Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Mitten with Puppets and Felt

Book:  The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt , Illustrated by Yaroslava*

Puppets:  3 or more forest animals of varied size, Bear, Mouse
Props:  Felt mittens of five or more sizes, plus a board to stick them on
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Toddlers (1’s and 2’s) or Preschoolers

The Mitten has been a storytime favorite for librarians for a long time, and there are many ways to tell it.  We have a neat little stretchy mitten at our library with some small stuffed animals that you cram in there as you tell the tale, and that works great for smaller audiences.  On the opposite side of the scale, some tellers use kids as the animals along with a huge mitten made out of a sheet for them to enter…I remember seeing Todd Dunkelberg of the Deschutes County Library do a great version of it this way. 

My favorite way is with puppets and felt, probably because it’s simple…and I just like puppets.  I just use a poster-sized felt board that can stand up.  I don’t have an actual felt board, so I just use the lid to one of my puppet pins, use book ends to stand it up, and tape some fabric onto it.  My puppets are in a bag, in size order, and the mittens are stacked behind the board, also in size order.  Then the story almost tells itself.

I start by telling about the boy who took his mittens off in the snow and lost one of them, then stick the lost one on the board.  Rabbit pops out of the bag, sees the the mitten and hops in to get warm.  His entry is just a hop behind the board.  Then it’s:  “He fit inside, but the mitten stretched a little bit bigger.”  Then I replace that smallest mitten with the next size up. 
The pattern continues with the next animal.  From now on,
though, when Chipmunk (or whoever) hops toward the mitten, the animal who just entered pops out to rebuff him, until the new animal convinces the other that there must be room for one more.  I like this piece because you get some good puppet interaction.  It does take a bit of practice, since you have to be getting the in-the-mitten puppet onto your off hand while at the same time you’re moving and talking with the out-of-the-mitten puppet.  With a preschool audience, I’ll have the puppets spar a bit, with Chipmunk trying to sneak past and Rabbit heading him off just in time.  But with Toddlers we don’t need any of that…just meet, talk, and into the mitten.  When the new animal is allowed in, you trade up a mitten size, and on the story goes.


A nice big Bear puppet makes the ending especially fun, since the audience can see there’s no way he could fit too.  And once he does go in, I hesitate a bit before bringing out the biggest mitten…which isn’t big enough for Bear really, but is big enough to get a “wow” or two out of the young audience.  

Though I follow the Alvin Tresselt version that I learned it from for most of the telling, I do like Jan Brett’s twist of having Mouse tickle Bear’s nose to cause the sneeze that bursts the mitten apart.  The audience can supply the big “achoo!” and I just reach behind the board and toss all of the animals up in the air.  Tossing everyone at once is fun, but I think it works a bit better to do it one after another.  Either way it's always fun to toss a bunch of puppets in Storytime (see also Mr. Gumpy's Outing and The Napping House) 

To end it (after gathering up animals as quickly as I can), I like to hold the biggest mitten in one hand and the smallest in the other:  “The next day, the boy found his missing mitten…but there was something different about it….”

 You can use any forest-y animals for this one, though Mouse and Bear are pretty essential for this way of telling it.  As for the felt mittens, I avoid cutting stuff out whenever possible, but even I managed to make those shapes okay. 

* Versions by Jan Brett and Jim Aylesworth/Barbara McClintock are also excellent

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Kind - Pig Pays It Forward

Book:  How Kind  by Mary Murphy
Puppets:  Hen, Pig, Rabbit, Cow, Cat, Puppy
Props:  Egg, Carrot, Flowers, Milk, Stick, Egg, Chick
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Toddlers (1’s and 2’s)

Here’s one of those circular stories that works neatly with puppets and very young kids.  Hen lays an egg and decides to give it to….Pig.  Pig’s response is one that repeats with each transaction:  “How kind!”  Hen’s gift makes Pig want to do something kind too, so he gives a carrot to…Rabbit.  Rabbit is then inspired to give flowers to Cow, who gives milk to Cat, who plays a game with Puppy, whose gift (a stick) brings us back to Pig.  Pig then shows Puppy that egg he got from Hen….which hatches, he gives the chick to Hen whose response neatly concludes the book:  “How kind!”  It’s kind of like Pay It Forward for toddlers (but no one gets shot), at a level that’s just right for them. 

