I recently met a woman who I could not resist blogging about! She’s unbelievably talented, has such a cool background, and now she’s sort of famous as “The Storybook Mom,” an engaging, dramatic, entertaining storyteller to young children all over Chicago and beyond.
Her name is Nili Yelin, and how cool is this?? Nili worked at MTV as a script supervisor for their VJ’s. She was also an actress with many roles on shows on MTV. The Northwestern graduate also worked as a stand up comedian in New York, L.A and Chicago for 5 years, and did voiceovers for dozens of commercials in the 90’s. And lastly, I thought this was funny. Nili was the body double for Catherine O’hara in Home Alone 2.
Here’s what she does now. She’s known as “The Storybook Mom,” and she travels around reading books to young children. What makes her unique is her interactive “sit down stand up” style of storytelling. She combines her comedic side, her acting background and her love for children in her readings and it shows!
So, I decided to ask her some questions that were important to me, since I have young kids, and I have such a hard time getting them away from the TV and more into books. Here’s what Nili had to say:
- 1. Why do you enjoy reading to kids?
Kids are the most honest audience you can have–they will respond truthfully and purely–their emotions are so clear–there are no walls to get through so their reactions are strong and real. They also get so excited and passionate about things and when they relate to something they are so thrilled and want to share their joy with you. It is the best!
- 2. Why do you think it’s important to read to young children on a regular basis?
With the way the world moves so quickly these days and everyone is literally wired to electronic devices its nice to have a special time and place to do something simple like read a book with a child. I love words and want to share the power of words with children. Words are active not passive and they open you up to a world bigger than yourself and your surroundings. I really believe every time you read a book you learn something and get smarter. Simple as that….
- 3. What is the biggest satisfaction you get out of reading to kids?
I take so many things for granted and stop seeing the world with fresh eyes and reading to kids gives me back that wonder and awe of discovery. Kids have a way of getting to the basics and also of not stopping their imaginations from taking them anywhere. They don’t censor themselves or have any hidden agendas, except maybe to get a snack or treat. I always reward kids after storytime with hand stamps and stickers because who doesn’t like getting stuff?
- 4. Give me three tips on how to get a child more engaged while reading.
1. Don’t talk down to them. I respect the opinions and feedback I get from kids and as long as it’s not disruptive I welcome their ideas and insights. They often see more than I do in a story and we are equal partners in the experience of reading a book.
2. I ask questions and encourage what they think will “happen next?”…I want them to relate to the story and will ask them about certain things in the story and how it’s similar or different from what they have experienced. I also like to pretend I don’t know something that may be very obvious and it’s so much fun to see them try and get me to understand something that they know–it empowers these little beings to feel big and I love it!
3. Remember to use different vocal inflections, voices, sounds, mix up the pace of the story–reading and listening are not passive things. I begin each storytime with a story stretch and often we do tongue twisters or The ABC’s really fast on one breath or we do the ABC’s backwards (the ZYX’s) so the kids get a feel for word play. I play with words and that is like any other playtime. It helps focus, it’s interactive and we play together with books.
I am so inspired by Nili, and reading these tips (the second one is my favorite) motivates me to read to my kids more! By the way, Nili is a mom herself, and she also teaches the art of storytelling at The Actors Training Center in Wilmette. I could go on and on!!
If you want to learn more about Nili and “The Storybook Mom,” go to: www.storybookmom.com. Nili performs on the first Thursday of every month at the Book Market in Glenview at 10:30 a.m., by the way.