Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Biggest Thing with Cardboard and Felt

Book:  The Biggest Thing in the Ocean  by Kevin Sherry
Puppets:   A few sea animals, including a shark
Props:   A big cut-out squid
Presenters:   2
Technology:  Projector with a ouple slides
Audience:   Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

One of the many benefits of doing two-person storytimes is that you get to do stories that you never would have thought of yourself.  In this case, Sheila and Terri developed the story, Brad came up with a couple of additional enhancements later, and by the time I got a turn at a recent Family Storytime, all I had to do was walk around behind a piece of cardboard.

  I've used The Biggest Thing in the Ocean as a read aloud and it works great.  Sheila and Terri worked out a cool way to act it out with kids.  Sheila created a big giant squid, using cardboard and blue stuff which looks like felt, but is actually called something like headliner fabric or cartop.  "It was easy," she says, but I don't think it would have been for someone as craft-clueless as me.

 The squid works kind of like a giant puppet or mask.  You just hold it up in front of you and walk around, and you're a squid.  You can even have the words written on the back!  The story's pretty simple.  As Squid, I just brag about how I'm "the biggest thing in the ocean."  On the screen behind me we projected a silent video of moving ocean water, which was a nice touch....but it would work fine without that too.  Then Terri enters with a Starfish puppet.  I brag that I'm bigger than a starfish, and Terri attaches the puppet to the squid.  The puppets all have velcro and stick easily.  And this whole thing could be done with felt figures instead of puppets just as well..

So now there's a Starfish on the Squid.  I was a little worried that the kids would think the Squid ate the Starfish, but it's pretty clear that it's there just to show the comparative size.  Now that Terri has shown what to do, she guides four kids from the audience to come up, one at a time, and do the same thing with puppets they had been given.  So I say:  "I'm even bigger than a Blue Fish.  Is there a Blue Fish out there?"  And the child with the Blue Fish comes up and attaches it to the Squid.  Earlier we had tried having the kids walk across stage with their puppets in front of the Squid, but it was hard for them to figure out where to go.  Another time the kids stayed seated and held up their animals while the Squid came up to them.  That didn't work great either, since the kids usually forgot to hold up their animals and the rest of the audience couldn't see.  Then Brad had the idea of having the kids attach the sea creatures, and that did the trick.   Sometimes it just takes us a few tries before we get it right.  Soon the Squid has plenty of animals to prove how big he is:

Then he says something like:  "I'm even bigger than a Shark, although I'm glad I don't see any sharks around here.  They're smaller than me, but they're scary."  Terri, meanwhile, has a Shark puppet on her hand and we have a little hide-and-seek-followed-by-chase scene, which adds some action to the tale.

For the conclusion, the Squid brags one more time about being the biggest thing in the ocean...then the Whale appears.  We used the screen for the Whale, with the image moving slowly across the screen while the Squid retreats just in front of the jaws, then gets swallowed, as I move it out of sight behind a backdrop with the Squid.  So imagine the blue Squid in front of a screen, then the whale above slowly moving across the screen from right to left, towards the Squid, and as it reaches the edge of the screen, the Squid moves in front of the open mouth as if being swallowed.

Then the inside of the Whale's stomach appears on screen, and Squid comes out in front of the screen so it looks (kind of) like he's in the stomach, along with all of the other animals that are attached to him.  
He realizes where he is, admits that he's smaller than the Whale, and delivers the concluding line:  "I'm the biggest thing in this whale!"
The interaction between Squid and screen actually works very nicely, and the kids all seem to get the joke at the end, or at least as well as they do with the book....


  1. I'm curious if you've ever done a storytime "outside"? I'm attempting to do a series of "Puppets in the Park" this summer and would love to hear any advice, stories that work well in an outdoor environment, etc.

  2. Outdoors can be pretty tough, but there are some things that can make it more likely to succeed. A sound system is always nice, if you have access. And a defined space where people can tell there's storytelling going on. A set start can be challenging if people are dropping in and out through the story. And, especially if you're part of a larger event with lots of activities, having someone make an announcement about your program. As for stories, I actually prefer acted out stories or puppet tales without a stage. Partly that's because my puppet stage doesn't do well in the wind. But also it's easier to assess how things are going and adjust if needed when you're out there with the crowd. Doing participation stories, either with kids from the audience playing roles, or just stories with audience participation (saying the "Ka-pom" of "Anansi & the Moss-Covered Rock" for example) can help bring things to life. But also best not to depend on that, since you often never know what size or type of audience you'll get. I'm always a little apprehensive about doing stuff outdoors, but it can also be a great opportunity to bring stories to patrons who may not come to the library. Good luck with the you have any stories planned so far?

    1. That's good advice. The school district does a free lunch program in the park and this is to try and help get even more kids & families participating in that. We will start at 10:30 and the lunch is served at 11:30 (with some playtime in between--storytime will only last 1/2 hour). We're starting with just once a month and may expand it next year. I'm planning to act out the "Gunniwolf" either with or without puppets as it's always a favorite on class visits. Possibly "Jump" & your version of "Pickin' Peas". There is also a Disney song "It's a Sunny Day Let's go Out to the Park and play" that my teen volunteers are going to help me act out with puppets behind the stage. I was debating on if I should try more "puppet shows" behind a stage, but I like your advice that it will be easier to gauge the audience if I'm out front. I probably won't have a sound system, other than CD player. Note taken on a defined space--will work on that. I've found some other blog posts about successful storytimes outdoors and they recommend keeping it simple with classic songs that everyone knows (Wheels on Bus, etc)
      Thank you again and again for this wonderful blog and YouTube channel; it is such a wonderful resource with so many creative ideas.

  3. I love sharing this story as a read-aloud and I'm delighted by the clever way y'all staged it. As you began describing it, I tried to imagine how you'd do the eaten-by-a-whale part; and actually it sounds like it might be easier for the kids to understand your way than the whale's-outside-to-inside page turn of the book itself. And I love that you projected moving images of the ocean for ambiance!

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