Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Snoring Grannies and Wakeful Fleas

Book: The Napping House by Audrey Wood; Illustrated by Don Wood
Puppets: Dog, Cat, Mouse
Props: A blanket and pillow
Presenters: 1
Audience: Toddler Time (1's and 2's)
Link to "Storytelling with Puppets" video

I always like doing this story without the book because the pictures are so excellent but they’re wasted if you use it in a larger group, even with the big book version. And though the pictures seem to delight people the most, it’s also a perfectly paced story, with rich vocabulary and a just-right ending. And although it’s more of a preschool story than a toddler one, it actually works just as well with ones and twos. The repetition and rhythm catch their attention, and I always have the group add a big “ssshhhh!” after every “…where everyone is sleeping” which really keeps them focused.

For the telling, my chair is the bed, I’m the Snoring Granny (with preschoolers I put on a fake gray beard and call myself a Snoring Grandpa, but that would just puzzle the ones and twos in Toddler Time I’m sure), and I pull a puppet out of the bag for each refrain after that, piling them up on my lap. No need for a Wakeful Flea puppet, just a pinched thumb and index finger as if you’re holding one. The thumping and bumping catches they’re attention and at “…who breaks the bed,” I just toss everyone up in the air and fall of the chair. So the pacing of the puppet version follows that of the book: start slow and quiet, throw in a wrench two thirds of the way through (the Flea), and end it with a wild finish. And then they can all check out copies of the book to see the pictures up close.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Super Dog and Willy the Cat Puppet

Book: The Amazing, the Incredible, Super Dog by Crosby Bonsall
Program: Family Storytime (mostly ages 3-6)
Puppets: Cat, Dog, Puppet Stage
Props: Hoop, Ball, Pillow for Dog
Presenters: 2
Here’s one of those books that can be done pretty well by one person, but is ideal for two. In the story, the girl brags about all of the tricks her dog (named “The Amazing, the Incredible, Super Dog”) can do. But each time she announces the next trick, the dog just sits there. Meanwhile her cat Willy (who “doesn’t know any tricks”) does all of the tricks spectacularly, but without the girl seeing. Reminiscent a bit of Officer Buckle and Gloria (which I still want to do without the book one of these days). For telling it in Family Storytime, Sheila was out in front of the puppet stage interacting with our dog puppet (who just sat there), while I was behind the stage as Willy. After about the second trick, the kids all got it and began telling Sheila: “The cat is doing it! Look at the cat!”

We adapted just a bit, using tricks that came through best visually with our cat puppet. Standing on front legs wasn’t so good. Standing on his head worked great once I reversed the puppet on my hand so it faced me when standing up, but faced the crowd when on its head. The tricks get harder and funner as the story goes on. For “catch a ball,” Sheila tossed the ball over her shoulder and Willy jumped up and caught it above the stage. Well, he caught it during three of the four performances. Jumping in the air was great: just tossed Willy up toward the ceiling from behind the stage.

In the solo version, you just have to kind of exaggerate your focus on Super Dog, always looking well away from the cat. Catching the ball is the trickiest…hard enough to do with a puppet, but with a puppets and not looking takes a lot of practice. The author of book, by the way, is the amazing, the incredible Crosby Bonsall, who passed away in 1995. Her series of early reader mysteries are great, Mine's the Best is perfect for brand new readers, and Piggle....well, some day I'll have a post about that one, although I haven't done the story for several years.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Noses, Noodle Tales, and Mud

Story: "All of Our Noses are Here" from All of Our Noses are Here and Other Noodle Tales by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Karen Ann Weinhaus

Props: Whipped Cream + Pudding mixed on cookie sheet ("mud")

Participants: Three tellers + three kids (could be 1 teller + 5 kids)

