Puppets: 5 or more animals
Audience: Toddlers, Preschool, Adults
I know everyone who does storytimes knows this book and has probably used it in a variety of ways. Kids always seem to enjoy it, even when they know it by heart, but I’m mentioning it here because it’s my first choice to show both parents and library staff how easy it can be to use puppets. I often hear from other children’s staff that they’re just not comfortable using puppets. Most common reasons include: Motions: “I’m not comfortable holding and moving them;” Voices: “I don’t do silly voices;” Puppet Management: “Too much stuff to keep track of;” Puppet Supplies “I don’t have good (or any) puppets.” All of those are good reasons, and of course there are so many ways to bring stories to life without puppets….but Brown Bear is a great example of book you can use with puppets even if all of the above are true.
I usually use puppets as a “Follow-Up” to Brown Bear. So I’ll read the book, and then follow-up by saying….”you know, I have a Brown Bear (or a Green Frog…or a Gray Armadillo…) in my bag. I wonder what animals he sees?” So I pop-out Brown Bear and we all say “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” And I reach into the bag and pull out…….….(those dots represent that hesitation you stick in there that always draw all eyes to your bag)…..And pull out a Green Frog (or whatever). You can let the kids name the color and the animal or give them half of it (“I see a Green [I say]……..Frog! [they say] looking at me.”) Then it’s “Green Frog, Green Frog, what do you see…” and so on.
Very simple to pull this one off, even if you’ve never touched a puppet and are anxious about the stuff mentioned above.
Motions: Motions are simple and repeated: all you do is pop out the puppet…it looks at you or the kids, then looks into the bag at the next guy who’s about to pop-out. The one trick is that when Brown Bear is done, you take him off your hand and put him somewhere else (lap, second bag or box), so that hand is now free to pick up the next animal.
Voices: No need to vary voices at all. You can, and it’s fun to make that Mouse sound different than the Alligator, but it works fine if you don’t worry about that.
Puppet Management: With this story, it doesn’t even matter it what order the puppets appear. You can just stick your hand in there and be as surprised as the kids.
Puppet Supplies: Really, any animals will do. I’ve done it where I repeat the animals from the book (I finally found a blue horse at Goodwill!) or I’ve done it with all new animals (“Let’s what other animals see each other”). And doing a mixture of book and non-book animals is fine too. With this story, you don’t even need puppets…stuffed animals work just as well, since the motions are so basic.
So the basic story is easy. And flexible. You can repeat the book and use a whole new set of animals. You can read one of the others in the series and Follow-Up with puppets. You can extend it to a certain kind of animal: “Remember that Brown Bear book? Let’s try that with….birds!” Doing this a few times in a few ways can really help someone who’s new to puppetry get comfortable and confident….and ready to try more stuff.
And then there’s the Parent/Caregiver angle. When we read books in storytime we’re modeling for the grown-ups and sometimes adding tips and information to help them do the same. That doesn’t often work so well with puppets, since most parents won’t have time/puppets/techniques to do what we do. But after doing Brown Bear with puppets as a Follow-Up I always point out that this is something they can do at home pretty easily, with puppets, stuffed animals, hard animals, even pictures. They can even have their kids tell the story that way.
And in both cases, it’s a great way to play with Narrative Skills that are such an important part of early literacy learning. Retelling a story you’ve heard is a basic Narrative Skill, and with Brown Bear, the puppets (or similar) actually serve as visual cues to help a child tell the story. It’s also excellent for building Vocabulary, as kids supply the words to identify the names and colors….and you can make it more complex too, adding animals with two colors (Zebra) or more.