Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Tortoise and the Hare and Fats Domino

Story:  The Tortoise and the Hare
Props:   Rabbit stuff (ears will do), Tortoise stuff (green shirt and hat works), something to mark finish and starting lines
Puppets:   None
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly preschool age)
We finally started our Fall Storytime sessions last week.  Brad and I drew "folktales" as the Family Storytime theme and decided on "The Tortoise and the Hare" as one of our stories.  I've done this with puppets and as an oral tale, but it also seemed like a natural choice to act out with two people.  So we did.  When we do "act outs" we usually don't worry too much about costumes.  We had some bunny ears that Brad put on.  I just wore a green shirt and a backwards green baseball cap.  Especially with a story like this, with such clear action and characters, the audience focuses on what we do and say in character, not on how we look. 

It's nice as an act out because the characters are so distinct.  Brad was the fast, frantic, impatient Hare and I was Tortoise.  We set up a cut-out tree at one end of the stage and a cut-out bush at the other.  Hare challenges Tortoise to the race and says it will be "twice around the tree and then back to it."  So Hare zips off to start it out and disappears behind the tree.  Then Tortoise saunters along.  Once he rounds the tree, Hare speeds out from behind it, goes around the bush, and stops, just where the race began (having completed one lap).  As Hare tells the audience how great he is and how he's going to stop to read a book, Tortoise trudges past behind him (on the way to the bush), then rounds the bush and passes in front of him.  Hare is engrossed in his book and doesn't see him.  

When Tortoise makes it to the tree, Hare looks up, realizes he's behind, and takes off again.  The physical set up worked fine.  Kids totally get what's going on, I think partly because many know the story, but also because the story is just so simple they catch on right away. 
As with my puppet show version, I had Tortoise sing a little theme song each time he walks, to kind of punctuate each segment.  The song I use is to the tune of "I'm Walkin'" by Fats Domino (which spent 6 weeks at the top of the R&B charts in 1957, though I don't share that fact in Storytime), substituting words about the race and singing it in a slow tortoise voice:  "I'm walkin', / It's a beautiful day / I'm walkin', / I'm on my way / I'm hopin' / That I might win this race."

 After Hare passes Tortoise again and takes a nap,  we try to build up the ending so the kids are anticipating and very involved.  Tortoise passes ("I'm walkin', / I'm feelin' fine. / I'm walkin', / There's the finish line. / I'm thinkin' / That I'm gonna win this race").  Tortoise stops short of the tree while Hare wakes up, then waits until Hare has almost made  it before slapping his hand on the tree.  Tortoise consoles Hare by suggesting that he try another race with a different opponent:  his good friend Snail. 

It's all very easy to learn and to act out, and except for the song refrains, you don't have to memorize much.  Just playing with the personalities of the characters and following the structure of the race makes it work.  The first time we did the story we had the guys do three laps; we cut one lap for the next three performances because we ran over.  The shortened version was actually even a little better because it gets from the general idea to the fun finishing scene quicker.

This is a good simple story for puppets with a stage. You can really play up the fast/slow contrast by the way you move the puppets.  It also works well as an oral story that's also a chance for the kids to stretch.  I tell a sort of bare bones version of the story, but have the kids stand up while I tell it and run in when it's Hare and slow when it's Tortoise.  So the focus there is more on the speeds and participation, rather than the personalities.  Sometimes I think that Aesop guy must have been a children's librarian, because his stories sure work in a lot of ways...

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