StoryFaire, an ‘Event For the Little People’

In the new picture book “Winston the Book Wolf,” a clever take-off on “Little Red Riding Hood,” children are encouraged to appreciate a good book. Long-time Montecito resident Marni McGee, the author of “Winston” and 14 other children’s books, hopes that a free event this Sunday will also inspire children to love reading while bringing attention to a local non-profit, Storyteller Children’s Center.

The event is StoryFaire, where McGee and three other local children’s book authors will entertain and delight children with readings from their newly published books, with plenty of other activities for children as well. StoryFaire takes place from 2 pm to 5 pm, on Sunday, at Crane Country Day School, 1795 San Leandro Lane, and is free and open to the public.

In addition to book readings, Arts Alive! will have six craft tables, the National Charity League will provide free food and beverages, and McConnell’s is donating 75 gallons of ice cream to be served from an old-time Mexican ice cream cart. Chaucer’s Books will be selling books and giving 20% of all proceeds to Storyteller. Baskets of signed books, donated by 18 of the region’s children’s book authors, will be raffled along with a silent auction of art prints.

“The focus of this event is little people,” says McGee, who will be dressed as her character, “Granny Winston.” The three other children’s book authors who will be entertaining and signing their books are Ellen Kelley, Mary Hanson and Val Hobbs.

StoryFaire, an annual event in its inaugural year, is a benefit for Storyteller Children’s Center, which provides tuition-free early childhood education for homeless and at-risk children in Santa Barbara county, as well as comprehensive support services for their families. Its facility is located in the former First Congregational Church parsonage. It has room for 42 children, but as many as 80 children are on the waitlist.

Storyteller also offers parent education classes and counseling in an effort to help families take important steps towards achieving stability. Parents must attend school or find a job while their children are enrolled.

“We’re really focusing on the whole family,” says Terri Allison, Storyteller’s executive director.

McGee says she wanted to celebrate the debut of her “Winston” book by focusing on children in need.

“I began looking around for a target for that intention,” she says. “As soon as I visited Storyteller, I knew I had found it.”

Storyteller was happy to have McGee’s considerable energy focused on the issue of young children living in poverty.

“Marni took the initiative. She’s been the ring leader and brought in the sponsors,” says Allison. “She’s extremely dedicated to our cause.”

McGee, who graduated from Yale Divinity School, started writing children’s books in the early 1970s, when her children attended Cold Spring School. But she had 15 years of rejection letters before her first book was accepted.

“I write for children. I tell them they are the most important people in the world,” she says. “For me, children are like bread that is still rising. Perhaps I can still shape the loaf a little. That’s what intrigues and challenges me.”

For more information about StoryFaire or Storyteller Children’s Center, contact Jenny Edwards at 805-682-9585.

– Julia Rodgers

Should the U.S. Care About France’s Election? Mai Oui!

PARIS, FRANCE – Tony Blair, the English prime minister who announced last week that he would be stepping down in June, had something to say about power and politics.

”The art of leadership is saying no, not yes,” he said. “It is very easy to say yes.”

On May 6, 53% of French voters said ‘oui’ to Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative president elect who promised to steer France in a new direction. Perhaps, he will also demonstrate to the world the art of saying ‘non.’

Fed up with economy and immigration problems, Sarkozy is reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood character. In 2005, he called French rioters “scum” and promised tougher sentencing for repeat criminals. On our first day in Paris, my husband and I see dozens of riot police near the Sorbonne University.

“They are troublemakers,” says our guide who wishes not to be named. “My friend owns a shop in Paris and last week they broke the shop window and tore the curtain to shreds. They are bad, angry people who look for any excuse to start trouble.”

Since the May election, security has been beefed up. When my husband goes for an afternoon jog near the Arc de Triomphe, he spots some protesters being controlled by police.

Sarkozy is betting on big changes in his first 100 days in office. With Germany enjoying its lowest unemployment in six years, France is currently suffering an unemployment rate over twice of the United States (4.5% in the U.S.; 9.4% for France). And with China and India gaining global ground, France can no longer afford to assume its workers will stay, well, “Francais.” About 85% percent of France’s electorate participated in the voting, a victory that not only belonged to the French, but also, it seems, the people of the United States.

“Americans can count on our friendship,” Sarkozy said, before adding as a caveat, “friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions.”

With all the changes in world leadership over the past year, France's election will be telling of how much one country can change its ways. After years of allowing increases to national unemployment and debt and a disgruntled immigration population to get out of hand, the sense we get on the streets of Paris is that the country is on the brink of disrepair. Sarkozy knows this and he’s reaching out to both friends and enemies.

“So my thoughts go out to those French who did not vote for me,” he proclaimed. “I want to tell them that beyond political struggle, beyond divergence of opinion, there is for me only one France.”

The economic, immigrant and social unrest problem is not just France's problem. The U.S. and other countries have seen their fair share of these issues. One hopes that Sarkozy, the son of an immigrant, does not only resurrect France's relations within its own borders, but also revives the warm feelings with its historical ally, the United States.

– Celeste Scheinberg

(Mrs. Scheinberg sent this article from France, during her two-week trip in Europe. She’ll be back to report on local issues in the next edition.)