Audience: Grades K-2 + grown-ups

For our Silly Stories K-2 Book Adventure I wanted to include at least one true “Noodlehead Tale,” and this is one of my favorites, and fun to act out with kids. Sheila and I were Mr. and Mrs. Green, with three volunteers as our children. We rowed a boat, picnicked, rowed back, then counted to make sure all were here. And, being noodleheads, we each counted only four because we didn’t count ourselves. Upon being reminded to include ourselves, by a sensible neighbor (Terri), we then counted six because we started and ended with ourselves. Good, silly humor that’s just right for this age. Then we count noses, which is done by each person sticking their nose into mud. In this case, mud was a cookie sheet full of whipped cream mixed with chocolate pudding. Plain old chocolate Cool Whip works better, but there was none at the store…do they even still make it? It looked the part, but the consistency was too springy: when you stuck your nose in it, it sprung back so it didn’t leave the desired impression. So we had to scrape a bit out with our finger. Or, alternately, press the child’s whole face into the mud, which Terri decided to do with a couple of the kids. So some of us had a nice dab of mud on our noses, while a couple of the children were really a chocolate mess. That made it extra funny, though, and they were good sports, and we were prepared with plenty of paper towels. We did use three people for this, but you can do it with one pretty easily. The teller can narrate and be the father and even do the push-the-kid’s-nose-into-the-whipped-cream person if needed. I also like doing this story because it might lead kids to read the other stories in the collection and/or check out the companion book, There is a Carrot in My Ear and Other Noodle Tales. Some day it would be great to build a program around Alvin Schwartz's collections. Not just noodle tales and scary stories, but jokes and riddles, superstitions, secret codes, tongue twisters, tall of the most booktalkable authors ever.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Clicking Clacking Cows

Book: Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin
Props: Two typewriters, eggs, milk, several typed notes, blankets
Puppets: Cows, Duck, Chickens
Participants: 3
Audience: Grades K-2 + grown-ups

Our March K-2 Book Adventure theme was “Silly Stories” and we decided to finish the program with Click, Clack, Moo. It’s one of those great school age picture books and it just seemed like it must be adaptable for our type of presentation. It’s been performed as a play in children's theaters, with costumes and all, but we needed short and fairly simple. Plus we had an old typewriter up in the attic that needed to be used.

I was Farmer Brown and started by showing the kids the old typewriter that I was taking out to the barn, which was actually the puppet stage. When I brought it back there, Sheila hooked our lapel mike right up close to the carriage. So while she typed (using the one finger method so the keys wouldn’t stick…remember how they used to do that if you typed too fast?) it made a truly satisfying “click clack.” She and Terri also supplied the “moos” from behind the stage and made the cows pop out here and there. Our old typewriter didn’t have a working carriage return, so she would ring our desk bell after each note was finished and it worked perfectly. The kids began to listen for it each time, anticipating the next appearance of a cow with a note. Even the rolling sound that you make when you load and take out the paper came through on the microphone. The kids needed to get what was going on by the sounds for the story to worked...and they did.

When Farmer Brown finally typed his note, we used the electric typewriter that we still have in the library for patron use. For the Duck segment, Terri came out from the stage with a duck puppet, carried the blankets back to the barn, emerged with the typewriter, stopped halfway, then took it back behind the stage to set up the funny “Click, Clack, Quack!” conclusion.

Afterwards several of the kids spent some time looking at the old typewriter. I think it's their fascination with old things, but also there's something especially interesting about a machine where you can actually see how the parts work. Makes me a little nostalgic, but not much...I used way too much white out back in the old days to ever want to really type again.

This was the one story in our program that we weren’t sure of, since we hadn’t tried it before and, as usual, didn’t have much time to practice. We thought maybe we should start with it, when the kids would be most attentive and most able to follow an iffy story. We decided to close with it, though, reasoning that even if it’s a bust, they’ll at least have had 35 minutes of good stuff already. Since it wasn’t a bust it really didn’t matter, but I always think it’s interesting how much time and thought you have to put into the flow and order of a program like this. Other parts of this K-2 program will show up in separate posts in the near future....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

50 Cents a Cap

Book: Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Props: Stackable Caps: at least a dozen or so to wear, plus extras to match number of kids
Presenters: One
Audience: Toddler Time (1's and 2's)....but also a good story for older

Squeezing a preschool-and-up story into a Toddler Time for 1’s and 2’s isn’t always a great idea, but sometimes I can’t help it. And Caps for Sale is such a strong story, it works well, just in different ways. I’ve always told it and acted it out using my stack of baseball caps and having kids play the monkey. This time I was able to use the felt caps created before my time here at the library. These are much easier to balance on one’s head than the baseball caps. Since we only had a dozen or so of them, though, I stuck my other caps in a bag in order to have enough for each child to use later. The spectacle of the storyteller walking up and down with those caps on the head never fails to fascinate the kids, even the young ones.

