Sunday, July 20, 2014

King Bidgood with Kids, Bubbles, and Sound Effects

Book:  King Bidgood's in the Bathtub  by Audrey Wood; Illustrated by Don Wood
Puppets:   None
Props:  Hats and Stuff for King, Queen, Princess, Jester, and Page;  Bath toys;  Something kind of like a Bath;  
Technology:  Sound effects:  Fanfare, Tub Filling, Tub Draining, "The Hustle" (or similarly infectious dance hit from the disco era).  
Presenters:   Two, plus four child volunteers
Audience:   Preschool Storytime  (mostly ages 3-6)

I post infrequently during summer because I don't typically do many new stories, but I got a chance to try one recently.  Our summer Storytime is actually "Preschool Stories & Science," where we do just one story, plus a science demonstration and hands-on craft and science tables.  This is usually done by Sheila and Terri, but Shannon and I filled in for them this week.  We don't choose stories based on their science content, but it's nice when they have something in common with the activities.  This week the kids did bubbles and magic sand, so:  a bathtub story!

King Bidgood has always been a favorite of mine, but the pictures aren't meant to carry to a storytime audience.  So we decided to act it out with some child volunteers and a few sound effects from  For a tub, we just found some strips of styrofoam we had around for some reason, clipped them together, and put a sign on it.  It was the right height for kids to look over and easy to move in and out of, since it was three-sided with an open back.

We did change the characters around a bit to match our props and preferences.  Shannon was in the tub, so it became "Queen" Bidgood.  We kept the Knight from the book, but the Queen who lunches became a King (two Queens wouldn't make sense), the Duke who fishes became a Jester (we have a Jester hat; we don't know what a Duke hat looks like), and the Duchess became a Princess (see Duke-to-Jester explanation).  As the Page, I called up the four child volunteers and gave them each a hat and a thing to carry while Shannon as Queen B was behind the backdrop gathering her bath stuff.

We had our sound effects loaded onto a PowerPoint file, so a click played a short "Fanfare" to announce the Queen's entrance.  Shannon showed the kids her bath toys, sang a bit of "Rubber Duckie," and got into the bath.  Another click played a "Tub Filling With Water" sound effect, while Shannon flipped on a bubble machine.  This looked and sounded good enough that several kids stood up to peek into the tub to see the water.  Nothing like an audience with a rich imagination.
Then we got into the story.  We adjusted the words a bit to make it all dialogue.  So "Help, help, said the Page when the sun came up" becomes "Help, help, it's morning and the sun's come up..."  I asked the audience to join in with the "Queen Bidgood's in the bathtub and she won't get out!" refrain.  Then when I say "Who knows what to do?" we click the Fanfare music again and the Knight/child gets to say his only line:  "I do!"  Then I fill in the rest, adapting from the book again:  "...said the Knight when the sun came up" becomes "It's the Knight! And the sun's come up."  And the I say the next line too, to the Queen:  "Get out!  It's time to battle."  That line is said by the Knight in the book, but having the storyteller as Page do more lines and guide the action works well.  The kids just have to hit their "I do!" line (and about 3 out of 4 usually do) and look cute.  The rhythm of the text is really important to the story, so we tried to hold true to that.

The knight goes into the tub, setting up Shannon's line as Queen Bidgood:  "Come in, come in, with a boom, boom, boom.  (rather than "'Come in,' said the King...")   Today, we battle:  in the Tub!"   Then Shannon pulls out two fish shaped squirt guns and she and the Knight squirt each other, and the audience.

After that, the pattern repeats.  We used the same Fanfare sound effect to announce each new person, and that worked well to solidify the pattern.  King comes in with a loaf of bread and Queen Bidgood shows corn and grapes (or whatever food props we had in there).  Jester brings a net and Queen Bidgood has one two, plus fish puppets she's caught in them.  When we planned this I pictured all the kids in the increasingly crowded tub joining in each activity, but that was just a little too much for them to manage, and it was fine to just have the new tub arrival do the actions.  With the Princess, it's "Dance in the tub!" and our sound effect is a clip from "The Hustle" by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony  (summer of '75....seems like only yesterday).

For the ending, in which the Page pulls the plug, we added one more sound effect:  Tub Draining, and Shannon led all of the kids out of the tub.  Although it's a perfect ending on the page, we seemed to need something a little more definitive to close it out.  So we tried:  And that's the story of Queen Bidgood's in the Bathtub....she finally got out!"

