Fresh Story Time fills void for some area children
Early during the COVID-19 restrictions, Brittany Higgins was sitting in her Williamsport home with her roommate feeling stressed out when her eyes shifted across a book she had sitting around.
“I thought, you know, I have this book over here. I should start reading stories,” she said.
The book, “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,” is a children's book with 100 bedtime stories about the lives of 100 extraordinary women from past and present written in a fairy tale style. The book's illustrations were created by 60 female artists from around the world.
Higgins works a full-time job and teaches at Fresh Academicz, a hiphop dance studio on West Washington Street in Hagerstown.
“I teach a Tiny Tots class at Fresh Academicz. I thought I could do a storytime that could be an activity geared toward those kids,” she said. “It would be something different than a parent or teacher reading to them. I am someone they see once a week.”
She thought a free online storytime with her students, who are mainly ages three and four, would be a good way to continue spending time in front of and with them when they can't be in the studio.
Through the Fresh Academicz Facebook page, Higgins launched Fresh Story Time at 7:30 p.m. nightly. She plans to shift the schedule to Monday through Thursday. Each night, she plops down into a wingback chair in front of a fireplace in a room she calls “the creative space” at home and reads two stories from the book. Most nights, she sports costume pieces related to the stories. Each storytime lasts about 15 minutes or less.
Before she started, Higgins sought input from her friend Whitney Hoch, of Williamsport, whose daughter Lilli Hoch, 4, participates in the Tiny Tots dance class.
“I bounced ideas off of her, asked what time would be best, if she thought kids would be interested,” Higgins said. “She told me, 'Yes, I think my girls would love it.' From there I just said, 'Let's do this!'”
Higgins chose Facebook Live as a livestream platform. Her roommate, Lane Routzahn or Fresh Academicz studio owner Peter Arizmendi help her with the live video set up and streaming, and field viewer questions and comments during the story time.
Though the book she reads from is called, “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,” the stories appeal to both girls and boys, she said.
“This is not for girls only. The stories are about girls and women, but boy and girls can learn something from them. It's good for boys to hear about what these girls or women have done to make a difference or to change the world,” she said. “A lot of these people can be very influential and encouraging to kids who tune in to storytime.”
People recently featured in the stories include aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and writer and storyboard artist Brenda Chapman, who directed the Disney/Pixar film “Brave.”
“We've read about people of all different ages. Some are still alive, some have passed away. It's a wide variety,” Higgins said. “The stories are written at an elementary level but they show good end results of how these ladies made a difference doing good in the community or on a larger scale. They are empowering the next generation by showing them that they can make a difference, too.”
Higgins' costume pieces are meant to enhance fun and learning for the kids. While she read a story about a bicyclist, she wore a helmet.
“One night, the story was about a model, so I had sunglasses and a big, furry, pink coat. One night it was a painter so I had a little painter's smock thing on. I just try, if not the whole outfit, to have something that relates to the person I'm talking about,” she said.
Higgins had “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” for several years, but she had previously only read a couple of the stories. She initially was drawn to the illustrations, which are portraits of the women and girls featured in the stories. She thought it would be fun to have the book when her friends brought their kids over so she could read to them.
“I haven't really had time to slow down and do it. Now that we are being forced to slow down in quarantine, I thought, 'Well, let's just do this, put it out there, and see what happens.'”
Storytime aligns with the mission of Fresh Academicz in that Arizmendi's vision is to enrich the lives of youth in a positive way.
“That goes exactly in line with the stories behind each of these females. They all experienced life in a different way but somehow turned their situation into a positive outcome,” Higgins said. “Students from all different walks of life come in the studio. We always have the goal of positive outcomes for these students, regardless of what they may be facing at home or at school.”
Higgins said Arizmendi is a fan of Fred Rogers, the TV personality behind the children's series “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.” Arizmendi sees storytime as bringing “that kind of purity” back to the kids to view it.
Fresh Story Time is streamed through the Fresh Academicz Facebook page and is available for free to the public.
Whitney Hoch said her daughter Lilli loves getting to see Brittany and always enjoys the stories.
“I think it's really good. Brittany is great with kids,” Hoch said. “It gives the kids an opportunity to see someone they enjoy seeing. It's something for them to watch in the evening as they are winding down, something different while things are a little crazy.”
Top photo: Sisters Emma and Lilli Hoch of Williamsport watch Brittany Higgins reading in Fresh Adademicz' Fresh Story Time. (Submitted photo)