Photo By: Courtesy of The Harker School
Once upon a time, there was a kind-hearted woman with a sparkle in her eyes who imagined the world as a place where storytelling inspired creativity, connected communities and mobilized world peace – or at least more cultural connections.
Although Enid Davis’ effervescent personality seems larger than real life, she’s not living in a fairy tale. She lives in Los Altos.
As a lifelong bibliophile turned librarian, Davis has transformed the lives of many local youth through the power of oral storytelling for more than 36 years – first as a children’s librarian at the Los Altos Library and most recently as a librarian at The Harker School.
Davis said she’s received much more in return for her work than she’s given, and in the wake of her recent retirement, she launched Story Friends – a personal initiative to teach educators and parents about storytelling.
“Unless you see (storytelling) in action, you can’t realize its impact,” she said.
With this in mind, Davis wants to perpetuate the tradition of oral storytelling by offering free workshops in Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. She plans to begin teaching workshops and visiting schools to showcase storytelling as early as next month.
“I feel like Don Quixote fighting windmills,” she said. “But children need this.”
Storytelling in a digital age
Although Davis said that her grandchildren are like many others – cellphones glued to ears, expecting instant gratification – when she stares into their eyes to tell a story, they step into a different world. Stories, she said, captivate their attention and make a memorable impression. Even if the story lasts only a few minutes, the impact may linger in their memory and affect their life skills much longer.
While at The Harker School, Davis seamlessly incorporated storytelling into the library curriculum through creative initiatives like the Ogre Awards – an annual event that gives students the opportunity to re-enact excerpts from their favorite fairy tales in library books. Celebrating its 16th year in 2012, the tradition makes a profound impact on the lives of participating youth. Davis said the school’s teachers noted improvements in writing skills and classroom behavior, and parents were jubilant about their children’s enthusiasm for the program.
In addition to cultivating life skills and an interest in reading through storytelling and the teaching of creative dramatics, Davis believes that important cultural and emotional skills can be learned through the mediums. Allusions to fairy tales, fables and folk tales are everywhere – from literature to commercial advertising – even in political discourse. Without the interference of controversy and politics, she said, traditional stories emphasize universal human characteristics and struggles.
Davis uses the example of sharing a scary story to illustrate how children can learn valuable life skills while sheltered within the safe environment of a story circle.
Despite a scary plot line, children overcome fear together to reach the fairy tale’s happy ending. By knowing that there can be a positive outcome, Davis believes that youth can become better prepared to battle real-life obstacles and insecurities.
“Children are comforted knowing that they can overcome their dragons,” she said.
As the next chapter in Davis’ life story begins, she hopes to convince people to make time for storytelling – one workshop at a time.