Barely minutes into John "The Kinderman" Taylor's show at Baltimore County's Catonsville library branch, children in the audience are under his spell. They sway to the rhythm, clap to the beat, sing along and repeat the rhymes, and imitate his movements.
The more inhibited adults are hard pressed to keep still in another successful performance by one of Baltimore's most popular children's entertainers.
Parents who wonder if the reading they do with their children has any long-term effects only have to hear Kinderman's story.
Taylor, 62, says the foundation for that afternoon's performance was not laid in rehearsals, or the hours spent composing original songs and rhymes or drawing the pictures of the Mother Goose characters he uses in his show.
Taylor, who grew up in Baltimore, traces his performing roots, his love of theater and appreciation of rhythm and rhyme directly to his earliest boyhood reading.
Taylor's parents stressed the importance of learning to read, and his mother surrounded her two boys with books. When he was too young to read on his own, his mother read to him.
The books that made the biggest impression on the preschool Taylor were those with Mother Goose rhymes, he says -- at first the fanciful pictures, but eventually the rhymes, reread so often they were memorized.
When he started school, his teachers would sometimes ask students to recite nursery rhymes, and Taylor says he eagerly volunteered. He enjoyed the attention of an audience, the approval of his teachers, and a sense of pride and accomplishment from those classroom recitations.
As Taylor got a little older and began to expand his repertoire, he saw the link between reading well and his desire to perform. If he wanted a role in church pageants, he had to be able to read the script. To be successful in declamation contests, in which the competitors would recite lengthy classic poems from memory, he had to be able to read more challenging poetry.
In time, more sophisticated children's literature replaced Mother Goose as his favorites. He especially liked novels of adventure like "Gulliver's Travels," "Treasure Island" and "Robinson Crusoe," as well as "Peter Pan" and "Alice in Wonderland." He devoured comic books -- Batman was his favorite -- and owned thousands.
After earning a degree in art education from Morgan State, Taylor again found himself in front of a classroom -- this time as a teacher. But the itch to perform never waned. In 1986, after stints as a dance and aerobics instructor, he became "The Kinderman" and has been delighting children and parents alike with his upbeat, child-friendly performances -- teaching through music, movement and rhymes.
He entertains in numerous shows each year across the country and has a wider audience through his children's show airing at 10: 30 a.m. Saturdays on WMAR-TV -- which won an Emmy this year, and which he hopes will be in syndication next year.
Taylor laments that his television and video work -- he has two videos due in January, "Get Loose With Mother Goose" and "Black Hall of Fame" -- keeps him too busy to spend much time reading.
But books remain an important part of his life: He is the author of a manual for the Wolf Trap Institute of Early Learning Through the Arts on teaching children through the use of art, movement, drama and music. And he is planning publication of his series of Mother Goose books.
And because Mother Goose retains such a big place in his heart, vTC he haunts used book stores and thrift shops, searching for books of rhymes to add to his large collection.
Pub Date: 12/27/98