Black Culture Comes Alive in Art Teacher's Stories Folk Tales, Images Intrigue Students, Illustrate History

Article excerpt

When Debbie Genovese brought a spider named Anansi to Bayless Elementary School in Affton, 135 third-graders ate him up - figuratively speaking.

Genovese is an art teacher and storyteller, and Anansi is the main character in a series of ancient folk stories originating with the Ashanti people of West Africa.

In Genovese's telling, complete with gestures and character voices, Anansi falls into a rushing river and is swallowed by a fish.

In turn, his several sons attempt rescue: One starts drinking up the river, and another begins eating the fish until Anansi pops out of its mouth.

After a falcon swoops down and carries off Anansi, another son hits the falcon with a rock. The bird drops Anansi, and another son catches him.

The jubilant Anansi wants to give a great globe of light to one of his sons as a reward but can't decide which one. He defers to the Goddess-Who-Knows-All. Finding all the sons equally deserving, she places the globe in the night sky to light the way for all.

Genovese: "And so the globe of light became what?"

The children (shouting in unison): "The moon!"

Genovese then invited the children to examine her collection of hardwood ceremonial masks from Africa.

After a group of students donned paper masks to act out the story, all five third-grade classes made their own masks with scissors, paste and a little imagination.

"I liked the way the story ended. It's like a legend," said Krissi Dean, 9.

"It shows that it's everybody's responsibility to help," said Stacey Banks, also 9. "It took all of the sons to get their father back."

Genovese, who teaches in Webster Groves schools, is one of 20 volunteer storytellers for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council, which oversees desegregation in city and St. …