Rain sticks and storytelling bring out the individual in children

Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 6:42 p.m. CDT; updated 7:14 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 29, 2010
Reno, a guide dog, looks up at DeAnna Quietwater Noriega after she finishes reading one of her books about overcoming adversity during the celebration of the 20th Anniversary for the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the Columbia Public Library on Thursday. Noriega, who is half Chippewa and half Apache, has two other dogs, four horses and a llama. Noriega said, "He is very boastful because he gets to come out and work while the other dogs have to stay home."

COLUMBIA — Beans and uncooked pasta noodles exploded into the air from a homemade rain stick whose top popped off Thursday afternoon at the Columbia Public Library. The children gathered around the drummer with their rain sticks shouted in surprise, and the drumming stopped.

Adults rushed over to refill the rain stick, and the clamor began again. A library employee came by and quietly asked to close the room's door.


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The percussive music was one part of a "Storytelling, Art and Music" event at the library. Children listened to stories about individuality, made rain sticks and then used the instruments to make their own music. The event was part of Disability Pride, a 12-day celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The act, passed on July 26, 1990, was passed to help those with disabilities achieve equality and accessibility.

"It's just brought so many rights for people with disabilities," said Becky Stewart, community relations coordinator at Columbia's Services for Independent Living.

One child forsook her rain stick in favor of her sparkly silver flip-flops to join in the music-making process. They went "thwack, thwack" as she smacked them together.

"They're loud, and I got the idea of slapping them together since they were sitting next to me on the floor," said 10-year-old Alexis Torres, who was on a visit from Washington state.

Author DeAnna Quietwater Noriega kicked off the event by reading aloud Braille copies of two stories she had written. Two interpreters stood beside her, each signing for one story. 

Noriega's 2-year-old guide dog, Reno, lay underneath her chair, partially covered by the tan skin from of his owner's doeskin dress. A testament to her individuality, the intricate beading along the shoulders was done by Noriega's mother, and the tooling on the brass disks on her belt by her brother. Noriega made the purse and shawl herself. 

Noriega's great-grandfather taught her to read when she was 3. By 6, she could no longer see enough to read print. When she completely lost her vision at 8, she learned to read Braille in school.

"I was just excited to be able to read again," she said. 

Noriega said she has been making up stories in her head since she was a little girl. The eldest child in her family, she often watched her three younger brothers and little sister.

"One of the things I did to keep them out of trouble was tell them stories," Noriega said. 

Cheryl Unterschutz, senior information specialist at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neuordevelopmental Disorders, helped the children make their rain sticks after the story. They covered white mailing tubes with foam animal stickers, alphabet stickers and colorful drawings after filling them with crinkled aluminum foil, beans and noodles. 

"I think I'm just going to put my name across here and then stars on it," 10-year-old Naomi Davis said. Naomi was there with her grandparents and cousins, Alexis and Joshua Torres. 

Unterschutz explained that in Chile, rain sticks are made from cactus stems, with cactus spines driven into them. Small stones are added to make the sound of falling rain. 

After the rain sticks were made, Tammy Hickman, supervisor of clinic services at Thompson, led the children in making music. She brought along her African drum and used it to get the children started shaking their rain sticks in whatever way they wanted. 

“Everybody playing differently is much more pleasing than everyone playing the same,” she said.

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