Thursday, April 28, 2011

Flip, Flap, Fly without the moms

Book: Flip, Flap, Fly! by Phyllis Root; Illustrated by David Walker
Puppets: Bird, Fish, Duck, Mouse, Child. (Otter and Snake optional)
Props: None
Presenters: One
Audience: Toddler Time (ones and twos)
Video:  How to Tell Flip, Flap, Fly! with Puppets

I thought this book would be great to tell with puppets from the first time I saw it. The rhyming story shows a baby animal getting helped by mom, then discovering the next baby animal in a repeated, patterned progression. But when I tried to work it out on a couple of separate occasions, I never could quite figure it out. It was just a little more complicated than I wanted it to be. Deep down I think I knew what I was going to have do all along, but didn’t want to admit it: The mothers had to go. I know, the whole theme of the book is mothers helping their babies, but…what if it was just babies discovering things on their own? You could still get the surprise of seeing each new rhymed animal. And you could still have the nursery rhyme-ish rhythm of the text. And the puppet management would be so much easier. So….sorry about that moms.

Once those mothers were gone, things went much smoother. This line: “'Fly!' cheeps the baby bird. / 'Way up high!' / So the mama helps the baby bird / flip flap fly..." becomes: ““'Fly!' cheeps the baby bird. / 'Way up high!' / And off goes the baby bird / flip flap fly..." And it all comes together. Puppet bird flies around for that first bit, continuing through: “In the blue blue sky / where the wind blows whish / ‘Look!’ cheeps the baby bird, / ‘I see a…fish!” And with the last two lines, baby bird is peeking into the puppet bag, and out pops the fish puppet. Very satisfying.

The same pattern continues with equally good rhyming interactions for fish, duck, and mouse, and the last of the series is a baby child, who sees “babies everywhere!” to wrap things up nicely.  I skipped the verses about otter and snake. I don’t have an otter puppet and my snake is either too scary or too fascinating for this age…but also four animals plus the child is just about the right length and keeps it simple enough for the storyteller.

I did still feel a bit guilty about leaving the mothers out, so I tried to provide context in the introduction when I showed the book: “This is a great book about moms who help their baby animals learn new things. I’m going to tell it with puppets and change it a bit:  and we’ll see if the baby animals can discover new things even without their mothers.” And of course I hope the puppet presentation will lead families to check out the book.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dog and Bear

Story: "Dog Changes His Name" (from Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Props: Bear ears; Dog ears (or similar); Spotted something; Fluffy something; Crown; Boxing gloves or something like that; Rope; Scooter or Skates or something you can "zip" on
Puppets: none
Presenters: two
Audience: Family Storytime (mostly three to six year olds)

Laura Seeger’s “Dog and Bear” stories remind me a little bit of “Frog and Toad,” and they have some of the same elements that make the Lobel stories so good for puppets or acting-out: two main characters with distinct personalities, funny situations, and a bit of thoughtfulness too, without being preachy.
Sheila and I acted out “Dog Changes His Name” and played around with it a bit to get it right. In the book, Dog wants to change his name and with each name he thinks of, Bear imagines what Dog would look like, with the image showing in a thought balloon. For our first attempt, we kind of tried to replicate. As Dog, Sheila announced her idea for a name (“Spot,” to start with), then as Bear, I told the audience that I didn’t think that would work so well. Meanwhile Sheila zipped behind the backdrop and came out with a spotted coat on. The idea was that the audience sees Dog with the prop for his new name, but Bear doesn’t, he’s just imagining. It kind of worked and kind of didn’t. Sheila’s appearances were all very funny, but the idea that Bear was just thinking really didn’t come through at all. There are many things books can do that acting out just can’t replicate, and thought balloons are in that category.

For the next three performances (because we do four a week), Bear did see Dog in each of his guises, and it was more funny because Bear could react along with the audience. We managed to find pretty good props for each of Dog’s names: “Fluffy”: boas and some other fluffy stuff we had around; “Prince”: crown and royal robe; “Champ”: boxing gloves (actually we had some lobster claws (for some reason?) that looked like boxing gloves); “Skippy”: jump rope; and for the finale, “Zippy”: a scooter, which Sheila rode around crazily (but no children were injured).

