Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gulls Copying Puffin

Don't Copy Me  by Jonathan Allen

Puppets:  none
Props:   none
Technology:  none
Child Volunteers:   two or three
Presenters:   two
Audience:   Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

We often like to get kids up to help us tell during Family Storytime, but some stories work better than others.  You want the kids to have stuff that's not that hard to do, but you also want their actions to be a meaningful part of the story.  Don't Copy Me meets the second condition every time, and the first one most of the time.  For our "Silly Stories" themed sessions, Sheila and I did this one as an act-out.
The story features a puffin and three gull chicks.  We didn't bother with costumes or hats or anything like that, it was just:  "I'm a puffin; these guys are gulls," and that was fine, especially since the animal species don't really affect the plot.  Plus the story is familiar to most kids, because who hasn't done the copying thing just to be annoying to a sibling.  Well maybe not the three year olds, but they'll learn soon enough.  As Puffin, I tell the audience that I want to take a walk by myself, while Sheila, as Gull #1, is prepping two child volunteers for what they need to do:  copy the way I move and repeat what I say.  So I walk across the stage with exaggerated steps, then they follow me.  I stop, they stop.  I walk, they walk.  Pretty simple, and the audience instantly gets what's going on.

Then it's "Are you following me?" followed by (when it goes just right) Sheila saying the same thing, then child #1 saying it followed by child #2 saying it.  Which happened maybe two out of six times.  Other times we had both kids saying it together, which was just as good.  Or one child saying it perfectly and the other one not saying a word.  And that's really okay too. By the last couple sessions we decided that we should have three kids instead of two, to increase our chances of getting at least two to play along all the way.  That worked just fine.

When the kids were less vocal, I just did a few more actions and used a few less lines.  It's easier for the kids to do what you do than it is to say what you say.  I ran fast across the stage, they followed.  I crawled fast across the stage, they followed.  (And skinned my knee on the rug...I'm okay, but still have a scab on my knee four days later...nobody said being a children's librarian is painless) 

When Puffin finally has an idea to trick the Gulls, we wanted to make sure everyone in the audience will follow it, so I tell them (in a whisper-y voice so the Gulls don't copy) that I have a plan.  And when the plan works (Puffin sits perfectly still; Gulls get fidgety; Puffin sees them out of the corner of his eye;  Sheila tells other Gulls "this is boring" and they all leave, hiding before our trifold backdrop).  Then Puffin addresses the audience again, explaining the trick just in case anyone didn't quite get it.  And they may need to know that trick themselves if someone pulls the copying game on them some day.

For the finale, Puffin resumes his original walk, and of course the Gulls reappear to copy him again.  We finished with Puffin saying "The end!"....and the Gulls repeating the same words.  Since we did our usual four sessions during the week, plus two more for visiting Head Start classes, we had plenty of chances to work this story out.  It was fun each time, and we concluded that it's best of all when we picked three kids and when the Puffin didn't crawl across the rug and skin his knees...he's been doing stories a long time and should know better by now.     

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Charlie and Lola at the Library

Book:  But Excuse Me That is My Book  by Lauren Child
Puppets:  None
Props:   Books
Presenters:  Two
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

We don't tend to seek out picture books based on tv cartoons for storytime, but this one is just too much fun.  And Charlie and Lola did start out in picture books, it's just that this particular story appeared first in animated form.  I'm also not always always crazy about book with strong messages about libraries reading...wait, that doesn't sound right, does it?  I just mean books with over-obvious, heavy-handed messages.  And this one avoids that nicely because Lola is just such a funny kid.

In the story, Lola wants to check her favorite book (Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies) out of the library, but when she gets there it's gone.  Charlie finally convinces her to try a different book (Cheetahs and Chimpanzees) and it becomes her new favorite.  Not much to it, but Lola's personality fills it with all kinds of humor.  Sheila and I presented it as a two-person act out.  The book's illustrations are quite effective, which usually isn't the case when they come from an animated presentation.

We talked about getting the illustrations into it somehow....maybe scanning some images and using them as background.  But in the end we decided that it's really a character driven story and we'd let them carry it.

