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.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tree Frog on the Screen

Book: Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley, Photographs by Nic Bishop
Puppets: none
Props: none
Technology: Scanned illustrations
Presenters: one
Audience: Family Storytime

There are some cool things you can do with scanning and projecting picture books, but the main thing is: you can get the pictures big. This was a must for doing Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley, because you really want to see Nic Bishop’s photographs well. I scanned the pages and Brad touched them up a bit: the gutter can be a problem for scanned pages and he managed to virtually eliminate it from the excellent spread in which the tree frog jumps away from the snake. So we had those great photos projected and I could just tell the story straight from the book.

I’m kind of getting used to the idea that a well-timed click from the remote really does work in a way that’s similar to a page turn. Cowley’s telling is paced just right to match the photos, as she describes the day in the life of the frog. So when she writes “…the red-eyed tree frog has been asleep all day,” there’s a cool photo showing its closed eyes. A page-turn shows a suddenly wide-eyed frog as it “wakes up hungry.” This progression works great in the book; it’s slightly different, but equally effective using scanned images. In the book, the page turn shows that wide-eyed frog close up, but also two other photos on the same spread. With the click, you can do a full screen image of that close-up, so it’s all that you see…and it’s pretty impressive. I feel like you lose a little something by taking out the careful placement of words and photos across the two-page spread of the book….but you gain something different by getting the big, instantly appearing images on the screen.

The rest of the book flows smoothly just be telling it in Cowley’s words and showing Bishop’s amazing photographs on the screen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Finding Food for Frogs and Choosing Kids Fairly

Story: The Wide Mouthed Frog by Rex Schneider
Puppets: Frog, Crocodile, Seal, Monkey, Rabbit (or substitutes for the last three)
Props: Fly, Fish, Banana, Carrot (or substitutes to match puppets)
Presenters: Two (and works with one) + 3 child volunteers
Audience: Family Storytime
Link to "Storytelling with Puppets" video demo

We decided to do “The Wide Mouthed Frog” for storytime and realized how very many different ways there are to do this story. Sheila and I both had done it a few ways, and Brad added more ideas….in the end we chose this way, which is closest in structure to Rex Schneider’s book version, though there are several others:

I play the Frog with a puppet on my hand and start with a little song: “I’m a wide-mouthed frog / I live on a log / I’m brave and I’m wise / And I always eat…flies.” Then Frog catches a fly, chews and spits it out into the audience. Which sets up the pattern of Frog going around to other animals and asking them for advice about what to eat, since he’s tired of flies. When I’ve done this on my own, I sang a similar little song for each animal, such as: “I’m a big brown seal / And my favorite meal / Is a great big dish / Which is full of…fish.” So we tried that with the kids. Frog approached them and Sheila prompted them to do the lines. We have little lapel mikes, so they could mostly be heard. Then Frog tries the food, chews it, and spits it out into the audience. The flying food can be a bit wild, but if Frog apologizes to the child who grabs it and asks her to toss or bring it back up, it works fine. Staying in character works best for that.

Finally Frog meets Crocodile, played by Sheila with the ending twist: “I’m an old green Croc / And I swim among the rocks / I look like a log / And I like to eat….Frogs!” Some back and forth between the two (“Especially wide-mouthed frogs,” says Croc and Frog answers while making his mouth very very small), and a brief chase. Frog ends up where he started and reprises his opening song, ending this time with “…I’m not brave, I’m not wise / I guess I’ll still eat…flies.”

The first couple times through this we had Frog come out into the audience to meet the kids with the puppets. Kind of fun, but in the end we decided it works better to bring the kids up to the front. They can face the whole audience and they have a better idea of what they’re supposed to be doing. Another change we’ll make next time is not to bother with prompting the kids to do the rhyming songs. A few times they were just all ready to say “I’m a monkey!...I eat bananas,” and that would have been fine and easier to follow. But it’s really hard to go wrong with this story, however you do it….

One challenge that arose this week is a frequent one for us. How to decide which three kids to pick to take part? Since we do involve the kids fairly frequently, some of them are really set on being up there when the time comes. Often those are the ones who have the most trouble staying seated, raising a hand, and waiting patiently, which is what we ask them to do when we pick. This week one three year old who typically sits in the back and just watches everything marched right up to the front row, got picked and did a great job. In another session, one girl who has never been picked just couldn’t hold in her disappointment and broke out in tears. So she gets chosen next time for sure. But there are so many kids and it’s hard to keep track of them, so we’re sure to leave some out. I guess it’s one of the many life lessons that kids learn from storytime; not just “books are fun,” and “the library is great,” but also: “you don’t always get picked.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mr. Rabbit and a brick and Elmo