The kids had fun with the spectacle of Dog’s costume changes, but they also got the final bit (and my favorite part) where, Bear decides that “My Best Friend Dog” should be the new name…and then they agree on "just DOG for short." 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Walking Backwards, Upside Down

Book: Silly Sally by Audrey Wood
Puppets: Girl (full body, so you can hold her by the feet), Pig, Dog, Loon (any goofy bird), Sheep
Props: Flowery something (hat, necklace, etc.); Tickly something (feather, duster, etc.)
Presenters: 1 (or 2), plus 4 kids from the audience
Audience: Family Storytime (mostly ages 3-6)
Video:  How to Tell Silly Sally with Puppets

Until a few weeks ago I had never done anything with Audrey Woods' Silly Sally except read the book…which is fine, because it’s just about perfect: anticipatory rhymes, simple to learn by heart, excellent illustrations, several silly moments, and a big finish. But our large girl puppet turned out to be just the thing for large group presentation. The opening line makes a good introduction using the puppet: “Silly Sally went to town…” [hold the puppet the regular way]… “walking backwards…” [reverse her direction]… “upside down” [grab her by the feet and flip her]. So for the rest of the story you’re just holding Sally by the feet while she flops around upside down. I originally tried to somehow prop her mouth partially closed because it looks so goofy hanging open, but as Terri pointed out, goofier is better for this story, and she was right.

For the characters that Sally meets on her way to town, we used child volunteers from the audience, each with a puppet. They don’t have any lines, but they interact with Sally, and the teller can make that easy for them if the child isn’t quite getting it. “Along the way she met a dog. A silly dog. They played leapfrog.” Ideally, you make Sally jump the dog a few times and the child will jump the dog around too, but even if she doesn’t move the dog much, the audience still gets the visual picture. The other meetings work just as neatly. “…she met a pig. They danced a jig” is simple. For “Loon / Sang a tune” I sang a goofy song (“Twinkle twinkle little Loon, can you fly up to the moon? If you make it there by noon, Please don’t pop a red balloon”…or something like that).

At “Sheep...Fell asleep” you have all the kids pretend their puppets are sleeping, then you throw something flowery on, grab a feather duster or a big feather, and play the role of Neddy Buttercup, who tickles everyone and wakes them up. We did the story with two people (one as Sally, one as Narrator/Neddy) during Family Storytime, but I also did it solo the following day and that worked fine to play Sally, narrate, and switch briefly to Neddy. For a story that requires puppets, props, volunteers, and memorizing the words, it’s easy, smooth, and just right for a preschool age audience.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I'm Looking for an Animal

Book:   No Book, Just kind of a song/chant
Puppets:  I used Rooster + 3, but any will do
Props:  Puppet Stage
Presenters:  1
Audience:   Toddler  (1s and 2s)

With kids below three, I usually use puppets without a stage and a curtain and all. Stage and curtain can be fun for that age, but also kind of confusing. When I do use one, as I did last week for an outreach visit, I look for the simplest stories that are straightforward and easy to follow, such as The Big Fat Worm. And sometimes I just make stuff up. The real appeal for ones and twos isn’t a story so much as it is just watching those animals move around and interact. A simple song, like Old MacDonald Had a Farm is a nice familiar framework to have animals appear, make a sound, and disappear again. Along those same lines, I do a little chant with my Rooster puppet that goes like this:

“I’m looking for an animal…I’m looking for an animal…I’m looking for an animal…with black and white stripes.” (The tune is the same as "Aiken Drum")  Rooster looks back and forth as he sings, and on the last line, Zebra pops up behind him, then disappears, without Rooster seeing. The kids see Zebra of course, which is why it’s fun. For the second verse, Rooster adds another descriptor: “I’m looking for an animal (3x)…who’s kind of like a horse.” And again Zebra pops up behind him. This can go on for quite a while, but with this age I just do the two verses, then Rooster spots Zebra, who finishes with his own verse to wrap it up: I am an animal…I have have black and white stripes…I am kind of like a horse…I am a Zebra.”