The patterned telling makes it a natural for puppets, though it does require some orderly hand switching and prop handling, so it definitely needs a run-through or two before presenting.  I tell it so that both the next animal and the next gift are pop-outs from the puppet bag.  So it’s Rabbit saying.  “I will do something kind too.  I will get my…..”  (hesitation while Rabbit (and audience) look toward the bag) “….carrot!”  And I will give this carrot to my friend…”  (hesitation/anticipation again) “…Cow!”  It’s a story to tell with a slow pace, so the kids can absorb what’s happening and get into the pattern.  Quick switches from one animal to the next could lose them. 

I use a second bag for this one to make sure that I can easily stash each animal and prop out of temptation’s reach.  And also so I can quickly grab Pig and Hen for their return appearances at the end.  For my Toddler Time presentation of this, I cut Puppy and went straight from Cat to Pig.  Partly because it seemed like five animals was just the right number for this age, and also because the “gift” that Cat gives Puppy (playing his favorite game) is a bit of a shift from the pattern, where the puppet gets something from the bag.  I like the gift of a game in the book, since it expands the concept of kindness to stuff we do, not just stuff we give….but with puppets and toddlers I so often opt for simplifying. 

This is only available in board book these days, which is fine, but I really liked the original hardcover (now $67.99 at amazon!)


Sunday, December 11, 2011

K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: Mo Willems Author Celebration

Our November K-2 Book Adventure was a “Mo Willems Author Celebration.”  One of the easiest and most fun ones yet.  He has a ton of stories that are great for large groups, award-winning videos, and a website with interesting author facts, silly dances, and a cool handout!
We started with “Facts About the Author” projected on the screen and used these throughout the program in between stories.  Those segments were: 

“Mo Looks Like This” (plenty of silly photos on the website);   “Mo Wins Medals,” talking about his Caldecott,(illustrator); Giesel (author/illustrator); and Carnegie (filmmaker) honors;   “Mo Draws on His Walls” featured photos of the butcher paper and chalkboard drawings from his home, with work by family and visitors as well;   and “Mo Worked for a TV Show” with a slide of Sesame Street. 

    As far as stories, there were so many to choose from.  We started with an “Elephant and Piggie”:  Watch Me Throw the Ball, which Brad and I had done for Family Storytime before.  Sheila (Piggie) and Terri (Elephant) had way too good of a time winding up for the big throws.  

    Then it was Leonardo the Terrible Monster, with me narrating, Terri as Leonardo, and Sheila as Sam, the boy that Leonardo makes cry (except that’s really not the reason he cries).  This was all acted out, pretty much word for word.  We did include a few slides on the screen:  scans from the book of the other monsters to compare to Leonardo (Tony with all those teeth, Eleanor (she's big), and Hector who's "just plain weird")

    Next up was Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, which if you’re doing a Mo Willems program you kind of have to do.  Like a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band has to play “Free Bird” every time.  Details on our telling are here.

    My favorite part of the program was City Dog, Country Frog.  Details about why I liked it and how we did it are here.


    We always need something towards the end of these programs to get the kids up and moving, and fortunately Mo’s website provided that too.  We linked to the Elephant and Piggie Dance Game. The page asks you to pick three dances for each character and then plays them back, with animated E & P demonstrating the steps.  We just told the kids to follow either or both and have fun.  We ran it twice and that seemed just right.  If this blog entry is going on too long and you need a quick exercise break, the "Funky Trunky" and "Twist and Snout" might be just the thing.   

    As a finisher, we showed the Carnegie winning DVD of Knuffle Bunny.  This was the first time we did a straight video for this program, but it fit just right since we had already highlighted his awards.  It’s just such a perfect video from the introduction (a perfect model of Dialogic Reading) to the voices of Mo, daughter Trixie, and wife Cher.  Here’s a clip that shows the first half of the movie. 

    After that nice ending, we gave out Pigeon Door Hangers and let kids check out books.  Which they did!  We always get lots of checkouts at our K-2 events, but this time they nearly cleared us out. 

    As always, we visited schools to promote the program the day before.  This gave us a chance to do another “Elephant and Piggie” story, since we had such a hard time limiting ourselves to one during the program.  We acted out Can I Play, Too with all three of us:  I was Elephant, Sheila was Piggie, and Terri was Snake (with a green scarf wrapped around her arms).  Again, we used Mo’s words, threw a bunch of balls to Snake (who couldn’t catch them of course), then finally played catch “with” Snake, throwing Terri back and forth between us (well, pretending to throw her, while she flailed about as if being tossed through the air, which you kind of have to see to get, but she made it work!). 

    So we liked this K-2 Book Adventure a lot.  So far we've tried to do one "Author Celebration" per quarter, and have done Arnold Lobel and Dr. Seuss in the past.  But we're not sure yet who our next one will be.  There are many great authors out there, but not that many who have multiple titles that adapt well to acting out, puppetry, and the rest...

