Photos by Amanda Wilson
“I liked him because he was funny,” says first grader Clare Kirwan. “I also thought he was funny,” adds Kaliyah Copeland, another first grader at Stone Spring Elementary. Kirwan and Copeland were part of a group of 100 kindergarten and first graders who had the opportunity to experience Michael Boudewyns act out four children’s books, including Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Suess and “Hungry Mungry” in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Boudewyns also asked all audience members to participate in reading aloud Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
“The Cat in the Hat was my favorite,” declares Dany Romero, also a first grade student at Stone Spring. The Cat in the Hat is one of 15 children’s books that Boudewyns has memorized and can draw upon to perform in a variety of settings, including schools, libraries and museums. Boudewyns strives to present the books in “as entertaining and theatrical way as possible.” Using a suitcase and stool for props, Boudewyns shared the stories by varying his voice and movements.
Boudewyns has been a frequent guest with orchestras, presenting vaudeville-inspired, fully staged performances of classic stories for young audiences since 2004. He has performed with national and international orchestras alongside partner Sara Valentine. Valentine joined Boudewyns for the school performances in Rockingham County on the second day, and for the two Forbes Center performances of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Mozart’s Toy Symphony with JMU’s Montpelier Wind Quintet.
Regan Byrne, Executive Director of the Forbes Center, says Boudewyns “is a great artist and collaborator who believes in partnering to build performing arts audiences for the future.” She attributes the success of the outreach to Boudewyns, as well as to a tremendous amount of support from teachers and administrators in Rockingham County Public Schools and Harrisonburg City Public Schools.
Principal of Stone Spring Elementary, Lynn Sprouse, voiced his appreciation at the opportunity for students to engage in the arts, and says, “the kids really enjoyed it.” “Anytime we can foster the love of reading, it’s worthwhile–particularly at this grade level.” Sprouse validates why Boudewyns does what he does. “Kids get reacquainted with a book or discover a book that they’ll love for a lifetime.”