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.   

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