Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beyond the Book Storytimes on Newbery-induced Hiatus until January

Regular readers may have noticed that posts on this blog have been dwindling in frequency, so I'm going to use my big excuse.  I'm chairing the Newbery Committee this year and am struggling to find time to post here.  Turns out I  can't do "beyond the book" stuff well because I have too many actual books that really have to be read and thought about and eventually voted on.   So I'm going to suspend posts from now until the end of January, when my Newbery work will be all done.  The Newbery stuff is fascinating, but a part of me is looking forward to the time when I get back to worrying about the things that truly matter in life:  puppets, props, and picture books. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: Caldecott Celebration

We featured the Caldecott Medal for a recent "K-2 Book Adventure Program."  There are a bunch of Caldecott Medal and Honor books that work with puppets and act outs for this age group...the problem was, we had already done several of the best ones for this K-2 program over the past 20 months, including Anansi the Spider, Strega NonaFables, Raven, Officer Buckle and Gloria, Click, Clack Moo, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, and The Lion and the Mouse.

After ruling out The Adventures of Hugo Cabret (we decided let's not compete with Scorcese), we came up with a pretty good line-up, using stories, a guessing game, some mini-booktalks, and a lively stretch:

We started with the latest Medal winner, A Ball for Daisy (click for details), using a combination of acting out, scanned illustrations, and music.

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens is another excellent act out, with details on a previous post.

We finished by showing the video of Tuesday with music by Paul McCartney and a brief appearance by the voice of Dustin Hoffman, neither of whom mean anything to the 5-8 year olds, but maybe the parents appreciated it.  The movie is pretty well done, though it ran a bit long for our program, so Brad edited out a few bits to get it down to 7 or 8 minutes.

I was tempted, as I too often am, to try to cram in as much information as possible along with the stories, but reminded myself that this is mostly a story presentation and not a classroom, so I cancelled my plans for Caldecott trivia, scans from Randolph Caldecott's books, a "what the world was like 75 years ago when the Caldecotts staretd" feature, and snippets from Caldecott acceptance speeches (but if I was a teacher I'd do all of these).  Instead we did "Name That Caldecott Book" as an interlude between each story.  We scanned an illustration and uncovered it bit by bit, giving the kids a chance to guess.  Lots of fun, and it also highlighted the distinct artistic styles.  I was amazed that many kids guessed correctly after just the first slide for several of the books.

We also wanted to show the range of Caldecott winners, so we made sure to include a couple of non-fiction titles, using these as interludes between the stories.  We used scanned images and a mini-booktalk to highlight The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein.  Later, we highlighted Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnel, again doing a quick booktalk and showing selected illustrations. 

Our program runs for 45 minutes, so we always need at least one good stretching activity somewhere around the 30 minute mark.  David Shannon's No, David! was the perfect Caldecott choice.  The kids mostly know this book, so we scanned several (not all) of the illustrations and just had the kids emulate whatever David is doing:   Stretch for cookies;  Swing a baseball bat;  Run down the street ("but," I said, "please keep your clothes on").  We even showed the nose picking illustration, but it was immediately covered up by a big red circle/slash, which meant we were not supposed to do that one. 

We always have multiple copies of the books we feature available for checkout with this program, and most are usually taken.  This time we added a table full of other Caldecott titles, and they went pretty well too. 


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bark George with Puppets

Book:  Bark George  by Jules Feiffer
Puppets:   Dog, Cat, Duck, Pig, Horse (or another big animal)
Props:   Long latex glove (optional...and it can be non-latex too)
Presenters:   One (though good with two also)
Audience:  Family Storytime
Link to Video Demo

Bark George is a long-time librarian's storytime favorite.  The illustrations are perfect and carry well for storytime, but it also tells great with puppets.  The simplest way to tell it is the way I used for a class visit last week.  You don't really need a mother...I just slide into the mother's role as I tell the story, pretty much word for word from the book.  "George's mother said 'Bark, George!'  And George went......'Meow'..."  It's amazing how many kids think it's just hilarious to see a big dog puppet go 'meow.'  As George continues to make the wrong animal sounds, you can play around with the timing.  I usually hesitate a bit before "Quack!"  Then blurt out the "Oink!" before the kids expect it.  And do a long pause before the final "Mooooooo."  I actually don't use a cow with puppets because I don't have a big enough one.  So I used a big horse puppet most recently, and have also done it with a dinosaur.  It's also fun to mix it up a bit because if it's a class visit there's a decent chance that the teacher has read it to them already.

