Saturday was gorgeous, and (Oh joy! Oh rapture!) the opening day of the Mill City Farmers Market, one of my favorite markets here in the Twin Cities. I got up and out the door in such a hurry I forgot my market basket, but no matter — there were just the earliest of crops available: asparagus, spinach, rhubarb…. I could carry the few things I needed — and truth be told, I was really after the experience more than the food. The chilly air coming off the Mississippi, the violin player on the corner, the chatter of vendors and customers, small kiddos looking for future crops like berries and corn-on-the-cob and apples…this is the kind of thing that will clear the rest of winter from the recesses of your soul! I got my coffee and blissfully wandered the stalls. If I were to design the perfect morning, this really is it.
And then — an unexpected gift!
Just as I was leaving for the busy Saturday ahead of me, I heard a rich baritone sing out. “STO-ries! STO-ries! It’s storytime! STORYtime!” The hair on he back of my neck stood up (in a good way). STORYTIME! Well, I wasn’t going to leave without stories!
I moseyed back over to the stone steps of the Guthrie Theater, the usual spot for programming during the farmers market. And sure enough, a company actor was there with a stack of kid books. Parents were getting their sticky-farmers-market- smudged-up kids settled at the man’s feet, moving to sit up a step or two and enjoy their coffee in peace. I fit right in, I told myself, even without any kids with me. I just sat down with the parents and smiled down benevolently on the squirmy mosh-pit of would-be story listeners, as if one of them was mine.
No sooner had the reader begun than all wiggles stopped. The first book: One Day In The Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. I couldn’t believe my luck! Bernstrom and I had gone to grad school together — and the book was but days old! I hadn’t even made it to the bookstore to get my copy yet!
Well, it’s a hoot of a book — as I knew it would be — and what I witnessed on the steps to the Guthrie was none other than Storytime MAGIC. A marvelous story, terrific illustrations, and a fantastic reader! (I mean, the guy is a professional!) The kids were rapt as this man belted out the lines of the little boy who outsmarts the yellow snake who swallowed him up.
It’s a story with some similarities to I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and also to Brer Rabbit. The boy in this story is the Smart One, a more positive moniker, I think, than “Trickster,” as Brer Rabbit is often called. The yellow snake is taken by this smart boy. Everytime he swallows someone or something up, the boy talks about how much more room there is inside…and so the snake takes another victim. And then another. And another. It’s the very smallest thing that proves too much, of course, and the gross results were most pleasing to the young audience. One little girl clapped hard as the snake “expectorated” everyone and everything in his stomach.
Oh the kids loved it! The swingy rhymes, the fun word-rhythms — their little bodies swayed in time. The suspense! The fun! Their faith in the boy! Their joy as the snake’s belly grew larger and larger. “Look at that belly!” our storyteller exclaimed every other page turn.
It all worked to make me quite teary behind my sunglasses as I sat there among the young families. I was so happy for Daniel, so grateful this wonderful actor lent his voice and storytelling to the morning, so glad to have heard my classmate’s story before I read it. He has a wonderful gift with words and fun and rhythm and rhyme.
In my estimation, it was quite the perfect morning. Perhaps the only thing that could’ve made it better was having a little sticky person of my own on my lap to hear the story with me. But alas, those days are pretty well gone for me. (Sometimes I’m still able to borrow.) So it’s just the pure joy of being read to now, which, as it turns out, I’ve not outgrown. Don’t plan to either.
Thanks Daniel, thanks Mr. Wenzel — your book is terrific. Thank you Mill City Farmers Market and Guthrie Theater. Thank you to the wonderful storytime reader whose name I did not catch — your sung “STO-ries!” made my day. You were wonderful! The whole thing was wonderful.