Friday, July 12, 2013

"Not a Stick": a one-prop story

Book:  "Not a Stick"  byAntoinette Portis
Props:  Stick
Puppets:  None
Technology:  Projector with scanned images
Presenters:   Two (could work with one)

Not a Stick is one of those books that's brilliant and at the same time so simple.  And it's a natural fit for the way we often act out picture books.  We do it with two people:  One is the guy with the stick (this was me when we did it a few weeks ago), while the other (Terri in this case) responds to each new idea.   So I find a stick and pretend it's a fishing pole.  Terri asks what I'm doing with the stick, and I reply of course:  "It's not a stick."  I think the story would really work just fine if that's all we did.  The kids would still chime in with their ideas about what I'm imagining the stick is.  But we add projected scans from the book.  So the first slide is just the stick with the posture:

Then I take the stick and pretend to be fishing.  The kids will usually make a guess or two without prompting.  Then when I reply "It's not a stick," the rest of the picture fades in, showing the hook, fish, sea, and dock. 

And the pattern continues just like that.   The plain slide appears.  The stick guy looks at the slide, ponders a bit, then starts doing the thing that he should be doing.  The kids guess, the narrator prompts, and then the full picture fades in.  It's an easy one to tell, with lots of room for improvising and interacting with the audience, which is always nice.  You don't really even have to memorize, since the slide on the screen tells you what actions come next.  (Unless you get mixed up and think the bandleader's baton is actually going to be the knight's sword, and spend a bunch of energy battling a pretend dragon only to see the next slide appear and reveal the marching band....not that you would ever do that.  I'm sure I wouldn't.  At least not more than one time anyway).

Since the kids are guessing what you're doing and filling in the blanks with their imagination, this approach really captures the essence of the book.  And it leads naturally into an after-comment about the importance of "play" in developing early literacy and learning skills. 

After one presentation I was talking with a boy about this story and the companion book Not a Box (which he knew) and asked him if he could think of any other similar possibilities....and he came up with:  "Not a Blanket!"  And with a few hints, came up with some great ideas:   Flying Carpet;  Fort;  Parachute....   So that made me feel like we did do some justice to the book and its potential for inspiring imaginative play. 

Having one "observer" and one person acting out works nicely.  It gives you more room to play and interact and the narrator can prompt and manage the audience interaction.  It could work with one person, though, talking more directly to the audience to get them to say "it's a stick."

Portis Not a Box is an equally excellent book and could work with the same approach we used, but the imaginative activities in Stick just adapt a little more easily to acting out. 


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  2. I love this idea... having a hard time visualizing how you do it... any chance you have it on camera?

  3. Sorry, we don't have a video of this one. Basically it's the plain slide first. Then the teller acting stuff out with the stick. So the plain fishing illustration shows on the screen. Then you get your stick and act out catching a fish. Then the filled in illustration appears. You don't really have to synch your actions to the screen. The kids see the first slide. Then when you step up with your stick they're focusing on you, not the screen. Then when you finish, the filled in slide appears and they focus back on that. Not sure if that helps...?