Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mr. Bear, Danny, and a bunch of farm animals

Book: Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack
Puppets: Bear, Duck, Sheep, Chicken, Cow
Props: Pillow, Blanket, Egg, Milk
Presenters: One
Audience: Toddler (1s and 2s) or Preschool
Link to Youtube Video Demo

This is one of those classic (69 years old!) picture books that adapts very neatly to tell with puppets in different ways. My favorite way is to just tell the story with most of Marjorie Flack’s words plus some participation from the kids, with me as narrator and as Danny. So Danny sets off to get ideas for his mother “and he met….who did he meet?...[out pops Duck]: Mrs. Duck!....“What does a duck say?” [kids quack]. Then switching from narrator to Danny, it’s: “’Mrs. Duck,’ said Danny, ‘can you give me something for my mother’s birthday?” Duck pulls up a pillow from the bag, and Danny politely thanks her, but his mother already has a pillow.

There’s a nice gentle rhythm to the story’s pattern, and telling it slowly and softly is the way to go, even with toddlers when there’s sometimes a finite limit to their attention spans. After a few animal/present sequences (cow/milk, chicken/egg, sheep/blanket) the pattern shifts when you give an unexpected pause and your voice gets a little quieter as Danny contemplates going to see Mr. Bear. Of course Mr. Bear isn’t scary at all, but he’s different enough from the farm animals that it adds just the right amount of Toddler-level suspense.

Once Danny gets home to Mother and everyone’s waiting to see what present he’ll give her, the story neatly prolongs the suspense a bit more as Mother tries to guess. I just tell this dialogue, without a Danny or Mother puppet, and pull out the pillow, blanket, and other props again as she guesses (so when they first appear I have to remember to keep them handy). You can just see those two-year-old brains working as they recall and anticipate the gift ideas: narrative skills at work! The bear hug that ends the story is me hugging bear and, if it’s been told right, all of the grown-ups in the audience hugging their kids.

I do make a few small changes from the book in order to tell it fluidly with puppets. In the book, each animal follows Danny as he goes to ask the next one, but I drop that bit to keep it manageable. The book uses nice language variation during Danny’s travels (trot, skip, etc.), but I choose to drop that and stick with the barest bones of the language. And four farm animals, or even three, works well with toddler ages, rather than the five in the book.

And I have tried it different ways with puppets. Having a Danny and a Mother puppet is workable, but for me it adds more puppet handling without enhancing the story. Also I like the way that young children so readily accept the fact that not every character needs to be represented by a puppet…it puts the story a bit more into the realm of “storytelling” than “puppet show,” and that feels right for this book.


  1. Hi, this is a slightly random question but do you know the make of the cow teddy bear? I used to have the exact same cow and dog but lost both :(

  2. That cow puppet is made by Chosun International. I've had it for a while, though, and am not sure where I got it.... - steven e