Just hearing the words story time often triggers the most pleasant of childhood memories–our own, or those we’ve been privileged to share with youngsters we treasure.
On Saturday, November 19, a masterful, award- winning storyteller brings memorable tales along with her remarkable talent, to the Tell Me More series at Talbot County Free Library in Easton. The program is presented by The Library and Carpe Diem Arts.
Baum’s visit, free and open to the public, begins at 10 a.m. at the Library, located at 100 West Dover Street.
With her renowned performance style, Baum will share an animated telling of her latest book, How the Birds Became Friends (Familius, September 2021), an updated take on a traditional Burmese folktale, illustrated by artist and ecologist Zev Labinger.
As the story opens, a vexing problem is plaguing the local avian world:
“Long ago when the world was very young, the birds did not get along.
They were always fighting about who was better.
Beaks pecking! Feathers flying!”
Not traditionally considered a child’s tale, it has long been a favorite among the many folklore stories Baum has collected over the years, offering compelling answers to solving difficult problems, especially the dilemma of achieving peaceful, productive coexistence.
Originally featuring a pheasant, Baum chose to make the unassuming hero of her story a somewhat more familiar feathered figure, a quail.
Though meek and mild, tiny Quail somehow finds a way to not only survive the dysfunctionally sour notes of nonstop disharmony within the community it calls home, but to resolve the seemingly never ending squabbling with an “outside the box” answer, one leading to friendship.
When one of the most notorious troublemakers, Crow, begins badgering Quail about how much better he is, instead of arguing back, Quail not only agrees, but compliments Crow in the process. Initially taken aback, Crow begins to see Quail in a whole new light. Their budding friendship at first confounds, then amazes the other birds, who learn a remarkable lesson.
What Baum especially loves about the story is the way tiny Quail, seemingly imprisoned within a never ending cycle of strife, manages to transcend and break the harmful pattern through a gesture of simple kindness.
Those initial feelings of being helpless and powerless in the face of insurmountable problems– a situation children especially can relate to–is one that many adults in today’s world will also recognize, Baum observed.
Those were among the same emotions Baum herself experienced during her own formative childhood in Jerusalem during the 1950s and 60s, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the ongoing Jewish-Palestinian conflict.
Moving to the U.S. in 1990 with her American born husband, that personal history was unexpectedly enriched after forming her own surprising friendship with another mom who happened to be Palestinian, also raised in Jerusalem.
She had never known what it was like to experience the time and place forming the foundation of her own history from anything other than her own Jewish perspective. Baum’s caring, coupled with an innate curiosity, eventually drove her to ask her friend questions about the specifics of her own story.
The two embarked on a transformative dialogue, discussing the very human details and emotions pervading their respective stories. The enlightening exchange was not fully devoid of conflict, at times. But the two women decided to keep on talking, and learning, from each other.
That remarkable story sharing experience became the basis for Baum’s one woman show and book, A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace (Familius, June 7, 2016).
The book’s description on Amazon.com provides this capsule account:
“A Land Twice Promised delves into the heart of one of the world’s most enduring and complex conflicts. Baum’s deeply personal memoir recounts her journey from girlhood in post-Holocaust Israel to her adult encounter with “the other.” With honesty, compassion, and humor, she captures the drama of a nation at war and her discovery of humanity in the enemy.
Winner of the 2017 Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award, among others, this compelling memoir demonstrates the transformative power of art and challenges each reader to take the first step toward peace.”
The book and show also propelled Baum forward into her current life path, blazing a fulfilling career as a performing artist cultivating the time honored art of storytelling, with the underlying purpose of overcoming conflict through mutual understanding.
Inheriting her mother’s gift for performance, Baum Initially pursued an acting career, which had been her mother’s unfulfilled dream, but became deflated at not achieving success. Still, she found ways to apply her performance skills within whatever opportunities arose.
The financially struggling theater group she was with had taken to offering story sessions to bring in additional income. But instead of simply memorizing or reading the story, as others did, Baum brought them to life, turning the experience into a mini theatrical performance.
Later, taking a part-time job with an after school program in a disadvantaged part of Tel Aviv, she drew on those skills to help reach the sometimes challenging youngsters. “I had a big bag of scarves and would get the kids involved in acting out the stories,” Baum recalled.
The strategy worked, especially for one notoriously difficult and combative girl. By the story’s end, she had completely settled down, becoming transfixed with the idea of becoming a princess. Looking back, Baum realizes that the experience impressed on her how powerfully transformative storytelling could be.
Now a dedicated student as well as teacher of the art, Baum attends workshops worldwide and conducts her own course for aspiring storytellers coming from an array of fields and backgrounds. She’s also developed training sessions for therapists, educators, and industry.
Following Baum’s presentation of How the Birds Became Friends, copies of the book will be available to for signing, and refreshments and to-go crafts will be offered, as well.
For more information, call Talbot County Public Library at 410-822-1626, or visit http://www.tcfl.org. This event is supported in part by Talbot Arts (talbotarts.org) with revenues provided by the Maryland State Arts Council (msac.org).
Debra Messick is a retired Dorchester County Public Library associate and lifelong freelance writer. A transplanted native Philadelphian, she has enjoyed residing in Cambridge MD since 1995.