Monday, April 16th, 2018...9:21 pmLillian

A Family of Storytellers

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My parents were, well, are, storytellers. Coming from a background of theater, they knew the power of a good story, and what a love for them can encourage. The limits of creativity, imagination, and dreaming no longer exist when there is a story to be told. So, it was important that they fostered this love in me.

Even before I was using real words my mom would tell me stories and even talk with me in gibberish. Our intonation was that of a real conversation, but what came out of our mouths was nothing more than the garble of an infant. My ability to speak as though I was expressing meaning probably came from the amount of reading aloud that my parents did. As they read stories to me from our extensive collection of picture books, I heard they way they changed their voices for different characters, how questions sounded compared to exclamations. Sad sounded different from happy which sounded different from angry, and before I could say words I was beginning to understand what sounds meant in terms of storytelling.

One of the books my mom read to me over and over was a large picture book of animals in alphabetical order. She would open to the large picture of an animal and say the name, going through the book a hundred times at least. And one day I was sitting in my high chair and she had placed the book up on my little table. As my mom was clearing dishes she heard me saying “cow” over and over. Coming over to me, my mom saw that I was actually, in fact, pointing at the picture of the cow. Curious, and admittedly a little shocked, my mom decided to test me. Saying “find my the pig” and other animals, I would flip to the page with that animal and point. Now this book had an Orangutan for O, but my mom really didn’t like it because for must of her life she had thought it was pronounced “Orangutang,” so she’d shown my that page maybe once. As a final test my mom asked me to show her the Orangutan, and, well, I did.

This was the first time I displayed that I was reading anything, even if just pictures to start.


Living in the city I was constantly surrounded by words, on advertisements, street signs, and billboards. As my mom traveled around the city with me she would tell me what the words I was seeing were. And as I starting learning the alphabet at home, I could, with help from my mom, start to piece together what I was seeing and understand them as words.

Before I even entered into pre-Kindergarten I was reading every time I went outside my apartment.


I distinctly remember my mom telling me the story of the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe from memory during our commutes. She did this for years, even though most of my elementary school life. She also took me to the library every day and she would either read to me whatever books I ripped off the shelves just for the sake of touching them or bring me into the weekly read aloud and storytelling hosted by our local NYPL branch. The library quickly became my second home of stories.

During our long car rides to my Grandma’s house in central Pennsylvania, we listened to books on tape that came with an actual copy of the picture book the audio was reading so I would follow along, to the best of my ability, in the back seat.


As soon as I could read words, all I wanted to do was read the stories I’d grown up hearing. So I read quickly and as much as I could. I remember int eh second grade I read every Roald Dahl book in the school library, thoroughly inspired by Matilda, with an ever-changing text of desire that was always a story. To read was to live in a new world for a moment, to let your possibilities expand, and for a young girl with subpar social skills these stories took me in and cared for me in a way that reminded me both of home, but also the potential of my future.

Unsurprisingly, I developed a love of reading and of good storytelling that I rely on to this day.


  •   Professor Seiler
    April 20th, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Lillian–So glad to read this post, and thanks for sharing your memories of your folks and your childhood with us. Given how your parents *voiced* their early reading to you, did you immediately start “hearing” characters’ voices and narrators’ intonations in your head when you started reading on your own?

  • Reading the story of how you learned to read and acquired a love for reading and storytelling is very interesting to me since our backgrounds are so different, but ultimately we both love stories, reading, and the art of storytelling. It sounds like your first experiences with reading and words came from reading out-loud, and the physical intonation of speaking connected with the meaning behind it. For me, I did not speak until much later than my peers, at some point after I turned 3 years old. My mom was also a driving force in my life in terms of my love of reading and words. You also talk about how living in the city influenced you, what with you seeing all of the signs and advertisements around you constantly. I lived in a woodsy, small area in Massachusetts when I was learning to read, and then moved to a small town in Pennsylvania, but I had never really considered how that may have impacted how I saw words and how I interpreted them. I think it is interesting how two people can have a similar love for the same subject but come to that love in very different ways.

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