Then the story shifts to the Vet's office.  It's fun to put on an actual latex glove as the Vet, and even switch it for an extra long one towards the end, but it's fine to do with no glove at all.  After the Vet hears each of George's animal sounds (and I use the same pattern of hesitation the second time through), he reaches "deep down inside of George" and pulls out a Cat/Duck/Pig/Cow (or alterntate to Cow).  The simplest way to manage this is to just have a puppet bag on your lap, acting as the Vet's examination table.  Then lay George on his back on top of the bag, taking George off of your hand.  The "reach" is just your hand going right behind George's mouth and into your bag, where you pull out the Pig and all the rest.  It's not like a magic trick where you're trying to fool the kids or anything...they get what you're doing, but they're into the story and perfectly willing to suspend disbelief and respond as if you really did pull the pig out of the dog. 

After George's stomach finally seems to be empty and he barks properly, his mother kisses everyone (which is me kissing the puppets and the kids thinking it's kind of disgusting), leading to the perfect ending, where George speaks one more time, only this time it's: "Hello."  There are always some kids who don't quite get it, but there's also always several who do and at least one who will say, usually unprompted:  "he ate a person!"  And then the rest of the kids get it. 

I only make one change to the book text:  I drop the "Arf!"  I just don't think kids know "arf" anymore.  Ask 20 kids what a dog says and 13 will say "Woof!" and 7 will say "Ruff," but no one says "Arf" anymore.  And the illustrations are so excellent that I even copy them for the puppet version.  I never did it consciously, but at some point I realized I was trying to imitate the expressions and body language of George's mother each time he gets it wrong:  clenching teeth, flopping that's a good illustrator.   

This is also a fun two person story...I used to co-tell it with Ginny Watt at the Beaverton Library.  She would be George's mother, with another dog puppet, and you can get some good interplay between the two characters.  Then Ginny would put on that glove and be the Vet for the second half of the story.  And we were a little more elaborate with the puppets, hiding them behind the bench we sat on, rather than having them right there on our laps.

And though I haven't tried it myself yet, it would definitely make an excellent puppet show with a stage, where you could make the pulling-animals-out part even more visually effective.   

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Singing to Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Book:  Martina the Beautiful Cockroach  by Carmen Agra Deedy, Illustrated by Michael Austin  (other versions also available)
Puppets:  None
Props:  Ears or similar for:  Dog, Cat, Frog, Mouse, Cockroach  (all but Mouse and Cockroach can be other animals instead)
Presenters:   Two
Audience:  Family Storytime 

Since we often do team storytelling at our Library, I get to try stories that others have been doing for a while, but are new to me.  I knew the story of Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, but had never actually read or performed it for kids.  It's a favorite of Sheila's, though, and she suggested we do an act-out version for an outdoor performance at our local Wilsonville Arts Festival.  There's singing involved, which is not my favorite thing, but it's supposed to be bad singing and that I can do.  The version we did, developed by Sheila and Terri over the years, features Sheila as the beautiful bug.  She wears some antennae and some frilly stuff and voila:  a cockroach. 

In the Deedy book version, Martina tests each of her suitors by spilling coffee on them and watching their response.  We adapted this, going with a more direct approach for younger audiences:  She asks each suitor to sing, and when they sing badly, she rejects them.  So I enter as Senor Perro, with dog ears of some sort, and of course am instantly smitten by her cockroachian beauty.  (I'm never sure if kids get the absurdity of a cockroach being so popular with all the guys, but I sure think it's funny).  When she asks me to sing ,I do a badly out of tune version of "Twinkle Twinkle," substituting "woofs" for all the words.  That's simple enough for the kids to catch on quickly and join in.  When Martina expresses her displeasure, I leave sadly, then reappear as Senor Gato, then Senor Rana.  Same tune, different words ("meow" and "croak"), same result.

