She had a first name. She really did.
But not many people addressed Louise Fann that way in public. That would have blown her cover.
And anyway, all those kids wouldn’t have known who those people were talking about.
She was, and forever will be, known as “The Story Lady” to a generation of children who frequented the former Manchester Branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library way back in the day.
Mrs. Fann, who worked as the assistant librarian there from 1962-82, passed away recently. She was 92, but to those Manchester kids, she was much younger. In fact, she never aged. You might say she had the veritable Fountain of Youth on her side.
A lot of things have changed over the years, especially at libraries, but one thing that has remained the same – and likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future – is the desire of children to have an adult read stories to them. In fact, the Portage Lakes Branch Library, which replaced the Manchester Library long ago, still offers story time because there is such a demand for it.
And Mrs. Fann, who had three boys of her own, was only too willing to do it – for two decades.
It takes special people to be storytellers to children. They must go slowly and carefully, annunciating the words clearly so they can be heard and understood, and they have to put just the right inflection on all the words so the storyline can come to life.
When the wolf speaks with an ominous growl, the storyteller must make it sound that way.
When the horse speaks while laughing uproariously, the storyteller must make it sound that way.
When the lamb speaks with shyness, the storyteller must make it sound that way.
When the farmer speaks slowly and cautiously with a country twang, the storyteller must make it sound that way.
And because pictures are worth 1,000 words, particularly to kids because their life experiences are so limited, the storyteller must be patient enough to stop from time to time and turn the book around so they can actually see the story playing out before their eyes. Seeing is believing.
Mrs. Fann – er, whoops, The Story Lady – could … well, write a how-to book about all that.
What should be pointed out, too, is the fact that while she read all of those stories hundreds of times, she always made it sound special – as if it she was also hearing that specific one for the first time.
That’s what great performers do. Each presentation is opening night, with a different audience that has never seen the show before. In this case, The Story Lady’s audience was made up of wide-eyed young listeners hanging on to her each and every word.
What made it an easy sell for The Story Lady is that she was kind and gentle, making nervous, timid kids feel completely at ease. She also got some help from the venue, the tiny little library whose entire square footage would fit comfortably – about 15 times over – in the Portage Lakes Library. It provided coziness, as if those kids were sitting on the floor of their living rooms.
There’s no way of proving this, but I would bet that every child who ever heard The Story Lady recite a tale learned the importance of doing such and made sure when they became adults to be storytellers for their own children.
If that’s indeed what happened, then The Story Lady – aka Louise Fann – would be proud to have that as the epilogue to her own story.