Sunday, February 21, 2016

Abiyoyo with Giant Feet, Hands, and Hat

Book:  Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger, illustrated by Michael Hays
Puppets:  none
Props:  Stuff to make someone look a little bit like a giant
Presenters:  two
Audience:   Family Storytime  (mostly 3-6 year olds)

Abiyoyo is one of a handful of stories I tell that I actually heard as a child.  We had the Pete Seeger version on a record (it's possible it might even have been a reel to reel tape!).  It was too scary at first and I would leave the room at "the sun rose blood red over the hills," but eventually I got used to it.  I've told it solo a few times over the years, but at my current library Terri and Sheila came up with a way to tell it as a two-person tale, and Terri and I did this way for our "Monster" storytime theme.  

The first part is just telling and acting out.  I narrated, introducing the boy and his father.  While I described the boy's annoying ukelele playing, Terri acted as the boy.  We considered using a real ukelele, but decided that pretending works almost as well.  I talked about the Father's tricks with his magic wand while Terri became the townspeople he tricked.  She mimed drinking a glass of water, sawing a log, and sitting in a chair.  I did a "Zoop!  Zoop!" with my want (also imagined, no prop) and she acted like the things just disappeared.  The second half begins right after the boy and his father are ostracized (there's our vocabulary word of the week!).
While I tell the audience how the townspeople liked to tell stories about giants, Terri zips off behind the backdrop and gets her Abiyoyo gear together.  Instead of trying to actually become tall, Terri puts on giant-sized gloves, giant-sized feet, and a giant sombrero.  She makes her entrance by sticking one giant hand into sight then stomping out into full view.  

Her kind of silly appearance works just right, as the kids who might have been a bit scared at the build up to the giant's arrival get that it's all in fun, but we still got the suspense up for a while, which is a key part of the story.

 While I narrate Abiyoyo's path towards town, Terri stomps around.  We have some cut-out sheep, cows, and goats that we set up (they're about three feet high) and she knocks them all over.  In the original story he eats them, but this works too.

When the Father and Son run out to meet Abiyoyo, I get on my knees, so I'm looking up at the giant.  I play my pretend ukulele, Terri dances in a silly giant style that's a little too funny for me to keep a straight face, but that's okay.   Click here for a video clip (no audience) sample:  
When she dances so fast that she falls over, Terri lies down mostly behind the backdrop, but with her giant feet sticking out so everyone can see them.  As the Father, I go up with my magic wand, and as I Zoop!  Zoop!, Terri pulls her feet all the way behind the backdrop and "Abiyoyo disappeared!"
We finish up with the people welcoming the Father and Son back into town, and a final singalong version of the Abiyoyo song, which is a little hard for me because I'm a bit out of breath and even harder for Terri because she just got through dancing like a giant, and then dancing faster.  

For the telling, I pretty much went straight with Pete Seeger's words, though I did have to edit the "bring your damn ukulele," which is how he told it on the record, to "darn ukulele" as it is in the book.  At five years old I thought it was pretty cool that Pete Seeger used one of the bad words right there on a record, and I guess I still can't quite bring myself to use it with kids.  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Foolish Frog with Puppets

Story:  "The Foolish Frog" by Pete Seeger
Puppets:  Frog, Man, Woman, Child, Cow, Chicken (can cut one or two)
Props:   Grass, Water Bottle, Barn (optional)
Presenters:    One
Audience:   Family Storytime, also good for K-2

When I started as a children's librarian a few decades ago the world of storytelling seemed totally new to me.  Later I realized it wasn't, because I grew up listening to Pete Seeger records, and although I liked his songs, it was the stories that really captured me:  "Abiyoyo"..."Sam the Whaler"...and this one, "The Foolish Frog."  It's kind of daunting to tell a story that you grew up with, especially when it's told by such a great teller (who also has a banjo).  But fortunately the best stories work with all levels of tellers.  And although I have no banjo, and don't sing well, I do have some puppets, and that's the way I first started telling this story in storytime.

