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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Kind - Pig Pays It Forward

Book:  How Kind  by Mary Murphy
Puppets:  Hen, Pig, Rabbit, Cow, Cat, Puppy
Props:  Egg, Carrot, Flowers, Milk, Stick, Egg, Chick
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Toddlers (1’s and 2’s)

Here’s one of those circular stories that works neatly with puppets and very young kids.  Hen lays an egg and decides to give it to….Pig.  Pig’s response is one that repeats with each transaction:  “How kind!”  Hen’s gift makes Pig want to do something kind too, so he gives a carrot to…Rabbit.  Rabbit is then inspired to give flowers to Cow, who gives milk to Cat, who plays a game with Puppy, whose gift (a stick) brings us back to Pig.  Pig then shows Puppy that egg he got from Hen….which hatches, he gives the chick to Hen whose response neatly concludes the book:  “How kind!”  It’s kind of like Pay It Forward for toddlers (but no one gets shot), at a level that’s just right for them. 

The patterned telling makes it a natural for puppets, though it does require some orderly hand switching and prop handling, so it definitely needs a run-through or two before presenting.  I tell it so that both the next animal and the next gift are pop-outs from the puppet bag.  So it’s Rabbit saying.  “I will do something kind too.  I will get my…..”  (hesitation while Rabbit (and audience) look toward the bag) “….carrot!”  And I will give this carrot to my friend…”  (hesitation/anticipation again) “…Cow!”  It’s a story to tell with a slow pace, so the kids can absorb what’s happening and get into the pattern.  Quick switches from one animal to the next could lose them. 

I use a second bag for this one to make sure that I can easily stash each animal and prop out of temptation’s reach.  And also so I can quickly grab Pig and Hen for their return appearances at the end.  For my Toddler Time presentation of this, I cut Puppy and went straight from Cat to Pig.  Partly because it seemed like five animals was just the right number for this age, and also because the “gift” that Cat gives Puppy (playing his favorite game) is a bit of a shift from the pattern, where the puppet gets something from the bag.  I like the gift of a game in the book, since it expands the concept of kindness to stuff we do, not just stuff we give….but with puppets and toddlers I so often opt for simplifying. 

This is only available in board book these days, which is fine, but I really liked the original hardcover (now $67.99 at amazon!)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: Mo Willems Author Celebration

Our November K-2 Book Adventure was a “Mo Willems Author Celebration.”  One of the easiest and most fun ones yet.  He has a ton of stories that are great for large groups, award-winning videos, and a website with interesting author facts, silly dances, and a cool handout!
We started with “Facts About the Author” projected on the screen and used these throughout the program in between stories.  Those segments were: 

“Mo Looks Like This” (plenty of silly photos on the website);   “Mo Wins Medals,” talking about his Caldecott,(illustrator); Giesel (author/illustrator); and Carnegie (filmmaker) honors;   “Mo Draws on His Walls” featured photos of the butcher paper and chalkboard drawings from his home, with work by family and visitors as well;   and “Mo Worked for a TV Show” with a slide of Sesame Street. 

    As far as stories, there were so many to choose from.  We started with an “Elephant and Piggie”:  Watch Me Throw the Ball, which Brad and I had done for Family Storytime before.  Sheila (Piggie) and Terri (Elephant) had way too good of a time winding up for the big throws.  

    Then it was Leonardo the Terrible Monster, with me narrating, Terri as Leonardo, and Sheila as Sam, the boy that Leonardo makes cry (except that’s really not the reason he cries).  This was all acted out, pretty much word for word.  We did include a few slides on the screen:  scans from the book of the other monsters to compare to Leonardo (Tony with all those teeth, Eleanor (she's big), and Hector who's "just plain weird")

    Next up was Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, which if you’re doing a Mo Willems program you kind of have to do.  Like a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band has to play “Free Bird” every time.  Details on our telling are here.

    My favorite part of the program was City Dog, Country Frog.  Details about why I liked it and how we did it are here.

    We always need something towards the end of these programs to get the kids up and moving, and fortunately Mo’s website provided that too.  We linked to the Elephant and Piggie Dance Game. The page asks you to pick three dances for each character and then plays them back, with animated E & P demonstrating the steps.  We just told the kids to follow either or both and have fun.  We ran it twice and that seemed just right.  If this blog entry is going on too long and you need a quick exercise break, the "Funky Trunky" and "Twist and Snout" might be just the thing.   

