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Harvard Professor in Beanie and Bells is a Story in Himself

Mark Thompson-Kolar
The Ann Arbor News

Once upon a time a storyteller named Brother Blue arrived in Ann Arbor and made a lot of children and grownups feel loved by relating tales of butterflies and hope.

He came to tell free stories to elementary school students and their parents. Playing his harmonica, tapping on his tambourine and talking about the power of the soul, Blue, a Harvard professor, brought an evening of smiles to the two dozen children and about 15 adults at the Ann Arbor Public Library on Monday night.

"Would it embarrass you for me to tell you that I love youuuu? said Blue, snapping his fingers and weaving his body back and forth. "Story time is wondertime for magic, magic, magic."

Wearing a navy blue beanie and a violet shirt covered with butterfly stickpins and multicolored tassels, Blue was an animated, modern jester. He told three stories from memory, involving the children who sat on the floor in front of him by asking them questions and having them repeat some of his words as a chorus.

His first story was about a caterpillar that saw a butterfly and wanted to fly, too. The caterpillar shouted out in anguish, Blue said, and the moon replied, "Don't cry. God loves you, and he's going to make you a butterfly.

"One morning the sun got up, and she was wearing gold. She kissed that cocoon, and inside that cocoon something felt that kiss. A butterfly broke out and flew to the stars," Blue said.

"Little children around the world: Do you know this story? It's about you," he said. "Past the colors of your face, past the colors of your eyes, there's something holy, holy, holy. You ain't nothing but beautiful, beautiful soul."

His other two stories were about Muddy Duddy, a child who gets in trouble for playing in the mud but eventually becomes a successful clay sculptor, and Miss Wunderlich, the teacher who made Brother Blue love school.

Blue, whose given name is Hugh Morgan Hill, teaches storytelling at the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. he also tells his original tales to passersby on the sidewalks of Harvard Square.

He holds a Ph.D. from Union Graduate School, a master's degree from Yale Drama School and a bachelor's degree from Harvard University. Wearing bells on his shoes and a wide grin, he was anything but a stuffy academic.

"The important thing is to tell the story from your soul," he said after he finished. "The human being is the story." Most of his stories related to his own past, he said.

Kitty Kamsler, a preschool teacher from Dexter, said she thought Blue's style was very appealing.

"Telling a story rather than reading it is a much more heart-to-heart experience. There isn't the barrier of a book between you and the children," she said. "My two kids are usually in bed at 7:30 p.m., so you know it's an event."

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