I am so excited to have Juliana Tyson Kissick as my guest today. We recently reconnected on Facebook, but I first met her when she was in fourth grade! She was my student. Just take a peek at that adorable class, gathered joyfully around our Thanksgiving project that year. She’s seated in the center with a very young Mrs. Sassi standing behind her. And there she is working hard. She’s also represented by one of the little birds depicted in the delightful card my mom made for me that school year. The card is dated 1995 and the note I found with it reads:
“Mom made a terrific birthday card depicting an early January day in the new classroom. It was pouring and the power went out. I kept the kids entertained until their parents came by reading. It was a treacherous day with lots of flooding and rain.”
READ ALOUD TIME. It was my favorite part of the day and it happened every day, right after lunch. Actually, I think it was everyone’s favorite part of the day – a chance to be transported by storytelling to magical worlds, faraway places and different times. And I AM THRILLED that Juliana has agreed to share a little bit about what reading books aloud has meant to her over the years. Take it away, Juliana!
When Laura invited me to write on the topic of reading aloud to children in the classroom, I felt an immediate surge of energy run through my gut. It was as if my soul were demanding I leap through the computer screen, exclaiming, “There is nothing more important than reading to children in schools!!” — a good indicator that I probably had something to say on the matter. And what I came to realize over the course of writing out my reflections was how valuable and multi-faceted the benefits of “story time” really are… and most certainly not just for children. It’s like my Jewish, anecdotally-driven father always tells me (quoting the magnificent poet, Muriel Rukeyser), “The universe, Juliana, is made of stories, not of atoms.”
Story time. Is there a more cherished, enchanted hour in the world of a young person? The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte’s Web, The Boxcar Children, Little House On the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Giver… I can remember every. single. book that was read to me (or that my classmates and I read aloud to each other) over the course of my elementary schooling. I LIVED for story time. And it wasn’t just because “story time” equated not doing math (something I still avoid, sorry Laura). No, story time wasn’t just an easy out…that’s what recess was for. And it wasn’t just because I was somewhat of a doctoral candidate in the esteemed academic discipline of Class Clownery and more or less couldn’t wait until I was allowed to give a personality (a British accent) to letters on a page… ok fine, maybe it was a LITTLE bit about that (I’m not British, for the record). But really, truly, at the heart of my love for story time was my love for adventure and meaning, adventure beyond the physical entrapments of my birthed circumstances and the moral lessons to help me make sense of it all. Story time was everything I dreamed this life could be and opened my eyes to what it already was… in other words, story time was church. It was spiritual. It transcended me. It was a gathering, a listening, an intuiting, a shared emotional rite of passage that didn’t have a right or a wrong answer. You couldn’t get a check minus in story time. You only had to be a person. And that, dear ones, is why the gift of telling story is just that–a gift. It validates the complexity of our humanity and the diverse range of our experiences, and all we have to do is breathe and listen.
Unlike reading alone, the experience of being read to (or reading to someone) transforms written narrative into a conversation between heartstrings. When characters are given voice, when a scene depiction is read with purpose and conviction and tone, suddenly this is now a world and these are now living beings that are taking up physical and emotional space in our lives. It becomes real. And when something becomes real, like all the greatest of fiction has taught us, we conjure empathy and compassion. The characters don’t need to look like us, or talk like us, live in our hometown…heck they don’t even have to live on this planet. Story makes everything, and everyone, a worthy subject of our love and understanding. And oh how this world could use a whole lot more of that.
Just yesterday one of my best friends mentioned to me that she and her husband were reading the Harry Potter series to one other before they went to sleep… and I couldn’t help but get wholly and utterly inspired to treat my own grown-up self with the same kind of joy and validation I gave my story-loving, story-needing child self. We don’t really grow up, you see. We just grow.
Blessings and giggles,
Bio: It probably won’t surprise you to know that Juliana grew up to become a storyteller. She’s a multiple Ovation-nominated choreographer, actor, dancer, and founding member of Los Angeles’ very own Boom Kat Dance Theatre. After over a decade of performing professionally in Southern California, Juliana moved to San Francisco with her husband (and former boy across the literal street), Ryan. It was upon the move to Northern California that Juliana tapped into her love of visual art to further her storytelling career. In 2014, Juliana founded Good Juju Ink, an illustration design company dedicated to spreading “good juju” one funny-but-tender illustration at a time. Good Juju Ink’s greeting cards are sold online at www.goodjujuink.com and at Paper Source locations nationwide.