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FOR KIDS : Books That Inspire the Telling of Tales

August 11, 1995|HEATHER W. MORGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Heather W. Morgan writes regularly for The Times

TARZANA — Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived alone in the forest except for the animals who roamed about to keep her company. Now this young princess loved to make up stories, but there was no one to listen or help share ideas with her.

So the princess used her magic powers to transform the silent creatures into storytellers, too. And from that day on, there were music and laughter and wonder stories being told, and the princess lived happily ever after.

*

For Gloria Evangelista life is a story--a wonderful melange of words and magic that never ends.

In her years as a free-lance writer, mother and children's instructor, she said she noticed a sad truth about creative writing: that it was almost nonexistent in school-age children. Evangelista, a Westlake Village resident and mother of two, was determined not to let this happen to her children.

And yet, as she worked in her home office, she observed the opposite reaction from her then 3- and 4-year-olds, who sat beside her working at their desks. With the slightest encouragement, they loved making up stories.

"They were full of creations," Evangelista said. "They were fresh and imaginative."

Because of their ages, Evangelista had them dictate their stories, then color corresponding pictures.

The greatest stumbling block for her preschoolers was that sometimes they'd have trouble giving details.

"Kids, especially young ones, don't understand that we cannot see into their minds," she said. "If they say, 'It's a monster,' they won't elaborate that it's bigger than a house, with one huge eye in the middle of the forehead, with green skin, unless you pull it out of them.

"Finding the details just takes time, and lots of practice."

Evangelista set out to find books that would help her children create their own stories. She found nothing that she liked. So she developed her own.

"Step Into Storytelling" is Evangelista's creative writing tool, designed to promote literacy, self-confidence and fun for children 3 to 12. There are two titles available, "Castles" and "Dinosaurs." Each book has an illustrated hard cover, a title and dedication page, several story starter sentences, blank pages, stickers and 10 "steps" or questions to help parents assist children and keep the creative juices flowing.

Evangelista will offer a workshop Saturday at Pages Books. The workshop group will create its own story.

"It's really quite magical to watch," said Janice Kent, the community relations coordinator at Barnes & Noble in Northridge, where Evangelista gave a similar workshop in May. "It's fascinating to watch how she draws the kids out and into a story world all their own."

In a group, Evangelista's props consist of a white dry-erase board, a few simple sentence ideas and lots of charm.

"To be honest, it started out weak, with the kids being pretty hesitant to open up," said Kent. "I was a little nervous that it wouldn't go over, but Gloria really has a way with kids. She was able to get them thinking and creating, and before I knew it, they were actually making up a really wonderful story.

"It was interesting to see the ones with less confidence swell with pride as they took part in the process. You could see them blossom."

Another intriguing aspect of the workshop atmosphere, said Kent, was that the older children were more aggressive in providing the ideas, while the younger ones added the details. "It was a real group effort," she said.

And it's the effort that Evangelista finds important. In fact, while older children will create more elaborate stories, she maintains that parents shouldn't overemphasize grammar, punctuation and mechanics. Instead, she wants kids to be exposed to what she calls "active thinking" to spark their creativity.

"When it was all over, the most wonderful part was the kids' reactions," Kent said. "They wanted to get home and start writing new stories."

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WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Step Into Storytelling" workshop with Gloria Evangelista.

Location: Pages Books for Children and Young Adults, 18399 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana.

Hours: 11 a.m. Saturday.

Price: $3 registration, which may be applied to the purchase of any "Step Into Storytelling" book.

Call: (818) 342-6657.

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