Charlie does a bit of narration, but it's mostly dialogue between the two.  We trimmed a fair amount from the book, but kept the language because it's so key to Lola's persona:   "the bugs are quite buggy and the butterflies are really beautiful and the beetles are very silly. The beetle gets stuck!  And his legs are very funny!  And he can't turn over!"  Charlie interrupts to remind her that Dad's waiting, and she finishes with:  "All his funny little legs, Charlie!"

So this is an act-out where the presenter really needs to get into the character.  Sheila used Lola's words and had great facial expressions and physical gestures.  You should have seen her holding her arms out stiffly in front of her as she said:  "All his funny little legs!"

Once they get to the library and the book's not there, Charlie recommends some other books for Lola.  Of course the books are the kind that seem especially interesting to Charlie:  dinosaurs, castles, and the like.  So his love of books comes through too as he tries to convince her.  We had a short stack of books on a table that Charlie pulled from to show Lola.  This was one bit we shortened from the book, just having Lola look at three books and reject them.  Meanwhile, before Storytime started, we had given a copy of Beetles Bugs and Butterflies to an adult in the audience.  Not that actual book, which I think is made up, but a book with bugs on the cover and "Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies" printed out and taped over the real title.  When Sheila points to the adult volunteer, that's her cue to stand up and walk out of the room.  Which sets up Lola's despair at realizing that "her" book has been checked out by someone else.

In the end, Lola tries one of Charlie's recommendations and loves it even more.  And we did the same thing with Cheetahs and Chimpanzees:  found a book with a likely cover illustration and taped a new title over it.  As for the messages, they comes out very naturally in the story, as Charlie tries to explain how people share library books and Lola demonstrates how much a single book can mean to a child.  I actually like both of those messages a lot....but I like Sheila (as Lola) imitating the funny little beetles even more.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tails Scanned and Projected

Book:  What Do You Do with a Tail Like This    
          by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
Puppets:   none
Props:   none
Technology:  Scanned images and PowerPoint
Presenters: one
Audience:  K-2

We've been doing our "K-2 Book Adventure" program for four years now, so we're able to repeat themes we've used a couple years ago, which saves a bunch of time.  We rarely repeat the program exactly, though, because it's just a little more fun if you add at least one new thing.  For the 2014 version of our "Caldecott Celebration"  (we also did it in 2012), we wanted to add a non-fiction book to the mix.  The obvious choice was Locomotive, the 2014 Medal book, but it's still too popular: we need to have at least 8 or 10 copies available for checkout.  So we decided on the 2004 Caldecott Honor book, What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?

Since the illustrations are so excellent, we scanned selected images and projected them.  We also wanted to convey the clever design of the book, but also make it work well for a large group.   A two page spread shows five tails neatly arranged.  So we showed that, then added an arrow that would point to each tail as we clicked:

We asked the kids to identify the tail, and of course K's, 1's, and 2's did that pretty easily.  We had a few "snake" for the "lizard" (actually a skink, but we accept lizard) and one or two "lobsters" for "scorpion," but most got them right.  Then we click again to show the tail image again, opposite the illustration from the following page which shows the animal using its tail with a brief explanation:

We did that for all five "tail" examples.  Again most kids were able to guess the purpose of the animal tails, but that's not a bad thing with a group presentation of a book like this.  They get to show how much they know, but at the same time the book is intriguing enough that they still want to check it out.  And most (but not all) were stumped by the skink, whose tail breaks off, then later can grow back.  

After going through this pattern with all five tails, we clicked to a page from the back matter, where Jenkins & Page provide more details about each animal:

It would be fun to go through the whole book this way, but we were using more of a booktalk approach, showing them just enough about it to get them hooked, but leaving plenty more for them to discover when they check out the book.  So we ended by just telling them that "tails aren't the only thing this book is about....for example:  What do you do with feet like these?:

And that's where we ended it.  It was a fun and easy booktalk to do, and successful:  all twelve copies got checked out, so it did just as well as This is Not My Hat, A Ball for Daisy, and the other books we featured.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

There are Cats in This Puppet Show

Book:  There are Cats in This Book  by Viviane Schwarz
Puppets:   2 Cats
Props:  Blanket, Yarn, Box, 2 Pillows, 2 Fish, Net, Blue Material (for water), Puppet Stage
Presenters:  Two
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 years)

Because our Family Storytimes have big audiences and two people, I don't get that many chances to actually read books to kids.  My main chance comes when preschools and kindergartens come on library visits, and one of the books I love to use is There are Cats in This Book.  It's a great book for interactive sharing, since the cats address the reader/audience directly, and it has physical features like flaps and shaped pages that are very purposeful and effective.  When Sheila and I did a "Librarians' Choice" theme, I considered this favorite of mine and how we could do it with a larger audience.  Turns out it translates pretty well into a puppet show.