It starts with a farmer watching a Bullfrog jumping across a creek.  I narrate and act as the farmer, with the Bullfrog puppet on my hand.  The Farmer makes up a song about it:   "Way down south in the Yankety-Yank / A bullfrog jumped from bank to bank / Just because he'd nothin' better 'fore to do..."  You can get the tune from Pete Seeger's version.  I'm no singer, but this is simple, silly, and has a strong rhythm, so anyone can sing it just fine.

The Farmer sings it to the folks at the corner store, and that starts the pattern.  When I sing the song the second time, I usually ask the audience to join in, which sets up the silly sing-alongs that come later.  Since all the men are at the store singing (and drinking Coca Cola (I think the book switched it to "strawberry pop") and eating soda crackers), the wives come to look for them (gender stereotyping I know, but it works fine in this story).  That's when I get the Woman puppet.  She sings the same song.  Then it's the kids who come down to the store (and I use one Child puppet).  It's fine to skip Woman or Child to save time, which I typically do because it can be a longish story...but if I do have the time I use them all.

Next it's the Cows.  Like Mr. Seeger does in his telling, it's fun to have each newcomer wonder aloud to the audience where everyone is, to give each a bit of personality and silliness, and also build the anticipation.  When the Cows sing along, though, they say "Moo-moo, moo-moo, moo-moo-moo..." to the same tune.   This is a fun moment, when the audience realizes this is a much-silllier-than-usuial participation story.

Next come Chickens, though I sometimes also skip them to shorten the tale.  Then there's another clever shift, from the mild silliness of animals singing, to the really crazy silliness of other stuff, like the Grass wondering where everyone went and swishing its way down to the corner store too. For Grass, I don't use a puppet, just hold up a handful of Easter grass and move it around like a puppet.  The song there is "Swish-swish, swish-swish, swish-swish-swish...."  Barn is pretty fun too:  I sometimes skip it, but when I've had a toy barn of about the right size, I pull that out and we all "squeak" the song like a barn door.  For the River, I use a half-full water bottle and shake it around while everyone sings in bubbly voices.

The final twist brings us back to the Bullfrog, who wonders where the creek he was jumping across went.  He hears everyone singing about him, "puffs himself up with pride," and puffs himself so big that he explodes.  I've thought about trying to actually make the Frog bigger as he puffs himself, but I think of this as really more of storyteller's version than a puppeteer's, so don't feel the need to visually represent everything.  When he explodes, I grab as many of the puppets and props as I can and toss them up in the air.  And Pete Seeger has a great ending for the tale:  Nobody can find the Frog, so "all that's left of the Frog is the song...and we might as well sing 'er one more time."  Which gives the audience one last go-round, this time with the words restored.

We've also done this at my library as a two-person puppet show, with one person playing guitar, singing, and telling, and the other person behind the puppet stage managing puppets and props.  It's excellent, and even includes an inflating balloon for the "puffing up" at the end!  But I haven't been a part of that version yet, so will wait to write more about it in a future post, because I definitely want to try that way.  But the one-person with a few puppets version is also quite fun and works great too (as long as you avoid comparing your version to Pete Seeger's)

The book version of The Foolish Frog is long out-of-print (and runs for $100+ if you've got a new copy), but I always think of it as a record rather than a book.  The version I grew up with was this one from Children's Concert at Town Hall.  What a great album!  It also included "Abiyoyo," "Here's to Cheshire, Here's to Cheese" (a version of "Froggy Went a Courtin'), "Henry My Son" (aka "Mother Be Quick, I'm Gonna Be Sick, and Lay Me Down to Die" (Henry ate some green and yeller eels that turned out to be snakes), and a bunch of other great ones....

