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Bradley Hilltopics

Winter 2007 • Volume 13, Issue 1

'Tale' spinning

Leanne JohnsonA Celtic harp, a slide whistle, and a paper hat are tools of the trade for Leanne Johnson ’82 of Byron, Illinois, whose dream job is storytelling. Johnson, a music major at Bradley, stumbled upon a job in a children’s library after graduation and from there, decided to pursue a master’s degree in library and information sciences. She eventually began storytelling at her library and through word of mouth, started getting requests from other venues. Eventually, she decided to leave behind the administrative work as assistant director of the library and concentrate on storytelling.

“It was a little scary going from a steady paycheck to knowing maybe I won’t work in August,” Johnson says, but she doesn’t regret the decision.

“I try to balance music and movement in my storytelling,” she says. She picks up a Celtic harp and tells the Chinese story of “The Magic Fish.” She says, “The story involves the children, asking them to sing along and add ideas for the story.”

In addition to stimulating imagination, Johnson encourages movement and leads children in a game using a slide whistle—one of many ways Johnson’s interest in music is woven into her stories. “You have to tell your own story. Finding your own style is important.” She says, “I love playing different kinds of music. I also have an Irish drum, a tin whistle, and a Cherokee rattle. The children get some exposure to these instruments, so they know they’re out there.”

Johnson enjoys “being in the story—that moment I know the audience is hooked in the story. They’re not seeing me; they’re seeing the characters in the story. The story has taken them some place.”

She has 30 shows targeting everyone from preschoolers to adults and creates new shows each year for library reading programs and to coincide with school curricula. Johnson says, “I’m always reading, always researching new stories. I have a huge collection of storytelling books, and I meet with a group of storytellers once a month to critique each other’s work.”

Asked what makes hers a dream job, Johnson says, “It seems glamorous, and really, it is. It gives me a huge adrenalin rush, and sometimes I think, ‘I get paid for this?’”

Visit storytelling.org/Leanne/ for more information.