Library performers give kids tips on resolving conflict

Christina Chaey

Children and their parents gathered Sunday at the Evanston Public Library to hear the story of “The Whale and the Sandpiper,” a folktale with a lighthearted approach to addressing conflict resolution.

“(Children) are a really honest audience,” said Patrick Zielinski, one of the storytellers. “Their imaginations are so vast, and we’re so excited by the potential that they have to offer.”

The performance, put on by HeadCheese Fat Boss Productions of Chicago, required children to use their imagination and simple body movements to interact with the storytellers. About 25 children attended with their parents and guardians.

“Our goal is to attract the attention of people who don’t normally come to the library,” said Andrea Bushala, a member of Evanston Library Friends. “This way, the children have a choice from something different (than other library programming).”

The children also enjoyed an improvised story that was fashioned from their own suggestions . The story was told in “FatCheesian,” a made-up language, and was interpreted to comic effect by another performer.

“The Whale and the Sandpiper” was the first of several free Sunday family programs put on by Evanston Library Friends throughout the year. Evanston Library Friends will present four more family events in the coming months, including musical and theatrical performances.

Bushala, the head of the children’s programs at the library , said she was pleasantly surprised by the number of 4- to 5-year-old attendees.

“Older children usually need a more sophisticated performance with props and costumes, but for this age group, (the show) was absolutely perfect,” Bushala said. “They weren’t taking their eyes off the performers.”

The children were encouraged to side with either the whale or the sandpiper in determining who owned the ocean and who owned the beach. At the end of the performance, the storytellers led a brief discussion about how the whale and the sandpiper resolved their conflict through cooperation and a mutual respect for the environment .

“With interactive storytelling, I think they also feel a little more ownership of the moral at the end,” Bushala said.

The use of interactive storytelling, in which performers get children involved by making them real characters in the story, was a turn from traditional storytelling, Bushala said. Although the storytellers used simple props, such as maracas, to aid their tale, their success ultimately depended on the children’s cooperation .

“When the children engage with you in the story, that’s the most rewarding thing,” Zielinski said. “They get to use their imagination … they’re not just sitting in front of a TV with a PlayStation in an alternate reality.”

Several audience members approved of the family programming.

“It was a total surprise,” said Bob Field, of Rogers Park, who came with his granddaughter. “It creates a special community where children get the experience of being with other kids outside of school and the home.”

Sigal Pressman, of Evanston, said she enjoyed the performance with her two young daughters.

“I think it’s very important for the children to not expect the same thing every time they come,” Pressman said. “It keeps them interested.”

Reach Christina Chaey at [email protected]