Friday, October 19, 2012

Betsy Hearne Presentation on October 10

by Frank Boles

Professor Elizabeth “Betsy” Hearne spoke at the Library on October 10 presenting a speech entitled, “Fooling Around With Stories: Children’s Books, Oral Lore, and the Playful Imagination.” It was indeed a wonderful evening of fooling around with the auditorium filled with listeners enthralled by Professor Hearn’s mix of entertaining storytelling, deep insight into children’s books, and profound sense of fun.

For one student in particular, it was also a wonderful learning moment. As part of her presentation, Professor Hearne talked about the large number of children’s stories that include an element of risk. Whether chased by witches or wolves, abused by evil step-mothers or abandoned by overburdened caretakers, terrible things often happen to children in stories. These terrible occurrences, however, are important in that the stories give children a safe place to work through their own fears. Learning how to deal with fears and difficult situations is part of a child’s “work,” and stories with simply awful occurrences in them help children undertake that process in a way that might be impossible in the real world.

At the reception following the presentation, Professor Hearne was engaged in discussion by a graduate student from Indonesia. The discussion was long and intense. Driving Professor Hearne back to her hotel, I asked about it. The lecture had given a student a new way to understand the importance of children’s stories. Children’s tales in Indonesia rarely include the kind of gruesome occurrences routinely found in Western stories. Indonesian stories, reported the graduate student, are happy tales intended to make children feel safe, not to cause them potential worry. Professor Hearne’s presentation opened to this student an entirely new way of thinking about children’s stories; something the student enthusiastically looked forward to taking back with her to Indonesia after completing her studies in the United States.

Part of the Library’s mission is to enlighten and inform. Based on the conservation between Professor Hearne and the graduate student, I think we did our job particularly well on the 10th. I am deeply grateful to Eunice Burgess, who made this presentation possible through a generous gift that created the David M. and Eunice Sutherland Burgess endowment. Funds from this endowment made it possible to bring Professor Hearne to campus, and resulted in a marvelous learning experience for a student – the magic the Library exists to make possible.