Then it’s goodbye to Zebra and Rooster does the same thing with another animal. I like to finish with a slight twist: “I’m looking for an animal 3x…who says cock-a-doodle-doo” And when Rooster looks around this time, no one appears. Same thing with the second verse and he finally realizes that it’s himself he’s singing about.

This is simple puppetry, with lots of room for playing around with the hiding and peeking. I also like the vocabulary elements, where the kids, along with Rooster, need to connect the words with the qualities of the animal. And, like so much of the best puppet stuff for the very young, it’s easy for a parent to do the same thing at home using puppets, stuffed animals, or anything.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Program Summary: Silly Stories

K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: Silly Stories

Our March “K-2 Book Adventures” theme was “Silly Stories,” which we built around four stories and three books of riddles. Terri, Sheila, and I presented and we had about 80-90 kids this time, which is proving to be about our average.

We opened with Lazy Jack, electing to start with a surefire story that also introduced the idea of “Noodlehead” tales. Details are posted here.

Then we used PowerPoint slides to feature my favorite kids’ riddle book ever,the What Do You Hear When Cows Sing? (Answer: “Moo-sic”). Scanning the questions, the pictures, and the answers worked really well to capture the kids’ attention between stories.

One of my all-time favorite books is Remy Charlip’s Fortunately. We decided to just tell it without pictures, props, or scans, trading off lines between the three of us. That worked neatly because that meant we would each alternate between “fortunately” and “unfortunately” lines. We followed it up with a group version where we made up our own “fortunately” story. I’ve done this with other groups and sometimes it works pretty well. I usually have us supply the “fortunately” piece: “Fortunately, I went to the zoo yesterday.” Then ask for ideas for something “unfortunate” that can happen. Which is generally the funnest part. But also if we control the “fortunately,” we can kind of keep the story from falling into a rut. (“Unfortunately a lion escaped…Fortunately the zookeeper caught it…Unfortunately a tiger escaped….”). In this case, with so many kids, we didn’t take the story too far, but it was still worth it, I think.

Joke book interlude: We did a few riddles from Simms Taback’s Great Big Book of Spacey, Snakey, Buggy Riddles by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg. The riddles here aren’t quite as perfect as Cows Sing, but Taback’s illustrations are especially appealing scanned on the big screen.

All of Our Noses are Here was our next story, with details here.

Our last joke book was Knock, Knock!, the collection of knock-knocks with illustrations by 14 excellent (and funny) artists. A very cool book, though not all of the efforts work in this setting...we were looking for quick laughs that they’d get right off. Like for instance, Saxton Freymann’s: “Knock Knock / Who’s There? / Lettuce / Lettuce Who? / Let us in!” I know, but when you add his photos of lettuce heads that look human, it’s perfect.

We closed with Click Clack Moo:  details are in a separate post.

We promoted this one with school visits, using Lazy Jack as the hook. We just told the first few segments, right up to the point where Jack gets paid with a cat. It seemed like enough of the story to engage them, but still didn’t give it all away.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Runaway Bunny with Some Props, but Not All

Book: The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, Illustrated by Clement Hurd
Puppets: Bunny, Fish, Bird, Boy
Props: Bunny Ears, Carrot hanging from Stick, Rock, Flower, Leaves, Boat, Another Carrot
Preseners: one
Audience: Toddler Time (ones and twos + grown-ups), and good for older too

I’ve done The Runaway Bunny with various levels of puppets and props over the years, and I think the latest version, which I tried in Toddler Time last week, is about where I like it. Streamlined considerably from early versions. I used to have a small bunny puppet on one hand with a mother puppet on the other. Now I just throw on some bunny ears and be the mother. It’s much easier to manipulate the props that way…also funnier I think. Then I just go through the dialog of the book, bringing selected props out of the bag as I tell, but just acting it out without props if not required.

Bunny is a Fish / Mother is a Fisherman: Bunny rides a fish puppet / Mother pulls out a stick with a carrot attached to be the fisherman.

Rock / Mountain Climber: Bunny pulls out a rock (green Styrofoam brick), but Mother just climbs up towards him…a rope was just too awkward.

Crocus / Gardener: Bunny holds a plastic flower / Mother just looks for him…I used to have a little toy watering can for her which I would have used if I could find it, but really it works fine without.