I'm  behind the stage with two cats (instead of the three from the book).  Sheila narrates and does some audience interaction, the way you would if you were reading the book.  So she starts with "There are cats in this puppet show.  The cats aren't on the stage yet" (in the book it's:  "the cats aren't on this page").  I lift the cats up under a blanket.  Sheila talks to the audience:  "Should we lift the blanket?"   The cats appear and we go through most of the elements from the book.  The cats talk sometimes to the audience and sometimes to each other.  So it's:  "You look nice" to the audience and "I wonder what else in this puppet show..." When Sheila pulls out a ball of Yarn and tosses it up and down so the cats can see it, it's:  "Do you think there's yarn in this puppet show?"   Sheila brings the audience in again:  "Do you think cats like yarn...?"

Sheila picks a child from the front row and asks her to give the yarn to the cats.  This worked very well mostly.  The kids did a nice job of handing the objects to the cats, and it made the interactive elements even stronger.  The only tricky part is choosing the child quickly enough so the focus stays on the puppet show and not on the clamoring to get picked.  Once they have the yarn, the cats play with a little bit, then intentionally tangle themselves up in them.  They ask Sheila for help and she untangles them.  The cats say:  "I wonder what else is in this puppet show?  And Sheila picks up a Box. 

That pattern repeats:  Sheila gets an item, the cats wonder if it will be in the puppet show, a child (or two) gives the object to the puppets, and the cats play with them.  With the Box, they dance on it, climb it, then fall offstage with it, reappearing hidden under it; when Sheila opens it, they pop out.  With Pillows, the cats rest on them ("Cozy pillow!  Comfy pillow!") then one says:  "you know what else you can do with a pillow?....Pillow Fight!"  After they bop each other a few times, one throws a pillow at Sheila and the other throw one into the crowd.  The Fish dive offstage with the cats holding on, then the cats rise back up under a piece of blue thin fabric (and say "we're underwater" just in case the kids don't get what the fabric's supposed to be).  At the same time Sheila squirts the audience so they get the water effect as well.  We added a Net, which Sheila uses to rescue the cats from the water.    

One of my favorite parts of the book is when the cats ask the readers to dry them off.  The audience blows and when you turn the page it has a great illustration of fluffed up cats.  We couldn't work out how to copy that with puppets, so we just have the cats say "we're wet, can you dry us off?", then Sheila asks them all to blow.  The cats just say "I feel fluffy!"  Not quite as cool as the book, but effective enough.  

We end the way the book does, with the cats going back under the blanket, and saying good night.  Sheila says "Did you like the cats?  I think they really liked you," like in the book, and that makes a very satisfying ending.  I liked the way that this was a gentler, calmer story than what we usually do with puppets.  There was enough action (pillow fights, box pop-outs), but it wasn't as wild as we sometimes get. And sometimes that makes it a little easier for the kids to really absorb the story, instead of just reacting to what happens on the stage.

As is typical when you adapt a perfect book, we weren't able to capture everything:  Like the blow-dry effect mentioned above, or the cat the book the three cats have names that kids really enjoy ("Tiny," "Moonbeam," and "Andre") and distinct looks and personalities.  We didn't name our cats, and although I give them different voices of course, there really wasn't room to establish separate personalities.  I think we did capture the spirit of the book, though, and led plenty of families to check out copies, where they'll experience the story in a different format.  