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    City Dog, Country Frog, George Benson, Stevie Wonder, and Others

    Book:  City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, Illustrated by Jon J. Muth
    Puppets:  None
    Props:  None
    Technology:    Projector for scanned images;  iPod or similar for music
    Presenters:  one (though another to manage the music is very helpful)
    Audience:  K-2

    We featured Mo Willems for our November K-2 Book Adventure program.  Which meant we had great fun with Elephant and Piggie, Pigeon, and Leonardo the Terrible Monster.  But we also decided to throw in a change of pace, this wonderful collaboration with Jon J. Muth.  We weren’t sure exactly how to present it.  It’s a sad story, with a frog/friend that dies.  We considered preparing the kids for that in the introduction (something between “this is going to be kind of a sad story” and “kids, that frog is gonna die”), but it didn’t seem true to the book.  The book gives the reader credit for perceiving and understanding what’s going on, so we decided to do the same.  As Sheila said, we should let the listeners interpret and ponder where the frog is and how the dog feels.   

    The first plan was to just read the book, showing scanned illustrations on our projector.  Then Sheila had the great idea of adding background music, where different pieces could reflect the four seasons of the book.  Classical music seemed to make sense, but there's precious little of that on my ipod full of pop/rock/soul (the disco hit "A Fifth of Beethoven" doesn't count), so I picked some instrumentals that seemed to fit.  For Spring, we used George Bensons “Breezin’.”  (Link is to a sample clip from Amazon).  The intro started, then I read those first pages.  Terri adjusted the volume so it was loud enough to hear, but didn’t drown out the words.  As that section ended (“And that was Spring”) she faded it out, then started the next one.  Summer was a Cat Stevens tune called “Whistlestar;”  Autumn was “Embryonic Journey” by the Jefferson Airplane.  Winter was the hardest to pick from…it had to be kind sad, but not too sad.  We wound up with “Easy Goin’ Evening” by Stevie Wonder, which isn't really sad, but just has a slow, wistful quality that seemed to work. 

    The music helped establish the moods very well I think.  As I practiced with the music I got a feel for how to pace it.  Slow, with pauses to think and aborb, is the way to go.  When winter came and there are those scenes of City Dog looking and waiting for Country Frog, we heard one boy softly comment:  “the frog’s dead.”  And another little girl responded “no he’s not.”  And both seemed perfectly ok. 

    The last section (“Spring again”) worked especially well with the music, since we brought back Breezin’,”   which was distinctive enough that it sounded familiar and very light and happy.  It kind of musically completed the full circle of the narrative.

    It felt right to include a different kind of Mo book in this program.  But just in case it brought anyone down too much, we did the Elephant and Piggy Dance Game right after, and silliness ruled again.  A summary of the Mo Willems Author Celebration will come soon.   

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Pigeon, with Puppet and Projection

    Book:  Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus  by Mo Willems
    Puppets:  Pigeon (or a vaguely pigeon-ish bird]
    Props:  Bus cutout (optional), Net, Bat
    Presenters:  Three (two would work)
    Audience:  K-2

    Our November “K-2 Book Adventure” programs was a “Mo Willems Author Celebration."  A summary of the program will come soon.  The tough part with Mo was limiting ourselves to just four books.  Pigeon was a must, though, even though most of the kids knew the story well.  We pretty much stuck to Mo’s words exactly, and used a puppet, a bit of projection, and some interaction to add a few surprises.

    As Bus Driver, Terri carried/drove a big painted bus cut -out around the room, picking up a couple kids, then dropping them back off at their seats. Then she parked the bus and warned the kids about that pigeon.  I had a bird puppet behind one of our curtained backdrops.  Not a pigeon puppet, but a cool, big, goofy bird that Sheila made a long time ago that just seems right for a piegeon-y personality.  Pigeon pops in and out and delivers his lines.  Just like when you read the book, the audience is also part of the telling, reacting to each of pigeons pleas and ploys.  The kids were great, getting into the “No!s” just right without totally shouting down Pigeon’s words.

    We added a few bits where Pigeon actually tries to sneak onto the bus.  We had a long table with a table cloth adjacent to the backdrop.  So halfway through Pigeon says:  “I guess I won’t get to drive the bus then” and walks down behind the backdrop.  Then I sneak behind the table and pop him up, walking along the table towards the parked bus.  (Sliding along on the floor on my side with my arm sticking up is not the most comfortable position, but nobody ever said a puppeteer’s life is easy).  Then Sheila steps up as guardian of the bus.  This first time she plants a Stop sign in front of Pigeon and he retreats back behind the backdrop.  Since we had our projection screen down (to use at the end of the story), Pigeon moved along the table, but in front of the screen, so we had the projector shine a blank white slide which worked sort of like a spotlight.  

