Story: "The Bellybutton Monster" (from More Ready-to-Tell-Tales from Around the World by David Holt and Bill Mooney; version of the story is by Olga Loya)
Props: A button
Audience: Preschool, School Age
Most of the stories in this blog involve puppets, props, and/or technology, but I also like go "beyond the book" with oral storytelling. Oral tales seem to be most often used with school age kids, but there are some stories that are really just right for preschoolers. It's pretty impressive how easily they get into a tale, how willing they are to use their imaginations to fill in the details without pictures or puppets or anything. And it's a great way to develop early literacy skills, especially Narrative Skills, Phonological Awareness, and Vocabulary....when you're just listening you need to pay attention to words and sounds even more keenly and in different ways.
"The Bellybutton Monster" has been a storyteller's favorite that I've heard a few times, though I'm afraid I can't remember the tellers. Olga Loya's version from More Ready to Tell Tales from Around the World (full text is in Google Books) is good...she mentions in the notes that it's perfect for K-3rd grade, but if you simplify it a bit, it's great for preschoolers too:
I start out by asking if they're ready for a monster story, in a kind of mock-scary voice. You can see them getting a bit nervous, until I reveal that the monster is: "The Bellybutton Monster!" Then they get that it's just going to be funny. Just the word bellybutton is enough to make a four year old laugh. In the story, a girl named Rosie thows off her covers every night which drives her dad crazy (I use girl/dad instead of boy/mom). Participation is almost required in any oral tale for preschoolers, so together we pull up the covers to her chin. Then we roll our arms (like a travelling call in basketball) and fling them to the side each time she tosses her covers off. I just do that twice, then jump right to the Bellybutton Monster's appearance. He pulls off the bellybutton with a "Pop!" (more participation) and flies off.
At this point the kids aren't sure what to think, but when Rosie has a drink of orange juice in the morning and it squirts out of her bellybutton, they always laugh a lot. Then there's the bath, where her stomach fills up with water and she has to squeeze it all out. When she goes back to the bed there's another refrain of tossing off the blankets, and the Monster returns. I have Rosie bring a regular button to bed (the one prop in the story, although it's optional to use) which she offers to the Bellybutton Monster in a trade. You can build this up a bit if you want: "But that night, she brought something special to bed with her...what do you think it was?"
When the Monster arrives there's another funny bit where the Monster replaces her bellybutton, each time with a "Pop!" but it's in the wrong place (ear, nose, etc.) He finally gets it right, flies off, and Rose never throws her blankets off again.
The story has many of the qualities that you need with an oral tale for preschoolers: Participation, as mentioned; A pattern, so they can hold the story in their head easily; Surprises in the pattern, to keep them guessing and wondering; A world and stuff that they know about already: basically bedtime and bellybuttons; and silliness that works right at their level.
Participation from the kids increases each time a refrain recurs. I don't rehearse them before hand, just when the moment comes in the story: "She threw off her blankets [I roll my arms]...can you do this with me [roll them again, and the kids join in.]" For the "Pop!" sound, it's just drawing out the words just before so they know it's coming: with.....a.........Pop!"
One more note about storytelling with preschoolers: I usually introduce an oral tale by pointing out how many ways there are to enjoy stories: sometimes with books, sometimes with puppets, and sometimes with nothing but our imaginations. It helps to kind of set the stage and cue them that they're going to need to listen and think in a slightly different way. When I had a smaller weekly storytime I would include one oral tale each week, and they really got used to it, but for some it's a new experience.