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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Ace Nashville fiddler Andrea Zonn puts pandemic to use with popular children's hour readings

Andrea Zonn, while trying to read "Pippi Longstocking" with questionable assist from McGee

Last Tuesday (Mar. 2) was both National Read Across America Day and its associated Dr. Seuss Day, and as usual, Nashville fiddler/vocalist Andrea Zonn was live on Facebook with the latest installment of her almost year-old series Story Time with Zonny--“Zonny” being her nickname in James Taylor’s band.

The early-evening program, during which she reads from children’s books and novels while pausing to interact with friends and fans who comment while viewing, finds Zonn casually reading aloud in her cozy East Nashville home, periodically interrupted by her American Ragdoll/Maine Coon cat McGee.

“I get about 30 people every day,” says Zonn. “It’s such a funny and delightful surprise that they show up.”

Zonn, whose extensive music credits also include touring with Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett, and recording with the likes of YoY o Ma, Randy Travis, Neil Diamond, Deb’ Mo’, Amy Grant and Alison Krauss (as well as Gill, Lovett and Taylor), relates how Story Time with Zonny came about.

“My 13-year-old son Leonard and I went into isolation last March 13,” she says, “and I noticed that a lot of my mother-friends were going crazy with their kids in the house all the time—for the first time in a while. Everyone was frustrated, and no one knew what was going on.”

Realizing that she had a big library of children’s literature, Zonn decided to give everyone a break.

“I thought, ‘Let the kids sit in front of a screen’—and I’m all about screen time!” she continues. “I did it for a couple weeks and kept going, and got a lot of adults. It gradually became a community—at a time when we didn’t have that. We were all craving contact with the outside world, and in a metaphorical sense, wanting to turn a mental page: The news was so devastating between the pandemic and politics and George Floyd, that for an hour in the afternoons, by reading literature about hard things, we could find our empathy and remember doing something greater—and that we’re meant to be more than reactive.”

Zonn found that her Story Time community could both “talk about topical things” and laugh.

“There would be discussions in the comments that had nothing to do with the books, so they were finding something that resonated.” And, she adds, “it was nice for me, because it’s so one-sided: I’m doing all the talking! But it’s an interesting way to stay connected.”

Zonn started the readings on her Facebook artist page, but switched to her personal page—and made it public—after attracting too many trolls.

“I try to do it five days a week,” she notes. “It had been every day, but I’ve reclaimed my weekends as we all tiptoe into more activities as things come up.”

As for reading material, “I have a pretty huge library,” says Zonn.

“I try to structure for toddlers up to second grade when I begin, then get a little chewier, finishing with a novel for tweens and young adults. I have Frog and Toad Fridays, where I read from Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad short story series, and I started reading Winnie-the-Pooh every Friday as well, ending the week with everybody’s favorite—but it has to be an Eeyore story, since people ask for his voice, and over many readings, I decided he’s a southern gentleman!”

Tuesday is also a special day at Story Time with Zonny: Seuss Day. But on Tuesday, Mar. 2, Zonn had to deal with the fallout from the announcement, by Dr. Seuss Enterprises (owner of the rights to his books and related entities), that it would cease publication and licensing of six Suess children’s books—including his first, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937)—due to imagery that is now deemed racist and insensitive.

“I made a snarky comment like, ‘It’s great that they’re banning books!’” says Zonn, noting that many of her favorite books, including A Wrinkle in Time and To Kill a Mockingbird, have been banned by some schools and municipalities.

“But I was a little shocked. Dr. Suess is such a beloved author—the same author who wrote Horton Hears a Who, and The Lorax—an environmentally aware story that was way ahead of its time. I’ve read Mulberry Street repeatedly and have never taken away that it’s inappropriate—though I haven’t gone back to see the illustrations. But the fact that [Dr. Suess Enterprises] is self-reflecting speaks volumes: Don’t we all evolve and grow? When we know better, we do better, and it speaks highly of their conscience and sense of ethics--which makes me love them even more!”

As Story Time with Zonny approaches its one-year anniversary, Zonn observes that children’s literature offers “so many morals and lessons--as well as our introduction to humanity.”

“I loved reading stories to my son when he was little, like The Chronicles of Narnia or A Wrinkle in Time or Where the Red Fern Grows, that makes children think--where through the power of the language of the writers, you really come to know a character from words on a page that transcend time and hopefully introduce children to the love of great writers.”

And being a self-described news junkie, Zonn cites the benefit of doing the show at the same time (“loosely” from 5-6 p.m. CT) every day: “I needed that as a touchstone, because when you’re a news junkie, you’re in a Whac-A-Mole cycle!”

As for McGee, “He’s about to be 17, and it turns out he loves bear stories! Winnie-the-Pooh and Little Bear! He knows when it’s story time, and likes to pose!”

Zonn notes, however, that the two other cats who joined the family after McGee “don’t care a thing about stories!”

Her music, meanwhile, is hardly on hold.

“I have a little studio at home and have been doing fiddle overdubs for artists including John Hall and John Cowan,” she reports. “Wendy Waldman and I are producing a song on John, sending tracks back-and-forth—and it’s grown into a nice working relationship.”

She’s also finishing up her own demo.

“We’re all trying to find the way to the ‘new normal,’” Zonn concludes.

Andrea Zonn performs with Suzy Boggus



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