    Reappearing behind the backdrop, Pigeon continues with lines from the book, then departs and sneaks along the table again.  This time the kids are looking for him there.  So is Sheila, who grabs him in a big butterfly net, pulls him off my hand, and drops him back behind the backdrop.  Pigeon’s final rant, which is a loud, manic “Let Me Drive the Bus!” is followed by Sheila coming after him with a plastic baseball bat, whacking several times at the top of the backdrop as he barely moves aside.  These three incidents add a bit of surprise to the story that the kids know well, plus give some more physical action to complement the personality-based dialogue. 

    Terri returns as Bus Driver, thanks the kids, and drives off.  We thought of moving in a another cut-out vehicle for the truck at the end, but instead used the screen.  We scanned the red truck from the book and just had it slowly crawl onto the screen.  Pigeon looks up at it and says “I wonder….,” then the truck zips back and forth across the screen (using motion paths) with Pigeon at the wheel.

    A two-person version of all of this could have Bus Driver also being the one who guards the bus.  You’d just have to do a hat change or something to make it clear that this is no longer the Bus Driver.  We even thought of having a volunteer or two from the audience be the ones to stop Pigeon, but decided the timing and interaction needed to be more precise and rehearsed.

    A summary of the “Mo Willems Author Celebration” program is coming soon…    

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    Bugs Photos + Bug Videos

    Book:  Bugs A to Z  by Terri DeGezelle
    Puppets:  None
    Props:  None
    Technology:    Projector for scanned images;  Internet to play embedded videos
    Presenters:  one
    Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

    I wanted to include a non-fiction book for our “Bugs” storytime, and using a portion of Bugs A to Z worked pretty well.  This book has a full color photograph of a bug for each letter of the alphabet, plus a couple paragraphs of basic facts.  For storytime, I scanned six of the more familiar bugs:   Ants/Aphids;  Dragonflies;  Honeybee;   Fireflies; Ladybugs; and Grasshopppers.  I first showed the letter (“G is for….”) and asked the kids to guess.  This worked best when I gave them really good clues:   “It’s green and it hops…”  (and if the child I call on doesn’t get it:  “It hops on the grass…and it starts with ‘grass…’”).  

    Then the photo is on the screen, and these are large enough and clear enough to be pretty impressive visually.  I share a fact or two from the text, but not everything with this age group.  Reading this book one on one I would read it all, but for a group it needed to be simple and graspable.  So for ladybugs:  “If they are in danger, they can pull their head under their shell...” and that's enough.  Our little laser pointer came in handy for showing the ladybug’s head, the grasshopper’s wings and feet where they rub them together, etc. 

    This all would have worked fine, but to make it even more engaging I added a short Youtube video for three of the six insects.  The photo (above) shows the dragonfly’s two sets of wings very nicely.  But when you can then show a slow motion video (below) that clearly shows how the wings don’t move in unison, it really comes through well.  For the fireflies, the film showed a night sky with fireflies flickering in the distance and the kids had fun spotting them before they quickly disappeared.  We ended with the “song” of the grasshopper.  In the video you can just see the legs moving against the wings. 


    Normally I feel a bit hesitant to add a video feature, since it seems like it might lead kids away from library books for learning.  But the truth is kids can and do learn a lot from both, and I felt like the film clips supported the words and photos without detracting from them.  We had a bunch of other non-fiction insect books for preschool age kids (or close) on our book display table, and letting the audience know about these as the conclusion for this book led to a lot of checkouts.     

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    Mr. Gumpy for Toddlers, Preschoolers, or Grown Ups

    Book:  Mr. Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham
    Puppets:  Man, Child, 3-6 Farm Animals
    Prop:   Boat (box lid, shallow tub, almost anything big and flat works)
    Presenters:   One with puppets, two if acted out
    Audience:   Toddler, Preschool
    Video:  How to Tell Mr. Gumpy's Outing with Puppets

    This classic picture book is one of my favorites to tell with puppets.  The story and puppetry are both simple:  Mr. Gumpy is about to take a boat ride on the river when a child comes along ans asks to join him (it's two kids in the book, but one works better with puppets).  "Yes," says Mr. G., "but you mustn't squabble."
     


    A series of animals comes one by one to join the outing.  Mr. Gumpy allows each one to climb aboard, but always with a warning (“don’t muck about” to the Pig is my favorite).  Off they go, and everything’s fine until…”the pig mucked about…the dog teased the cat…the child squabbled…and the boat tipped over and they all fell into the river.”

