Sharing a microphone, a pair of fifth-graders kicked off Garner’s 12th Storytelling Festival on Saturday with the chilling tale of Billy, a child left alone in a secluded cabin, pursued by an 8-foot coffin.
Wyatt Mallon and Elliot Hollis, both Timber Drive Elementary students, took the stage and described Billy’s terrifying ordeal, taking turns with the details, speaking clearly and projecting their voices to the back of the auditorium.
“Billy screamed,” said Mallon, 11, building the tension. “Like a little girl.”
Garner’s festival drew more than 200 people, most of them students from five of the town’s elementary schools: Timber Drive, Creech Road, Smith, Vandora Springs and Vance. For two hours Saturday, they took the stage a few at a time, showing off yarn-spinning skills they spent a week polishing in the classroom.
Organized by the Garner Educational Foundation, the event started in 2003 with the idea that children can boost confidence and reading chops by telling stories out loud.
“A lot of times, we think of learning and we think of EOG scores and report cards,” said Greg Butler, principal at North Garner Middle School, where Saturday’s event was held. “What the kids here demonstrated today was a great love of learning.”
The boastful possum
Over the past week, the junior storytellers took tips from Sherry Norfolk, author of “The Storytelling Classroom,” who performs in a variety of voices and rhythms. On Saturday, she started the festival off by explaining how the possum once had the bushiest tail in the forest, but fell victim to his own bragging when the animals tricked him into shaving it bald. Embarrassed, the formerly boastful possum now lives by night, his naked tail hidden in the darkness.
“You hardly see old possum anymore,” she said.
Since the festival began, organizers say the children who participate come through with a stronger love of reading and more assurance speaking in public.
“Storytelling is one of the oldest instructional methods there is,” said Cathy Williams, foundation chair. “We really aim to engage students from bell to bell.”
As evidence of this, Mallon and Hollis brought the crowd to the surprising end of their horror story in the woods. As is too common with young storybook heroes, Billy ignored his parents’ warning and answered the coffin’s knock at the door. Chased upstairs into a bathroom, lucky Billy prevailed by fending off the giant black coffin with a secret weapon:
“A cough drop,” they said.
Cue the laughter. Exit stage left.