We didn't quite get the whole story, but here's a rough excerpt video of Queen B:  


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Storm is Coming with Puppets and Weather

Book:  Storm is Coming  by Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Margaret Spengler
Puppets:  Dog, Cat, Cow, Duck;  + Puppet Stage
Props:  Farmer's Hat; Thunder Stick (or something else thunder-y); Microphone (if available); Squirt Bottle
Presenters:  2 plus one Parent to manage lights
Audience:  Family Storytime  (mostly ages 3-7)

In Storm is Coming, a farmer warns the animals that a storm is on the way.  They think "Storm" is an actual person, and worry that he will be mean and scary.  When lightning, thunder, and other storm elements come, though, they think those will all help them avoid meeting Storm.  I have to admit, this is not a book that I would have read and said:  Puppet Show!" even though I'm always on the lookout, but Brad and Terri developed this a while ago and worked it out nicely.  The pattern of misunderstood weather elements, a cast of farm animals, and a few simple sound and light effects make it work.

 Brad and I did it for Family Storytime a few weeks ago.  Brad handled three puppets:  Cat, Dog, and Cow, while I was Farmer and Duck, plus managed the weather effects.  Farmer is actually just me in front of the stage to start and end the story.  He could also be a puppet, but it seemed to work better to have him outside of the space where main story takes place.  To manage the three puppets, Brad would sit Cat on stage off and on, since Cat sleeps through most of the storm.  We also used a parent volunteer for each session to manage the lights.  We picked her out beforehand and gave her a highlighted script so she would know when to switch them.
After Farmer warns the animals, Dog sends Duck to look for signs of the storm.  Duck goes to the top side of the stage, calls out "No storm!  No storm!" and then describes what he does see:  "But the sky is getting darker!"  The parent then turns off the lights.  The kids in the audience know (we hope) that this means the storm is  coming and the animals are just confused.  But the animals on stage decide that the dark skies will help them hide from Storm.  
This pattern continues, and if the kids don't get it the first time through, they soon catch on.  Duck hears thunder; I shake a thunder stick; Dog and Cow are glad that Storm won't be able to hear them.  Those misunderstandings continue as Duck sees lightning (parent flashes lights on and off), feels raindrops (I squirt audience with water bottle), and feels wind (blowing/whistling into microphone).  Finally Duck sees that it's light again (parent flicks lights back on) and all of the animals conclude that Storm never came at all.  

As a stage puppet show, there's not a lot of movement among the puppets, but the structure works very neatly.  The focus moves from the Dog/Cow/Cat trio, up to the Duck, then to the weather surprise that comes (rain, lightning, etc.).  Then it's back to Dog/Cow/Cat and the pattern continues with the humor building gradually.  Those regular shifts of attention give the show a strong pace and just enough variety.  I always want to throw in a chase or have one guy hit another guy with a squeaky hammer, but it's good for me to remember that it's really all about good stories.... 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

We Are in a Book on a Screen

Book:  We Are in a Book!  by Mo Willems
Puppets:  None
Props:  Elephant hat, Piggie ears (or similar)
Technology:   Scanned word bubbles and projector
Presenters:  Two
Audience:   K-2

We've done plenty of Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie stories at our library, both as two-person act-outs and as one-person puppet stories (including I Am Going, I Broke My TrunkI'm a FrogLet's Go for a Driveand Watch Me Throw the Ball).  But I always just dismissed my favorite E & P book, We Are in a Book, as not suitable for Storytime.  Then I learned that Rick Samuelson of Washington County Cooperative Library System (Rick can be seen in WCCLS's excellent Fingerplay Fun Youtube pages) had adapted it as a stage puppet show (neatly re-titled as "We Are in a Puppet Show").  I never got to see Rick's show, but it got me thinking again about the book, and finally Sheila and I got a chance to do it for one of our K-2 Book Adventure programs.

Using PowerPoint and our Projector and Screen was the key.  We made a series of slides to replicate the book.  Each slide has a frame, with a page number down on the bottom right.  And clicks make the word bubbles appear.  So all we had to do was read from the word bubbles.  Which actually isn't that easy, because they're behind you, but a quick glance was all we needed.  (Sure, memorizing would have been even better, but sometimes there's just not time for that).  

