Young storyteller to take the stage

Posted: Thursday, March 02, 2000

All kids love to tell stories, but for Anna-Noel Sonnenschein, a 9-year-old from Anchorage, spinning a good yarn is becoming a career.

In the last year, Anna-Noel won the National Youth Storytelling Olympics in Johnson City, Tenn., and performed at the Alaska State Fair for the third time. In her hometown, she shared the stage with adult storytellers at Tellebration and told scary stories on the radio. She also entertained children and their parents at local Barnes and Nobles and Borders bookstores. Competing against adults, she won a blue ribbon for storytelling at Anchorage Fur Rendezvous this year.

At 7 p.m. tonight, Anna-Noel shares some of her stories at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library.

``The best thing I like about telling stories is when people laugh or when I tell a scary story and people go `oooh','' said Anna-Noel, who has been a professional storyteller for the past three years.

Winning a scary story contest in 1995 inspired her to hone her skills as a storyteller. The prize for that contest was a ticket to see two nationally known storytellers, who became her role models.

Three years later, she entered the National Storytellers Youth Olympics and came in third. Last year she won the top award for her age group.

``She has an auditory gift. She can listen to a story and just pick it up almost word for word in a very short time,'' said Anna-Noel's mother, Skookums Sonnenschein. ``I think she gets it from her grandfather, who has a great mind for jokes, song lines and numbers.''

For Anna-Noel's performances, the third-grader requests material from adult storytellers via her mother. After permission is granted to tell the tale, Anna-Noel gets to work memorizing the story and making it her own.

``She brings her own animation and little twists to the stories,'' Sonnenschein said. ``She lives very much in her imagination.''

Most of Anna-Noel's tales are around seven minutes long but there are several yarns in her large repertoire that can take more than 15 minutes. Her favorites are the stories that keep her listeners at the edge of their seat, have an element of surprise, feature animals and are laugh-out-loud funny, Sonnenschein said.

Although most of Anna-Noel's professional engagements last about 40 minutes, one of her favorite gigs is entertaining kindergarten classes in Anchorage with her shorter stories.

``I really like telling stories to kids in kindergarten up to the third grade,'' said Anna-Noel, who visits a different classroom every week. ``They're the ones who laugh the most.''

Besides telling tall tales, Anna-Noel was recently the heroine of a story of her own.

While bicycling around her neighborhood, the young storyteller heard cries for help from a burning building. The cries came from a woman, who Anna-Noel later found out was deaf.

``She raced home and had me call 911. Thankfully, the woman was saved,'' Sonnenschein said.

For her role in the rescue of the woman, the mayor of Anchorage gave Anna-Noel the fire department's life-saving award.

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