Puppets: Bear, Mouse, Rabbit, Raccoon, Chipmunk (forest animal substitutions ok, except for Bear)
Props: Grass, Berries, Carrots, Fish, Net (or Fishing Pole), Basket of More Food
Audience: Toddler Time (1 and 2 year olds)
When I decided to try adapting Bear Wants More into a puppet story for Toddler Time, I knew I’d have to make some pretty big changes. As a picture book it works great, and Karma Wilson does a better than average job of writing rhymes that really flow easily when you read them. My problem was, I wasn’t going to read them, I was going to memorize them, and my memory’s not all that good. So I cut some lines out, simplified some others, and tried not to mangle the author’s flow too much.
With puppets and toddlers, though, I strip it down to the bare bones: “Mouse scampers by and he’s feeling quite merry / ‘Come along, Bear, let’s find some berries!” No Zolotow Award for that, but it supports the interaction of the puppets, shortens it enough for me to remember, and retains a passable rhyme. Then we skip straight to: "The berries are sweet / And they eat, eat, eat!" With puppets and a young group, it works better when the words are direct and simple, even if it means losing some of the poetry and flair. I made similar adjustments to other sections, keeping to the original whenever I could.
The puppetry part also required a bit of adjusting. The story starts and ends with Bear's den, and I couldn't work that out until I decided to use my puppet bag for the den. So I pop Bear out of the den in the beginning (“A bear wakes up very hungry and thin!”). He nibbles on grass “till the last blade is gone…” Then I hesitate so the audience will start to join in on the repeated refrain: “But the bear wants more!”
Then Bear meets three friends (I use Mouse, Rabbit, and substitute Raccoon for Badger). Each one invites Bear to join them for food (Berries, Carrots (instead of clover), and Fish), and each time “Bear wants more!” (with the audience joining in). I was a little rushed that morning and forgot to bring my little fish. I used my goldfish and you'd think that would be okay, but it's just a little too cute, and the other one just looks more...edible. You can see from the photo that you'd much rather have Bear nibbling on the little guy than the pretty (and large) goldfish. The little one looks more like food than a character, at least to toddlers. They still have plenty of time to learn that meat comes from animals and then promptly become vegetarians (at least that's how it worked with my own kids)
In the book, several of Bear’s friends prepare a surprise party for Bear while he’s gone. I trimmed that to just one (Chipmunk) and simplified the party description: “She gathers a lot of Bear’s best things to eat / So when he gets back he’ll be in for a treat.” Then Chipmunk puts the food the bag, and I close the zipper a bit.
When Bear returns, the words describe that he’s grown bigger: “Bear is so big…that he can’t fit in!” And with the zipper more closed, the kids can see that he really can’t fit, and finally gets stuck. The visual image isn't all that convincing, but the story is so clean and direct that they all got the idea.
In the book, Badger pries Bear out with a stick, but since I can’t show the inside of the den/bag, I have Mouse pull him out, which is a nice visual puppetry piece. When he pops out Mouse flings him into a flip in the air then he lands on the bag. The ending matches the book: Bear eats all of the party food (which I drop into the bag when he's done) so his friends just sniff at the empty basket while snoring Bear is “full, full, full…but…his friends want more!”
For that final bit I just grab whichever two puppets are nearest and have them shake their heads atop the sleeping bear.