The tradition of oral story-telling was prevalent for centuries in various parts of the world before gradually being replaced by prints and books. Even though it is still an important aspect of social life in some parts of the world, these days, in most places, story-telling is mostly directed at children tucked in their bed waiting with gleaming eyes to listen to their favorite story before drifting off to sleep.
Yasmina Fadl, a former pre-school teacher, is gathering two groups of children, once a week, for a couple of hours to listen to stories about princesses, dinosaurs and lady-bugs. In the vast brightly-lit room, the children are invited to sit on upholstered mats while dozens of plastic animals are scattered all over the grass-like carpet, at their feet.
After religiously placing their bottles of water in a nearby basin, they turn their attention to Yasmine, who is wearing a red lady-bug cushion spotted with unmistakable polka dots strapped to her back. “Today, we will discover the story of “The Bad-tempered Lady-bug!” she exclaims in a clear and cheerful tone, waving the little book with a giant lady-bug on the front cover. The excitement of the under aged audience is palpable, with some of the children already on their feet, eager to share their previous knowledge of the story. “There is a sweet lady-bug, she flies on leaf filled with little bugs to eat for her breakfast!” yells an adorable little boy with blond curls, instantly sparking unbelievable activity in the previously quiet crowd.
Calming this dynamic group of story lovers is not as easy an undertaking as one might imagine. Managing to direct their flickering attention back to the story, Yasmine turns the pages, explaining each character in depth and pointing out the variety of animals the lady-bug encounters on its highly perilous journey. The children participate by naming the animals, which according to Yasmine is an excellent way of improving their vocabulary and inspiring their imagination.
Yasmine works hand in hand with artist Shahedane Heshmat, who produces the art work for each session related to the story of the day. Sitting on a tiny children’s chair in the art corner of the room, she writes the names of all the children on wooden shapes that will be later decorated with colored paper in the shape of a lady-bug. Armed with glue sticks and cotton swabs dipped in black paint to provide the lady-bug with her essential polka dots, the children fall quiet for a quite remarkable length of time, working with concentrated dedication on their bookmarkers. “The kids leave each class with a little piece of art work they have made,” explains Yasmine, who celebrates this momentary lull by swallowing a sip of water.
Yasmine started story-telling four years ago in her grandmother’s living room in Maadi with a handful of the children of friends. “I used my grandmother’s apartment because of its Maadi location, as most of the children who attend the story-telling sessions are in schools in the neighborhood.” She was later offered what she describes as “a rather primitive area in a corner” by the manager of the Art Café for her story telling, as she explains with a wide smile, an area which gradually expanded to reach its current more comfortable space. “Story-telling is a tradition that dates back centuries, and I am very proud to instill in these children love and respect for books,” she says happily.
Art Café: 62, Road 13, Maadi
Sessions for kids between 3 and 4 years old: Tuesdays at 3
Sessions for kids between 5 and 6 years old: Tuesdays at 5