    It’s a simple, natural telling with puppets.  Each hopeful passenger pops out of the puppet bag, interacts with Mr. Gumpy, and gets into the boat.  The boat can be a flat box lid or tub lid.  Even better is a flat surface with short sides, like a soda can case box or a wide, shallow plastic lid, so you can prop some of the passengers over the edge.  Even so, some of the animals don’t really stand up that well once they’re in the boat, but that’s okay, I just pile them in.  At that point the audience is focused on the next animal, and just need to see that the boat is getting more and more full.  When the boat tips over, of course, you just dump all of the puppets onto the floor.  A fun moment, especially with toddlers because they don’t quite expect you to do that with puppets. 

    After the spill, they swim to the shore, dry off, and join Mr. Gumpy for tea.  A very comforting conclusion:  yes, everyone did what they weren’t supposed to do and caused a disaster, but they all just decide to make it part of a fine day anyway.  I actually think everyone in the boat knew this would happen all along and were even looking forward to it, including Mr. Gumpy.

    The dialogue between Mr. Gumpy and the animals if fun, as the not always familiar language (“mustn’t squabble”…”don’t trample”…”don’t muck about”) catches the ear and the attention. 

    I used this presentation with toddlers a couple weeks ago, but the story also works well on a larger scale.  For our Family Storytime, we’ve acted it out with one narrator, one Mr. Gumpy (with hat and long pole), a cut-out boat that leans against chairs, and kids joining the boat as the passengers (with puppets or other props).  In fact, we like the story so much, Terri and I even performed it for adults at a recent Library Foundation dinner, to give supporters a sample of what library programs are like….     

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    Stolen Cookies and Marching Ants

    Book:  Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar  by Bonnie Lass & Philemon Sturges;  Illustrated by Ashley Wolff   (other versions also available)
    Puppets:  Four animals, almost any will do
    Props:  Guitar is nice if you can play, but fine without
    Presenters:   Two
    Technology:  Scanned images projected;  Also nice if you have a screen you can sneak behind, but not required
    Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

    Brad and I told this story for our “Bug”-themed Family Storytime.  Bugs really only show up at the end, but that’s close enough.  My first thought was to have one of us out in front, looking for the missing cookies with the other behind the puppet stage, popping out animals one by one.  But we didn’t have a good idea for the ending, where it’s revealed that ants are the culprits.  Then Brad came up with the excellent idea of projecting the ants on the screen.  And if we’re showing the ants at the end, why not also use the screen to show the cookies.  He copied images of ants and cookies, set up some Motion Paths with PowerPoint, and here’s how it worked. 

    We set up our puppet stage to the left of our projection screen and a paneled wall on the right side.  Just beneath the screen was a table with a table cloth so you couldn’t see behind it.  Brad sees an empty cookie jar on the table and sings the song:  “Who took the cookies from the cookie jar…?”  The tune that seemed to fit best for him was the TIki Tiki Tiki Room from Disneyland (you remember:  “In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room / In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room / All the birds sing words and the flowers croon / In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.”) and it worked great.  As he sang, I clicked the remote which sent one cookie marching across the screen towards the puppet stage.  Many kids spotted it, but not all.  So Brad approaches the stage and Mouse pops out.  Brad suggests that Mouse took the cookies, and the rodent defends himself with the refrain from the book:  “Who me?  Couldn’t be!  Please don’t tease.  I only eat….cheese!” 

    Mouse exits, and another cookie marches across the screen, this time towards the panel on the other side of the screen.  And there’s just enough room behind the projection screen for me to move behind it, unseen by the kids, to the panel on the other side.  Brad follows the cookie, accuses the animal that pops out on that side (Bird:  “I share your concern, but I only eat…worms!” and the pattern continues. 

    We did this four times, so all the kids soon spotted the traveling cookies.  Finally Brad starts the song for the last time and the next click shows cookies marching again, but this time you also see the Ants carrying them. 

    Brad’s idea of using the screen as a sort of extension of the puppet stage was great.  We’ve already used it again for a different story (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, which will have an entry here soon).  It allowed us to move from one side of the room to the other, with the cookies changing directions each time.  Without using the screen this way, though, it would have been fine to have all of the puppets appear in the same spot.  We just would have had the cookies march across in the same direction each time, instead of alternating.   

    The flow of this story was nice because it incorporated several types of interaction, but in ways that the kids could easily follow and play along with:  singing along with the song;  spotting the moving cookies;  and focusing on the puppets’ interactions with Brad.

