Up Beat is a new section of the Bangor Daily News dedicated to uplifting stories. Look for tales of people helping people and things that will make you smile.
Retired firefighter and school teacher Stephen Hall of Brooks was not about to let a pandemic get in the way of his reading to his grandson. When stay at home orders put an end to the weekly overnight visits, Hall took to the internet to create a daily virtual storyhour for 6-year-old Jaxton.
Seated in front of shelves stuffed full of books, somedays wearing a plaid work shirt, other days a checked or solid shirt and fleece vest, black rimmed reading glasses at times perched on his nose, Hall looks like the quintessential storybook “grandpa” himself. He alternates between reading and turning the book so that his audience can see the drawings of the characters as he points them out and gives his own comments on them.
He’s now 23 chapters into “Old Granny Fox” by Thornton Burgess, and instead of reading the books in person to his grandson, Hall is posting the videos on YouTube for his grandson to watch. Since starting, more than 20 other youngsters have joined from around the state to follow the tails of Granny Fox, Reddy Fox and Farmer Brown one chapter a day.
“We have these old books that I read when I was a kid and they are just delightful stories,” Hall said. “My wife was the one that had the bright idea of reading them to Jax one chapter at a time.”
It didn’t take long for word to spread to other family members and their friends.
“Someone would tell someone and they’d tell someone else and on it went,” Hall said. “It’s kind of funny how that works.”
Hall keeps track of who is listening to the readings and makes sure to say hello to each child by name before starting the daily chapter.
Thornton wrote his farming and animal inspired children’s books in the 1920s and Hall grew up with his father reading them to him. After he was grown and married, Hall read those same books to his children and now is cracking open those same, somewhat-worn 1920s volumes for Jax.
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“I don’t think he even knew what YouTube was,” his son and Jax’s father Adam Hall said with a laugh. “But his doing this helps fill a big void in Jax’s life — he really misses his grandpa and now he gets to see him and gives him something to look forward to every day.”
Adam Hall said it’s no surprise to him that his father found a way to stay connected to Jax.
“The only thing that would have surprised me was if he was the one in charge of the technology,” Adam Hall said.
Stephen Hall gives full credit to his technical crew of one, his wife Roxanna Hall.
“My wife sets it all up for me and she is my tech crew,” Stephen Hall said. “And it’s Roxanna with an ‘A.’ I made the mistake when we were first dating of calling her ‘Roxanne’ and she corrected me on that, I tell you. We’ve been marred 45 years and there has not been one dull minute in it with her.”
Having grown up with Granny Fox, Reddy Fox and all their friends, Stephen Hall is tickled to be introducing them to his grandson and the other children.
“Children use their imaginations and they get more than just the words from the stories,” Stephen Hall said. “You can just see their minds working it and that they are actually seeing the words and characters.”
The elder Halls can’t wait until they can have their grandson, who lives in Bangor, back over for sleepovers.
“Oh my word we miss him,” Stephen Hall said. “It’s been rough and we can’t wait to get him back down here.”
In the meantime, he will continue to post daily chapters from his collection of Thornton books, and marvel that thanks to YouTube he’s reaching beyond his grandson.
“Good grief, that was the furthest thing I would have thought and I never thought that would happen,” Stephen Hall said. “And it all came about thanks to this darn coronavirus.”
Do you know of an uplifting story in Maine? Bangor Daily News Features writer Julia Bayly is on the lookout for Up Beat stories of people, places or things that bring smiles and laughter to your day. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.