Spinning tales

Professional storyteller Anna Adler takes her act all over town in ReadBoston’s Storymobile

(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Louise Kennedy
Globe Staff / June 26, 2010

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Q. You manage early literacy programs for ReadBoston, but for four years you’ve also been one of its storytellers. How’d you get into that?

A. My grandfather is a storyteller, and at family gatherings he would get up and recite “Casey at the Bat,’’ “The Girl on the Barroom Floor,’’ just these wonderful poems he knew by heart. So I grew up around that kind of energy. Then it became clear that I had the opportunity here to create my own kind of apprenticeship. Before I started telling stories here, I would watch the other storytellers and think, “I can do that.’’

Q. What did you learn from watching?

A. To really draw upon your personal strengths. For me, I have a strong musical background, and I realized that I can really use that in my storytelling. And I learned you have to become larger than life. You have to fill the space; you can’t be shy. I watched a number who I sort of didn’t want to follow their example — they were too quiet, they weren’t having enough fun.

Q. Any favorite stories?

A. One right now that I’m doing a lot is “The Paper Bag Princess.’’ That one’s great, because at some of our storytelling sites we have an incredible range: babies and toddlers up to 8, 9, 10, 11. To capture all those children’s imaginations is very, very tricky, and this story sort of works. Young children love the drama, and older kids love the story of it.

Q. Are there stories you love that just don’t work?

A. I have definitely told stories where I thought, “OK, I am really off today, or I just read this crowd wrong.’’ And one time I think I really scared them. It was an older group, and they asked for something scary but really didn’t want to be that scared.

Q. How long does it take you to size up a crowd?

A. Part of what I’m sizing up is not just the children but also the adults. Sometimes the children are so excited, but the adults are like “I don’t want to be here,’’ they’re talking on cellphones. I do a lot of audience engagement to get those adults involved. If I don’t win them over, I get distracted and it’s a lot harder. It takes like 10 seconds: I can tell, “Oh, this is going be a lot of hard work,’’ or “This is going to be a breeze.’’

Q. What advice do you have for parents who want to be better storytellers?

A. Parents really need to be reading with their children — and reading good stories. I think the more we read, the more we understand the language of stories, and the more we understand what children are interested in. And, I think, listening to young people. They are natural storytellers. Ask them a question, and they will start telling you about their day.

For the Storymobile schedule, visit Interview was condensed and edited.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at