Props: Pillow case (puppet version); Rope, Rabbit Ears (act-out version)
Puppets: Rabbit, Girl
Presenters: One or Two
Audience: K-2 (also fine for preschool)
Video: How to tell Pickin' Peas with Puppets
It makes sense that the books of a storyteller like Margaret Read MacDonald would adapt very neatly into oral and/or puppet presentations, and Pickin' Peas is one of the best. The story is simple: Girl picks peas; Rabbit sneakily picks peas when she's not looking; Girl catches Rabbit; Rabbit tricks Girl and escapes. But it also has strong character interaction, a catchy song, and some great opportunities for hiding, all three of which are excellent act-out/puppetry elements. I've done it as a two-person act-out, a puppet show with stage, and a puppet story with one person.
Sheila and I acted it out last week when we visited schools to promote our K-2 Book Adventure ("Funny Festival"). She was the little girl and sang the song while she pretended to pick peas: "Pickin' peas, put 'em in the pail, Pickin' peas, put 'em in the pail." We didn't use a real pail or anything, just imagination. Musical notes are on the back of the book, but you can use any tune (you can hear the one I use on the video link above). As Rabbit, I jump out once she's at the far end of the stage and sing my song ("Pickin' peas, land on my knees") while she's not looking. Then I hide, she returns to the other side pickin' and singing again. This time I follow a ways behind, and when she looks behind I hop back to hide. She returns for one more row of picking, with more popping out and hiding. You can play this part up and kind of improvise, which is lots of fun.
Finally the Girl hides, and when Rabbit thinks the coast is clear, she jumps out and wraps a rope around him. In the book, she takes him back to her kitchen, but we just have them stay in the pea patch. Rabbit convinces her to let him go so he can show her his dance, which is really his trick to escape. When he gets to the "here" of "Heard my momma calling me right over here!" he takes one jump away and she grabs him back. The second time through it's two big jumps, and the third time, he gets away after a bit of a chase.
The book ends with a nice rhyme for Rabbit ("gonna eat all I want, cause you can't catch me!"), but with I like to end it with a rhyme from the Girl: "I picked some peas, I put 'em in my pail / And that is the end of this pea pickin' tail!" Another addition I like to use: Rabbit's "land on my knees" refrain is fun, but I like to make it a bit more silly by throwing in other rhymes: "Pickin' peas....: climbin' up the trees...I got a lotta fleas...think I lost my keys....I know my abc's..."
The tale is great for acting out like this because the kids so easily get the gist of the story and the dynamic between the two characters. The visual elements of hiding, finding, catching, chasing, and escaping are all simple to perform, but very engaging to the audience.
For our actual K-2 Book Adventure event, we did the same story with puppets, using our stage. It's an easy transition for the tellers. We used the same script. Going up and down the rows of peas was just back and forth across the stage. Rabbit was able to do a little more hiding and peeking as a puppet with a curtain and all. And the timing of Girl looking and Rabbit hiding at the same time took just a bit of practice....as long as both puppeteers do it fairly slowly, it works great. Instead of roping Rabbit, Girl stuffs him in a pillow case, and Rabbit trying to dance from inside it, where you can just see his shape bouncing around, is a good visual moment. Once he's out, you have to time Rabbit's failed escape hops right. Again, slowing it down almost to slow motion works: Rabbit takes off with a jump to the right, then Girl zips towards him, grabs him, and pulls him right back to the spot. She should look sort of like a rubber band, stretching out to grab him, the snapping back to where she took off. Another strong visual moment. When Rabbit escapes, I just loosen him on my hand and toss him so he flies back over the screen of the puppet stage. You can't do that with a puppet that's tight on you hand, but my raggedy old gray rabbit works very nicely.
For a video demonstration of the one-person, puppet storytelling version, you can go to the Storytelling with Puppets youtube page.