Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wild Things Without the Pictures

Book: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Props: None
Puppets: None
Presenters: 1

I think many librarians tell Where the Wild Things the way we did this week in our Family Storytime, but just in case, I’ll share it here. It’s amazing how a book with such brilliant illustrations also has a story and language that make it ideal for oral telling as well. I start by showing the book, which most (but not all) kids know. And show a picture of Max just so those not familiar with the book can picture his wolf suit. Then we all stand up, open up the creaky door of our pretend closet, and put on our wolf suits: Legs, arms, hood, claws, teeth, ears, whiskers, and don’t forget the tail….it’s just fun to play around with all of that. Then we tell the story together.

The words are so perfectly chosen that I do memorize them exactly (well, almost). And they’re not as hard to remember as you’d think because the story flows so well. Typically I mess up a bit on the “through a night, in and out of weeks, and almost over a year” part, if not on the way there, on the way back. That’s not so bad, but on one of my three performances this week in Family Storytime I skipped “and Max said ‘I’ll eat you up!’” which is pretty close to unforgivable. (Because not only does that establish Max’s character, the “eat you up” is repeated later by the wild things, which is the sort of subtle touch that genius picture book authors do, and they would probably get annoyed if they knew that they’re stellar prose was being mangled by a librarian who should know, but it’s been a really busy week and I didn’t have much time to practice, and…I know, that’s no excuse). Nobody commented, but it will take me a while to get over that one.

The opportunities for kids to play along are neatly paced throughout the story: When “his mother called him ‘Wild Thing’” we shake a scolding finger. “In Max’s room a forest grew”: pull up trees from the ground. “ceiling hung with vines”: pull down fines from above. “walls became the world all around”: a slow 360 spin. The best part, of course, is the “roared their terrible roars…” part which happens twice in the text and you can also have them do it in the wolf suits at the beginning and during the wild rumpus. I especially like to watch the kids “roll their terrible eyes” which translates physically as “roll your terrible head.” And although I do stick to Sendak’s text, it’s easy to insert quick instructions along the way: “and they made him king of all wild things (everybody put on your crowns).”

Along with the loud wild bits, the story also has just enough moments where the kids have to be quieter and more focused, like when “Max tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once”: have the kids join you in staring and it’s a perfect quiet moment right after the roaring and just before the rumpus. So can actually control the story without things getting out of hand (at least as far as you usually can when several dozen 2-7 year olds pretend to be monsters).

I like to end it by finishing the story (“and it was still hot”), then having everyone sit down, and just before we move on to the next story: “Wait a minute! I can’t send you guys out into the library like this! You still have your wolf suits on and you’ll scare everybody!” So then we stand back up and take off each piece of the wolf suit. And if we forget one thing (which I sometimes do on purpose) someone always catches it. After we close the closet I like to say: “But you can take your wolf suit out again any time you want,” which I hope some kids and parents will take as a reminder of how easy and fun it can be to act out a story.

I’m pretty sure I learned this approach to Wild Things from the first storytelling book I every used: Just Enough to Tell a Story by Nancy Schimmel (which has excellent ideas for oral tales) where she describes how she learned it from “The Folktellers” (Barbara Freeman and Connie Regan-Blake). Which is pretty much how storytelling works….

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