    Since we did this story four times in three days (all of our Family Storytimes run this way), I had some fun substituting different puppets:   a Frog (“you must realize, I only eat…flies!”);  two Dogs (“we don’t care for your tone!  We only eat…bones”);   a Bear (“You might think it’s funny, but only eat….bunnies!...Oops, I mean I only eat…honey!”).  So really any puppets will do. 

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    No and Yes with Baby

    Book:  No No Yes Yes  by Leslie Patricelli Puppets:   Baby, Cat
    Prop:   Book, Bottle, Pillow….anything else a baby can play with
    Presenters:   One
    Audience:   Toddlers  (1 & 2s)

    Leslie Patricelli’s board books are among my favorites for one and two year olds.  Besides being very funny, the illustrations are bold and bright enough to work in a storytime setting if the group isn’t too large.  In No, No, Yes, Yes, a baby does something wrong on the first page (pulls a cat’s tail), then does it right on the opposite page (pets the cat).  The only text is “no no” for one page and “yes yes” for the other.  I like to read the book, with kids and parents joining in on the no’s and yeses, then pull out my own baby puppet and have him follow up with the same pattern.

    I use some of the actions from the book.  Baby pulls out a squeaky hammer and hammers me on the head (“no, no!”), then softly hammers the table (“yes, yes!”).  Out pops a cat puppet for tail pulling and then petting.  The pattern of the book is so strong, you can really see the kids anticipating what the puppet will do based on the book they just saw.  I’m not sure if they’re specifically remembering (“he pulled the cat’s tail in the book, now he’s going to pull the puppet cat’s tail, then he’ll pet the cat, like he did in the book”) or if they’re more applying the pattern they’ve absorbed (“he’s going to do something he shouldn’t do to that cat, then he’s going to do something that’s ok”).  Either way it’s excellent practice at narrative skills.

    Then I bring in a few new items that weren’t in the book to extend the pattern.  A baby bottle (hold it upside down and shake it….then drink); or a cracker (crumble one cracker up…then get a second cracker and politely nibble).  I like to finish with a pillow and do a few “no no’s”:   Toss it in the air;  Bop me on the head with it;  Bounce up and down on it.  Then finally end it with a satisfying “yes yes” of lying down and going to sleep.

    If you don’t have a baby puppet, an animal can work just as well as the one that gets stuff wrong, then right.  It’s all pretty simple, but the combination of narrative skills development and playing around with behaviors that are just at the audience’s level, make it an especially appealing toddler time choice.  

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: Magical Tales & Tricks

    Our October “K-2 Book Adventure” was on “Magical Tales & Tricks.”   We don’t have a real strict structure for this program, and it this case the theme lent itself to a slightly different approach:  We alternated stories with magical elements with actual magic tricks. 
     We highlighted two of Rose Wyler’s early reader magic trick books…still the best for simple tricks that kids can really do.  We weren’t trying to impress the kids with our magician skills (since we have none); we wanted them to understand the trick and get excited about trying it on their own.

     To start off we handed out a tube of paper to every child and had them try “The Magnificent Magical Hand Trick” (we did make up our own names for the tricks to get some alliteration going).  That’s where you hold your hand next to the tube, look through it, and it looks like it has a hole in it.  I think about 75% of the kids got it.  Which did make this maybe not the best choice for an opening trick, but we wanted one that everyone could do.

    Then we acted out The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button.  Details are on this page.

    Next trick was “The Sensational Strange String Trick.”  Put two strings into your mouth…pull out one string!  This one takes a bit of practice, but works very well. As I mentioned, we don’t have sleight of hand skills, but did have a lot of fun with the patter, going on a bit about how we thought about using tape or glue to connect the strings, but instead….we’ll do it with our mouth!

    The Wizard, the Fairy and the Magic Chicken was our next magical tale.  Details are here.

    “The Stupendous Sticky Hand Trick” is where you pick up a ruler with your flat palm and no fingers.  Obvious once you see the trick, but it does fool most kids the first time. 

    For a change of pace we used a “kind of” magic book:   Walter Wick’s Optical Tricks, one of my favorites.  We scanned three of the images from the book, challenging the kids to explain how the photograph we’re looking at is possible.  Then we projected the solution from the book.  For the third one, we only showed the illusion (the one with the red cube) and told them to check out the book if they can’t figure it out.  This book is a stretch for most kindergartners, but I think the first and especially second graders can get it (though I’ve also used with 4th and 5th graders, which might be even better).

    Our final magic trick was “The Extraordinary X-Ray Eyes Trick.”  This is the one where a few kids tell you their names, you write down each of them on a card, then “see through” the card that’s selected to reveal the name.  The trick:  once you write down the first kid’s name, you just write it again four more times, whatever the other names are.  Another one the kids could go home and try that night on their family I bet.