Bird / Tree: Bunny flies up on a bird puppet / Mother grabs some plastic leaves to be the tree…grabbing a potted plant that looks kind of like a tree works visually, but it’s heavy and awkward so I don’t bother anymore.

Boat / Wind: Bunny gets a toy plastic boat / Mother takes a breath and puffs him along in the right direction.

Trapeze / Tightrope Walker: Propless Bunny swings back and forth / Propless Mother stands up and pretends to tightrope….okay, this one I kind of miss the more complicated version, where I would tie yarn to both sides of a pencil, then attach the bunny to it with tape and swing him back and forth so it really was like a trapeze artist. But because scotch tape and puppets are generally not compatible, he would frequently lose his grip and fall to his death, which just doesn’t fit with the tone of the story.

Child / Mother: Bunny grabs a boy puppet and runs to the arms of Mother (the librarian with the bunny ears, in case you’ve forgotten).

Doing this with the basic props above or with some more added back in, it’s a real satisfying presentation for young kids. I like the way it works with the book too. Many families know the story well enough, so seeing it played out with puppets is an intriguing extension. And the pattern and language are strong enough for two year olds who don’t know the story to follow it, even though the imaginative shifts are so frequent. And I hope they’ll then explore the book afterwards.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wild Things Without the Pictures

Book: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Props: None
Puppets: None
Presenters: 1

I think many librarians tell Where the Wild Things the way we did this week in our Family Storytime, but just in case, I’ll share it here. It’s amazing how a book with such brilliant illustrations also has a story and language that make it ideal for oral telling as well. I start by showing the book, which most (but not all) kids know. And show a picture of Max just so those not familiar with the book can picture his wolf suit. Then we all stand up, open up the creaky door of our pretend closet, and put on our wolf suits: Legs, arms, hood, claws, teeth, ears, whiskers, and don’t forget the tail….it’s just fun to play around with all of that. Then we tell the story together.

The words are so perfectly chosen that I do memorize them exactly (well, almost). And they’re not as hard to remember as you’d think because the story flows so well. Typically I mess up a bit on the “through a night, in and out of weeks, and almost over a year” part, if not on the way there, on the way back. That’s not so bad, but on one of my three performances this week in Family Storytime I skipped “and Max said ‘I’ll eat you up!’” which is pretty close to unforgivable. (Because not only does that establish Max’s character, the “eat you up” is repeated later by the wild things, which is the sort of subtle touch that genius picture book authors do, and they would probably get annoyed if they knew that they’re stellar prose was being mangled by a librarian who should know, but it’s been a really busy week and I didn’t have much time to practice, and…I know, that’s no excuse). Nobody commented, but it will take me a while to get over that one.

The opportunities for kids to play along are neatly paced throughout the story: When “his mother called him ‘Wild Thing’” we shake a scolding finger. “In Max’s room a forest grew”: pull up trees from the ground. “ceiling hung with vines”: pull down fines from above. “walls became the world all around”: a slow 360 spin. The best part, of course, is the “roared their terrible roars…” part which happens twice in the text and you can also have them do it in the wolf suits at the beginning and during the wild rumpus. I especially like to watch the kids “roll their terrible eyes” which translates physically as “roll your terrible head.” And although I do stick to Sendak’s text, it’s easy to insert quick instructions along the way: “and they made him king of all wild things (everybody put on your crowns).”

Along with the loud wild bits, the story also has just enough moments where the kids have to be quieter and more focused, like when “Max tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once”: have the kids join you in staring and it’s a perfect quiet moment right after the roaring and just before the rumpus. So can actually control the story without things getting out of hand (at least as far as you usually can when several dozen 2-7 year olds pretend to be monsters).

I like to end it by finishing the story (“and it was still hot”), then having everyone sit down, and just before we move on to the next story: “Wait a minute! I can’t send you guys out into the library like this! You still have your wolf suits on and you’ll scare everybody!” So then we stand back up and take off each piece of the wolf suit. And if we forget one thing (which I sometimes do on purpose) someone always catches it. After we close the closet I like to say: “But you can take your wolf suit out again any time you want,” which I hope some kids and parents will take as a reminder of how easy and fun it can be to act out a story.

