Friday, May 27, 2011

Who Said Meow with puppets

Book: Who Said Meow? by Maria Polushkin (from the story by Vladimir Suteev), Illustrated by Ellen Weiss (or other versions noted below)
Puppets: Cat, Dog, Bee, plus two or three other animals
Props: None
Presenters: One
Audience: Toddler Time (1s and 2s), but also excellent for Preschoolers
Link to video demo on Youtube

This is one of my favorite puppet stories to teach to storytellers who haven’t used puppets that much. It’s all built around the simplest of actions: Kitten sneaks up on Puppy and says “Meow!” Then Kitten hides (behind teller’s back) just a second before Puppy turns around to see who said that. The kids think that’s very funny the first time you do it. The second and third times, because they know it’s coming, it’s even funnier. You’d think at that point they might be tired of it, but no…I think you could pretty much do it for a full half hour and they’d still get a kick out of it.

So for a beginning puppeteer, it’s a great way to get a feel for puppet handling and timing. And there is a strong story to go along with it too: “Puppy was sleeping a sweet puppy sleep. Just above his ears, he heard someone say ‘Meow!’” That’s Kitten’s first appearance. When Puppy turns and doesn’t see Kitten, he says “Who said ‘meow?’” which becomes the refrain throughout the story. Puppy sets off to see if he can find who said “meow,” and meets a few more animals, and most of these don’t have to match the book. These meetings can be simple animal sound scenes for toddlers, but for preschoolers I like to play these scenes up a bit: When Puppy asks Rooster, for example, the bird rears back with a loud “Cock-a-Doodle Doo” that flips Puppy over.

In between animals, Kitten can pop in for another sneaky “meow” or two, but that’s optional. Telling it with puppets like this gives the teller great flexibility, so you can shorten or lengthen and be more or less silly as needed. The last animal Puppy meets is a Bee, who stings him right on the nose. So here we get some drama and pathos just before the happy ending, and the teller’s voice can get all mock-sad while saying: “His poor puppy fur was wet. His poor puppy nose was sore.” Then Puppy goes sadly home, curls up for sleep again, and Kitten pops out. Finally Puppy looks and sees Kitten and asks him to join him for a nap. I usually draw this out with a few more words than the book: “‘Did you say meow? I should have known it was my best friend Kitten all along. Would you like to take a cozy nap with me?’ And Kitten said….‘Meow’” as you bundle the two puppets up together.

The book has been around in different versions over the years. I learned it from the 1988 edition illustrated by Ellen Weiss and only recently learned that there was an earlier version illustrated by Guiulio Maestro from 1975. And in 1998 Katya Arnold illustrated and retold it from the same original story that Polushkin used. As for puppets, any dog and cat will do, but you happen to have a Dog that’s big and floppy, use that one for sure. The sheepdog I have, for example, may not look great in still photos (see above), but he’s great once he gets moving.

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