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Santa Cat with Signs

Book:  Here Comes Santa Cat  by Deborah Underwood;  Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Puppets:  2 Cats, Bird, Frog (or substitute)
Props:  Signs (copied from book); Santa Clothes for Cat (just a hat would do); Two Cat Food Cans (or similar); Christmas Lights;  Puppet Stage (optional)
Presenters:   Two
Audience:  Family Storytime  (could be done with one)

We needed a new holiday story to go with our annual puppet show presentation of The Nutcracker, so Brad and I decided to try Here Comes Santa Cat.  In the book, the "narrator" is talking directly to Santa Cat, who responds by holding up signs.  Very clever and fun!  We considered using the projector to show scanned images, but decided the act of Cat physically holding up the signs was really the heart of the book.  So we scanned some pictures, laminated them, and taped them to paint sticks.

For Santa Cat, we just squeezed a puppet cat into a little Santa coat and hat.  Probably just having a hat could work, but the coat did help with this particular puppet.

From in front of the stage, Brad interacted with Santa Cat.  When he asked a question, like "Why won't Santa bring you any presents?" Santa Cat disappeared below, then popped up holding a sign.

The sign is a pie chart comparing "naughty" to "nice," which is pretty funny, but most preschool age kids won't get it just from the visual, so Brad's reaction helped to explain it:  "Oh, you were mostly naughty this year [point to blue part], and only a little bit nice [point to pink part]."  That's the pattern we followed for the most part, but we also mixed it up with some other props besides the signs.  

Santa Cat was silent for the whole thing, except for a couple of bursts of singing, as when he decides to sing Christmas carols and meowl's horribly to the tune of "Jingle Bells."

We also did some substituting.  In the book, Santa Cat is asked how he'll travel like Santa without reindeer, and S. C. tries a rocket.  Lacking a convenient rocket prop, we switched it to a Bullfrog, and the visual of frog and cat slowly hopping across the stage was pretty funny.  Then when Brad reminded Santa Cat that he had to fly. we had a puppet Bird grab S. C., fly above the stage, and drop him.

In another scene from the book, Santa Cat tries going down the chimney....we just skipped that one for brevity and because we couldn't think of a simple way to replicate it.

With the Christmas Tree joke, we used sign and prop.  When asked what else he can do that's nice,
Santa Cat brings up the Christmas Tree sign.  Then disappears below stage, makes crashing noises, shakes the stage, meowling to the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree," and reappears tangled in Christmas lights.

The book's ending is very satisfying, and worked well with puppets.  The narrator decides that Santa Cat has been trying to be nice, so gives him a present.  We used two cans of cat food.  Then a Kitten appears.  There's a little back-and-forth as Kitten shows interest in the cans and Santa Cat fends her off, until finally Santa Cat pushes one of the cans over to Kitten in the true spirit of the holiday.

Overall the story worked well, with the combination of puppets, props, signs, and interaction with Narrator.  The one change we'll make for next year is to make the signs more was a bit hard for people in the back to make them out very well.  We printed them kind of in a hurry, and next time Here Comes Valentine Cat....
we'll play around with contrast.  And if needed, bold up the main lines with a sharpie.  But that's twelve months away.  Meanwhile, we've got two months to figure out another cool book:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fly Guy and Buzz

Book:  A Pet for Fly Guy  by Tedd Arnold
Puppets:  Fly, Octopus, Monkey, Porcupine, Dog, Cat, Frog, Chipmunk, Spider, Worm (can substitute for all but Fly)
Props:  Garbage Can, Banana (or substitute food), Bags for three puppets
Presenters:  Two
Audience:  Family Storytime

Tedd Arnold's "Fly Guy" books are excellent, but most don't translate too easily into read alouds or a two-person act-out kind of thing.  But A Pet for Fly Guy is written as a picture book, rather than an early reader, and the structure is just right.  I've used as a storytime read aloud several times, so when Sheila and I had a "Friends" theme for Family Storytime, I thought we could try it with a bigger production.

I was Buzz, and Sheila used this cool fly puppet she made some time ago (for Old Black Fly) on a bent up wire hanger for easy control.  The story divides neatly into sections.  For the first part, Buzz introduces Fly Guy and talks about the cool things they do together.  Fly Guy responds with variations of "Buzz," which is all he can say.  So we act a few things out:  playing chase, hide and seek, and eating snacks.

