Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Mitten with Puppets and Felt

Book:  The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt , Illustrated by Yaroslava*

Puppets:  3 or more forest animals of varied size, Bear, Mouse
Props:  Felt mittens of five or more sizes, plus a board to stick them on
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Toddlers (1’s and 2’s) or Preschoolers

The Mitten has been a storytime favorite for librarians for a long time, and there are many ways to tell it.  We have a neat little stretchy mitten at our library with some small stuffed animals that you cram in there as you tell the tale, and that works great for smaller audiences.  On the opposite side of the scale, some tellers use kids as the animals along with a huge mitten made out of a sheet for them to enter…I remember seeing Todd Dunkelberg of the Deschutes County Library do a great version of it this way. 

My favorite way is with puppets and felt, probably because it’s simple…and I just like puppets.  I just use a poster-sized felt board that can stand up.  I don’t have an actual felt board, so I just use the lid to one of my puppet pins, use book ends to stand it up, and tape some fabric onto it.  My puppets are in a bag, in size order, and the mittens are stacked behind the board, also in size order.  Then the story almost tells itself.

I start by telling about the boy who took his mittens off in the snow and lost one of them, then stick the lost one on the board.  Rabbit pops out of the bag, sees the the mitten and hops in to get warm.  His entry is just a hop behind the board.  Then it’s:  “He fit inside, but the mitten stretched a little bit bigger.”  Then I replace that smallest mitten with the next size up. 
The pattern continues with the next animal.  From now on,
though, when Chipmunk (or whoever) hops toward the mitten, the animal who just entered pops out to rebuff him, until the new animal convinces the other that there must be room for one more.  I like this piece because you get some good puppet interaction.  It does take a bit of practice, since you have to be getting the in-the-mitten puppet onto your off hand while at the same time you’re moving and talking with the out-of-the-mitten puppet.  With a preschool audience, I’ll have the puppets spar a bit, with Chipmunk trying to sneak past and Rabbit heading him off just in time.  But with Toddlers we don’t need any of that…just meet, talk, and into the mitten.  When the new animal is allowed in, you trade up a mitten size, and on the story goes.

A nice big Bear puppet makes the ending especially fun, since the audience can see there’s no way he could fit too.  And once he does go in, I hesitate a bit before bringing out the biggest mitten…which isn’t big enough for Bear really, but is big enough to get a “wow” or two out of the young audience.  

Though I follow the Alvin Tresselt version that I learned it from for most of the telling, I do like Jan Brett’s twist of having Mouse tickle Bear’s nose to cause the sneeze that bursts the mitten apart.  The audience can supply the big “achoo!” and I just reach behind the board and toss all of the animals up in the air.  Tossing everyone at once is fun, but I think it works a bit better to do it one after another.  Either way it's always fun to toss a bunch of puppets in Storytime (see also Mr. Gumpy's Outing and The Napping House) 

To end it (after gathering up animals as quickly as I can), I like to hold the biggest mitten in one hand and the smallest in the other:  “The next day, the boy found his missing mitten…but there was something different about it….”

 You can use any forest-y animals for this one, though Mouse and Bear are pretty essential for this way of telling it.  As for the felt mittens, I avoid cutting stuff out whenever possible, but even I managed to make those shapes okay. 

* Versions by Jan Brett and Jim Aylesworth/Barbara McClintock are also excellent


  1. Hi, can i ask you something? I'm looking for children books with "scary" animal illustrations like wolf (or fox) eating pigs (or seven kids or Red Riding hood or birds in Chicken Little) or being pictured with a fat stomach. Have you seen any book of this sort? Any sort of help is appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    Great blog, by the way!

  2. The BEST version is a musical telling by Heather Forrest, which I've used for years. You can hear it on her website--it's with the downloads on the left side of the page:

    I've been telling it with puppets and a series of mittens on the board, but putting a bag behind for the animals so it looks like they're going in is a great idea, especially since my felt/magnet board is on an easel.

    Thank you for this and your other posts. I am jealous of your having other librarians to work with, since I am a solo act, but it's a pleasure to meet fellow travelers who do the sort of stuff I do.

  3. Just found this blog because of the mention in School Library Journal. Love your blog! I love using puppets in storytime I am addicted. I have been a children's Librarian since 2005.

    I just did the mitten for the first time this year, but I made a big mitten, like a pillowcase, that I stuff them in and then I make it bigger and bigger and when the mice makes the bear sneeze! They fly everywhere. I get to use a huge bear this way and the audience gets so shocked that he will fit in the mitten. I use a flannel board with a small mitten I show it in the beginning and have it as a pair at the end with the big pillow case mitten.