Book: Blue Sea by Robert Kalan, illustrated by Donald Crews
Props, Puppets: nothing...just fingers
Audience: Toddler Time (1 & 2 year olds)
After 25+ years of story times, I tend to get a little bored with fingerplays. I stick to my favorites mostly and feel like I’m not being creative, but really there just aren’t many that measure up to “Where is Thumbkin,” “Five Little Monkeys,” and the like. But I do love it when I can find a story that can be told with fingers. That way the kids get the physical activity they need, but at the same time, I still get to tell a story. One of my favorite finger stories is Blue Sea by Robert Kalan and Donald Crews. A perfect picture book, so I hope this version inspires kids to check it out.
You can show the kids how to move as you tell the story or introduce the pieces before as an introduction. Small Fish is your pinky. Big Fish is pointer plus thumb. Bigger Fish is four fingers plus thumb. And Biggest Fish is your whole arm, with your forearm moving up and down to make a closing mouth.
So you use the simple words directly from the story and motion out the chases with your fingers. And the kids do the same. Little Fish appears. Big Fish appears and chase them. Then you leave Big Fish there and your Little Fish hand now becomes Bigger Fish, who chases Big Fish. And so on.
Then each fish gets caught in a hole, which you (and the kids) also provide. Small Hole is a triangle made when you touch your hand to your shoulder. Each fish zips through it, but Biggest Fish can’t fit (and says: “Ouch!”). Smaller Hole is the biggest circle you can make with finger and thumb. Smallest Hole is a tiny hole with finger and thumb. In the end your left with just your pinky floating around and the words: “Little Fish. Blue sea. The end.”
It makes a great participatory story, and it also has strong early literacy elements. The patterned words exercise narrative skills. Pretty young kids catch the pattern right away, then are able to see how it reverses itself as the fish disappear. With very few words, it’s still excellent for vocabulary, introducing the comparative (er) and superlative (est) suffixes in a way that makes sense. And although adding motions seems to make it more complicated to learn, the motions of the story actually make it easier to remember, especially for kinetic learners who learn by doing. After it's over I'll sometimes encourage the parents to try retelling the story this way at home, since you really can learn it pretty completely just by doing it once.