"Once Upon a Time" Actor Raphael Sbarge Shares His Love for Storytelling

In an exclusive essay for Parents.com, Raphael Sbarge writes how fatherhood taught him the importance and the power of telling tales.
Raphael Sbarge Once Upon a Time

iPhoto Credit: T Love Photography by Tena Fanning/i

If you"re a fan of the TV show "Once Upon a Time," you'll know Raphael Sbarge as the beloved fairy tale character Jiminy Cricket, whose alter ego in Storybrooke is psychologist Archie Hopper. An award-winning actor, one of Sbarge's earliest film appearances was alongside Tom Cruise in "Risky Business." Since then, he has appeared on stage in a variety of Broadway shows and he has also appeared in recurring roles on TV shows such as "24," "Prison Break," and "Dexter." In addition to acting, he is a supporter of eco-friendly living -- he founded Green Wish (greenwish.com), a non-profit that helps local, green organizations fund projects for communities. Sbarge is also the father of two children and he currently commutes between Los Angeles and New York. You can follow him on Twitter (@RaphaelSbarge) and on Facebook (facebook.com/officialraphaelsbarge).

As parents who are always looking for a way to do the right thing, we have heard repeatedly about the importance of reading to our kids, as early as we can. I love doing this, and reading time is one of my favorite parts of the day. It's a chance to snuggle with my kids and share a story that plays out in the imagination; there is something calming and comforting about the shared experience.

I have two children, a son and a daughter. Django is now 7 and Gracie is 9. One problem I had when they were younger is that a book for one child wasn't necessarily for the other, and bedtime was a precious window. I discovered one day, quite by accident, that I could make up my own stories. These stories would invariably come from a kind of free association, as random and ridiculous as whatever would occur to me in the moment, like the tale of a female pillow that had lost her owner and decided to find him. Or a bird that woke up one day and was able to talk to humans but would occasionally lose control and speak bird again.

But I really hit pay dirt with my ongoing series, The Adventures of Seymour and Alice, about a brother-and-sister adventure duo that would often get lost and find themselves in fantastic and perilous circumstances, yet by ingenuity, gumption, and a deep desire to help one another, would always find their way home. With new chapters of ongoing dangers, threats, and uncertainties (like the spaceship they found buried in their own backyard, with the instruction manual for flying it right there!), I found an amazing way to get my kids to settle down and fall into rapt attention.

What I loved about story time was that it didn't happen only at night. There were times my kids would be so excited about a bedtime story that they would beg, "Seymour and Alice! Pleeeeaaaassse!!!" first thing in the morning or while they were stuck in traffic on the way home from school.

Whenever I told a "Seymour and Alice" story, I would imbue each character with qualities that were similar to those of each of my kids -- Django and Gracie could recognize themselves and learn to laugh at themselves and with each other. Plus, the stories allowed me to provide an image of them working together, away from the adults who were "completely oblivious to their spectacular adventures." This strengthened their partnership, gave them a magical place to visit in their minds, and offered a special family memory all of us still share. When one of us mentions "Seymour and Alice!" we all smile and laugh.

These days, my daughter is an avid reader who has discovered the amazing, self-soothing qualities of a good book. My son and I still read new books together, and sometimes we wake up to read together (he's an early riser). There are still days when he makes the impassioned request, "Tell me a story..."

And I do.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

Photo Credit: T Love Photography by Tena Fanning

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