Then Senor Raton appears and shows us all how to win the heart of a cockroach.  He sings "La Cucaracha," in a not-so-bad voice (okay, it's still pretty bad, but it's as good as I can do and it's way better than those other animals at least), and Senorita Martina accepts his marriage proposal.  It's a fun and simple story, and quite easy to learn.  We actually did this one with no rehearsal because we've been so busy with other stuff (a little thing called "Summer Reading Program"), so the simplicity of the story was just right.  But within that simple structure there's lots for room for playfulness and silliness as the characters interact.  Giving a guitar to the male suitors is a nice touch which Terri and Sheila use when they do the story, but it seems to work fine without that as well (because that's another skill I lack). 

Having done it this way, I'm definitely considering it for a one-person puppet show in the future (maybe an excuse to buy that cool Folkmanis cockroach puppet that I think is discontinued but must still be available somewhere...)_


Monday, May 28, 2012

Dust Bunnies on Stage

Book:  Rhyming Dust Bunnies  by Jan Thomas
Puppets:   3 Dust Bunnies;  Puppet Stage
Props:   Broom (with face); Vacuum Cleaner (also with face)
Technology:  PowerPoint with projector (optional)
Presenters:  2
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

When I came to the Wilsonville Library for my job interview two years ago I knew I was in the right place.  In the office by the Children's Room were two people (Brad and Sheila) wildly waving around some colored dust mops and trading off rhymes in loud, expressive voices.  I realized, of course, that those mops and rhymes could only mean that they were doing something really fun with a very cool new book:  Jan Thomas' Rhyming Dust Bunnies.  They developed the story as a puppet show the next week, and a couple years later Terri and I presented it as part of our "Silly Stories" storytime, using Brad and Sheila's concept and adding one more piece. 

The mops, once you add some facial features, are Ned, Ted, and Bob (we dropped Ed to make the puppetry more manageable).  The eyes and and mouths are laminated paper, stuck on with hot glue; mouths are big pom pons.  The bright colors are really appealing, and stick puppets work great for the story, where the characters' movements are simple and distinct:  appear, disappear, side to side, etc.  Terri managed Ned, plus the Broom and Vacuum; I was Ted and Bob.  We had the DB's do their rhyming exchanges first on the lower platform, then up top, then lower again, to keep movement and variety. 

The premise of the story, if you don't know it, is that Ned and Ted are great at rhymes ("Bug...Hug...Mug...Rug..."), but when it's Bob's turn, he gets it way wrong ("Look Out!").  Of course Bob's words are actually meant to warn the others that there's danger coming:  first a Broom, then a Vacuum.  The Broom is really just another stick puppet, with a face glued on (so the bottom of the broom is the top of its head) but requires a bit of coordination between the two puppeteers.  As she picks up the Broom, Terri hands me Ned so I hold the three mops in two hands, allowing us to have a fun chase segment, again using the lower and upper sections of the stage. 

Then the finale, which is even more fun.  The DB's think they're safe again, but Bob spots a "Vacuum!"  So now Terri lifts the mini Vacuum up to the stage and turns it on.  As each DB gets closer to the Vacuum, the audience can see the strings being pulled toward the nozzle, and there's that satisfying "thwump!" when it gets caught.  We have them each get thwumped one by one, then put the Vacuum up on the platform for the ending. 

