Saturday, January 28, 2012

K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: “Food in Fact and Fiction”

Our December K-2 program was built around food.  As usual, we tried to mix in different types of books:  folktales, picture books, early readers, and non-fiction. 
We started with “Cookies,” from Frog and Toad Together, which is described here. 
Then we did the first of our
three “Funny Food” segments that we interspersed throughout the program.  These all featured scans of the amazing photos from the books of Saxton know, the ones where he makes fruits and vegetables look like stuff.  We selected pages from several of his books and grouped them into three categories:  Animals, People, and Vehicles.  Then we projected the series of images with music in the background for about 90 seconds each segment.  The music we chose was Scott Joplin's “The Entertainer” by Marvin Hamlisch (from the soundtrack to The Sting) for People;  In the Mood” by the Henhouse Five plus Too (aka Ray Stevens and others "clucking" the song) for Animals;  and “Soul Limbo” by Booker T & the MG’s for Vehicles.  This was great fun for the kids (and fun to put together in PowerPoint) and gave a nice continuity to the program.  Plus there's the added virtue of exposing a bunch of 6 and 7 year olds to Booker T & the MG's.

Next up was Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett Krosoczka.  Graphic novels are popular with this young age group, and easy to present.  Give them the premise (the Lunch Lady is actually a crime fighter!  The substitute teacher is an evil cyborg) and show some of the paneled illustrations on the screen and they’re hooked.

For a non-fiction food title we featured What You Never Knew About Fingers, Forks and Chopsticks by Patricia Lauber and John Manders.  This is a funny and factual look at how humans have eaten from prehistoric times to the present.  We shared a few facts from the book, accompanied by scans of Manders’ funny cartoon illustrations. 

Next up was The Fat Cat, which is described in more detail here.  We followed that with a food break.  We haven’t used snacks with this program in the past, but our theme pretty much required it this time.  We went with all fruits and veggies, cut up and put into cups, and the kids ate them all!  To serve them we borrowed a strategy we’ve been using in our “Cookies and Books” booktalk program for grades 3-5:  We give the kids 60 seconds to get up, get their food, and sit again, and we do a music/video countdown on the screen (from Minute to Win It) so they can see where they are.  It makes it fun, gets it done fast, and also serves as a “stand up and move around” break.

We did one more non-fiction book:  What Do You Do When Someone Wants to Eat You by Steve Jenkins, whose books I feature at any opportunity I get.  For this one we showed the picture of one animal on the screen (like the lizard) and asked the kids to guess how it avoids being eaten (tail falls off).  They seemed to know most of the answers, but that’s fine. 

We finished the program with If You Give a Dog a Donut.  Details are here.  Also, you can always click on “Program Summaries” under the “Labels” section on the right to see past K-2 Book Adventure line-ups.    

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.       

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bear, Mouse, and a Box

Book:  Thank You, Bear  by Greg Foley
Puppets:   Bear, Mouse, 3-5 other animals
Props:   Small box

Presenters:   1 or 2
Audience:   Toddler Time (ages 1 and 2) or Family Storytime (mostly 3-7)

Thank You, Bear is a gentle picture book with a story line that’s simple, humorous, and just right for toddlers.  Bear finds a box and decides to give it to his friend Mouse.  Along the way to Mouse’s house he meets several other animals, none of whom is particularly impressed with the box.  The puppetry is simple.  Bear walks along with the box (right hand) and Owl pops out of the bag (left hand).  Owl makes his comment:  “I’ve seen those before” and exits.  The sparse language of the book is just right, but with puppets I play up Bear’s concern a little more.  After Owl departs Bear says “I wonder if Mouse has seen these before too?”  I felt like Bear needed to show a little more personality, without Foley’s excellent illustrations to convey that. 

