BLOOMINGTON — Award-winning storyteller Bobby Norfolk kept the rapt attention of youngsters at Bloomington Public Library on Saturday while giving them a lesson in fables, manners and African American culture.
Norfolk spun tales like “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “Anansi the Spider,” but he wove in history and theatrics.
Within five minutes of grabbing the microphone, Norfolk had the room of 75 children and parents giggling and clapping.
“I always had this idea I could take history and enliven it by using story speak. Neuroscientists have found that the human brain is hardwired to experience stories through our five senses,” said Norfolk after the show.
While telling “The Tortoise and the Hare,” Norfolk bounced around on stage, puffing air into the microphone to mimic a speeding rabbit and sticking out his neck to mimic a slow turtle.
“I liked that story best,” said 7-year-old Mishti Gosain of Normal. “It also told a moral that being slow and steady can win the race. He made it funny because he spoke in different voices.”
At one point, Norfolk called the children up front to practice the tongue twister, Peter Piper, which he said helped him overcome stuttering as a child.
His story about a silly arachnid, “Anasi the Spider,” is a folktale from West Africa and the Caribbean.
Norfolk acknowledged that February is Black History Month, but said, “Every month is Black History Month and the first generation of African Americans in this country were not paid to build our nation the way they did. Their culture needs to be learned by children.”
Raven Davidson of Bloomington brought her friend’s daughter, Angel Gomez-Delio, 6; and cousin’s son, TJ Davis, 7, to the performance.
“They had a good time and it was fun to watch them engage. It’s a great way to see our heritage and experience it through storytelling,” said Davidson.
TJ said his favorite part was when Norfolk pretended to fall from a tree and “land on his bottom.”
“He was funny and it was entertaining to me,” said TJ.
Angel said she enjoyed the show because of Norfolk’s acting and that she was able to hear multiple stories in one sitting.
Norfolk said storytelling is more important now than ever because children are "losing their thread of imagination due to overuse of smartphones."
“I hope these children know the power of reading is essential to the progress of our nation. The American library system is the last bastion of true freedom we have,” said Norfolk.
Norfolk received the national Circle of Excellence Oracle Award presented by the National Storytelling Network. He has created more than 10 CDs featuring his storytelling and has authorized several children’s books.