Friday, March 22, 2013

Tacky the Penguin with four kids and one Hawaiian shirt

Book:  Tacky the Penguin  by Helen Lester, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
Puppets:  None
Props:  Hawaiian Shirt, Penguin Name Signs, Squirt Bottle, Drum (or some sort of instrument)
Presenters:  Three Staff + Four Kids  (could be Two Staff)
Audience:   K-2nd grade, also fine for preschool

Tacky the Penguin is a perfect picture book and one of my most-used-ever books for storytimes and class visits, and I've always thought I should be able to do it as a puppet show.  I have a fine Folkmanis penguin puppet and even saved a scrap of an old Hawaiian shirt so I could dress him properly...but I could never get past the need for five more penguins in the story.  I thought maybe if I just used the same penguin appearing five times in a row (because they do all look alike), but no.  Once you add a second presenter, though, or better yet, a third one, and act it out instead of doing puppets, it all works out.  I had a "Friends" themed storytime coming up and was ready to go, but Tacky got bumped for Z is for MooseBut luckily we also had a "Heroes and Villains" theme for a K-2 Book Adventure Program, and who's more heroic than Tacky? 
We didn't worry about looking penguin-y.  Terri played Tacky and she just needed a tacky Hawaiian shirt.  I was Narrator and Goodly, then we had four kids from the audience as Lovely, Neatly, Angel, and Perfect (their names might be my favorite part of the book).  We gave each kid a sign with the penguin name on it to wear around their necks.   So I told the story ("Tacky lived in a nice icy land..."), and the kids did what I did:   "Goodly, Lovely, Neatly, Angel, and Perfect greeted each other politely" - and we all shook hands with each other.  Then it's Tacky's turn:   "Tacky was different" - Terri appears giving back slaps and high flippers to us and shouting "What's Happening!" 
And that pattern follows, as in the book.   G, L, N, A, and P march neatly;  Tacky marches his own way ("1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3, 6, 0, 2 and a half, 0.." and winds up flat on the floor....maybe that's my favorite part of the book).    The five swim (and we just pretend to swim); Tacky does a cannonball (Terri yells "cannonball!" and squirts the penguins and the audience).  This back and forth worked pretty well.  The kids had fun being the penguins and didn't get too silly with it, so each time Terri did her thing the contrast was clear and funny. 
Then the hunter comes along (Sheila with a net).  It's three hunters in the book, but one works fine.  And just like in the book, Tacky repeats all the things that penguins do in his oddball style, convincing the hunter that he's not in the land of the penguins at all.  The kids and Goodly, meanwhile, are half hiding behind a backdrop, then come out and join Tacky's awful song that drives the hunter away ("How many toes does a fish have?  How many wings on a cow...?").   Really the only change we made to the story was to add the words "Tacky was a hero!" after the hunter was gone, just in case anyone forgot what our theme was.  And of course we retained the just-right last line:  "Tacky was an odd bird.  But a very nice bird to have around." 
Our three staff + four kids cast worked great, but this could also be done with two staff, having Narrator/Goodly step into the Hunter role also, since the Hunter only interacts with Tacky.  So having more than one teller really does open up the possibilities for doing act-outs and other versions of great books that won't fly solo.  There is a downside though:  You have to share.  And it doesn't always work out that you get to do the role you really really want to do.  I mean, I do like to narrate, and Terri is just great at physical comedy, so she was perfect for the title role.....but next time, I wanna be Tacky!

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