When the book begins, E and P are just on the page, not realizing they are in a book:

Then Gerald looks out at the audience and tells Piggie that they are being watched.  We had some fun with that, stepping away from the screen and towards the audience, then back against the screen, trying to match the great scene in the book where Piggie looks out at the readers:

Then we realize we're in a book:

After that, the two have fun by getting the readers to say "banana."  This was the one part I wasn't sure would work.  I wondered if the kids would read all of the word bubbles out loud, so that when "banana" appeared on the screen the joke wouldn't work so well.  But it was fine.  A couple kids were reading aloud most of the way, but when Sheila/Piggie introduced the plan and said "Here I go...," and the word "BANANA" appeared in a word bubble, everyone said it.  As Gerald says:  "so funny!"
Then things take a different meta-turn when Piggie realizes the book will end.  In the book, Piggie appears to peel back the bottom right-hand pages to find out what the last page number is.  That worked fine in our version:  Sheila peeked behind the bottom corner of the screen, where the page numbers would be if it were a book.  

Then Gerald starts fretting about the book ending too fast as each page turns:  

And here's how the real corresponding page looks:

It all finally ends with Piggie's fine idea of having Gerald ask the kids to "read us again."  Which fit neatly into our program, since with our K-2 Book Adventure events we always have multiple copies of the books we feature, and the kids really did go check those out.  And read them, we hope.

The only problem with this way of doing the story is that we couldn't use it when we went out to schools to promote the event, as we do each month.  We really needed the word bubbles and mock-page for this one.   No problem, though:  we just substituted another E & P: I'm a Frog, and you don't need anything for that (though pig ears and elephant hat do help).

As for We Are in a Book, in the Slate Book Review, David Plotz says that this book "is arguably the most disturbing book published in America since The Road."  Sheila and I talked about it, though, and we decided that it's challenging enough to adapt Mo Willems....we'll pass on Cormac McCarthy for now. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Carrot Seed: 1945 Book + 1950 Record = 2014 Storytime

Book - The Carrot Seed  by Ruth Krauss, Illustrated by Crockett Johnson
Puppets:   None
Props:   Box for garden, Flibber, Big Carrot, Simple costumes stuff for Little Boy, Mother, Father, and Brother
Technology:  Audio of the 1950 recording of the book
Presenters:  Two
Audience:  Family Storytime  (mostly ages 3-6)

Sheila, Brad, and Terri have all done The Carrot Seed since it was developed in a very cool way (by Sheila and Brad) a few years ago.  None of the stories we've done is anything quite like this.  It's always been one of my favorites to watch, but I haven't written about it on this blog partly because it's easier to write when you've done it, not just watched it, but mostly because I really just couldn't figure out to describe it with words and pictures.  So we filmed it this time, and I'm hoping watching the video clip below will make sense along this written description.

It started when Sheila found this old recording of the book on the web from 1950, narrated by Norman Rose (a classic voice, whose roles included "Death" in Woody Allen's Love and Death and the Juan Valdez Columbian Coffee Commercials).  Brad downloaded the recording from the web, then edited it a bit.

Then we act it out, kind of mock-lip-synching to the narration.  In our recent Family Storytime, I was the Little Boy, wearing a beanie and standing on my knees (it's hard to pull of Little Boy when you're 6' 3").

We covered a wooden cart with brown butcher paper for the garden and put our big carrot and a flibber inside (see below for flibber details).  It's pretty funny when I mouth along to the Little Boy's songs.  But then Brad comes out, first as the Mother, with an apron on, and we hear the Mother's high, old-fashioned singing voice coming from him, and it's really funny.  He quickly changes props to become Father, then switches again and hops on a scooter to portray the Brother.  In between each of these, the Little Boy sings that catchy little song.

When the carrot finally comes up, I reach into the box to pull out the flibber, which grows and kind of "blossoms" as you pull it apart.  Flibbers don't always work perfectly, but usually well enough.  I hold the end of the flibber to the top of the stuffed carrot to make an impressively sized carrot.

Then Brad comes out again as Mother, then Father, then Brother, but this time he has to switch very quickly (by layering the props and wearing all at once, then taking them off), which always gets another big laugh.  You can see the whole thing here:  

About Flibbers:  Sheila kindly constructed our flibber, which I learned to make from Robert Lopshire's excellent How to Make Flibbers, Etc.: A Book of Things to Make and Do.  The book is long out of print but the flibber instructions from it are here.

About Big Stuffed Vegetables:   The stuffed carrot is one we got at Ikea...they also have broccoli and strawberry and we seem to use all three pretty regularly. You never know when you'll need a big stuffed vegetable.

