“There was an old lady who swallowed a cat
Well fancy that, she swallowed a cat”
Only half the kids caught the burp from storyteller Kathy Storfer as read from the popular children’s book at The Bedford Hills Free Library but all the parents did and everyone ended up laughing anyway. If you’d like to see her in action, pay a visit to the library every Friday at 4PM to see her work her magic. Don’t forget to bring the kids, though.
Ms. Storfer or “Story time,” as some of her kids call her, has been at this game for quite awhile and that dates back further than her first appearance at the library in 1988. As a five year old, at a neighborhood party, she found herself alone in a room with a bunch of rowdy kids. She took it upon herself to quiet things down by acting out scenes from the Wizard of Oz.
A nice beginning even though when her parents came in the room they looked at her, she says, “like I was some creature off Mars.” So it shouldn’t have surprised them when she became a self-described “theatre queen” in high school. Looking back fondly on the time, she says the drama kids were easily the most interesting kids in the school – not to mention being a bunch of “sick puppies.”
Maybe that’s why her approach to “Double Trouble in Walla Walla,” can placate an audience that, she says, “will practically punch each other out, if they get bored.” In reading a rather difficult page of dialogue, she turns her back to the toddlers, raises the book over her head and rotates to conform to words that form three concentric circles.
The result : parents can’t hold back the tears while the children laugh with joy as she reels off the words, “Fuzzy-wuzzy, fuddy-duddy, loosey-goosey, lovey-dovey, kissy-kissy, huggy-huggy, rink-a-dink-a-doo… rick-rack, eager-beaver, lucky ducky, comfy-domfy fat cat.”
Quite a mouthful but she views her work as more than just fun and games. “All language and every dialect has its own rhythm,” she says, “you can hear children mimicking it when they don’t have words yet. And if they don’t understand rhythm within reading, they become the kind of reader who halts and stops and doesn’t understand the flow.”
Sounds very impressive, but she practices what she preaches by putting her science where her mouth is. In reading Dr Suess’s, “Horton Lays an Egg,” she goes beyond the natural rhythm of the words by alternating the pitches and tones of the various characters. The words almost take on the form of a melody, as the calming effect seems to make the room sway like the Titanic.
Only an iceberg cannot be found anywhere in her act, but the shipping lanes have not led her directly to this destination. She certainly didn’t study Special Education for the Hearing Impaired to prepare her for fairy tail tongue twisters, speaking in Texas drawl or precision burping, but for a career which she never pursued, it had its worth. “The deaf have very strained voices,” she says, “and if I could create what they did with their voice, I could teach them how not to do it.”
After she finished college in 1979, she went on to work with a public relations firm called Kalmus in which she spent a significant amount of time with Bob Hope and the various sports organizations he was involved with. She also spent eight months in London on a project to rebuild Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Contact with the likes of Armand Hammer, Gordon Getty and actor Sam Wanamaker seemed not to faze her, but it did mean more experience towards her future unbeknownst career.
“Public relations is storytelling,” she says, “because you’re trying to get someone interested in your story, your client, your product.” Although due to the pressure that the on-call nature of the business put on her family, she left the field in 1986. She then spent six years working with the New York Renaissance Fair and Books of Wonder until the birth of her second son.
Despite the experience that paved the way to this life, storytelling wasn’t as easy for her as it might seem, and it turns out that Madison Avenue pressure actually pales in comparison to reading for tots. “It’s harder with children, because they are more demanding, their attention span is less and if you’re not on top of it, they’re lost, you’re done.”
The first time she filled in for the previous storyteller at the library, she wasn’t nervous, she was terrified. “I was pulling out all the major big tricks,” she says, but eventually she grew naturally into the position.
She still gets nervous but for someone who spends so much time with children’s books, has she ever written one of her own? She’s written two but has not been able to get an agent. She easily shakes that off with a philosophy that’s done her well so far. “All anyone ever really needs in this life is a kind word and a cookie,” she says, “and if they get the kind word, they’ll probably forget about the cookie.” And she’s certainly up to her neck in kind words.
Rich Monetti coverage of Kathy Storfer at The Bedford Hills Free Library
Rich Monetti interview of Kathy Storfer