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Tell Me a Story

Organized readings for children at libraries, bookstores and museums are growing in popularity, and give Mom and Dad a breather.


Los Angeles is a city of a million stories--unnerving tales of transient hat-wearing felines, cliffhangers about civilizations faced with mass destruction, and Dali-esque vignettes describing creatures from the gilded rim of imagination. And that's just Dr. Seuss. There's also the Miss Spider oeuvre, that dirty dog Harry, the world of Maurice Sendak, and "Goodnight Moon" and Beatrix Potter and, and, and--it's a small world but you'd hate to have to illustrate it.

For every one of these books there's a kid who wants to hear it. Again. And again. And again. There are 2 million kids in Los Angeles County. Perhaps one or several of them are yours. Perhaps you love reading to your child but have developed a sudden case of laryngitis. Perhaps you think it would be stimulating for your tot to be among peers, to experience story hour in a group setting.

Or perhaps you absolutely have got to get out of this house and you mean now and furthermore if you have to read "Guess How Much I Love You?" one more time, well, that screeching edge in your voice might be sending a few mixed messages, mightn't it?

Fortunately, this weekend is the Los Angeles Times Book Festival at UCLA, where a panoply of readings and storytelling will occupy three stages all day Saturday and Sunday. Highlights include author David Kirk ("Nova's Ark"), actress-author Jane Seymour ("Yumi!" and "Splat!"), actor-author Dom DeLuise ("Eat This Too: It'll Also Make You Feel Better"), singer-author Jose-Luis Orozco ("De Colores") and country music star/author Naomi Judd ("Love Can Build a Bridge"), who will read their own works, and official Pooh actor Peter Dennis, who will read from A.A. Milne. For preteens and teens, R.L. Stine of "Goosebumps" fame, Dodger and Galaxy players and other cool folk will read and sign and chat on the Etc. Stage.

The Book Festival may be an annual event, but at any given time, on any given day, there are story hours all over the city. Hear that gentle hum in the air? That's not the freeway, that's a hundred cheerful staff members, at your local library, bookstore or museum, entertaining a group of rapt children that could, with minimal effort, include your own.

The library is the obvious place to start--in Los Angeles, the children's staffs are not so much librarians as literacy warriors. Entering the magical muraled world of the children's room at the Central Library, one is made aware of the Grandparents and Books Program, the Read to Me L.A. program as well as the weekly storytelling hour, held in the KLOS Story Theater Saturdays at 2 p.m. (and occasionally in the Mark Taper Auditorium, same day, same time).

On one recent Saturday, all 40 of the kid-sized seats were taken well before 2, and kids of all ages and varying degrees of high spirits bounced cross-legged on the floor, filling the room all the way to the gorgeously colorful ceiling with exclamatory babble. But when storyteller Michael Katz launched into his first tale, that of Joseph the Tailor, silence reigned (except for regular bursts of called-upon audience participation).

Katz, a versatile performer and wonderful storyteller, made sure the kids knew, at the end of each story, that it could be found in a book. That they could read it themselves, or have their parents read it to them, from a book. That there were many other wonderful books right here in this very library. Point taken.


Libraries Aren't the Only Game in Town

Although the Central Library is the jewel in the crown, most other branches have a story hour or two. Consider these, for example: Eagle Rock has a pajama story time at 7 p.m. on Mondays; El Sereno has preschool storytelling at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays; Pio Pico-Koreatown has family story time at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays; Westchester at 10:30 a.m. on Fridays. For more information, you can either call your local library or pick up a schedule of library events from any branch.

The library, however, is by no means the only game in town. L.A.'s bookstore boom has length ened the children's hour into a 24-hour opportunity. Add to that the number of struggling actors in town, many with the requisite background in children's theater, and you've got a lot of really great performance-lit. Local children's bookstores offer a wide range of events--from cozy staff readings to full-on celebrity signings and art blowouts.

At Pages Books for Children and Young Adults in Tarzana, the offerings are so prolific you might want to call first: On the first and third Wednesdays of the month there are story hours for 2- and 3-year-olds; on the first Saturday, Tales and Tunes for 2- to 5-year-olds; on the remaining Saturdays is story hour for 3- to 8-year-olds and there is often a special event thrown in, so you see why calling would be wise.

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