About Old Children's Records The Carrot Seed also appears on a very cool website called "Kiddie Records Weekly," which has dozens of recordings from "the Golden Age of Children's Records" which was in the 40's and 50's.  You can stream or download The Pied Piper of Hamelin narrated by Ingrid Bergman, Gene Kelley doing The Little Red Hen, and a Disney recording of "Robin Hood," that I think might be the exact same one that I had as a kid (though we had 33's, not 78's...I'm not that old).  Not that I think we'll use more of these in Storytime or anything, but it's a pretty interesting site, especially if you grew up listening to stories on records as I was lucky enough to get to do (thanks, Mom).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Measuring Scanned Birds, Inch by Inch

Book:  Inch by Inch  by Leo Lionni
Puppets:   Inchworm
Props:   None
Technology:   Scanned Images Projected
Presenters:  1
Audience:   Family Storytime  (mostly 3-6 year olds)

A long time ago, when I was still trying the occasional felt story, I put together a felt version of Inch By Inch.  I traced the birds from the book and used a little finger puppet worm to measure each one...I think it was just a green tube with an eye on it.  I soon decided that cutting things out of felt was not a skill I had and never would be, but this is one of the stories I remember as being pretty easy to create and fun to do.

A couple decades later, it was interesting to take the same idea and use a mix of technology and puppetry to tell it again.  In the book, an inchworm measures a bunch of birds.  When a nightingale insists that he measure her song, he inches away to safety while the bird sings.  

For the PowerPoint presentation, I scanned each bird illustration from the book.  For an inchworm, I made a simple stick puppet, based on the ones on this neat Etsy page.  I don't make puppets often, so you know this couldn't have been hard.  Just a couple of dowels, a green boa thing we had around, and two big google eyes.

When each bird appears, the inchworm measures it.  That just means slowly moving the rods together and apart to make the worm inch along the screen.  I asked the kids to count along with me, from the long neck of the Flamingo (10 measurements) to "the whole Hummingbird" (just 1).

As always when you're interacting with the screen, you have to remember to make the puppet do its things, but also be sure to face the audience most of the time, since you're the storyteller, not just the puppeteer.

The story is so simple that it's easy to learn, and captures the kids' attention very nicely.  I did try to memorize the author's phrasing, because I just like the way he writes ("an inchworm, green as an emerald...") And the scanning was straightforward, since Lionni's illustrations are so compelling.  I did have to make sure to white out the inchworm from each image, since I had my own.  When the Robin carries the inchworm "to where other birds wanted to be measured," I put the puppet alongside the Robin's back and had the image fly slowly across the screen (with a Motion Path from PowerPoint), bringing the puppet along with it.

Our other effect was to add a clip of an actual Nightingale song downloaded from  The song played while the inchworm "measured away, measured and measured, inch by inch...," with the puppet inching along the plants across the screen.   When he finally "inched out of sight," the puppet slips behind the screen.

It all stayed true to the book, but the technology/puppet combination made it work quite nicely for our big groups.  Plus I kind of enjoy using technology to present a classic.  One that's so old, as I mentioned in my introduction, that it was first published the same year I was born! Which I don't think means that much to the preschoolers, but it boggles my mind a bit. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Little Red Hen, Three Ways

Story #1:    The Little Red Hen with felt
Story #2:    The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza with puppets (from the book by Philomen Sturges, illustrated by Amy Walrod)
Story #3:    The Little Red Pirate (a Brad Clark original)
Puppets:  Hen, Cat, Dog, Pig (#2)
Props:  Laminated Shapes and Felt Board (Version #1);  Flower, Rolling Pin, Penguin, Pizza (#2);  Pirate clothes, Parrot, Treasure Chest, Squirt Bottles (#3)
Technology:  none
Audience:  Family Story Time (mostly 3-7 year olds)

Once a year we do a "One Story Three Ways" theme in Family Storytime.  In previous years we've featured "The Three Pigs," "The Three Bears," and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," but this year we broke our "Three" streak and tried "The Little Red Hen." 

We started with a traditional version, which Terri told using our big felt board and laminated, velcroed figures.  Details of this version are on a previous post.   We always like to start this three-version program with a pretty straightforward one.  This way the kids have the basics down and will recognize the parallels and get the jokes (well, some of them anyway) when we do the broader variations.  The child participation parts of this version do even more to help the kids know the story.  

