Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pete the Cat - This Time With Mud

Book:  Pete the Cat:  I Love My White Shoes  by Eric Litwin,  Illustrated by James Dean
Puppets:  none
Props:  Cat ears, whiskers or equivalent; four big containers; four smaller containers;  strawberries;  blueberries;  mud;  water pitcher;  squirt bottle;  five pairs of identical shoes (two white, one red, one blue, one brown); big water jug or something else for percussion, slide whistle.
Presenters:  Three
Audience:  K-2

I used Pete the Cat in Toddler Time several months ago.  Co-worker Brad Clark does a great version of it with drums.  It’s one of those books that works in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.    For our K-2 Book Adventures program (theme:  “Cats and Dogs”), we decided to do a three-person version.  Terri narrated and provided rhythm with an empty 20 gallon water jug.  Sheila was Pete, wearing a pair of white slippers on her hands (aka front paws).  Pete walks along, singing his song, and then Terri cues a big Freeze! with her drum and they both stop and stay still.  Then I come out as a sneaky, silent dog, signaling the audience to stay quiet.  I bring a big plastic bin covered in red with a strawberry picture on the front.  Pull a handful of strawberries out, then drop them into the bin, and sneak off.  Terri’s drum unfreezes everything, they sing Pete’s song again, and….”Oh no!”  Pete steps in the strawberries (as I do a slide whistle from behind the screen for sound effect).  Sheila slips off her white slippers and slips on the red ones that are in with the strawberries (the strawberries were dropped into a smaller container so they didn’t get the shoes icky).  And off she goes singing about her red shoes!

Blueberries and blue shoes follow the same pattern.  Then we do mud, which is really fun, since the kids can see it’s the real thing and can even hear the plop as it lands in the bucket.  The final surprise for Pete is water (pour pitcher of it into a bucket hidden within the tub).  And when “Pete’s shoes were wet!" I come out from behind and squirt the audience (and Sheila and Terri). 

This turned out to be just right for this age.  The kids all joined in on the “Oh Nos” and the song refrain.  They stretched their necks to see just how those shoes really did change color and why aren’t they dripping with mud (they would have figured it out, but the story moves on so quickly they don’t have time to).  And they did great with the “freezing” part, which required them to watch quietly for short periods, then be lively participators a moment later.  Terri’s use of the water jug drum worked perfectly.  The beat she had going punctuated the song very well, and she varied the beat and loudness to make the cues for stopping and starting really clear. 

This is the first story I’ve written about twice so far on this blog.  Hmmm….there must be a third way we can come up with…

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Sleepy Sheep

Book:  No Sleep for the Sheep  by Karen Beaumont, Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
Puppets:  Sheep, Rooster, plus three or four farm animals (but skip the goat)
Props:  None
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Toddler Time  (ones and twos), Preschoolers
Video:  How to Tell No Sleep for the Sheep with Puppets

I’m not doing as well at spotting brand new puppetry-ready Picturebooks as I used to, so I’m always glad to get suggestions from others.  Diana Stubee of Multnomah County Library told me about this one and she was right:  just right for puppets.

It’s a rhyming book, but the refrains are repeated and easy to memorize:  “A sheep fell asleep in the big red barn, in the big red barn by the farm.  Then there came a loud QUACK, at the door, at the door, and the Sheep couldn’t sleep any more.”  [Duck is still unseen in the bag, when the “quack” happens.  Then it’s:]  “’Go to sleep!’” said theSsheep to the……[hesitate, look down at the bag, Duck pops out] duck at the door. ‘And please don’t QUACK any more!’  Soon the Duck and the Sheep fell fast asleep in the big red barn on the farm.”

At that point both animals lie down, Sheep stays on one hand, while I put Duck off to the side (or in another bag).  Then the refrain starts again:  “Then there came a loud OINK at the door, at the door….”  And this time Pig pops out.

The rhyming, rhythmic language really makes this story work. I especially like the repetition (“at the door, at the door”) that really catches the ear.  So I stick to the author’s very well-chosen words.   The anticipation for the next animal, cued by the sound, is just at the right level for two year olds.    I do I skip Goat, though, as I often do with puppets…having a goat and a sheep in the same story is just too confusing:  one says “Maa,” one says “Baa,” but really, aren’t those basically the same sound?  The story is fun enough for 3 to 5 year olds too, especially if you give Sheep some personality in her voice, making her gradually more and more stressed with each animal.  The puppet handling is straightforward, since Sheep just stays on one hand and the other animals don’t need to do much more than Pop Out. 