Story:  Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present  by Charlotte Zolotow, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Puppets:   Rabbit,  Little Girl optional
Props:  Basket, fruit in four colors, other stuff in four colors
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Toddler Time (1's and 2's)

My puppet & props version of Mister Rabbit and the Lovely Present is a far cry from the original, but it does work nicely with toddlers, even though the book is written more for 3-5’s. So I shorten and change a lot of the story, taking away much of the warm and clever dialogue. They’ll appreciate the Zolotow words and the Sendak pictures when sitting on mom’s lap with the book later, but for now, I’ve got to entertain 25 toddlers. So I use a rabbit puppet, play the little girl myself, and pretty much zip right to: “What can I give my mother for her birthday?” I do get to keep a bit that I like as the part of the introduction: “What does she like?” “She likes red.” “You can’t give her red.” “Something red maybe…” Which leads into “what is red?...”

Then Mr. Rabbit reaches into the puppet/prop bag and pulls out red stuff. This week it was a brick, a ladybug, and a stuffed Elmo. Three wrong ones seems to be about right for this age. I really like “There are red birds,” from the book and Little Girl’s response: “She likes birds in trees.” But I don’t have a red bird, so it’s “she likes ladybugs outside.” And finally he tries a red apple, which is perfect.

We follow the same pattern with yellow (car / bumblebee / banana), green (boat, frog / pear), and blue (fish / cookie monster / blueberries) until she has the basket of fruit that’s the perfect present. And I get to end with the satisfying lines from the book: “Good by, and a happy birthday and a happy basket of fruit to your mother.”

With ones and twos, the anticipation and surprise around what will pop out of the bag is the main draw. But I also like the way they do seem to follow the story, recognizing that there is a dialogue between Mr. Rabbit and Little Girl. I’ve also done this with Mr. Rabbit on one hand and a girl puppet on the other. Using just one puppet makes the prop handling easier, but I also think I prefer that way as a storyteller…I’m not really sure why, but I think it just creates a bit more of a connection with the audience somehow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Program Summary: Around the World Tales

K-2 Book Adventure Progam Summary: Around the World Tales

In April we did our last “K-2 Book Adventure” of the school year, using “Around the World Tales” as the theme, which kind of leads into the “One World, Many Tales” Summer Reading theme we’ll be using this year. Terri, Brad, and I presented for a smaller than usual crowd of about 40.

We used PowerPoint slides to frame the program, introducing each story with an image of a world map, then clicking to add an arrow pointing to the country the next story was from, as well as the book cover.

Our opening story was Head Body Legs, presented with storytelling and selected scans. Details are posted here.

Next we presented The Greatest of All with volunteers from the audience. Details are here.

Then Brad did a version of The Musicians of Bremen. Brad’s a very talented storyteller with lots of great ideas. This summer he’s put together a program that he’s presenting at several local libraries, including ours, called “Around the World in Eight Stories.” (He’s on the web at He uses a lot of music and child participation, so this was a good fit for him to try one of the tales he’ll be telling this summer. He used child volunteers, each with an instrument, to play the roles of the animals. So each time he would mention an animal by name, the child would play a quick refrain on the instrument. Donkey thumped a drum; Cat blew on a harmonica; Rooster with a slide whistle was especially fun for the audience.

Our last story was Conejito, acted out with costumes and props by me and Terri. Details are here.

Between each story, we highlighted the ways that similar stories can be found in different parts of the world. We didn’t tell full versions, but showed slides from different versions of the same story. For this first example, we showed a book cover of Cinderella, followed by two questions and answers from the story: “Who helped her?” (fairy godmother) and “What did she wear on her feet?” (glass slippers). Then we showed the same pieces for different versions, such as The Irish Cinderlad (helped by magic bull + wore giant boots on feet). We also used the map of the world slide to identify each country of origin geographically. As a transition, this worked well the first time, but was less interesting the second and third times (Red Riding Hood and The Gingerbread Man)…too predictable I guess. For this group, we need to keep things moving quickly and maintain the kids’ curiosity with new stuff. It was good to introduce the concept to them, and many of the multiple versions we had on display did get checked out.