In the next part, Buzz tells Fly Guy about all the great pets kids have.  We had three bags with puppets in them and asked one volunteer to come up and show the audience their pet.  This was a good simple way to do the child volunteer thing, because we could pick them in the middle of the story, and the thing they had to do, pull puppet out of bag and show audience, was simple and cute.  Then we sat that first one down and chose another.  We used a Monkey, Porcupine, and Octopus, but any three unusual/silly animals for pets would do. 

The next phase is a visit to the Pet Shop, where Buzz tries to choose a good pet for Fly Guy.  We just had our backdrop with a Pet Shop sign and I went behind it and came out with a new pet each time.  We used Cat, Dog, and Frog; substitutes could work, but they should be pretty typical pets this time.  Each time the pet interacts with Fly Guy in a bad way:  Dog licks, Cat pounces, Frog chases.  We tried to keep plenty of movement going on, and Fly Guy responded with appropriately toned buzz-y noises each time. 
The final set of puppets are ones that Fly Guy chooses when they visit the Park.  We used another backdrop with a tree in front for the park.  For these, Sheila took Fly Guy behind the backdrop, then Fly Guy popped out on top with a pet.  Our choices were Chipmunk (too loud), Worm (too slimy), and Spider (too scary).

For the conclusion, it's just Buzz and Fly Guy again, and this time Fly Guy decides that Buzz will be the perfect pet for him.  

You don't really need the two backdrops to do this, and using two puppets per section instead of three would work okay too.  I'm pretty sure this will also work as a one-person story with puppets, and hope to try that soon....

Finally getting to use a "Fly Guy" book in Family Storytime gave us the opportunity to promote other books with F. G. and Buzz, since we always have two tables full of books available for check out.  And with Fly Guy we could promote not just the early readers, but also the non-fiction "Fly Guy Presents" series, which at least some of our picture-book crowd hadn't heard of yet...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dark Stairs, Mice, a Monster, and Music

Book:  The Dark at the Top of the Stairs  by Sam McBratney,    Illustrated by Ivan Bates
Puppets:  None
Props:  None
Technology:  Projector and Scans; Music and Sound Effects in PowerPoint
Presenters:   Two or more
Audience:  Family Storytime

For our annual "Slightly Spooky Storyime" we decided to try The Dark at the Top of the Stairs  (the Sam McBratney picture book, not the William Inge play), .  It's been one my favorites suspenseful/funny read alouds for a long time, but we thought it could make a good Act-Out with Scans.  It would have been okay, but then Brad added some just right music bits and it really came together.  We did it with six(!) people on our big Halloween event, and the rest of the week Terri and I were joined by the newest member of our team, Deborah Gitlitz (our new bilingual outreach librarian, and also an excellent storyteller).  It can also work fine with two people, though.

 In the book, an old Mouse takes three eager/scared Little Mice slowly up the dark stairs in the cellar, where a monster supposedly awaits.  We edited and ad-libbed a bit, but tried to keep a lot of McBratney's excellent storyteller's voice in there.   For example, I always love the line where the Old Mouse agrees to bring the mice up the stairs, speaking "as if he knew that sooner or later all young mice will try to see the dark at the top of the stairs."  I'm not big on messages in storytime, but it's a nice little nudge to the grown-ups to let their kids do scary things once in a while.

Before they go, the Old Mouse tries to talk them into going to the meadow or swinging on the grass.  The music Brad chose for this opening was "Morning Song" from Rossini's William Tell Orchestra, which gives it a nice, light, carefree mood.  

When the story moves into the cellar, the music switches to "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Grieg, which is just the right amount quiet and mysterious.  We only used the kind of tiptoe-y part at the beginning, not the big ending.  It's always neat to see how much of an impact a well chosen piece of music can make.

