicken Licken’s mistake and would never have been tricked into going inside Foxy Loxy’s den.”
“This concludes the first portion of our night. You are all now invited to come upstairs to our library, Paradise Space Rocket. For the next hour, you can sign out a book to read together, or to each other, as a family. The couches and sitting area in the library are available to you, as well as Teacher Rita’s classroom next door.”
The families bustle out of their seats and make their way upstairs to the library.
The rest of the night was spent in what would be any librarian’s dream. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, whole family units and single-family units, strong readers and struggling readers, all huddled over books and reading together. I bounced between the library and the classroom, surveying the interaction between the families and the books. My heart was still skipping beats, but it was no longer skipping out of nerves, but out of excitement.
To be perfectly honest, Story Night was everything I could have envisioned and more. It’s hard to believe that a simple idea conjured up in a Literacy Workshop back in February had finally led to this. The idea in February had turned into a phone call in April to my Aunt Nancy, who as a librarian, I sought advice from in how to make my idea of a Story Night a reality. The phone call in April had led to an idea pitch in June to my principal, counterpart teacher, who both fervently and immediately bought into the idea for starting the Story Night at the onset of the new school year. The June idea pitch led to a September announcement to the RC families, as I spoke at my school’s Parent Teacher Association meeting, declaring a date and time of the upcoming Story Night and taking a list of interested families. The September announcement led to this early October night, where parents and their students were huddled together, reading as a family. It all came together so smoothly, so simply, I still almost can’t believe it happened.
At the start of the night, I was nervous, unsure as to what sort of response I would get from the community. After all, when beginning an event like this, you almost have to start small. When only four families had arrived at the beginning, I’ll be honest when I say I was a bit disappointed. The reception I had received at the PTA meeting was so encouraging, that I just wasn’t convinced we would have so few families show up. But seeing that rainbow in the mountains beyond my school, moments before Story Night began, I was comforted. I took it as a sign that everything would turn out all right.
And boy, did it. With thirteen families and the presence of various staff from my school, I was blown away by the support I received from not only my school, but my community as a whole. Witnessing the laughter, the joy, and the time spent reading together as a family was such an incredibly humbling experience.
To have something begin as an idea and come into fruition with enthusiasm, support, and excitement was beyond encouraging; it was inspiring. We now plan to host Story Night once a month for the rest of the term, with our next one in early November. If all goes well and the attendance grows, the sky is the limit with an event like this.
I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
Note: Earlier that same day, I had the pleasure of hosting students from Sea|Mester at my school. Sea|Mester is a study abroad program where students engage in academic, leadership, and service-learning activities. I had been in contact with one of their Program Directors when I heard they would be stopping in Grenada. We then arranged for the Sea|Mester students to visit my school, spending the morning in various classrooms teaching the RC students about ships, sailing techniques, marine conservation, and geography. Below are some snapshots from their visit.