ST. CHARLES – The stage was set with children's books and stacks of props – animal heads, aprons and characters on signs – all part of what professional storyteller Paddy Lynn calls storyacting, the combination of storytelling and acting.
Lynn led a group of two dozen children through four well-known classics Saturday in a program at the St. Charles Public Library.
Children played the parts of foxes, wolves, mice and bear cubs in "Two Bear Cubs: A Miwok Legend from California's Yosemite Valley" by Robert D. San Souci.
They played vegetables and other ingredients for author Ann McGovern's "Stone Soup," as well as a variety of woodland creatures for "The Mitten" by Jan Brett. They filled out the cast of characters for "Gingerbread Girl" by Lisa Campbell Ernst, where the long-ago-eaten Gingerbread Boy's younger sister outsmarts the fox.
In explaining her program, Lynn said she loved reading stories as a kid, but wanted to "get inside the book."
"I wanted to be the characters inside the book," Lynn said.
And so she combined storytelling with theater in each tale as children wore the ears of mice or rabbits, aprons of onions and carrots or held masks on sticks and roared like bears or oinked like pigs.
As parts of each story developed, the children and parents in the audience were included in madcap sound effects from blowing snow in a blizzard to bubbling soup on a stove to stomping their feet for knocks on a door.
The program is 14th in a twice-a-year series that was established by the William Russell family in memory of Karen G. Russell and continues with a grant from the Illinois State Library.
Larry Flachmeyer, whose mother-in-law was Karen Russell, said he was gratified to see the program as fulfilling her memory. Flachmeyer's own children, William, 12 and Edie, 10, were among the participants.
"I'm delighted that it continues," Flachmeyer said. "We've been to each and every one of them. This one was very engaging. The kids loved it."
Lynn said she hoped the children come away with a desire to pick up the featured books and read them, an appreciation for acting and for public speaking.
"I hope … every time they are on stage, they have another opportunity to feel they are comfortable in front of the audience," Lynn said. "Every opportunity they have to do that, I think, is a good one."