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HEYWORTH - Teaching kids and keeping them entertained may seem like two separate activities.

For Brian "Fox" Ellis, it's his modus operandi.

Ellis is a professional storyteller who visited Heyworth Elementary to introduce students to the art of storytelling and to conduct young author workshops.

Ellis's presentations are tailored to lessons the school requests, or that tie with each class's current studies.

"The theme for this presentation is problem solving and conflict resolution in a non-violent way," said Ellis. "I want them to be good problem solvers. Aesop's Fables are good for that."

A group of kindergarteners through second-graders heard the fable of a frog who saw a "big, ugly, hideous, I-don't-know-what-it-was."

The frog runs to tell his father, who says not to worry because he is the biggest frog in the swamp. Frog's father tries to demonstrate until he puffs himself up so big he explodes.

The moral of the story?

"Don't try to be bigger than you are," Ellis said.

Ellis is based in Peoria but has traveled the world over. In addition to the many school workshops he presents, Ellis told stories at a festival in Italy, given presentations on ecological issues for environmental groups, and regularly appears on the Spirit of Peoria, an Illinois River-based paddleboat, telling tales of the river and its history.

"I stumbled blindly into storytelling as a profession," Ellis said. "I loved theater in school, and worked at summer camps where everyone sits around the fire and tells stories. One thing led to another, and now it's been my job for 25 years."

Sheri Strohl, a spokeswoman for the school's parents' group, said the group typically budgets about $3,000 per school year to provide assemblies for the elementary school. "We try to coordinate the assemblies with our curriculum and entertain the students, too," Strohl explained.

Strohl heard about Ellis from Nicole Schaefbauer, the associate executive director of the Illinois Elementary School Association.

"After speaking with Mr. Bradshaw (Heyworth principal) and Mrs. Nicewonger (librarian for the district), we thought it would be a good idea to bring him in to kick off our Young Author program," said Strohl.

In addition to the sessions with the students, Ellis also conducted a teachers' workshop.


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