Puppets: Bear, Mouse, 3-5 other animals
Props: Small box
Presenters: 1 or 2
Audience: Toddler Time (ages 1 and 2) or Family Storytime (mostly 3-7)
Thank You, Bear is a gentle picture book with a story line that’s simple, humorous, and just right for toddlers. Bear finds a box and decides to give it to his friend Mouse. Along the way to Mouse’s house he meets several other animals, none of whom is particularly impressed with the box. The puppetry is simple. Bear walks along with the box (right hand) and Owl pops out of the bag (left hand). Owl makes his comment: “I’ve seen those before” and exits. The sparse language of the book is just right, but with puppets I play up Bear’s concern a little more. After Owl departs Bear says “I wonder if Mouse has seen these before too?” I felt like Bear needed to show a little more personality, without Foley’s excellent illustrations to convey that.
Bear meets Fox and Rabbit, who make similar dismissive comments. The book has a couple more animals, but three works just fine in Toddler Time. At this point Bear is pretty worried that Mouse won’t like the box at all. While he’s expressing this, I pull Mouse out of the bag without looking at him (or having Bear look at him) at first. When Bear sees him and shyly offers the box, Mouse sniffs it, turns it upside down and dances on it, goes inside and plays peek-a-boo…And of course loves the present.
Sheila and I also did this story as a two person presentation for Family Storytime (theme: “Bears”). In that version, Sheila was behind the puppet stage, popping out each of the other animals while I had Bear in front of the stage. With an older audience we added back a couple animals, and Sheila was able to do more playing around with each animal as they reacted to the box. She gave the animals more personality and more motion, which was just right for the audience. Quiet and gentle are tough with a crowd of 140. In Toddler Time, on the other hand (20-30 people, kids 1 and 2), the puppetry works best when it’s slow, simple, and not too wild. Foley’s book is one of those that works equally well for either group, as long as you make those small adjustments.