    We finished with Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola.  We stripped down the story to the core.  Strega hires Big Anthony;  Big Anthony sees her make pasta with her magic pot;  Anthony tells people about it but nobody believes him;  Anthony makes pasta, but can’t stop it.  It’s an excellent story even though many of the kids may have known it already.  And for the overflowing pasta, we got to use Silly String, which is always a plus for this program.  Since it overflowed all over Big Anthony and all over the village (the audience) there was plenty of mess to clean up, which is why we saved this one for last. 

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Little Rooster's Magic Stomach

    Story:  “The Little Rooster and the Turkish Sultan” from Twenty Tellable Tales by Margaret Read McDonald *
    Puppets:   Rooster
    Props:  Crown or similar for Sultan; Treasure chest (optional)
    Presenters:   Three; Two works also
    Audience:   K-2 (fine for preschool too)

    Here’s a great story for oral telling, which I first learned from Margaret Read McDonald’s Twenty Tellable Tales.  For our K-2 Book Adventure on “Magic Tales and Tricks,” though, we acted it out with three people.  I was the Sultan, Sheila the Servant, and Terri was Rooster (using a puppet).  Terri narrated the Rooster parts and I narrated the Sultan parts:   Terri:  “One day a Rooster found a diamond button.  And he put it in his pocket."  Steven:  “A Turkish Sultan was walking by and he told his Servant:  ‘I want you to grab that Rooster and take away his diamond button.’”  Like that…

    With three people, we could add some fun physical pieces that you don’t get as a solo teller.  When the Sultan tells the Servant to put the Rooster into the well, Sheila and Terri play aournd a bit as the Servant tries to grab the Rooster who zips just out of her reach a couple times.  When Sheila finally gets the puppet, she whips it off Terri’s hand and throws it into the audience (which for now is the well...later they are the fire and the beehive).  Then Terri recovers it and continues the story.... "the Little Rooster had a magic stomach…  This pattern goes on as the Rooster uses his magic stomach to swallow all of the water from the well;  then empties the water to put out the fire;   and then swallows all of the bees in the hive.  Each segment has a mini-chase and a Rooster-toss.  Oh, and when the water comes out to douse the fire, I squirt the audience with a water bottle. 

    We talked about ways to do the next part, where the Sultan sits on the Rooster and the bees come out.  Was there a way we could have the Rooster inside the pants?  First we’d need to find some suitable baggy pants, and we just didn't have any handy.  Maybe we could have worked it out, but we settled for Sultan just sitting upon Rooster, then getting stung.  I’ve always enjoyed Rooster’s final trick:  the audience thinks that once the Sultan gives up and the diamond button is returned, it’s all over, but Rooster uses his magic stomach to swallow up the Sultan’s treasure as well.   

    We also used this story to promote our K-2 Book Adventure program at the schools.  We only had two people for this, so we dropped the Servant and had the Sultan do the grabbing and tossing of the Rooster.  We told it to the point where the Rooster has just put out the fire with the water from the well, and the Sultan gets his next idea, which is to “take that Rooster, and put him……well, if you want to find out where the Rooster goes next, come to the library for the whole story."  It never feels quite right to leave them hanging like that, but it does work as a hook…
    * Other versions of this tale include:  The Valiant Red Rooster by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Katya Arnold;  The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button by Celia Lottridge;  Little Rooster’s Diamond Button by Margaret Read McDonald, Illustrated by Will Terry

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    Magic Chicken on stage and screen

    Book:  The Wizard, the Fairy, and the Magic Chicken by Helen Lester, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
    Presenters:  three
    Props:  Moon wand, Wizard hat, Star wand, Fairy wings, Pickle wand, Chicken hat (or similar)
    Technology:  Scans and PowerPoint
    Audience:  K-2

    For our K-2 Book Adventure theme of “Magic Tales and Tricks” we acted out one of my favorite picture books and also scanned some of the pictures to project on the screen.  We just used simple hats and wands to be the three title characters.  I was Wizard, Sheila was Fairy, and Terri was Magic Chicken.  Brad didn’t do this program, but it was his idea to use PowerPoint with this story, and he’d done a slightly different version for Storytime in the past.   

