Nili Yelin has had a colorful career.
The Wilmette resident was an MTV writer and performer for 5 years, a background player on Saturday Night Live for 10, a successful stand-up comic, an off-Broadway performer, an extra in dozens of music videos, a voice-over performer and a commercial actress before she settled into her biggest performance yet.
“Hello, friends,” she announces to her wide-eyed audience. “I’m Nili Yelin, the Storybook Mom.”
“The Storybook Mom is a collage of every passion in my life,” says Nili, a Northwestern grad who originally aspired to be a serious stage actress. “I used to joke that I love everything about stand-up except that it’s at night and you can’t sit. So now I do ‘sit-down stand-up’ for kids.”
The animated Nili not only brings stories to life, she adapts them, sometimes changing the location to the neighborhood in which her audience lives or throwing in a real-life innuendo that only parents would get.
“I want to entertain the moms as much as the kids,” says the mother of two.
“Like when we sing, ‘Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.’ Instead of saying, ‘Momma calls the doctor,’ we sing, ‘Momma calls the nurse,’ because we all know Mom’s not going to get the doctor.”
Nili says her most memorable performance came the first time she donated her time reading to children living in a Chicago shelter.
“I was nervous that they would see me as an out-of-touch elitist from the North Shore,” says Yelin. “But they were such a hungry audience. They were so thrilled to have an adult’s full attention and to just be kids and have fun. It was amazing.”
The children wanted to keep her books. She let them.
Nili donates more than 10 cartons of books to the Wilmette Public Library every year and regularly contributes her talents to not-for-profit groups including:
- Literature for All of Us
- The Cradle
- Infant Welfare Society
- Neighborhood Parents Network of Chicago
- LitLife (An ambassador for LitWorld, Nili will be participating in World Read Aloud Day on March 9)
- Companies That Care (Through the Terrific Tales initiative, Nili has taught high school students how to read to younger kids and will be doing a storytime on February 15)
“Things I can’t donate in money I donate in time, passion and books,” she says.
Nili performs weekly storytimes on the North Shore and in Chicago, narrates children’s podcasts for the Field Museum and runs the children’s stage during the summer Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest.
Though this local celebrity could write her own book about her fascinating career, Nili’s greatest measure of success comes each time a child’s face lights up, as the Storybook Mom brings written words to life.
“I love books and I love performing them for children,” says Nili. “The surprise has been how much more I get from them than they get from me.”
Nili Yelin can be found at thestorybookmom.com.