    As a finisher, we showed the Carnegie winning DVD of Knuffle Bunny.  This was the first time we did a straight video for this program, but it fit just right since we had already highlighted his awards.  It’s just such a perfect video from the introduction (a perfect model of Dialogic Reading) to the voices of Mo, daughter Trixie, and wife Cher.  Here’s a clip that shows the first half of the movie. 

    After that nice ending, we gave out Pigeon Door Hangers and let kids check out books.  Which they did!  We always get lots of checkouts at our K-2 events, but this time they nearly cleared us out. 

    As always, we visited schools to promote the program the day before.  This gave us a chance to do another “Elephant and Piggie” story, since we had such a hard time limiting ourselves to one during the program.  We acted out Can I Play, Too with all three of us:  I was Elephant, Sheila was Piggie, and Terri was Snake (with a green scarf wrapped around her arms).  Again, we used Mo’s words, threw a bunch of balls to Snake (who couldn’t catch them of course), then finally played catch “with” Snake, throwing Terri back and forth between us (well, pretending to throw her, while she flailed about as if being tossed through the air, which you kind of have to see to get, but she made it work!). 

    So we liked this K-2 Book Adventure a lot.  So far we've tried to do one "Author Celebration" per quarter, and have done Arnold Lobel and Dr. Seuss in the past.  But we're not sure yet who our next one will be.  There are many great authors out there, but not that many who have multiple titles that adapt well to acting out, puppetry, and the rest...

    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.   

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Pigeon, with Puppet and Projection

    Book:  Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus  by Mo Willems
    Puppets:  Pigeon (or a vaguely pigeon-ish bird]
    Props:  Bus cutout (optional), Net, Bat
    Presenters:  Three (two would work)
    Audience:  K-2

    Our November “K-2 Book Adventure” programs was a “Mo Willems Author Celebration."  A summary of the program will come soon.  The tough part with Mo was limiting ourselves to just four books.  Pigeon was a must, though, even though most of the kids knew the story well.  We pretty much stuck to Mo’s words exactly, and used a puppet, a bit of projection, and some interaction to add a few surprises.

    As Bus Driver, Terri carried/drove a big painted bus cut -out around the room, picking up a couple kids, then dropping them back off at their seats. Then she parked the bus and warned the kids about that pigeon.  I had a bird puppet behind one of our curtained backdrops.  Not a pigeon puppet, but a cool, big, goofy bird that Sheila made a long time ago that just seems right for a piegeon-y personality.  Pigeon pops in and out and delivers his lines.  Just like when you read the book, the audience is also part of the telling, reacting to each of pigeons pleas and ploys.  The kids were great, getting into the “No!s” just right without totally shouting down Pigeon’s words.

    We added a few bits where Pigeon actually tries to sneak onto the bus.  We had a long table with a table cloth adjacent to the backdrop.  So halfway through Pigeon says:  “I guess I won’t get to drive the bus then” and walks down behind the backdrop.  Then I sneak behind the table and pop him up, walking along the table towards the parked bus.  (Sliding along on the floor on my side with my arm sticking up is not the most comfortable position, but nobody ever said a puppeteer’s life is easy).  Then Sheila steps up as guardian of the bus.  This first time she plants a Stop sign in front of Pigeon and he retreats back behind the backdrop.  Since we had our projection screen down (to use at the end of the story), Pigeon moved along the table, but in front of the screen, so we had the projector shine a blank white slide which worked sort of like a spotlight.  

    Reappearing behind the backdrop, Pigeon continues with lines from the book, then departs and sneaks along the table again.  This time the kids are looking for him there.  So is Sheila, who grabs him in a big butterfly net, pulls him off my hand, and drops him back behind the backdrop.  Pigeon’s final rant, which is a loud, manic “Let Me Drive the Bus!” is followed by Sheila coming after him with a plastic baseball bat, whacking several times at the top of the backdrop as he barely moves aside.  These three incidents add a bit of surprise to the story that the kids know well, plus give some more physical action to complement the personality-based dialogue. 

    Terri returns as Bus Driver, thanks the kids, and drives off.  We thought of moving in a another cut-out vehicle for the truck at the end, but instead used the screen.  We scanned the red truck from the book and just had it slowly crawl onto the screen.  Pigeon looks up at it and says “I wonder….,” then the truck zips back and forth across the screen (using motion paths) with Pigeon at the wheel.

    A two-person version of all of this could have Bus Driver also being the one who guards the bus.  You’d just have to do a hat change or something to make it clear that this is no longer the Bus Driver.  We even thought of having a volunteer or two from the audience be the ones to stop Pigeon, but decided the timing and interaction needed to be more precise and rehearsed.

    A summary of the “Mo Willems Author Celebration” program is coming soon…