Bear meets Fox and Rabbit, who make similar dismissive comments.  The book has a couple more animals, but three works just fine in Toddler Time.  At this point Bear is pretty worried that Mouse won’t like the box at all.  While he’s expressing this, I pull Mouse out of the bag without looking at him (or having Bear look at him) at first.  When Bear sees him and shyly offers the box, Mouse sniffs it, turns it upside down and dances on it, goes inside and plays peek-a-boo…And of course loves the present.

Sheila and I also did this story as a two person presentation for Family Storytime (theme: “Bears”).  In that version, Sheila was behind the puppet stage, popping out each of the other animals while I had Bear in front of the stage.  With an older audience we added back a couple animals, and Sheila was able to do more playing around with each animal as they reacted to the box.  She gave the animals more personality and more motion, which was just right for the audience.  Quiet and gentle are tough with a crowd of 140.  In Toddler Time, on the other hand (20-30 people, kids 1 and 2), the puppetry works best when it’s slow, simple, and not too wild.  Foley’s book is one of those that works equally well for either group, as long as you make those small adjustments.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Fat Cat with kids or puppets

Book:  The Fat Cat
Author:  Jack Kent (also available by Margaret Read MacDonald, Illustrated by Julie Paschkis)

Puppets:  Acted out version:  none;  Puppet version:  woman, 2 men, assorted animals
Props:  Big Sheet, Kitty Ears, Pot, Big Scissors, plus hats/ears/puppets/whatever for kids to use
Presenters:  Three, plus three to six kids from audience;  Just one presenter with puppets works fine
Audience:   K-2 (though also excellent for preschool)
Video:  "How to Tell 'The Fat Cat' with Puppets"

Another old favorite that can be done all kinds of ways, we did The Fat Cat for our K-2 Book Adventure on “Food.”  Maybe a stretch for our theme, since the cat really eats mostly people and animals (plus gruel), but that's food to him, right?.  Margaret Read MacDonald’s version of this is excellent, but we based ours more on the old Jack Kent version, mostly because it’s the one I’ve told most and know best.  It's hard to find these days, but worth it.  And of course, we adapted freely as we tend to do....

As the Cat, I just wear some kitty ears and have a big orange sheet tucked into my shirt.  Terri is the Woman who makes some gruel, and when she leaves Cat alone, he eats the gruel…and the pot too!  I tuck the pot under my shirt to give a nice little bulge.  When the Woman returns she says the refrain that each victim uses (which means the audience is soon joining in):  “My goodness little cat, you are very very fat!  What have you been eating?”  The response:  “Well…..I ate the pot and the gruel, and now I am going to also eat….YOU!”  Now I lift up the sheet and the Woman goes under (meaning into the Cat’s stomach).  And since the cat is still hungry, off he walks until he meets a…..well, it can be whatever you want.  For the next several animals he eats, we used kids from the audience, giving each a mask or puppet.  So we go through the exchange again and the Cat swallows the animal, who joins the Woman under the sheet.  And on it goes. 
We had Cat swallow a chicken, then a cow, then, now that the audience has the pattern, three at a time (lion, fox, and gorilla).  But really you can use any animals you want.  As for the props to go with them, we try not to worry about those too much.  Some kids will hold a puppet properly or don a silly chicken hat with great flair; others just want to be up in front of the audience.  So we take what we get and don’t let it disrupt the story if they don’t use a prop. 

This whole thing could be done with one person, but it’s sure nice to have two or three.  As the first one swallowed, Terri was able to manage the kids under the sheet so they stayed pretty well together and fairly quiet.  Meanwhile Sheila played the last to arrive a Little Girl with Big Scissors.  When Cat brags about who he’s eaten so far:  “…and I am also going to eat…YOU!”, Little Girl gets her scissors and cuts open his stomach, so everyone can go back where they belong.  And then takes out her sewing kit to stitch him up. 