I’m pretty sure I learned this approach to Wild Things from the first storytelling book I every used: Just Enough to Tell a Story by Nancy Schimmel (which has excellent ideas for oral tales) where she describes how she learned it from “The Folktellers” (Barbara Freeman and Connie Regan-Blake). Which is pretty much how storytelling works….

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ain't Gonna Paint

Book: Ain't Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont, Illustrated by David Catrow
Props: Butcher Paper; paint of some kind
Presenters: 1 or 2
Audience: Family Storytime (mostly 3-6)

Our Family Storytime groups are too big to see the great David Catrow illustrations showing the many ways the mischievous kid paints himself in this book. So Brad drew a life-size version of the kid with a marker on white butcher paper, we hung him up on our big rolling white board thing, and painted him ourselves. Brad sang the song and played guitar, while I played the kid, using liquid paint in spray bottles to color his head, neck, etc. The paints dripped a bit, but that just adds to the messiness that’s part of the story (the real painting looks a lot brighter and more colorful than the photo posted here). The interplay between words and pictures that works so well in the book transferred over very neatly to this version. The timing worked well: The boy paints two body parts (“gonna take some red and paint my head / what the heck, gonna paint my neck”), but then there’s the chorus of the song (“ain’t gonna paint no more, no more…”) which allows me as the painter to put the paints away (cover them with a towel), walk away as if I won’t be painting again, then sneak back, take off the towel, and make a bigger mess just in time for the next verse. With the last verse I slipped the paints behind our white board without the audience seeing, so it looked like they really had disappeared.

We always do our Family Storytimes with two tellers, but this week we had a chance to attend a workshop with Jim Gill and Renea Arnold at the Oregon Library Association Conference, so after Brad and I did the tandem thing on Tuesday, I was on my own on Wednesday while the rest of out team were off at the workshop. And Ain’t Gonna Paint adapted pretty easily to one teller. No guitar, but the rhymes are simple enough to remember, so I told/sang it as the boy and did the painting too.

As for the ending, every storyteller makes their own choice about how to do: “I’m such a nut, gonna paint my – What?!” Followed by “don’t y’all faint, cause there ain’t no paint.” My style is to let the kids who get the joke giggle at it, and let it just go over the head of those whose level of phonological awareness and/or scatological humor isn’t quite there yet.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jack the Ninnyhammer

Story: Lazy Jack (aka Obedient Jack)
Puppets, Props: None
Participants: 3 tellers (can be done solo)
Audience: K-2

Here’s a story I’ve told many times over the years, ever since I saw it done by Paul Rockwell from the Albany Public Library in California (and tried my best to copy his way). For our “K-2 Book Adventure: Silly Stories” program we acted it out with three people: I was Jack, Sheila the Mother, and Terri the Girl at the end. I love the way the pattern builds, with Jack getting paid with something different each time, and following his mother’s advice each time with disastrous results. The kids know something’s about to go wrong, but don’t know what. For the kids, the funniest part is Mother’s angry response, highlighted by calling him a different “N” name each time: Nitwit, Knucklehead (technically a “K” word I guess), Noodlehead, Ninnyhammer, and Nincompoop.

As we planned this we talked about using a prop or two, or maybe projecting an image of each payment Jack receives (penny, milk, butter, cat, meat, donkey), but decided against: the story really stand on its own so well that extras would just distract. We also cut out the farmer who pays Jack, went without a separate voice for narration, and didn’t bother saying or showing what kind of work Jack did each time for the same reasons: keeping to the bare bones of a surefire oral tale.

Doing this with two or three people lets you have some fun with the interplay between Jack and his Mother. But really, it works just as well as a solo story. Even though it can be a bit long, I tell it orally at regular old preschool storytimes too. The pattern is just so strong and logical that they can hold it in their heads really well, stretching their narrative skills a bit. And although book versions by Tony Ross, Vivian French, and Paul Galdone are out of print (as is my favorite version which is in the original edition of The Tall Book of Nursery Tales (but not in the 2006 shortened reissue)), it’s fun to show kids Colleen Salley & Janet Stevens’ Epossumondas, which is a clever variant.