Our school promotion for this program was built around Conejito. Terri and I acted out the first half of the story, then stopped just before the little rabbit headed back down the hill, with the teaser: how will he get past Senor Leon, Senor Tigre, and Senor Zorro? Even though we didn’t get our usual attendance this time, I I thought it was a perfect teaser and the kids clearly enjoyed it, which is what really matters.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Mouse is Greater than the Wall

Book: The Greatest of All: A Japanese Folktale by Eric Kimmel, Illustrated by Giora Carmi
Puppets: none
Props: Headband, ears or similar for: Mice (3), Emperor, Sun, Cloud, Wind; Cardboard bricks or Wall.
Presenters: three, but works okay with two
Audience: K-2 Book Adventures

We acted out this Japanese folktale for our “Around the World Tales” program in our K-2 Book Adventures series. This is one that really works well with child volunteers, because they have enough to do so that they really do take part, but not so much to do that they can derail the story if things don’t go smoothly. In the story, Father Mouse searches for the “greatest of all” to marry his daughter, who wants to marry a regular field mouse. We used kids with simple props and lines to play the Field Mouse (mouse ears), Emperor (crown), Sun, Cloud, and Wind (paper headbands with picture on front). Each of these characters seems mighty, but then each admits that there is another greater than themselves, so their lines were pretty much the same: “I am not the greatest of all” (says Cloud, for example); “Wind is greater than me.” So as Father Mouse I could repeat and explain: “Oh I see what you mean. Whenz the Wind blows, even Cloud must move aside.” Or, as we wound up doing it, Father Mouse can be baffled (“What do you mean?”) and Daughter Mouse (played by Terri) is the sensible one who explains it to Father. This pattern continues with each character; the only variation is that before leaving Cloud, Father Mouse notices that he looks a little dark and is he going to rain? And Cloud says yes and squirts the audience, following that age old rule that says “if you have an opportunity to squirt your audience, by all means do so.” I don’t think I learned that in library school, but soon after that, and it has proven true in all cases over the years.
We had Brad play the Wall, using a big 4’ x 6’ cardboard wall (decorated with sponges by Terri) with holes for his arms to poke through. His appearance was a good surprise for the audience. At this point, they’re following the pattern, not quite sure where it’s ending (I hope), and ready for a goofy visual surprise. Wall explains why he’s not the mightiest and talks about the small creature who gnaws little holes in him and will eventually cause him to fall. And just before Wall’s appearance, Brad has secretly got the Field Mouse, who appeared briefly in the beginning, behind the cardboard so the audience doesn't know he's back there too. When Father Mouse says “who is this mighty creature who can devour a wall” (or words to that effect), the volunteer pops his mouse-eared head through the the little pre-cut pop-out window. A very nice effect, I thought.

The story could be done with one person and child volunteers, but having at least one more for Wall is better, since Wall needs to explain more than the others and kind of build up the anticipation. And three people makes it even better, because there can be some fun interplay between Daughter and Father, accentuating Father’s silliness and Daughter’s good sense. Extra people is nice for the performance, but also for developing the story beforehand. I really appreciated working with Terri as we planned it out. I had done it many times before and would have just done it my same old way, but her fresh eyes saw the visual potential for a big old wall and that was a great addition; and together we tossed around ideas for how to make Field Mouse’s appearance have the best impact and came up with a good one.

Side note: Besides being an excellent collaborator and storyteller, Terri’s doing a cool thing that’s totally unrelated but I’ll mention it here because I’m just so impressed: Right now she’s on her third day of ten on a bike trip where she’s following the last 400 miles of the Lewis & Clark Trail. If you’re interested, check out her blog at:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mouse in a Car

Story: “The Journey” from Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel
Puppets: None
Props: None
Presenters: One
Audience: Preschool

I like stories that also can act as stretches. And I also like stories where kids can easily participate without things getting too off track. So I use this one a lot: “One day, Mouse decided to visit his mother…” and the kids all stand up and do what Mouse does. First he drives in a car: “and he drove and he drove and he drove, until all of a sudden...he ran out of gas! So…he got out of the car and got on…a bicycle! And he pedaled and pedaled and pedaled….until all of a sudden…what do you think happened?” This pattern continues with a new method of transportation each time and you can have the kids supply the “what went wrong piece” as often as you want.

I usually do at least three vehicles myself (car, bike, and roller skate) so they get the idea, then also ask them for suggestions of what Mouse did next. They’ll pick scooter, and motorcycle, and airplane, but also come up with more unusual ideas. This week I did the story with a couple of class visits and got “hot air balloon,” which was fun. And “jet pack,” which I hadn’t heard before. Sometimes I do step in and supply the “what went wrong” piece…like with airplane I’ll say “all of a sudden…he put on a parachute and floated to the ground.” Rather than let them jump in with “it crashed into a building” or something like that.

