Robin Moore’s audience voiced its disapproval with gusto.
“I’ve been writing some love poetry,” he said Monday to a chorus of “no, no” from the Mount Nittany Elementary School students sitting before him.
“Would you like to hear this love story?” he said.
More shouts of “no” erupted.
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“Are you trying to say you’d rather hear a scary story?” he said.
That did it. Off Moore went on another tale, spinning a yarn about four sugar maples that weren’t what they seemed.
Moore, an award-winning professional storyteller from Doylestown and the author of 14 story collections and other books, visited the school to perform shows and lead storytelling workshops. He’s scheduled to make similar appearances at the State College Area School District’s other elementary schools later this year.
For 33 years, Moore has written and presented stories for a living, his profession taking him to six continents. According to his website, he has performed for more than 1 million children — including audiences at about 5,000 school assemblies — and has been named Storyteller of the Year and Author of the Year by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.
His visit continued the school district’s tradition of inviting authors to elementary schools to promote literacy and creativity.
The ancient art of storytelling fits squarely with that goal, said Moore, who holds a master’s degree in oral tradition from The Graduate Institute in Bethany, Conn. He also directs the school’s oral traditions and writing program, which offers courses about incorporating storytelling into classrooms.
“Reading, writing, listening, speaking: Storytelling is the most accessible way to teach those things because they’re all embodied in telling a story,” Moore said.
Sitting on stage, sparking gleeful laughter, he unleashed a full repertoire of animated gestures, animal sounds, silly voices, rubbery faces and comic timing.
But he had his audiences pretty much from his opening words.
“These kids, they’re wired for stories,” he said. “You don’t have to do anything to get them interested in a story. They already have a rich imagination.”
Monday’s visit served as a homecoming for Moore.
Before serving as a combat soldier in the Vietnam War and earning a Penn State journalism degree, he grew up on Main Street in Boalsburg, where his parents made and sold replica frontier and American Indian clothes in their village shop. His Scots-Irish ancestors settled in Centre County more than 200 years ago.
“When I come back to Centre County, I’m really coming back to my roots,” he said.
He brought some of that heritage to Mount Nittany.
There was the storytelling itself, first absorbed from his grandfather’s tales, the inspiration for Moore’s first book, “The Cherry Tree Buck.”
During his presentations, Moore also draped students in garb typical of early Pennsylvanians and local Indian tribes, and explained how deer buckskin is made from rawhide, showing examples of each.
Mount Nittany librarian Dustin Brackbill said Moore’s folksy tales and historical lessons dovetailed with the school’s units on life a century ago, the Revolutionary War and American Indians.
Brackbill knew Moore would be a hit, just from reading his books out loud to students.
“It doesn’t take much for kids to take their imagination and memory and put them together,” Brackbill said.
Ani Garcia, a fourth-grader, enjoyed wearing a rabbit fur coat made by Moore.
“I just wanted to fall asleep in it,” she said.
She also liked Moore’s tale of a lost and tired girl who meets a helpful raven in the woods. In exchange for a magical key, which opens a tree to reveal a comfy bed, the girl agrees to go to an old woman’s house, find a silver ring and rescue the raven’s imprisoned wife.
“It was funny,” Ani said.
Moore’s maple tree story also sported humorous twists, as did his tale of an old man, wishing to marry after a long solitary life, seeking advice about women from a bear, an owl and a wolf.
While recounting the saga of a rabbit being pursued by wild dogs, Moore simulated the running by slapping his thighs. At his urging, his listeners did the same, also repeating the rabbit’s thanks to his various body parts for helping him flee.
“After 30 years, one thing is true,” Moore said after the show. “This essential act of human interaction always works. It never goes out of style.”
He said he grew up with storytelling, only realizing later how special his childhood was. With every tale, he hopes to inspire future raconteurs and perpetuate the art.
“For 30 years, I’ve never worried about this idea of having a legacy, if anybody will remember me,” he said. “I don’t care about that. The kids are the legacy. They’re going to carry it forward.”
Moore left his audiences with an invitation of his own.
He pulled out a clay flute, a souvenir from the Mexican state of Yucatan. Storytellers there, he said, told him the instrument has been part of their tradition for 2,000 years.
“They say the sound of this flute opens the doorway to the imagination,” Moore said.
Then he played a few haunting notes.
“I hope some of the stories I told today open the doorway to your imagination.”