Adatto to encourage Young Readers to be story seekers, tellers

thumbnailHarvard University professor Kiku Adatto believes that everyone has the power to be a storyteller.

Everyone, regardless of his or her background, possesses a story to tell, she said: From the illustrious sagas of great kings and queens to the songs and stories that hold the history of a family, oral traditions have for centuries shed light to some of the world’s greatest wonders.

Adatto hopes to gather up the stories of young readers at Chautauqua Institution this afternoon.

Her book, Babayan and the Magic Star, is the CLSC Young Readers selection for Week Four.

Following a special 2:30 p.m. presentation today on “Storytelling and the Moral Imagination” in Smith Wilkes Hall from Adatto and her husband, Michael J. Sandel, Adatto will continue the conversation of Babayan and the Magic Star at 4:15 p.m. in the ballroom of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

“I hope to revive the oral storytelling tradition by encouraging children to retell, interpret and continue the story of Babayan in their own voices, adapt it to their local cultures and traditions, and create their own art projects,” Adatto said.

Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services, said the 2:30 p.m. program is designed as a community discussion for children and adults alike on the tradition of oral storytelling. In particular, he said, youth ages 5 to 12 are encouraged to attend and participate in the program, which includes Adatto reading from Babayan, sharing art from the book and asking questions of the youth in attendance. Sandel will then join her for a discussion about the Babayan Storytelling Project. The 4:30 p.m. event is a youth-only art activity at the Literary Arts Center.

During the conversation, Adatto said she wanted to allow the young readers to take the reigns and tell their own tales.

Babayan and the Magic Star is the tale of a ferocious beast who falls from a star into a land called Shayma Bayma Island, a land as beautiful as it is mysterious.

In this tale, replete with entrancing illustrations and an ending to warm the hearts of readers from ages 1 to 99, this week’s furry protagonist learns that the strength of his roar is born in a place of peace.

The book, Adatto said, is based on the stories she used to tuck in her sons into bed. When she was a child, Adatto said she was spoiled by the rich stories her father, an immigrant from Istanbul, Turkey, would tell her.

From hearing of songs and stories retold from generations past, Adatto said the art of storytelling has always been in her blood.

“Even though it was my father who carried them to me, traditionally the stories were carried in the home by the women that would often sing and tell stories to their children,” she said. “So there’s this hundreds-of-years-old storytelling tradition that is very much in my blood and it’s a core part of the Babayan Storytelling Project.”

The Babayan Storytelling Project and international initiative is spearheaded by Adatto and her husband, a fellow Harvard professor and frequent Chautauqua speaker.

The project inspires children to use storytelling as a vessel to discover and transform the world. With publications already in India and making their way to Latin America, Spain and the Caribbean with The Babayan Storytelling Project, Adatto and Sandel plan to develop partnerships with schools, libraries and nonprofits worldwide, including Chautauqua.

“The young readers of Chautauqua are at the heart of this project,” Adatto said. “The project is encouraging young people to be story seekers. To begin with a story, continue the story and to gather more stories. I think that there are multiple ways that we tell, retell and create stories and the way each one of us becomes an oral storyteller is when we learn tell the story in our own distinctive voice.”

While a major push for increased skills in math and science seem to be the talk of the watercooler about education these days, Adatto believes that the power of continuing oral traditions is just as useful in that it will preserve each generation’s current place in time.

“I think the process of storytelling, of listening to stories making up stories, sharing stories and writing the stories down is one of the essential creative acts of our very being of our very soul,” she said. “It’s not simply about stories — it’s an expression of our inner life. It’s an expression of our connection to our past and our traditions our families, and it’s an expression of ideas we have for the future. It’s an expression of how we see the world we’re living in now.”

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