I was the Old Mouse, and also narrated.  Deborah and Terri were Cobb and Berry-Berry....we axed Hazel in the three-person version.  We scanned illustrations of the stairs, and tiptoed around in front of it to kind of simulate going up the stairs.   Each new page-turn / scanned image brings the mice further up the stairs.  And with each section there's a new bit of dialogue as they get more scared:

We didn't do any costumes or anything to make us look like mice...we counted on the story and the images to convey that.  And as the story progressed, we didn't really try to act out ascending stairs.  We wanted to stay facing the audience, or sideways at least.  So we just sort of crept in place, making sure to stay on the sides of the screen, without blocking it.

The pace of the story works really well with a mostly preschool age audience.  The scariness the mice show is kind of real, but also kind of self-generated, so the audience is tense, but not really really scared.   When they get close to the stop of the stairs, with the mice bickering and getting excited, the Narrator can build up to the climax with a louder, more ominous voice:   "And then....Something Happened."   At the same time, the music abruptly stops.  The door opens and the monster is finally revealed.

For the "monster," which of course is a cat, we put a black box over the image in the PowerPoint slide, then animated it so it slowly rose to reveal the Cat.  Another click added a "Meow" word balloon, plus a sound effect of a real cat's meow.

At which point all of us mice kind of ran around in a tizzy for a while and then finally flopped onto the floor "in a jumble and a heap."  

The tale has a very satisfying ending, as the Old Mouse asks the Small Mice where they would like to go the next day and "none of them mentioned the Dark at the Top of the Stairs."

With our "Slightly Spooky Stories," we usually like to get the kids just a little bit scared, but then have them able to say after the story is over:  "I wasn't really scared....even though they probably were."  This story seemed to hit that pretty well....  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fox's Sack with Puppets

Book:  What's in Fox's Sack?  by Paul Galdone
Puppets:  Fox, Bee, Rooster, Pig, Child, Dog; 4 people optional
Props:  Sack (pillow slip works fine)
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Family Storytime (older too)
Video:  How to Tell What's in Fox's Sack? with Puppets

Here's one of the first stories I ever told with puppets.   It has a repetitive pattern that's easy to learn (and for the audience to follow), and that pattern builds and twists a bit at the end to make a very satisfying story.  When I tell it with puppets I like to it as narrator, as well as doing the puppet characters.  So I'll describe Fox catching a bee, then show him doing that.  I tell how he "walked and walked and came to a house...."  And later it's  "off he went, trot, trot, trot, to Squintum's house."  I think it's because I first presented as a book and an oral tale, and I just really like Galdone's language.

Fox proceeds to meet four different ladies, and asks each one not to look in his sack while he goes to visit his friend Squintum.  I usually don't use puppets at all for the ladies, I just kind of play them myself, interacting with Fox in character, promising not to look, then opening the sack after all.  I've done it with four people puppets (I don't have four ladies, so two ladies, two men), but I don't feel it adds that much, and any time I can simplify the prop and puppet handling I usually do.

The strong pattern of the story invites some good interaction with the audience.  They'll often join in when Fox says "Don't look in my sack!"  And you can play up their involvement as the Lady by asking them:  "....should I look in his sack?"  (response is typically split evenly between "yes" and "no.").

The heart of the story is the narrative and dialogue, rather than action, but there are moments where puppet movement can really help:    When each Lady pulls the animal out of the sack  when Fox returns and kind of gets in the Lady's face when he says "Oh ho!  So you did look in my sack!;"  And short simple chases when one animal chases the previous one away.

It's always fun to watch the audience's reactions shift towards the end.  They've kind of settled into the easy pattern of Fox getting a new animal in his sack each time, but when they realize it's a Child who will be in there, they're not quite so relaxed.  And that brief bit of tension drops once they realize that the last Lady is putting her Dog into the sack to fool Fox.

You can see a video sample of this story on my Youtube Storytelling with Puppets page.  It's a tale that also works great with a puppet stage.  When I do it that way, I drop the narration part, so Fox and the Ladies describe what they're doing as the story proceeds.  With a stage, you can have some fun with the interactions between the animals, extending the chase scenes, having Rooster hide from Pig a few times, for example.

