Storyteller Molly McEvoy enlivens the written word for young children Talent developed as her family grew

September 21, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Three children turned an intensive care nurse into a spellbinding storyteller.

"I had children," said Mary Eleanor "Molly" McEvoy, when she was asked how she made the transition from a fast-paced medical career to the relaxed woman seated before an audience of young listeners at Piney Run Nature Center.

"I looked at my first baby and wondered what to do. I started telling him stories."

The first baby, now 8, still listens to his mother's stories and often retells them to his younger siblings.

"My children might get a little tired, when I am practicing a new story," she said. "They always ask me to do one at family get-togethers."

The 37-year-old mother who soothed her own toddlers with fanciful tales now invites children as young as 18 months into "Storytime with Molly and Me" at Piney Run each month.

She uses few gestures, allowing her lively green eyes and soft cadence to draw listeners into the rhythm of the words.

At Eldersburg Elementary, she has been entertaining first-graders with fiction -- her own and that of popular children's authors -- since her son William was in the class three years ago.

"The children love it," said Mary Katsafanas, a first-grade teacher. "They are spellbound by the wonderful tales."

Ms. Katsafanas said children need to hear the oral language and the progression of the story.

"It all leads to a love of reading," she said.

Ms. McEvoy calls storytelling "an art form rich in tradition and history."

She said she would like to study the art further and possibly earn a master's degree in oral history and folk tales.

"For centuries, people have been sitting around campfires telling stories to keep the demons away," she said.

For a lover of books, storytelling is second nature, she said.

"Stories have been a big part of my life," she said. "My dad always told me wonderful stories. They were as much a part of bedtime as pajamas."

Her father created "a huge raft of animal characters" to populate those stories.

She regrets she never wrote them down, she said. But she remembers the most colorful, like Tennessee Toad, and weaves them into her own stories.

About five years ago, her neighbor, Melinda Byrd -- now administrator of the county Office of Interpretation and Conservation -- invited her to tell stories for the children who came to Piney Run.

Ms. McEvoy tailored her stories to the 2-year-olds, who came with mothers, as well as younger and older siblings. That age group, too young for the library story hours, had little experience with formal storytelling.

"I picked stories for the 2's and the rest were on their own," she said. "I usually choose picture books because the youngest children like to have something they can see."

The tales "snowballed from there," she said.

Now, her stories are classroom and birthday party favorites for children up to about age 10. She charges no fee.

Although she has declined to publish her works, she writes short stories for her children's friends.

"Children just like stories, and they get a kick that someone is taking the time with them," she said. "I can always tell the difference between children who have been read to and those who have not."

She and her husband, Dr. Michael McEvoy, a Westminster physician, limit television in their Berrett home and schedule "reading time."

"Oops, I haven't read yet," said William, before his mother could reply to his request to watch an afternoon cartoon show.

William spends half an hour daily with books of his choice. Andy, 6, is trying to read along with tapes.

The youngest McEvoy, 4-year-old Maggie, thumbs through a picture book and makes up stories, often "reading" to the family pet.

During the summer, the family "really got into Greek mythology" -- with the help of a children's version of Homer's Iliad -- and spent time discussing ancient battles and characters.

"If I don't require, they won't acquire," she said of instilling reading habits. "Turn off the TV and read to them from the earliest age."

The McEvoy home is decorated with hundreds of books. Every room has shelves stacked with volumes of fiction, references, travelogues and cookbooks.

In the library, Ms. McEvoy sits comfortably in a wing chair with a reading lamp against floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Here, she tunes out the world and delves into a favorite book.

Three children, three dogs and two cats do little to disrupt her concentration.

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