Book: Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
Props: Carrot, Broccoli, Corn (with tops and bottoms), Bunny Ears, Bear Ears or similar
Presenters: Two, plus 3-5 kids
Audience: K-2, but fine for preschoolers
Video: How to Tell Tops and Bottoms with Puppets
Janet Stevens' vertically-oriented picture book Tops and Bottoms makes an excellent two person Act-Out story. We presented it for our "Caldecott Celebraton" theme at a K-2 Book Adventure, with me as Hare and Terri as Bear. Hare offers to do all the work of planting and harvesting vegetables and then split everything with Bear. Bear will get the top half, Hare the bottom. The dialog between Lazy Bear and Tricky Hare is fun...the kids can tell a trick's coming, but they're not sure what it is yet. Hare gets his children to help: that's just getting three or four kids from the audience, and giving them bunny ears. It's easy for them to follow along as we plant seeds, water them (squirting the audience with a water bottle), and pretend to gather them up. Then I reach behind our backdrop to pull out a sample of our harvest: A carrot, which of course leaves Bear with just the green part.
Once Bear sees he's been tricked, they strike a new deal, with Bear getting the bottoms. And the crop turns out to be broccoli. This sets up the final episode, where Bear insists on tops and bottoms, and still loses out because they grow corn and Hare takes the middle.
The folktale structure works really well here, with a pattern that repeats twice, but with a twist each time. It's also my favorite kind of child-participation story: The kids have stuff to do, and it's meaningful in the story (because Hare needs to feed his whole family), but you don't need to break up the story to give instructions, and even if they don't quite get the actions right, the story still flows fine.
Over the years I've tried different things for the vegetables. I've used real ones, which would be great except the veggies you find at the grocery store usually only have the good stuff left...no carrot greens, broccoli roots or corn stalks. So I've done things like buy a carrot, then attach parsley to it, and once you start grafting (actually taping) different foods together it kind of defeats the whole idea of using real stuff. I've also just used pictures, printing out an image or photo and enlarging it, and that's okay, just not as interesting.
This latest time, though, was the best. Several months ago Sheila bought some big stuffed vegetables from Ikea to use as toys/decorations for the play area in our library, and they were perfect. Terri got the idea of just rolling up colored paper for roots and stalks and lightly taping them to the ends. They were big and looked great, plus it set up a good visual moment when Hare hands the carrot to Bear and can easily pull apart the tops and bottoms, so Bear is left staring at his unappetizing root. Sadly, there were no stuffed corns at Ikea, but we had a large plastic corncob that worked fine. (Food props always seem to come in handy, so we have a drawer full of them. And although we bought them for decorations, we've used those stuffed veggies in at least five stories since we got them)
I've also tried this story as a one person puppet show, both behind a stage and with no stage. This works okay, but I like it best as an act out, where you can move around more and get more audience involvement.