Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Simplest Elephant & Piggie for Puppets

Book:   I Am Going  by Mo Willems
Puppets:   Elephant, Pig
Props:   Food (optional)
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Storytime
Video:  How to Tell I Am Going with Puppets

Since our Family Storytimes are done with two storytellers, we've presented several "Elephant and Piggie" books as Act Outs, including I Broke My Trunk and Watch Me Throw the Ball.  Both of those stories would also work great as one person puppet stories, I'm sure.  But the simplest E & P to tell with one person and two puppets is I Am Going.  It's a short, simple tale with great opportunities for humor, both visual and personality-based.  
Willems sets the stage for all the drama by having E & P agree that "this is a good day." So when Piggie announces that she is going, Gerald's melodramatic responses are even funnier. 

Basically, Piggie tells Gerald the elephant that she is going, and he freaks out.  He asks who will do fun stuff with the book it's Skip, Play Ping-Pong, and Wear Silly Hats.  I switched a couple of those to things that are more easily demonstrated with puppets.  Skip becomes "Dance":  my legless elephant puppet can't show skipping very well, but he can dance fine.  And Ping-Pong becomes "Play Ball":  he can hold a ping-pong paddle, but it's more fun to have him toss a ball in the air and catch it (or drop works either way).  And he can do all three at once, as Gerald does in the book.
Another highlight is when Gerald declares that he is going too, though he's bluffing of course.  Puppet motions are simple here, as Gerald slowly walks away, stops, looks back, etc.  When telling with puppets, your eyes can help pace a scene like this.  When Gerald looks back to see Piggie's reaction (which is nothing), you can also look from your Elephant puppet, back to silent Piggie.  It's a subtle way of directing the audience's eye from one character to the other at the appropriate time. 
Gerald's attempt to have Piggie go later ( year!) is fun in the book, with the illustration showing him tossing a calendar in the air.  I thought about doing this but decided it would be too distracting and a little more abstract than the other jokes.  So I just used the words, but no calendar prop. 
Gerald finally explodes with a blizzard of "Why??!!'s", another fun bit to do with puppets.  Though Gerald is pretty manic at this point, there's no need to overplay it, either with fast and wild motions or with an over-the-top craziness in the voice.  The kids know Gerald well enough by now and going far, but not too far with his overreaction works perfectly. 
Voice and expression are the key to telling this with puppets. Obviously Gerald is emotional and active, while Piggie is calm, quiet, and pretty still. The contrast in personalities is extreme, and it's tempting to make the dialogue exchanges quick...but better, I think, to slow it all down. Leaving a bit of a pause between Piggie's words and Gerald's responses gives the listeners a chance to anticipate.  Willems' illustrations pace his stories with moments of silence and responses, and kind of replicating these with puppets works very well. 
When Piggie finally reveals her reason for going ("lunch"), the story reaches its satisfying conclusion.  I have her bring out a basket of fake fruit and share with Gerald, but it would work just as well without a visual representation.  And the ending scene is another example of holding back a bit with the puppetry.  Instead of an immediate reaction, Gerald can do a slow, silent double take, looking at Piggie, then the audience, then back again.  So as he slowly realizes that he's been very silly, the kids have time to process it all too. 
For E and P I use a couple of puppets from my elephant vaguely resembles Gerald, but my pig is very un-Piggie like.  There are Elephant and Piggie puppet-making ideas on the web or you can buy plush dolls that I bet could be transformed into puppets pretty easily.  But really, it's the personalities and storytelling that carry the stories, so basic, close-enough puppets work fine. 


  1. So... I am trying this with my elephant puppet... and catching the ball is HARD! And how do you get the silly hat on? Does Piggie help? I sure would love to see video of some of these....

  2. You're right about video, and I'm working on it. Hope to add some of that soon, at least for puppet stories.... - steven