This story and picture have been electronically reproduced with permission from The Tulsa World

Tall tales

By Nora K. Froeschle World Staff Writer
Storyteller Dave Titus shows students at Boevers Elementary one of the many string tricks he incorporates into his stories. Titus, a Lawton resident, travels the state telling his tales.

Community World staff photo by Nora K. Froeschle

Storyteller weaves yarns and string

With a piece of string and a way with words, storyteller Dave Titus weaves yarns all over the world.

Last week he regaled students at Boevers Elementary with two stories and wowed them with lots of string figures. Titus is from Lawton, but for the last nine years he has been telling stories in such countries as Nepal, Egypt, Honduras and Korea.

In Nepal he spent time with leprosy patients and taught them how to create string figures. In August, Titus was in upstate New York at a camp for children who are HIV positive.

Titus has been a school librarian since 1968 in several states, including Oklahoma. Now, he is helping Boevers promote their Read At Home program.

At Boevers, Titus began with a story from the Ashanti people of Central Africa about a spider named Anansi.

"Not Nazi," he said to a library packed with fourth graders and their teachers. Apparently some parents at another engagement misunderstood him say Anansi and thought he said Nazi.

Anansi he told the children, wanted to get all the stories from Neombi, the sky god, who kept them safe up on a mountain top.

"Stories are important," he said in the voice of Neombi. "They can change people's minds."

Neombi tells Anansi in order to prove his worthiness, he must go and get a tiger, a snake and a butterfly, then bring them back up the mountain to him.

As he names each animal, Titus deftly creates a string figure, which he animates. Audible "whoas" come from his young audience when he flutters the butterfly's wings. Anansi, he said, must be very careful so as not to crush the butterfly's wings.

Anansi does get the bag of stories from Neombi, but he accidentally lets all the stories fly out of the bag.

"And they flew out over Africa, over Europe, over Asia, over here -- now everyone in the world has stories. Aren't you glad?" Titus asks the children, which elicits a collective "um hmm" from them.

Titus asks his audience to point to the stories in the library.

"Where are they?," he said. They silently answer by pointing to the books on shelves all around them.

"No, no, no," Titus said, then paused. Putting his hand to his chest, he said, "They're here. Those are just the scripts."

Suddenly Titus launches into another story.

"The children knew about evil woman. They knew she loved to have children for supper, not have them over for supper, but have them for supper," he said. The fourth graders shudder.

A skeptical little girl in the story gets all the other kids and herself caught by evil woman, who Titus portrays with a scratchy high voice and a witchy cackle.

This story is told mostly with gestures, not string, and in the end the children make a plan and kick evil woman into the fire she has been brewing a pot of water on to cook them with. Ashes fly all over the children, stinging them.

"The Seminole people of Florida said those bits of ash bit them and sucked their blood. Those ashes were bits of evil woman. But we call them mosquitoes," Titus said, then made a mosquito out of string.

"Never pull wings off of insects -- just squash 'em," he said clapping his hands loudly together, squishing his string mosquito. Giggles erupt out of the children, who are sitting Indian style on the carpeted floor of Boevers' library.

"This is how not to read a story 'Once upon a time...'," he said in a monotone voice. He urges the children to use their minds to bring stories to life for themselves.

"Make it out loud in your head," Titus said.

The "Stringman" then closes with a rousing tale called "Hola Muchacho" told completely in Spanish, which only a few of the children said they could speak. But they listen intently, laugh at the many sounds and gestures Titus makes and say they understood it all when he finishes.

"Whatever you think happened is right," he said.

To contact Titus about making a storytelling appearance, call 580-353-4710.