Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Frog and Toad and Imaginary Cookies

Story:  “Cookies” from Frog and Toad Together
Puppets:   Frog, Toad  (or none if acted out with two)
Props:   none
Presenters:   one  (or two if acted out)
Audience:   K-2 (but also good for Preschool)
Link to Youtube video demo

I’m pretty sure this is the first story I ever did with puppets.  The Friends of the Pleasanton (CA) Library had just bought a bunch of Folkmanis puppets for the Children’s Department in 1988.  At the time, Folkmanis just had one Frog hand puppet, so we bought two of those, thinking of Lobel’s stories.  About that time I happened to listen to Lobel himself narrating the stories on a book on tape, and he did it so well.  The combination of hearing that narration and having brand new puppets that were cute and all, but nobody had really used them yet led me to try this story.

I had no experience with puppets, but at least realized two key things that have served me well ever since.  If you say “this one’s a frog and this one’s a toad,” even when they’re obviously identical, kids will accept it and just let you tell the story.  I’ve used that “close enough” philosophy with puppet choices ever since.  Along the same lines, but different was:  “just because the story is all about cookies and cookies are in every single scene, that doesn’t mean you have to actually have any cookies.”  I was so focused on the characters and so uneasy about having anything but those two puppets to deal with, I just pretended about the cookies, and it worked...and I’ve been doing it that way ever since. 

I keep most of the dialog from Lobel to tell this story, though usually I have the characters self-narrate.  So instead of “Frog got a ladder” it’s:  “I will get a ladder” while Frog does that motion.  Depending on the audience, I might have Toad do some interaction with the kids as he bakes the cookies:  “What should I put in?”  As he carries them to Frog, you just march him with his hands positioned as if he’s carrying a plate.  The two friends eat the cookies with much enthusiasm:  I have them leap onto the (imagined) plate with loud, froggish “Yum, yum, yum” sounds. 

When Frog tries his tricks to prevent them from eating them all, it’s more acting out the motions.  He puts them in a box: Lift the “plate,” and set it down.  He ties the box up with a string:  Pretend to wrap a string around the “box,” right to left and front to back; then have him pretend to tie a knot on top.  The ladder?:  have Frog “climb” the pretend ladder, tilting the puppet back and forth as he goes up.  It might sound tricky, but if you practice this out a bit, you’ll see it’s not that hard.  Toad, of course, repeats these motions as he demonstrates why they won’t really work.  Toad’s sections all end with “…and eat all of the cookies!” which means a repeat of the leaping-onto-the-plate motion.

Two keys to all of this acting out:  First is to make sure you do the motions slowly.  For one thing, it’s easier, plus it gives the kids a chance to register and identify what the character is doing.  Second is to narrate as you do the motions.  Just doing motions of tying string around the box might not be clear to the kids, but when you say “I am going to get some string and tie it around the box” while you do the motions, it comes together.

Once you get the motions down, you’re free to have fun with the characters, which is really what it’s all about, and don’t have to worry about prop handling.  I’ve never once dropped a cookie or got my string tangled up doing it this way. 

This is also a fine story for acting out with two people, as Terri and I did for our recent K-2 Book Adventure program called “Food in Fact and Fiction.”  We pretty much followed the puppets approach, making all of our props pretend ones.  One touch we added, which I had never tried with puppets, was having the audience be the birds at the end.  Unrehearsed, they all immediately started tweeting and flapping, then pretended to eat the cookies that we pretended to throw out to them.  I think that seeing us pretending made it natural for them to do the same.       

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