Storytelling may be a universal human impulse, but styles and forms can vary greatly from culture to culture. In the provinces of China that SILS Associate Professor Brian Sturm visited this summer, tales are generally related through shadow puppets or marionettes, traditions more quiet and reserved than Sturm’s own approach, which employs exaggerated facial expressions and physical gestures, different voices for different characters, and sound effects for meaningful actions.
Audiences – and even one of his translators who repeated not only his words, but also his movements – seemed to embrace the difference, Sturm said, and he hopes the many stops he made during his 27-day visit will inspire professionals in China’s growing number of children’s libraries to introduce more storytelling. “I’d like to have the same impact on China that Marie Shedlock had on American public libraries in the early 1900s – to galvanize interest in public library storytelling,” he said.
A professional storyteller, Sturm is a Frances Carroll McColl Term Professor at SILS, coordinator of the MSLS program, and founder of the literacy outreach initiative Story Squad (storysquad.net). His visit to China grew from his sponsorship of visiting scholar Pianran Wang, a PhD candidate in the Department of Information Resource Management at the Business School of Nankai University in China, who spent a year at SILS researching early literacy skills and children’s book-seeking behavior.
Sturm gave presentations and workshops in seven different cities: Tianjin, Baoding, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Ningbo, Shenzhen, and Zhongshan. In addition to the storytelling performances, he delivered lectures focused on the history and current state of youth librarianship in America. China is in the midst of a library boom, erecting large, modern structures in many cities. Children’s libraries are usually separate structures, rather than spaces within a general public library, and Sturm said parents and children flock to these locations. While the buildings and technology were impressive, Sturm said the libraries he visited were still in the early stages of programming development.
“It was really a wonderful experience,” he said. “I’m hoping it will lead to more collaborative opportunities, especially with Nanking University, which is educating the next generation of librarians there.”