Monday, March 3, 2014

A Wide-Mouthed Bird Named Confetti

Book:  Snack Time for Confetti  by Kali Stileman
Puppets:  2 Birds, Giraffe, Zebra, Elephant, Monkey (substitutions okay)
Props:  Leaves, Grass, Fruit, Banana
Presenters:   One
Audience:  Toddler Time  (1 and 2 year olds)

The Wide Mouthed Frog is one of my all-time favorite stories to tell with puppets, but my version is a little too wild for most kids under three.  So I was pleased to discover Snack Time for Confetti.  It's an original story, with excellent illustrations, but has a similar basic structure to WMF:  Hungry animal asks other animals for food ideas and doesn’t like any of them.  But it’s scaled back a bit, and has a nice Yuck/Yum pattern that’s just about right for two-year olds.  So I told it with puppets for Toddler TIme.  

I tell it with a combination of narration and dialogue.  “Confetti was hungry.  Really, really hungry!  And she met….a Giraffe.”  So I bring Giraffe out of the bag, and then it’s dialogue:   “Giraffe, I’m hungry!”   “Well, Confetti, I like to eat luscious leaves.”  Giraffe brings out some leaves, then I slip back to narration:  “Giraffe said…. YUM! (as Giraffe nibbles on leaves)….”And Confetti said….YUCK!  So Confetti went to find a different snack.  And she met….a Zebra.”  And the same pattern repeats.

It’s a nice pattern, with some simple elements that work very well with toddlers and puppets:   A new animal popping out of the bag;   That animal’s food popping out of the bag;  And a fun and easy participation prompt, where the audience naturally joins in on the Yums and Yucks, especially with a little hesitation by the storyteller just before each Yum and Yuck.  

The book includes a Crocodile twist, where the bird learns that the Croc is hungry and replies with a whisper that she’s “maybe not that hungry.”  The illustrations cue the readers that the Croc is dangerous.  This also echoes WMF a bit, but I feel like it will get lost on the younger toddler time audience, so I don’t include it.  I just stick with the main pattern until the last segment.  So I just do Giraffe/Leaves, Zebra/Grass, Elephant/Apple, and Monkey/Banana (the book uses Nuts for Monkey, but a banana is always easier to manage than nuts in the world of puppets).

Finally Confetti’s mom comes home.  In the book, she brings her child 5 things to eat…I cut that to 3 for my presentation:  a wiggly Worm, a speedy Spider, and a fine Fly.  I was going to use a caterpillar, but realized that my little stuffed caterpillar is the one from The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and we just did that book two weeks before....don't want to replace that image of caterpillar-becomes-butterfly with one of caterpillar-becomes-bird food, at least not yet.   Mom brings each one of those out, one at a time, and puts them on a plate.   And then of course it’s:  “And Confetti said:  YUM!” and she gobbles them up.  The two bird puppets I have for Mom and Confetti work well for this story because their beaks are pretty nimble…it can be hard to pick stuff up with some bird puppets. 

After Confetti eats her creepy-crawlies, I list off the other animals (but I don’t put the puppets back on…too chaotic and not really needed).  “And guess what Giraffe and Zebra and Elephant and Monkey said?   YUCK!”  It's a satisfying ending, with some silliness that two-year olds really get and one-year olds...well they might not get it, but they at least get to see animals eat stuff and say "Yum" and "Yuck" a lot, and with one-year olds, that can be just enough.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Always Room on Mother's Lap

Book:  On Mother’s Lap  by Ann Herbert Scott
Puppets:  Boy, Baby
Props:  Boat, Dog, Blanket
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Toddlers   (1 and 2 year olds)

When I first started doing Toddler Times in the late 80’s, there really weren’t all that many books that were just right for 1 and 2 year olds.  This was one of them, and it still works great as a book.  It also works very well as a pretty simple puppet story.

I tell it mostly with narration, with the boy puppet (“Michael”) speaking up regularly.  Actually I use a doll; we have one at the library who matches the look of the Inuit child much more closely than the boy puppet  have, and the doll is mobile enough to do the simple actions required.  I play the role of the mother myself…I know, wrong gender, but I just tell the audience that’s who I am and that’s all they need.   It starts with Michael on Mother’s lap,  rocking “back and forth, back and forth.”  I ask the audience to join me for that part, both saying the “back and forths” and rocking back and forth, which works great since many are in their grown-ups’ laps while they listen.   The line from the book is “Back and forth, back and forth they rocked.”  It’s a small thing, but I change that to “they rocked:  Back and forth, back and forth.”  Especially with toddlers, I really want the participation parts to work smoothly, so moving the prompt (“they rocked:…”) to the front makes it very clear when they are supposed to join in. 

