GAIL WHITE Storyteller weaves moral into fabric of imagination

"Once upon a time, there was a little frog," Karima Amin begins. "This little frog sat sunning himself in a grassy meadow. ..."
Karima, from Buffalo, N.Y., is a professional storyteller.
After 24 years of spinning yarns in the classroom as a teacher of history and culture of Africa and its people, she is yarning full time now.
"Storytelling is a wonderful teaching tool," Karima says. "I used stories in the classroom and at home with my three children."
Since 1994, she has been sharing her gift of storytelling with thousands of children and adults throughout the United States and Canada.
Today, she is sharing with fifth- and seventh-graders at East Middle School, Youngstown.
Dressed in attire from Senegal, West Africa, her long, gold-colored dress, called a buba, is embroidered around the neck in blue, brown and white. The sash around her head, a gele, is also gold with blue, brown and white circles that represent the sun.
She continues her story, "This frog sees a rainbow. ..."
I look around. She has the attention of every child in the auditorium.
"The frog thinks of all the stories he ever heard about what's at the end of the rainbow. ..." Her arms spread wide as she thinks of the treasures.
The children are soaking in every word. It's no wonder. Karima is completely engaging.
The frog "hippity-hops" into two other frog friends who join him in his search for the end of the rainbow so they may all become "the richest frogs in the whole world."
In the end, the poor frogs are eaten by a hungry snake.
"What is the lesson of this sad story?" Karima asks. "Always look before you leap!"
A good lesson: Saida Awadallah, a fifth-grader at East Middle School, found a great deal of wisdom in this story. "I have gotten in a lot of trouble because I don't look before I leap," she explains. "I'm going to remember what happened to the frogs."
Next, there's a rousing rendition of "Brer Rabbit and De Tar Baby." Karima has the students laughing hysterically as Brer Rabbit struggles to get out of the tar.
Again, the story has a serious moral. "The biggest folks [Brer Fox] don't always have the biggest brains [Brer Rabbit]."
Several other students learned different lessons from one of Karima's other stories.
"When I was your age and younger, I was pretty mean -- especially to my sisters," Karima shares. She goes on to tell a lively story of the way she used to tease her younger siblings. "I was having my fun!" she says, laughing.
One day, her youngest sister, tired of the teasing, punched Karima in the face.
"I saw stars," she says, using her hands to "blink" stars in front of her.
Do unto others: The result was a black eye. "I looked like the monster I had been for all those years," Karima sadly admits. "Treat people the way you want to be treated," she advises.
Devron Love, a fifth-grader, found wisdom in Karima's words. "I tell my sister, 'You have a triangle head,'" he confesses. Devron is going to try very hard not to talk that way to his sister anymore.
Thomas Boyer, also a fifth-grader, plans on watching his words as well -- although his motivation is a little different. "You shouldn't tease people," he says. "Something bad could happen to you. It might come back on you."
Jacksira Bermudez, a seventh-grader at East Middle, agrees with the lesson as well. But she is not so certain she will be able to obey it. "I tease my sisters," she admits. When asked if she will stop, a nervous laugh erupts. She's going to try but she's not so sure how successful she will be.
In closing, Karima leaves these pupils with one more piece of wisdom. "If you are blessed to have someone in your family or community who tells you stories, please listen. They have so many lessons to teach you. Listen, learn and remember."
XMore information about Karima Amin can be found at