The excellent Paul Galdone version of this tale is out of print and goes for $140+ new on amazon, but Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has brought several of P. G.'s folktales back into print in the past few years and I keep hoping they'll add this one.  And The Monkey and the Crocodile....and The Magic Porridge Pot....okay, let's just say:  all Paul Galdone folktales should be back in hardcover.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Lion and the Mouse with surf music, Bach, and the Brothers Johnson

Book:  The Lion and the Mouse  by Jerry Pinkney 
Puppets:  none
Props:  none
Technology:  Projector with scanned illustrations + music clips
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly age 3-7)
Presenters:  one

Jerry Pinkney's version of The Lion and the Mouse has so much potential in storytime settings and we've used it with several variations.  We scan the images to project so they can be seen in our large storytimes.  We've done it with barebones narration and simple perscussion to give it rhythm.  Another time we had a local string quartet provide live musical accompaniment.  For our most recent version I went back to one of my favorites standbys:  pop music of the 50s, 60s and 70s.  I picked six intrumentals from that time period, and put short clips of each to capture, as well as I could, the mood of the story.

For the first part, where day is breaking and we see the lons on the savanah and the mouse waking up, I used 1976's Tomorrow" by the Brothers Johnson (they're best known for "Strawberry Letter #23," "I'll Be Good to You," and "Get the Funk Out Ma Face," but their album cuts were nice too).  I skipped the intro bit (0:00 - 0:22) and went to about 1:11.  It ends on the page where Mouse first hears the Owl. 

Then Mouse gets chased by the owl, so you need something a little faster.  The first 46 seconds of 1963's "Pipeline" by the Chantays fit nicely, even though a mouse running on a savanah is about as far as surfers as you can get.  The clip has a nice little mini-fade that we timed to match when Mouse is on Lion's mane, but doesn't realize it.

To catch the big moment when Lion rises up and grabs Mouse, we went with "Out of Limits" by the Marketts, from 1963.  It starts with a cool "Twilight Zone"-ish piece that's seems just right.  (A little too just-right for Rod Serling, creator of "The Twillight Zone," who sued the Marketts for copying it).  We had this one fade out at about the 0:55 mark.  In the book, that's where Mouse has been released and Lion strides off triumphantly.

When the illustrations shift to the Hunters, we went with "Peter Gunn" by Duane Eddy from 1959.  It was the theme from a detective show that ran from 1958-1961...the music on the show was done by Henry Mancini, but we went with Duane Eddy instead.  It has a great guitar opening to announce the Hunters, then a saxophone that's just right for bad guys.  The first 0:55 worked about right, starting with the Hunters' jeep and ending with Lion suspended in the net.

For the rescue, we played "Walk Don't Run" by the Ventures from 1960, (often considered the first major hit in the surf music genre).  A nice drum opening transitions to the mouse neatly, then the guitar part runs through Mouse's chewing of the ropes, and has a nice break at 1:05 to match the final thread.   

When Lion is finally free, we jump forward to 1972 for "Joy" by Apollo 100 (or you could say we're going back to the 1700's, since this was inspired by a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach).  We skipped the first 0:24 and faded out at about the 1:09 point.  This has a different sound than the early 60s stuff in the middle, but it seems appropriately triumphant, and it fades as the two families walk off across the endpages.  

With a music/scan version like this, it can take some time to get it all together.  Messing around with songs, downloading them into your PowerPoint file, and getting the timings and the fading to work pretty well takes some time.  But after you get it right (or as close to right as I ever strive for), the actual presentation is just introducing the book and clicking on "run slide show."  When we played it in Storytime, the music really did help pace the story, but it didn't interfere so much that the kids weren't following the visuals.  So the book was still the main focus...but if a few families leave storytime with a bit of the Ventures or Bach rattling around in their head, I'm okay with that.