All of this is great for narrative skills, as the kids see the pattern of the story and continue it and/or play with it. I usually point out when it’s over that they could go home and tell this story to someone else, in their own way. It’s very flexible as a stretch, as well. You can use it as a quick in-betweener and just do a few vehicles, or extend it into a full blown story. Because it also has one of the all-time perfect endings. I never get tired of watching the kids’ expression when you get to the part where Mouse finally walks on his bare feet until they get sore, “So…he took off his old feet” (slight pause to note their befuddlement) “…and put on some new feet.” Just when they think they’ve got the pattern down, you throw some silliness in there (well, Arnold Lobel does). And Mother Mouse’s final line: “What nice new feet you have” is just right.

Lobel’s words on the page are as perfect as can be, but when I tell it I do adapt it a bit. Sometimes I skip the idea of Mouse buying new stuff each time just to simplify (though it is funny) and I add the “all of a sudden…” to cue the kids for ideas. As with so many stories, I can’t exactly where I first got the idea to tell this one, but I’m pretty sure it was from some creative library posting on PUBYAC back in the 90’s.

The illustrations in the book are excellent too…they’re laid out in almost a rebus style. But of course to small to see in a group, so telling one story orally is a good way to promote the book Mouse Tales (which has at least one more very good story for stretching, participation, and narrative skills:  "Very Tall Mouse and Very Small Mouse.")

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Head, Body, Legs: story + scans

Book: Head, Body, Legs by Won-Ldy Paye & Margaret H. Lippert; Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Puppets: none
Props: none
Technology: Scanned Illustrations
Presenters: One
Audience: K through 2nd grade

This is one of my favorite picture book folktales. Short enough to read in storytime, but also engaging enough for school-age kids. I’ve also told it orally and that works great too. For our K-2 Book Adventure in April (“Around the World Tales”) I decided to mostly tell it orally, but also use scans of selected illustrations. I showed one image each time a new body part arrived; and one image showing where the part attached. So when “Head was all alone,” the kids saw the picture of Head. We see the illustration of Arms when they show up. Then when Arms join head (right above the ears), we see that picture too. And the same pattern as Body and Legs appear and attach. Then we see the series of several illustrations that show all of the parts trying to arrange themselves in different combinations until they finally get it right.

So the idea was to keep the folktale-ish, storyteller’s feel of the story for the most part. But also add in key visual references. When I’ve told it just orally I know that the audience can visualize the oddly connected body parts in their heads. But the illustrations are so much fun, I liked using this method to bring them in. And as a teller I didn’t have to describe the placement of the body parts to make sure everyone was following; I could let the pictures cover that and focus more on the language and plot.

I’ve used visual props to fill in visual elements in other stories over the years, usually to make sure the younger side of the audience can follow: Holding up the vegetables for Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens; or showing a bed, a cat, and other elements to remind the kids about the nonsense words in Master of All Masters by Joseph Jacobs. Projecting selected illustrations is an interesting newer (for me at least) way to manage this, and for this story, at least, it worked pretty well.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Conejito: bunny in a barrel

Book: Conejito: A Folktale from Panama by Margaret Read MacDonald. Illustrated by Geraldo Valério
Puppets: None
Props: Bunny ears; Mask, ears, or similar for: Fox, Tiger, Lion; Trash can (optional)
Presenters: Two
Audience: K through 2nd grade
Video:  How to Tell Conejito with Puppets

For our “Around the World Tales” themed K-2 Book Adventure Terri and I acted out Conejito. As with so many Margaret Read MacDonald tellings, the structure is perfect for telling, with repeated refrains, a patterned plot and lots of fun humor. Terri put on bunny ears and a boa to be Conejito, who meets hungry animals on the way up the mountain to visit his Tía Mónica. The little song the rabbit sings each time is a sure crowd pleaser: “I have a sweet old Auntie / My Tía Mónica/ And when she goes out dancing / They all say ‘Ooo la la!’” Terri Tía Mónica taught this refrain to the kids at the beginning and they joined in each time.

The refrain also gave me time to go behind the backdrop and re-enter as a new character. I was Conejito’s Mama first (bunny ears), then I wore animal hats to be Senor Zorro (fox), Senor Tigre (tiger), and Senor Leon (lion). Each of them wants to eat Conejito, but he tricks each of them into waiting until he comes back down the mountain because he will be fatter. Which is another natural audience-participation piece, as they join in on “Gordito, gordito, gordito!” (thanks M.R.M.)

To trick the animals on the way back, Conejito rolls down the hill in a barrel. We were all ready to just use an imaginary barrel, but…..we had this big plastic garbage can, and it turned out Terri could fit inside it, bunny ears and all, while standing up and holding it upside down, waist high. This made the interactions between her and the animals work really well, since Lion, Tiger, and Fox really were talking to an actual “barrelito.” Once safely home and out of the barrel, there’s time for one last round of “I have a sweet old Auntie” finishes it all off very neatly.