Another way I like to tell this one is using puppets instead of kids.  In that approach, I have a big oversized shirt, tucked in, and as the Cat I “swallow” each puppet by stuffing it down into my shirt.  The little girl at the end is also a puppet and it’s just a matter of unbuttoning the shirt to let everyone out.  Also, when I tell it without kids I have Cat swallow a couple people, using the names from the Jack Kent book:  Skohottentot and Skolinkenlot.  These names are just so much fun to say and to hear.  I don’t know why, but they are.   And since they’re the first ones swallowed after the Woman, you get to say them a lot.  I thought the acted out version we did with the kids was very successful and everyone enjoyed it, but afterwards I just had this nagging feeling that something hadn’t gone right, and that was it:  we didn’t have a Skottentot or a Skolinkenlot.  They will return in future versions I’m sure…. 

You can see a video of this one-person, puppet version here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Dog, a Donut, and a Bunch of Props

Book:  If You Give a Dog a Donut
Author:  Laura Numeroff, Illustrated by Felicia Bond
Puppets:   Dog
Props:  Donut, Apple Juice, Apple, Tree, Football, Baseball, Regular Glove, Baseball Mitt;  Puppet or Stuffed Bat;  Baseball Bat;  Water Pitcher, Squirt Bottles;  Big Squirt Gun;  Bandana, Kite (some can be substituted or omitted)
Presenters:  2 or 3
Audience:   K-2

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was one of the books I read the first time I ever did a storytime (1986!).  I’ve since told it with a puppet and props many times over the years, but for this latest book in the series, If You Give a Dog a Donut, we decided to do it with a Dog puppet behind the stage (me), a kid getting stuff for the dog in front of the stage (Sheila), and a narrator (Terri).  We did the story for our December K-2 Book Adventure:  Food in Fact and Fiction.

As the Kid,
Sheila has a box full of stuff on a table, and as each line is read, she rummages through, finds the right thing, and gives it to the dog.  It’s almost that simple.  But you need a little more to really make it fun, and that comes from the interplay between kid and Dog.  So when Dog picks an apple from a tree (we have a tree cut-out that we leaned against the puppet stage), he tosses it to the Kid…who tosses it back.  And then when Kid’s back is turned, Dog tosses it one more time, beaning her on the head. 

We also played around with the Kid sometimes getting the wrong thing.  Instead of a baseball, she brings a football, which Dog rejects.  After the baseball is found, Kid gets a bat from the box…but it’s a puppet animal bat….get it?  (I never get tired of this kind of joke, and fortunately K-2’s think they’re pretty funny too).  Finally when it’s time for Kid to be the pitcher, she brings a pitcher of water!  It’s tempting to throw in as many of these mistakes as you can possibly think of, but we just did a short series of them to keep the kids guessing and the pace varied. Of course when it comes to “he’ll probably start a water fight….” we pull out our squirt bottles and squirt each other, then the kids.  We ended this segment by both pulling out a giant super soaker, but stopped short of actually shooting these. 

Gathering props for a story like this can be tricky, so we edited segments if we felt that the props would be too much trouble to get.  For example, instead of having Dog find a kite, then ask for sticks, paper, and string to make his own, then fly it, we just had him find a kite and fly that one.  We talked about how we could lift the kite with fishing line looped around the ceiling vents….but no.  That really doesn’t add that much, so why not just hold the kite above the puppet stage and move it back and forth, and that worked fine.  Reducing the number of lines a bit left a little more room for us to play.  Also, we’re always pressed for time in our preparation for this program each month, and in a way that’s a good thing because it forces us towards simplifying and focusing on the core elements of the stories.

This story could work with two people, with the Kid also doing the narration, but for us the three person approach worked best.  It allowed Sheila to focus on the prop management and act out her responses to the Dog in ways that made the kids laugh.  And Terri timed her narration to work with Sheila’s acting out, while also leaving enough time for me to manage Dog’s props when I needed to. 

Though I haven’t done this story solo yet, I would take the same approach I use with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  A Dog puppet on my left hand, while my right hand digs into a box of props on the left.  This can be a little daunting as you reach around trying to grab the right prop…so I always make sure to line up the props in just the right order and rehearse the prop handling process at least a couple times without even worrying about the narration part.