Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bark George with Puppets

Book:  Bark George  by Jules Feiffer
Puppets:   Dog, Cat, Duck, Pig, Horse (or another big animal)
Props:   Long latex glove (optional...and it can be non-latex too)
Presenters:   One (though good with two also)
Audience:  Family Storytime
Link to Video Demo

Bark George is a long-time librarian's storytime favorite.  The illustrations are perfect and carry well for storytime, but it also tells great with puppets.  The simplest way to tell it is the way I used for a class visit last week.  You don't really need a mother...I just slide into the mother's role as I tell the story, pretty much word for word from the book.  "George's mother said 'Bark, George!'  And George went......'Meow'..."  It's amazing how many kids think it's just hilarious to see a big dog puppet go 'meow.'  As George continues to make the wrong animal sounds, you can play around with the timing.  I usually hesitate a bit before "Quack!"  Then blurt out the "Oink!" before the kids expect it.  And do a long pause before the final "Mooooooo."  I actually don't use a cow with puppets because I don't have a big enough one.  So I used a big horse puppet most recently, and have also done it with a dinosaur.  It's also fun to mix it up a bit because if it's a class visit there's a decent chance that the teacher has read it to them already.

Then the story shifts to the Vet's office.  It's fun to put on an actual latex glove as the Vet, and even switch it for an extra long one towards the end, but it's fine to do with no glove at all.  After the Vet hears each of George's animal sounds (and I use the same pattern of hesitation the second time through), he reaches "deep down inside of George" and pulls out a Cat/Duck/Pig/Cow (or alterntate to Cow).  The simplest way to manage this is to just have a puppet bag on your lap, acting as the Vet's examination table.  Then lay George on his back on top of the bag, taking George off of your hand.  The "reach" is just your hand going right behind George's mouth and into your bag, where you pull out the Pig and all the rest.  It's not like a magic trick where you're trying to fool the kids or anything...they get what you're doing, but they're into the story and perfectly willing to suspend disbelief and respond as if you really did pull the pig out of the dog. 

After George's stomach finally seems to be empty and he barks properly, his mother kisses everyone (which is me kissing the puppets and the kids thinking it's kind of disgusting), leading to the perfect ending, where George speaks one more time, only this time it's: "Hello."  There are always some kids who don't quite get it, but there's also always several who do and at least one who will say, usually unprompted:  "he ate a person!"  And then the rest of the kids get it. 

I only make one change to the book text:  I drop the "Arf!"  I just don't think kids know "arf" anymore.  Ask 20 kids what a dog says and 13 will say "Woof!" and 7 will say "Ruff," but no one says "Arf" anymore.  And the illustrations are so excellent that I even copy them for the puppet version.  I never did it consciously, but at some point I realized I was trying to imitate the expressions and body language of George's mother each time he gets it wrong:  clenching teeth, flopping that's a good illustrator.   

This is also a fun two person story...I used to co-tell it with Ginny Watt at the Beaverton Library.  She would be George's mother, with another dog puppet, and you can get some good interplay between the two characters.  Then Ginny would put on that glove and be the Vet for the second half of the story.  And we were a little more elaborate with the puppets, hiding them behind the bench we sat on, rather than having them right there on our laps.

And though I haven't tried it myself yet, it would definitely make an excellent puppet show with a stage, where you could make the pulling-animals-out part even more visually effective.   

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