When the peddler falls asleep under the tree, I pass out a cap to each child while telling: “while he slept, a bunch of monkeys snuck down from the tree and each one of them took a cap.” Passing them out interrupts the story for a while, but it still keeps their interest. It turns out that doing this with a Toddler Time crowd is actually easier than with older kids, since the grownups really handle the cap management. And although I’m not sure they all got the idea that they were being monkeys, they had a good time imitating the peddler and making the “tsz, tsz, tsz” refrain (which I just simplify and have them say “jib, jib, jib”). With older kids, my favorite part is when I throw down my peddler cap and cue the kids to all throw their caps at me. Toddlers can do many wonderful things, but their cap-throwing ability is generally well below par, so we didn’t really get that nice visual effect this time. But kids and grownups were great at putting caps into the bin. Then I just had to scramble to pick out the twelve felt ones, group them by color, and place them back on my head (slowly, slowly, so as not to upset the caps).

The first time I saw this story told like this was by the late Bruce Vogel, who was the wonderful Coordinator of Children’s Services for years at Alameda County Library in California. I was in my first year or two as a librarian and we had (for some unfathomable reason) agreed to tell stories in a shopping mall. We wound up stashed down in the children’s clothing section with no mike and no stage and had to move clothes racks around to make a small storytelling space. I couldn’t see how we could possibly gather any sort of crowd, but Bruce was undeterred. He pulled out his caps, neatly stacked them, and proceeded to march around the area, calling out “Caps for sale, fifty cents a cap!” We soon had enough kids to make a group and they loved his stories. What my stories were and how the kids responded is lost to memory, which is a good thing for all involved.

I'm a Baby Follow-Up

Book: I’m a Baby, You’re a Baby by Lisa Kopper
Puppets: 3-5 animal pairs (one big, one small)
Presenters: 1
Audience: Toddler Time (1 and 2 year olds)

Here’s a nice simple book to do with a puppet Follow-Up in a Toddler Time. The book has simple, bright pictures of babies and animals, plus the catchy title refrain. And some vocabulary, as it provides the names of baby animals. Not that a one or two year old needs to know "foal," but it’s a good book for calling attention to the way picture books build vocabulary.

The Follow-Up just requires puppet pairs, with one big and one small. After reading the book, I say: “Now let’s see if we can name the babies of some other animals that I have in my bag.” So you can pop out the grown-up, make its animal sound, then pop out the baby and give the name. I didn’t have big-little puppet combos for all, but beanie babies or even juggling penguin beanbags work fine. And if the snowy owl parent has a barn owl baby, we just don't worry about it.

For a Follow-Up like this I only need a handful of examples. It reinforces the concept and pattern of the book, plus the visual impact of the puppets captures most of the toddlers’ attention, which is one reason I usually place these midway through the program, just in case I’m losing too many by then. It also models book follow up ideas for the grown-ups; they may not have puppets, but can do the same thing with pictures, stuffed animals, or even just with words.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dog, Cat, and Ham

Story: "Why Dogs Chase Cats" (from The Knee-High Man and Other Tales by Julius Lester)
Program: Family Storytime
Presenters: two
Props: Dog Ears; Cat Ears; Ham; Tree
Video:  How to Tell Why Dogs Chase Cats with Puppets

I’ve been doing “Why Dogs Chase Cats” for years with puppets. It’s a great solo story, easy to do because there are only two puppets. The characters have distinct personalities, and the action, especially when they keep taking the ham from each other in increasingly quicker snatches, is perfect for puppets. When I do puppet workshops I call it a “surefire” story that’s especially good for tellers without a ton of puppet experience. The language and spirit of Julius Lester’s telling in The Knee-High Man and Other Tales, where I first learned the tale, is just right.