    We each demonstrated what we could do, one at a time, stepping forward and pushing the others out of the way when it was our turn.  Then we’d cast our spell with a “Zip!” (Wizard), “Zap!” (Fairy), or “Zoop!” (Chicken), and the “magic” happens on the screen.  So when Wizard changes a pig into a bicycle, the pig shows on the screen, then it’s “Zip!” and the image is of flickering lightning, followed by a bicycle.  Munsinger’s illustrations are great, but for this part we used photos of the objects.  Sometimes it’s too hard to crop a single image out of a page when it’s not surrounded by white space.   The book has Wizard kiss a pig to make the magic, but that didn’t make sense with the images on the screen; just pointing the wand worked better.

    After each character has done silly magic, they each create a monster.  For these we did use Munsinger’s illustrations…they weren’t perfectly croppable, but close enough.  I don’t like to distract from a story with a lot of PowerPoint effects, but I liked this one:  When the monsters all look at the magicians, we use the “emphasis: grow” effect, so they all get larger at once.  Then the three of us run around for a bit until we’re ready to try our magic.

    Wizard makes a cloud, but it doesn’t stop his monster.  So that’s an image of the monster;  then a cloud appears above him;  then that “grow” effect again so he grows right over the cloud.  Same thing for Chicken and her monster and rain.  We didn’t have an image for Fairy’s thunder so we just had the kids all stomp.  When the three friends finally all worked together, the cloud and rain images reappeared, plus Brad had added a cool (and loud) thunder sound effect. 

    Using another PowerPoint effect, we showed all the monsters full size, then shrank them:  that’s just copying five or six identical images, each one smaller than the next, stacked on top of each other.  Then you use the “exit: dissolve” effect and click really fast, so the bigger sizes disappear one by one.  Three tiny monsters are left and you have them each do a “motion path” that you draw in a bunch of squiggly, spirally lines, so it looks like they’re running crazily over the screen.  

    This act-out/PowerPoint combo worked very well.  As the three characters, we could play around and show enough personality so the focus was really on us.  And the screen let us show the magic happening, but not to the point where it was distracting.  More posts on the “Magic Tales and Tricks” program will come soon…. 

    Monday, October 31, 2011

    Chipmunk & Bear

    Book:  How Chipmunk Got His Stripes by Joseph Bruchac, Illustrated by Jose Aruego & Ariane Dewey
    Puppets:  Bear, Chipmunk, (plus a second Chipmunk if you’ve got one)
    Props:  Safety pins
    Presenters:  2 or 1
    Audience:  Family Storytime
    Terri and I told this one with puppets during Family Storytime.  I’ve done this solo, but it works even better with two.  Chipmunk has no stripes when the story starts (he’s called Brown Squirrel), so we folded the puppet’s stripe in and safety pinned it.  We considered acting it out or using the puppet stage, but felt it worked best with us just holding the puppets.  We could have used audience volunteers for other animals or props and/or lighting to show the sunset and sunrise, but we really liked its  strength as an oral tale so we decided against any extras.  Terri switched between narration and Chipmunk; I was Bear.      

    In the story, Bear brags that he can do anything.  Bruchac has an excellent storyteller’s refrain:  “I am Bear, I am the strongest…I can do anything…hummph!”  This is fun to do with a puppet, swinging Bear a bit to give him a swagger, and really punching the “hummph!” each time to convey his personality.  Terri used a high voice for Brown Squirrel and added a little “Wheee!” each time he finished a verse, which was just right.  The clearly contrasting personalities make it easy and fun for the kids to follow.  When Bear makes the sun go down, we just all looked over to the west of the room, then turned to the east side of the room to wait for it to come up.  Which Bear is sure won’t happen:  “The sun will not come up….hummph!”  But Brown Squirrel knows it will “The sun will come up….wheee!” 

    Terri and I are sitting on a bench with our puppets at this point.  When Brown Squirrel teases Bear too much, we have a little chase.  We made sure to slow it down and not make it too wild.  Bear takes two good leaps at Brown Squirrel, missing both times.  Then as Brown Squirrel ducks behind the backdrop (his hole), Bear gets him with a good scratch.  While Bear tells the audience that he almost got Brown Squirrel, Terri is behind the backdrop taking out those three safety pins as fast as possible.  Bear goes off to the opposite side and Brown Squirrel returns, now with stripes showing, and explains that he is now “Chipmunk, the striped one,” who’s always up early.  Bear returns to explain that he sleeps late, to avoid Chipmunk’s noise, and to forget the timed he learned the lesson that “nobody can do everything.”  

    This is one of those folktales that’s just right for the 3-5 year old crowd (and older kids as well).  Two distinct characters, humor that they get, and an explanation at the end that really makes sense.  It’s a good one-person puppet story as well, though you can’t have quite as much fun with the chase.  The safety pins are a bit harder to manage solo as well.  I actually have two identical chipmunks, so can just trade out for the second unpinned one.