Words come to life in a special way, thanks to Storybooks Alive, a group of volunteers, who put on exciting, no-frills adaptations of children’s favorite literature. In daycares, preschools and elementary schools in the area, a group of nine women—some retired school teachers, others just harbor a deep love for children and literacy—perform their own versions of fairytales for eager kids. Armed with nothing more than minimal costumes, a few props and an abundance of love of performance, these women have been entertaining kids and rekindling their imaginative sparks for five years.
“It brings me such joy to watch the kids get invested in the stories we’re telling,” says Deb Syhre, one of the group’s performers. She’s been with Storybooks Alive for a little over a year and has loved every last moment. “You have some kids, who just sit there and absorb everything, eyes wide … and then you have the kids, who raise their hands and really engage with us,” she says.
Syhre is just one of the nine volunteers, who makes fairytales come alive in the classroom and other settings for children. The women tackle both beloved classics and revamped versions of old favorites, like The Three Little Kittens and Stone Soup. One of Syhre’s favorites is Little Beaver and the Echo, which involves audience members learning all about how echoes work—and trying to generate one for themselves. “That one’s a fun one,” says Syhre. Stories are performed on a rotating basis or by special suggestion from the school or group hosting Storybooks Alive. If one of their repertory works isn’t the right fit, the women will create a performance that will dovetail into any lesson plan.
The person behind these reworked fables is Kristen Hochmuth, who has been with Storybooks Alive since its inception. Being in charge of translating literary classics to kid-friendly stage plays is a task she completely enjoys. “We typically look for stories that have a lot of characters interacting with one another,” Hochmuth says.
Once the right yarn is identified, the women begin working on how to set the tale for the stage. “We all play different parts, wear different costumes,” Syhre says. For the story of Spiderella (a take on Cinderella but all of the characters are insects), Syhre performs in the role of the Prince—who also happens to be a cicada. Sometimes, people transform a bit too much for audience members’ liking. “For the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, we have a big black wig and cloak for the troll under the bridge,” Syhre says. During one performance, a young boy got one look at the troll and decided that he was done watching the show for the rest of the afternoon—or at least until that troll got out of there. “He wasn’t going to come back into that room,” Syhre says, with a laugh.
For anyone hoping their children can catch a performance of Storybooks Alive or who might even want to join the troupe, connect with it at the Maple Grove Community Center, where it meets. “We’re always looking for new places to perform,” Hochmuth says. “It really comes from a love of books and wanting to promote literacy.” She says that she hopes their plays inspire kids to pick up a book of their own and get to reading. “If we can encourage kids to use take the imaginations that they’re using while seeing us and get them to read, we’ve done our jobs,” she says.
Maple Grove Community Center
12951 Weaver Lake Rd, Maple Grove