For our “Dogs” Family Storytime, though, Sheila and I acted it out, and it turns out that’s just as fun. We just used simple cat and dog ears, a pink paper ham (pretty tattered by the time we were through with it), and that’s about it. Acting it out, we could get more active with the chasing, going in and out behind our backdrops and having a few near misses. We have a nice cut out tree that comes in handy for many stories. In this case we put a step ladder behind it and I (as Cat) climbed up and teased Sheila (as Dog) while I ate that delicious ham.

Our only real problem came on our 4th and last performance, when we decided to switch roles. That was fun to do, since it’s such an easy story to remember…plus I always did both as a solo puppeteer, and I missed being Dog. But we were so confident that we didn’t even walk through it with the reversed roles (we should know better, I know), so only realized mid-story that Sheila actually isn’t quite tall enough to see over the tree once she’s on the step ladder. So she was stretching and hopping on the ladder in order to peek out, and the tree was pretty teetery for a good part of all that. But it all worked out. Cat ate the ham. Dog chased her. And dogs have been chasing cats ever since.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Program Summary: Dr. Seuss Celebration

K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: Dr. Seuss Celebration
Our February “K-2 Book Adventure” program was all about Seuss. We had 100 or so kids, mostly 5-8 years old, and 50 or so grown-ups. Terri, Sheila, and I presented. We built it mostly around two stories, with miscellaneous Seuss stuff in between. I wanted to steer clear of the best known Seuss stories, knowing the kids would get their fill during Read Across America Day a couple weeks later.

Seuss Facts: To start the event, and at three other interludes, we did quick “Seuss Facts.” I put on my Cat in the Hat hat, Terri leads the kids in a drum roll, and PowerPoint slides frame the facts. We tried not to overwhelm them with information…I really wanted to talk about how Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now was aimed at Richard Nixon and how And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street inspired John Fogerty to write “Looking Out My Backdoor” for CCR, but those were more parent-y things I guess. So we went with: 1) the 25+ rejections before Mulberry Street was published; 2) the challenge of writing a book with 50 words (Green Eggs and Ham), showing the 50 words in alphabetical order...not sure if the kids got the point, but it pleased me somehow; 3) the books written as Theo. LeSieg; and 4) the Geisel Award. These interludes had some visual elements and worked as transitions between stories. And I was especially pleased that most of the Geisel Award books that we had on display did get checked out after the program.

“What Was I Scared Of?”: A fun act-out of the “pale green pants” story. Details are in a separate post.

“A Gallery of Seuss Creatures”: We scanned five or six creatures from his books, along with a line or two from the book. Such as this quote from If I Ran the Zoo: “I’ll go to the far-away mountains of Tobsk / Near the river of Nobsk / and I’ll bring back an Obsk /A sort of a kind of a Thing-a-ma-Bobsk / Who only eats rhubarb and corn-on-the-cobsk.” And show the picture. This was a fun way to highlight Seuss’ verbal and visual creativity and get the kids curious about some of the books they may not have read yet.

Fox in Socks: We picked three of the tongue twisters from this one, using scanned images from the book to set it up. We each read the long tongue twisty section, then called on a child to try one phrase, such as "...a tweetle beetle bottle puddle paddle battle muddle." Then all the kids tried it. PowerPoint worked neatly here, as we could show the full scanned page, but click to highlight the shorter phrase.

Hop on Pop: We always need to get them on their feet at about the 30 minute mark, but I was stumped for a Seuss stretch for a while. Hop on Pop was the best I could come up with. We had them stand and hop to the refrain from the book: “Hop, hop, we hop on pop.” Then it was “what else can we do?....Jump! So it’s: Jump, jump, we jump on a stump.” The idea was to get them moving, plus rhyming at the same time. I’m not sure it was especially successful, but they stood up and they moved around, and that was good enough.

