But Bill Harley did it with ease Thursday, and with gasps and squeals and drawls and with twists and surprises and ironies in his story that kept them all at rapt attention.
“He was really descriptive,” said McKenzie Shields, a student at Bountiful Junior High. “You could see it,” she said, of his storytelling. “It makes me want to find more stories to read.”
“He made it fun,” said Maddie Jensen, also of Bountiful Junior High. “It was more than just reading a book,” she said, adding that she loved the unexpected ending to his story of mean brothers and a talking cuckoo bird that almost made it as a Cinderella story except for its many unexpected turns at the end.
Meanwhile, Suzanne Hudson and Julie Barnson were telling animal tales with songs and actions and pictures to pre-schoolers in another room, and other storytellers from across the country shared their talents in music and storytelling with interested audiences around the Davis Conference Center.
The storytellers were gathered for the Weber State Storytelling Festival, now in its 15th year. The festival included events in three venues and performances geared to pre-schoolers as well as school children and seniors.
Harley, who hails from Seekonk, Mass., is an author and a recording artist who has won Grammy awards, done commentary for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and won the Magic Penny Award from the Children’s Music Network.
Now in his third year coming to the Weber State event, he said he loves to see the conference’s emphasis on kids as storytellers.
Besides the professionals who were invited to entertain audiences, student performers selected after competitions in individual schools got a chance to perform before the large crowds as well.
“This provides the children a realistic experience of what it is like to be an artistic performer,” said Ann Ellis, festival organizer. “Studies have shown that children who engage in storytelling tend to have more self-confidence later in life. Many get involved in drama or debate in high school and college. Studies also show it leads to improved reading comprehension.”