Steve Sheinkin Wins Empire State Award, Handbook for Storytellers Review

SheinkinSteve Sheinkin Wins Empire State Award: The Youth Services Section of the New York Library Association is excited to announce that the winner of the 2016 Empire State Award for Excellence in Literature for Young People is Steve Sheinkin.  Mr. Sheinkin will be honored at a luncheon on Friday, November 4, 2016 during the Association’s annual conference in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Steve Sheinkin is a resident of Saratoga Springs and an award-winning author of nonfiction for children and young adults.  He began his career writing textbooks, including one-page biographies, skills lessons, and entire chapters.   In 2009 he wrote his last textbook and walked away never to return.  Following his departure from the world of textbook publishing, he released the graphic novel series, The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey, and eventually his first nonfiction work, King George: What Was His Problem?, which is a look at the stories of the American Revolution that would not be published in the textbooks he used to write.

Two of his books, Bomb: The Race to Build —and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon and The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights were both National Book Award finalists.  In 2013, Bomb was a Newbery Honor book and won the Sibert Medal from the Association for Library Service to Children.  His most recent work, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War is a National Book Award finalist and was this year’s winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

First awarded in 1990, the Empire State Award is given to an author and/or illustrator currently residing in New York State to honor a significant body of work in the field of literature for young people.  Past recipients of this award include Maurice Sendak, Madeleine L’Engle, Vera Williams, Donald Crews, Jean Craighead George, Jerry Pinkney, Joseph Bruchac, Linda Sue Park, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Bruce Coville, Laurie Halse Anderson, and last year’s honoree, Vivian Vande Velde.  The Empire State Award committee is pleased to welcome Steve Sheinkin to this group.

Books for Professional Reading:

Handbook for StorytellersFreeman, Judy and Caroline Feller Bauer. The Handbook for Storytellers. ALA, 2015. 394p. $65 (paper).  ISBN 978-0-8389-1100-6 (paper). 

Many years ago, it was standard that a children’s librarian could perform memorized stories as well as use read-alouds and songs for storytime. Many of us had storytelling training, from voice projection to story selection. But with all the newer duties assigned to youth services librarians, storytelling became a skill fewer people were required to have. This book can remedy that for those storytime presenters who would like to add storytelling to their repertoire.

Judy Freeman has updated the late Bauer’s earlier book, first published in 1977 and later revised in 1993, but she captures Bauer’s well-known energy and enthusiasm for the subject. A talented storyteller herself, Freeman is also an adjunct professor at Pratt, and a former children’s librarian so she knows the subject well. It is clear she is supportive of anyone interested in learning to tell stories to children and this book gives clear instruction as well as moral support for the endeavor.

The earlier editions contained so much information that the new version is actually two separate books. This review focuses on the new storytelling book, Handbook for Storytellers.  The other book focuses on library storytimes, not the performance of stories: Handbook for Storytime Programs by Judy Freeman and Caroline Feller Bauer, ALA, 2015, 616p., $65 (paper), ISBN 978-0838912652. This reviewer has not seen the book focusing on storytime programs.

The author begins with some basics of setting up a storytime, publicity, and other nuts and bolts of program planning the reader can apply to storytimes that don’t include storytelling. For example, the chapter on publicity includes information on flyers and press releases as well as newer social media venues for promotion, such as Twitter and Facebook. The next chapter offers advice on using props and other visuals at a storytime or at storytelling sessions. But the following three-quarters of the book covers the skill of performance storytelling.

The fourth chapter, entitled “Selecting, Preparing, and Telling the Story” does just that – advice on choosing a story, techniques on learning the story, tips for vocal projection and gesturing, and lots of other information. Choosing a story that you relate to is key, along with basics for being comfortable in front of an audience. We all have seen professional storytellers at our libraries who are wonderful actors, but you don’t have to “act out” the story. But learning to speak clearly, avoid pacing back and forth or using distracting gestures, can really help the audience focus on the story.

The rest of the book contains annotated lists of stories to learn, with the emphasis on folk and fairy tales. There are even full-text short tales to learn, to get you started. There is also a section on stories from around the world, so you can choose some from your own cultural background, or offer stories from any area to show the diversity and richness of stories. These chapters will come in handy once you have tried telling a few simple stories, and want to add to your repertoire.

Even though Bauer died in 2013, the text often refers to the authors by saying “we recommend” or “our experience” which is fine, as Freeman was trained by Bauer and wants to honor the work of the earlier editions. The book’s tone is very friendly and supportive, which will be a great confidence booster to new storytellers. And the two-thirds of book containing tales to tell and lists of stories will be useful even to experienced storytellers. The book ends with subject, author, and title indices, which are quite helpful. Larger libraries will want a reference copy for staff training, but circulating copies may also be helpful for teachers if you make them aware of this book.

Penny Peck, San Jose State University’s iSchool

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