“The Sneetches”: Another three person act out, with details in a separate post.
We finished with a simple craft: decorate a white bag as a "Cat in the Hat" hat (or any kind of hat, really).
School Promotion: Every month we visit either the K, 1st, or 2nd grade kids at each of our two elementaries to promote the event in a 15-20 minute presentation. This time we did the first bit of "The Sneetches," though without the "Star Off / Star On Machines" and with just Sheila and I, no child volunteers. At the first school we also shared some Seuss facts that just weren't exciting enough, so for the second school we scrapped those and did the first part of "What Was I Scared Of" and that was much better.
Previous K-2 Book Adventure programs were: “Dragons,” “Arnold Lobel,” and “Fractured Fairy Tales,” and "Bug Tales." Details for all may follow in separate posts, though it may be a while…

Scary Green Pants

Story: "What Was I Scared Of?" by Dr. Seuss (from The Sneetches and Other Stories)
Props: Green Pants, Bucket, Spinach (green paper), Fishing Pole
Participants: Narrator, Guy, Someone to move the Pants
Audience: K-2

My favorite Dr. Seuss story when I was a kid was also my scariest. It’s called “What Was I Scared Of” but I always think of it as “The Pale Green Pants.” It’s been reissued as a small solo book, but originally appeared in The Sneetches and Other Stories. We acted it out as part of our “K-2 Book Adventure: Dr. Seuss Celebration.” I narrated, using Seuss’ words exactly, minus one section skipped to keep our time tight enough. Terri was the person who goes out on errands and keeps running into a “pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them.” Sheila played the pants by dressing in black and holding a pair of green sweat pants and floating them around. Of course the kids could see her, but they focused on the pants, just as if the pants were a puppet. The interplay between person and pants worked well, as Sheila and Terri played it up with chases and near misses, and Sheila floated the pants out towards the audience too. My only problem was that with Seuss, you really want to get the rhythm and rhyme just right. And the kids were laughing so loud that as narrator, I kept having to stop and wait for the next line. I guess that’s a good thing overall, but still. We also visited a couple of Primary School classes for Read Across America Day two weeks later and re-did this story. A summary of the whole "Dr. Seuss Celebration" is in a separate post.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jumping, Rhyming Puppets

Book: Jump by Scott Fischer
Puppets: Bug, Frog, Cat, Dog, Crocodile, Shark (optional), Whale
Presenters: One
Audience: Toddler Time (1 and 2 year olds)
Video:  How to Tell Jump with Puppets

Any time I browse through a new picture book and notice that there are lots of animals, but only two on the same page at any time, I think: puppets? If the animal characters are interacting verbally and/or physically in fun ways, even better. Jump is an excellent new picture book with funny little rhymes and a strong pattern that makes the whole thing simple to learn by heart: “I’m a bug, I’m a bug, I’m a snug little bug, and I’m sleeping on a jug, until I see a frog and I…JUMP!” The pattern continues from frog to cat to hound to croc to shark and finishes with whale (who ends the tale). A very nice puppet story for Toddler Time and would probably work just as well with preschoolers.

The puppet handling is easy: each puppet pops out of the bag and chants the rhyme. You could sing it as a song too, but I usually opt for the chant when I can (you would too with a singing voice like mine). Then I just stretch out the “until I see a….” while I’m getting the next puppet out of the bag. The “and I…JUMP!” can be a nice bit of action, with the new puppet attacking and just missing the jumper. Doing this almost in slow motion works best I think, so the audience can see it coming and anticipate. And they can also join in verbally with the “jump!”

For my Toddler Time group (1’s and 2’s) this week, I pretty much stuck to the words on the page. I dropped the shark, just because it was one too many animals for their attention span. And though I don’t have a puppet whale, I was happy to discover that we still had a stuffed animal whale that belonged to one of my kids and we kept around because you never know when you might need a whale for a story (even though it had not been used for almost twenty years). Another slight change: in the book, the animals actually swallow each other, then get spit out by the whale at the end. I had them all escaping each time…it just worked better with the puppets and the age level. Like Jump Frog Jump, this is an easy, action packed puppet story to use even if you haven’t done much with puppets before.