The conclusion works very nicely,* with Rooster going “Cock-a-doodle-doo!  Wake up, all of you!  Hey Sheep!  That means you, too!”  But of course Sheep has been awake all night thanks to his visitors, so:  “the Sheep slept right on through…through the neighs and the moos and the cock-a-doodle-doos in the big red barn on the farm.”  

* The conclusion does work nicely if you remember it.  At Toddler Time this week I was so pleased with myself for getting the main refrain right….I didn’t even need to write it down!  What I did need to write down, though, was that last bit with the Rooster, and I forgot to.  So when I got to this point, all I could do was come clean with the audience:  “You know, I actually forgot how this last part goes.  So I’m going to take a quick look at the book here.”   Calm and smiling on the outside, frantic inside, I slip off the puppets, grab the book, rifle through to the last pages, silently curse myself for not taking the time to write a few lines on a 3 x 5 card, put puppets back on, and finish story.  Fortunately, 1 and 2 year olds aren’t highly critical, and parents and caregivers are polite.  And truthfully  storytime mistakes can be seen as just an opportunity to show parents that you don’t have to be perfect and polished when you share stories with kids…as long as they’re only once in a while and you treat them lightly.  At least this is what I tell myself anyway.  And even if it's true, I wouldn't mind "modeling mistakes" a little less frequently....

Monday, September 12, 2011

The King, the Mouse, the Cheese, The Cat, and the rest

Book:  The King, the Mice, and the Cheese  by James Gurney
Puppets:  King, Mouse, Cat, Dog, Elephant, Lion optional
Props:  Cheese
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Preschoolers (though I've used with Toddlers too)
Video:  How to Tell The King, the Mouse, and the Cheese with Puppets

Like the “Frog and Toad” books, this is great for group sharing, but the early reader format means the pictures are too small.  So….puppets!  When you tell this story with puppets you can’t really replicate the hordes of animals that appear on the pages of the book.  So you just use one of each to represent the hordes, and make up for it with chases and other interactions.  When the King who loves Cheese has mouse trouble, I just use one mouse.  He can grab the cheese just as the King’s about to eat it, the King grabs it back, etc.  In the book, the King consults with wise men, but in this scaled down version, there are no wise men, just the King pondering, offstage (or in this case, off hand and on lap or wherever).  

So with Mouse on one hand, it’s:  “The King thought and thought, and then he had a wonderful idea.    To get rid of the mice, he would get….[reach into puppet bag]….Cats!”  And out comes a Cat, who chases the Mouse away.  Then King is back on the hand:  “The King was happy.  Now all the mice were gone.  And he had cats.   [Cat begins rubbing against King, purring].  But the King did not like living with cats.  They purred and meowed and shed their hair everywhere.  [King runs away from Cat, off hand]…so the King thought and thought, and then…”    And then that pattern repeats:  Dog gets rid of Cat, Elephant gets rid of Dog, and to complete the circular tale, Mouse returns to scare Elephant away.  And King learns to live with mice. 

The puppet handling here isn’t that hard, but you do have to plan it out and run through it before telling the tale, making sure you can get puppets on and off with one hand fairly easily (or if not, be prepared to use your other hand briefly).  The patterned scenes can be varied a bit, depending on the puppets.  I like to have Cat do near-miss pounces at Mouse.  Dog versus Cat is more of a fast chase.  Elephant chases Dog with a good slow motion bounce-and-squish (or near-squish).   Same thing when the King decides he doesn’t like living with each animal.  Cat sheds, Dog barks, Elephant crowds…whatever seems like fun.  The book includes Lion in between Dog and Elephant, and it’s fine to follow that, but for Storytime I feel like it works better getting to the end of the circle more quickly. 

As for the telling, I’ve tried this with the King talking more and basically narrating his own story, and that works fine.  You can play on the way his happiness with the results of each plan quickly turns to dismay.  Overall, though, I like it better telling it as a narrator.  I think it puts more focus on the pattern of the tale and on the action, rather than on the King as a personality.  But that’s just me.  

We're starting up Fall Storytimes tomorrow, plus our monthly K-2 Book Adventures returns next week, so I hope to be posting 2 or 3 times a week again, after an August lull....