For version two, we did a broad adaption of The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza by Philomen Sturgis.  We made it "The Little Red Rooster..." instead, mostly because my hen puppets is pretty static, while my Rooster is very nimble and animated.  Rooster was above the curtain, asking his three friends for help.  Dog and Cat each say the expected "Not I," but Pig replies with an "I Will!" and proceeds to bring Rooster the wrong thing:   a Flower instead of some Flour; a Squeaky Hammer instead of a Rolling Pin;  and a Penguin instead of a Pepperoni.  That penguin didn't really make much sense, but I just really liked the idea of something completely nonsensical, plus having little Rooster toss a big Penguin puppet behind the stage is a pretty fun visual.  At the end, Rooster wants to just look at
his pizza, then can't figure out what else to do with it.  When his friends suggest that he should eat it, he rewards that great idea by sharing it with them.  All three of us were behind the stage for this one; it could probably be done with two, but three made prop handling and movement nice and smooth.

For the last version, Terri and I got to just relax while Brad told his original story of The Little Red Pirate.  Brad does performances at several dozen other libraries all over the state, and this was one of his featured stories last summer.  He brings up two volunteers to be Polly the Parrot, and the First Mate, while the rest of the audience is The Crew.  So everyone gets their chance to do "Not I!" when Brad (as the Little Red Pirate) asks for help in finding the treasure.  Steps include Lifting the Anchor, Steering the Boat, Rowing the Dinghy, and Digging for Treasure.

Brad always does a great job of working with the child volunteers.  In one session, the First Mate volunteer did not want to play.  We could tell because he said:  "I'm not doing this."  But he stayed up there and Brad turned his defiance into a character trait, making it lots of fun without making fun of the boy at all.  There's also an excellent ending:  When we finally see the Treasure Chest and The L. R. Pirate points out that no one helped him, he decides they should all....Walk the Plank!, at which point Brad pulls two squirt bottles out of the chest and squirts everybody.  

We had lots of copies of different versions of The Little Red Hen available for checkout, but we had to tell the audience that there was no book version of The Three Little Pirates...yet.  Brad is actually working on finding a publisher for this and for a couple of other stories, and I'm sure it's just a matter of time before he'll be a published picture book author.  Wouldn't you use this book in storytime?

Here's a short video clip from Brad's story:  It starts from the point where The Little Red Pirate is Reading the Map, then has Digging the Treasure, and the excellent squirt bottle ending.....

This "One Story Three Ways" theme is always a fun one to put together, but it also has a purpose.  We always mention that by telling a story and retelling it in different ways we're playing with our narrative skills, just like kids do when they play and act out based on books.


Monday, April 28, 2014

The Little Red Hen, with or without velcro and felt

Story:  The Little Red Hen  
Puppets:   none
Props:   Laminated shapes, felt board
Presenters:  One or two
Audience:   Family Storytime

Our Family Storytimes all have at least two tellers, but back when I used to do solo ones to smaller crowds, I always included one oral tale in each session.  It was challenging to find a  year's worth of tales that worked for a mostly preschool-age audience, but it was fun.  And some stories were just a natural fit.  Like The Little Red Hen.  It has the key qualities you want in an oral tale for young kids:  An easy to follow pattern, so they can hold the story in their minds without getting confused.  A satisfying twist at the end that makes sense (when the "Not I's" switch to "I will's" and the Hen finally gets to eat the bread she baked.  And a fun piece of participation.

When I tell the story, I have the kids join me with the "Not I" parts.  And we all use different voices for the animals (Dog, Cat, and Pig).  I tell them Dog has a sort of deep voice, and Cat has sort of a meow-y voice, and Pig has a snort-y voice...and after we do Pig's "Not I," we all give one snort.  It's important to emphasize just one snort or things can get out of hand.

I've tried adding participatory actions:  they can pretend to dig, and water, and thresh, and all.  But more often I think it's just a little too much extra and distracts from the forward movement of the story.  Doing "Not I's" only is just about right for the oral version.

For a recent Family Storytime, Terri led a variation of this approach.  She told it using laminated shapes, attaching them with Velcro to our big felt board.  This is a storytelling format that was used a lot at our library in the past, but as crowds got bigger, we've started using scanned images projected on the screen more often, since we can make those pretty big.  But there's something very appealing about actually moving the shapes on a board, and it draws the kids' attention in different ways. Even with the shapes added, it's still essentially an oral tale.  Terri told it, but since we had two of us, I led the kids with the "Not I" bits.

The oven piece included a simple little trick, with two doors where there appears to be one.  So Terri pulled the door open, put in the Bread Dough shape, but when she opened it (using the second door this time), it had turned into baked bread.  One of the reasons it's so fun to tell stories to four year olds:  They're pretty easy to fool.

This was actually just on of three "Little Red Hen" versions we shared as part of our "One Story Three Ways" theme.  A summary of that session will come soon....