Donald Davis,
A Room of My Own
(August House, 2002)

I have three criteria for determining if a storyteller is worth his or her salt:

First, he or she has to have "the voice." I don't know what else to call it, but I'm sure you know what I mean. There are some folks who just can't get their mouths around words in a way that others can easily understand. They mumble, swallow vowels and fail to articulate consonants like "t" and "d" clearly. Even worse are those who speak in monotone, or whose voices grate like fingernails on a chalkboard. Ouch. By contrast a storyteller with "the voice" obviously enjoys the sounds of words. They roll off his or her tongue with audible pleasure and arrive at your ears complete and sounding full of possibility.

Second, the well-equipped storyteller is personable. He or she exudes charisma and charm. This doesn't necessarily mean being able to change characters on a dime like Robin Williams (though it helps), or even the ability to act. It does mean that the storyteller must find the story fascinating and be able to draw the listener in. Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo may seem saccharin sweet to some, but they owe their long-lived success to their ability to wrap their stories around the hearts of children.

Third, a storyteller who wants to succeed must have good stories to tell. I used to think this was a no-brainer until I heard a few that fell flat on their faces. This was disappointing and embarrassing for all concerned, and to be avoided at all cost. What makes a good story? Two things -- a common human theme that others can relate to, and a new or slightly skewed view of that theme.

Donald Davis, a storyteller with years of experience, credentials up the wazoo (former chairman of the National Storytelling Network), and more than 20 recordings to his name, clearly has the first two requirements down pat. His voice is a delightful mix of Forrest Gump and Gomer Pyle, and you get the distinct impression that there's nothing he'd rather do than sit down and share stories about his childhood with you. My one concern, as I popped his new CD A Room of My Own into my stereo, were the stories themselves. The description on the back of the CD cover said Davis would be telling me about some "little squirt who came along and invaded his space -- his own room."

Now I don't know about you, but I've heard plenty of tales of sibling rivalry, and the one about the older child feeling displaced by the younger is pretty old hat. Therefore I was skeptical, and more than ready to fast-forward to track two, "Talking with the Lights On." It was a pleasant surprise then to have Davis neatly sidestep the take-him-back-to-the-hospital scene. Instead he spontaneously kisses his new brother on the forehead and good-naturedly allows him to use the second twin bed in his room. It's only when Davis turns 13 that things begin to get strained, and then it's with a twist I hadn't expected. Much to the relief of his family he takes a job at a summer camp where a bully teaches him a lesson he'll never forget about the value of family. Good stuff.

The second story on the CD, "Talking with the Lights On," is equally satisfying. It involves a trumpet, a band and a girl who knows how to have a good time. Davis is up to his usual table turning tricks, so expect a story that takes a few detours before bringing you home to Mom and Dad and apple pie.

All in all A Room of My Own is a satisfying and educational dip into boyhood that more than meets my three criteria for storytellers. Recommended for adults as well kids.

- Rambles
written by by Jena Ball
published 10 October 2003

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