Author Joe Hayes of New Mexico spent the day Monday telling stories — some from his books, others from his heart — at Brownwood Intermediate School. They sat spellbound, but along the way they also learned how to be a better writer, reader and listener.
In addition, they picked up some pointers about teamwork, cooperation, English punctuation and Spanish vocabulary.
“We always talk in sentences, but sometimes we don’t write in sentences,” Hayes told one class. “If you’ll simply listen to yourself when you write, your writing will get a lot better, and your voice will come through.”
Hayes is considered one of America’s premier storytellers, and is a nationally recognized teller of tales from the Hispanic, Native American and Anglo cultures. His bilingual Spanish-English tellings have become a series of books and tapes that are praised nationwide.
“We’ve used his books in school, because a lot of our students are bilingual,” Brownwood Intermediate School teacher Christine Moore said. “So when we had a chance to have him here, Principal (Connie) Easterwood was very supportive.”
Hayes currently has a book on the nomination list for the Texas Bluebonnet Award. Following each of his six presentations at the school Monday, he autographed any book purchased by students and teachers.
“The kids on my team are especially excited because we have read several of Mr. Hayes’ books and have done a number of projects with them,” Moore said. “The kids in my classes even wrote letters to Mr. Hayes, which he graciously responded to.”
Moore said each presentation was different.
At one of the morning sessions, he explained how reading a story allows people to use their imaginations as the story unfolds, as opposed to watching a movie or television show where some other person’s imagination is viewed. As an example, he told the story of one of his books, about a green bird that turns into a prince at night, and asked students later to describe how they saw the bird. Hayes said his own picture of the bird differs from how the illustrator of his book drew it.
The students also learned some lessons about book publishing.
“I wrote the books, so you would think they are mine,” Hayes. “But when I come to schools like this, I have to buy books from the publisher. When it first comes out, I got about 10 books. If you write a book, you would want to give your friends, your brothers and sisters and your grandmother a book, wouldn’t you? You run out fast.”
Hayes also explained how the brightly illustrated books are printed overseas, and shipped back to the United States for distribution.
Hayes has been resident storyteller at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, N.M., for 13 years. He has been featured at the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, and has taught storytelling to teachers at the University of New Mexico. He has published 20 books, including seven in both English and Spanish.
“I didn’t think I could be an author, so I started telling stories,” Hayes said after the sessions.
His stories were sprinkled with Spanish words, which he translated, and used Spanish to have the students count in unison.
“If you hear someone telling a story, or even if you are listening to a teacher, you can make them so much better if you will just listen carefully,” Hayes told the students.
When telling a story, he urged students to get the context and include all the details.
“Ask yourself, ‘how can I make it even better?’ You’ve got to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Give details… so we can tell what it was like to be there. Pay attention to your friends when you tell a story. How they react will tell you how to tell the story. Each time you tell it, it gets easier.”
Some of his book titles are “The Day it Snowed Tortillas,” “A Spoon for Every Bite” and “Watch Out for Clever Women!/ÁCuidado con las mujeres astutas!”