Friday, March 8, 2013

A Long, Crazy, Elephant and Piggie Story

Book:  I Broke My Trunk!  by Mo WillemsPuppets:  none
Props:  Elephant nose, Piggie nose, Bandages,
Technology:  Scanned images or photocopied images
Presenters:  Two
Audience:  Family Storytime

We always use two people for Family Storytime and our K-2 Book Adventure, so it's not surprising that we bring in "Elephant and Piggie" stories pretty frequently.  They adapt neatly to acting out because the characters have such strong personalities and the stories are told in dialogue.  And although they seem simple on the surface, there's some really complex storytelling going on.  Also:  they're so funny.

For I Broke My Trunk in Family Storytime, we followed the words from the book exactly.  Well, the scripts were exact, and our script-less presentation was as close as we could get.  Sheila wore a standard pig nose, and she also devised a simple broken trunk by covering a paper towel roll in duct tape (for the grey) and paper towel (for the bandage).  A little awkward to wear, because it bounced up and down a bit, but I think the look was just right.  Elephant tells Piggie the "long, crazy story" of how he broke his trunk, revealing one piece of the tale at a time:  Balancing Hippo on the trunk; then Rhino; then Hippo's sister (his big sister); and her piano. 

In the book we see Elephant's tale build in the illustrations as he tells it, so we tried to replicate that:

So when Elephant says:  "I had an idea.  I wanted to lift Hippo onto my trunk," we showed the scanned illustration.  The focus was still on us as storytellers, but the image gave the kids a visual of Elephant's increasingly silly story.  We put breaks in between the images, so when Elephant wasn't directly describing his feat there was just gray in the background.   

When Elephant's story is done (he broke his trunk not by balancing huge animals on it, but by running to tell his friend and falling), Piggie decides to go tell another friend this crazy story.  So Sheila runs off behind the backdrop out of sight and shakes our bag of cans for a good loud crash sound.  She emerges with a bandage on her nose.  And the great closing line, when Piggie is asked how she broke her snout:  "It is a long, crazy story."  For some reason we struggled with this ending a bit.  First we decided to prep a handful of kids to ask Piggie "What happened to your snout?" when she emerges...but by the time that moment came they had all completely forgotten and said not a word.  We tried just having her walk out and show the snout...but no, you really need to direct everyone's attention to it clearly to set up the ending line.  Another time it was Sheila saying:  "Do you know what happened to my snout?"  That still wasn't just right, but close enough.  (One of the benefits of doing a Storytime four times in three days: plenty of chances to try again).

There aren't that many words in the story, but you really have to get most of them right to do justice to Mo Willems' genius.  The "long, crazy story" refrain;  the repeated back and forth of "Is that how you broke your trunk"..."No. There is more to my story;"  Piggie's explosion of "HOW DID YOU BREAK YOUR TRUNK?!"  Taking your time and holding a bit of a pause before responding works well, giving the audience just a bit more time to process and anticipate.  It's all great fun to perform.  There's a fascinating discussion of Willems' perfectly chosen words for this story on the "Heavy Medal" Mock Newbery blog, where Jonathan Hunt makes a case for its worthiness as a Newbery contender...storytelling criteria and Newbery criteria are very different, but this book meets them both. 

A couple weeks later Terri and I did it this story when we visited a preschool.  No projector in this case, so we enlarged the selected illustrations and just held them up and that worked fine.    I do think I Broke My Trunk would work fine without any illustrations, but in the end I think sharing some of the perfect illustrations, along with the perfect words, enhances the presentation.  At the preschool we enlisted a teacher to ask Piggie about her snout at the end, and that worked perfectly (5th time's the charm).  And since we have a "Silly Stories" program for grades K-2 coming up in two weeks, we'll try it a 6th time....

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