I leave a few beats of silence after the second “back and forth, then I pop Michael up from my lap and he says:  “Let’s get Dolly!”  I pull the Doll out of my puppet bag and narrate again:  “Now Michael and Dolly were on Mother’s lap, and they rocked back and forth, back and forth.”   And the pattern repeats, with Michael popping up to get something new each time.  In the book it’s Puppy, Boat,and Blanket, though other items could be substituted.   There’s a real nice storytelling rhythm to the tale, moving neatly from the quiet interaction of rocking, to Michael popping up, to a surprise item from the bag, and back to the rocking.  I try to keep Michael’s explanations fairly restrained and not play up the “what’s in the bag?” part too much.  You could make his reactions more extreme and emotional, but better to keep with the gentle tone of the story I think.   

The twist comes when it’s Mother who mentions someone who needs to be on her lap, and it’s Baby.  This time Michael pops off her (my) lap, looks at Baby, looks at Mother, and sadly says:  “There isn’t room.”  Then Mother calmly gathers everyone onto her lap and ends the story with the very reassuring line that “there’s always room on Mother’s lap.”

That theme, along with the new sibling rivalry that leads to it, is a universal one that resonates most families.  My props don't match the words as well as I wish, but I don't change the words, calling it a "reindeer blanket" even though it doesn't have reindeer on it and "canoe" even though it's obviously a different kind of boat.  The words lend some of the cultural specificity in the book, and of course the theme and the actions that lead up to it are universal.  And ideally the puppet version leads families to check out an excellent, but sometimes overlooked book (and it's still in print!).    

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I Made a Mistake, But At Least It Rhymed

Book:  I Made a Mistake  by Miriam Nerlove
Puppets:  Bear, Fish, Frog, Fox, Cheetah, [substitute freely]
Props:  "The End" sign
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Toddlers  (one and two year olds)

Here's one of those books that worked very well in print form, but now it's out of print and almost 30 years old, so puppets are one way to keep it going.  And it's among the simplest puppet tales around, so a great choice if you haven't used them much.  It's based on an old jump rope rhyme and sort of a relative of Old Mother Hubbard, with mistakes and rhymes:  "I went to the bathroom to brush my hair. / I made a mistake and brushed my bear."  That's basically it, with a series of about a dozen verses, with a sensible every day activity in the first line, and a a nonsensical mistake involving an animal in the second line.  So if you've got a handful of animal puppets, you're set.

My first time with this I'm pretty sure I assembled all of the props for the first half and used them.  So I took out a brush on the first line, then popped a Bear puppet out of the bag to complete the rhyme.  And that works fine for the first verse, and for a few others, but once you get to "heater" (for Cheetah) and "sit on the lawn" (for Swan), the whole thing just gets too prop-heavy and difficult.  So I drop all props for the first line
and just go with the animal puppets.  Much less confusing for all of us.

I just say the first line, then after "I made a mistake and brushed...." there's a little hesitation as you reach into the bag and bring out  "...a Bear!"  By the time you start the second verse, which in my version is "I went to the laundry to wash my socks. / I made a mistake and washed....a Fox!" the kids have picked up the pattern.  And they've also heard the rhyme, even if they're not conscious of it.  The story works because of the anticipation of "pop-out," so hesitating a bit, maybe seeing if they can guess based on the rhyme (toddlers usually can't, though), heightens the engagement of the kids.

Since I use this in Toddler Time, I don't go with a full dozen rhymes.  I pick about six, based on the puppets I have around and the rhymes that are the most fun.  And it's fine to add your own rhymes that aren't in the book...that's the way jump rope rhymes work anyway.  For example, I always like the chance to use my Armadillo puppet, so I added "I went to by bed to fluff up my pillow / I made a mistake..."   And for similar reasons I appreciate one rhyme that is from the book ("went to the heater.../...sat by a Cheetah") because I have a very cool, but under used, Cheetah puppet.

One more minor adaptation for presenting with puppets is the ending.  The final verse wraps it up nicely:  "I went next door to find my friend / I made a mistake and found...The End!"  So for that one I print "The End" on a letter sized page and pull that out of the bag, which is a nice minor twist to finish with.