Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Always Room on Mother's Lap

Book:  On Mother’s Lap  by Ann Herbert Scott
Puppets:  Boy, Baby
Props:  Boat, Dog, Blanket
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Toddlers   (1 and 2 year olds)

When I first started doing Toddler Times in the late 80’s, there really weren’t all that many books that were just right for 1 and 2 year olds.  This was one of them, and it still works great as a book.  It also works very well as a pretty simple puppet story.

I tell it mostly with narration, with the boy puppet (“Michael”) speaking up regularly.  Actually I use a doll; we have one at the library who matches the look of the Inuit child much more closely than the boy puppet  have, and the doll is mobile enough to do the simple actions required.  I play the role of the mother myself…I know, wrong gender, but I just tell the audience that’s who I am and that’s all they need.   It starts with Michael on Mother’s lap,  rocking “back and forth, back and forth.”  I ask the audience to join me for that part, both saying the “back and forths” and rocking back and forth, which works great since many are in their grown-ups’ laps while they listen.   The line from the book is “Back and forth, back and forth they rocked.”  It’s a small thing, but I change that to “they rocked:  Back and forth, back and forth.”  Especially with toddlers, I really want the participation parts to work smoothly, so moving the prompt (“they rocked:…”) to the front makes it very clear when they are supposed to join in. 

I leave a few beats of silence after the second “back and forth, then I pop Michael up from my lap and he says:  “Let’s get Dolly!”  I pull the Doll out of my puppet bag and narrate again:  “Now Michael and Dolly were on Mother’s lap, and they rocked back and forth, back and forth.”   And the pattern repeats, with Michael popping up to get something new each time.  In the book it’s Puppy, Boat,and Blanket, though other items could be substituted.   There’s a real nice storytelling rhythm to the tale, moving neatly from the quiet interaction of rocking, to Michael popping up, to a surprise item from the bag, and back to the rocking.  I try to keep Michael’s explanations fairly restrained and not play up the “what’s in the bag?” part too much.  You could make his reactions more extreme and emotional, but better to keep with the gentle tone of the story I think.   

The twist comes when it’s Mother who mentions someone who needs to be on her lap, and it’s Baby.  This time Michael pops off her (my) lap, looks at Baby, looks at Mother, and sadly says:  “There isn’t room.”  Then Mother calmly gathers everyone onto her lap and ends the story with the very reassuring line that “there’s always room on Mother’s lap.”

That theme, along with the new sibling rivalry that leads to it, is a universal one that resonates most families.  My props don't match the words as well as I wish, but I don't change the words, calling it a "reindeer blanket" even though it doesn't have reindeer on it and "canoe" even though it's obviously a different kind of boat.  The words lend some of the cultural specificity in the book, and of course the theme and the actions that lead up to it are universal.  And ideally the puppet version leads families to check out an excellent, but sometimes overlooked book (and it's still in print!).    

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