The one piece that Terri and I added was to project the rhyming words on the screen right behind and above the stage.  We stuck them on PowerPoint slides, and with our clicker we could make each word bubble appear just when it's spoken by the Dust Bunny.  Well that's the idea anyway, but managing the puppets, dialog, and clicker is a little confusing, so our timing was right most of the time, but not always.  (Another reason why it's nice that we repeat our Storytimes four times in a week and can get closer to precision each time).  Besides being a great story, the book is also excellent for print awareness concepts along with phonological development, so seeing the words as part of the puppet show helped to retain that strong print element. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Presents from Dear Zoo

Book:  Dear Zoo by Rob Campbell
Puppets:  Elephant, Lion, Monkey, Giraffe, other Zoo Animals optional, Puppy
Props:  Boxes and bags for presents (optional)
Presenters:   1
Audience:  Toddler Time or Family Storytime

The puppet "Pop-Out" is always a strong moment in Storytimes...that's when the kids know a puppet's about to pop out of the bag, but they don't know what it will be.  Lift-the-flap books like Dear Zoo are sort of like the print equivalent of the puppet Pop-Out.  Which makes Rob Campbell's book a natural for presenting with puppets.  I've done it two's simple, the other's requires a bit more stuff. 

For the simple version, it's just me and puppets in the bag.  I tell the kids that I wrote to the zoo to ask them to send me a pet and they sent me (and here comes the pop-out)......An Elephant!  "But he was too big.  So I sent him back.  And then they sent me....A Lion."  And so on.  The anticipation and recognition of the animal is a surefire attention grabber.  It's also fun to let the kids supply the reason why I would send each pet back (and also practice for their vocabulary and narrative skills).  Just popping out the puppets is fine, but some of the sequences allow for more activity.  When the Frog is "too jumpy" he can jump around on your hand as you try to catch him.  The "too naughty" Monkey can do whatever mischievous stuff comes to mind.  When the people at the Zoo finally "thought very hard" and sent a Puppy, I like to ask the kids what they think they sent and draw out the pleasant surprise finale (A Puppy!) 

 Depending on how many animals are used, the puppet management can be a bit tricky, since there are a lot of them and they come out one after another, so I typically use a couple bags to hold them without too much crowding.  And you need to work out where you'll put them after they've done their thing:  either on a table where the audience can see (but won't grab) or back in a bag or box.  For Toddler Time I usually use four or five animals, plus the "perfect" Puppy at the end, and it's fine to substitute as needed. 

To expand it into more of a production, I've also done this story with all of the animals in their own individual bags, boxes, or packages.  Each with a "To Steven, From the Zoo" tag attached.  So instead of just the animal Popping-Out, it's a box.  And then you open the box, just as you would a package delivered in the mail, and out pops the animal.  So it's the same idea and the same effect, but it extends the premise of the book more fully and draws out the anticipation more.  This way really isn't necessary for Toddler Time, where too much stuff going on can just overwhelm the kids, but it makes a nice Preschool story.

This is also a fine stage puppet show for preschool audiences.  I don't use packages or anything else with a stage because the puppet interaction really carries the story.   I use a boy puppet, and you can have the animals popping out at various locations, have the boy not-see-them-but-then-see-them, throw in a few chases as he tries to catch them to send them back....all that fun puppet show stuff. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book! Book! Book!: from Joke to Book to Puppets

Book:  Book, Book, Book!  by Deborah Bruss;  Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke
Puppets:  Cow, Horse, Duck, Chicken, Frog
Props:   A bunch of books
Presenters:    Two
Audience:    Family Storytime 
Link to "Storytelling with Puppets" video demo

I first learned this story as a joke....always a favorite among librarians.  Then Deborah Bruss and Tiphanie Beeke fleshed it out into an excellent book.  I've done it a solo puppet story and also as an oral tale, but a couple weeks ago Sheila and I presented it with puppets and acting out.  We shortened the book a bit, using just five animals and reducing the dialog to the bare minimum.  Sheila played the Librarian while I was behind the puppet stage.  First Cow and Horse decide to go to the library and get some books.  Horse goes first, calling for the Libarian with a "Neigh."  As the Librarian, Sheila doesn't hear at first, which instantly gets the kids involved ("It's a horse!  Over there!!").  She asks "what can I do for you?" and Horse answers "Neigh" again.  

Most of the kids caught on almost instantly that "Neigh!" meant:  "Book!"  But the Librarian plays up the mistake:  "Oh, you mean 'neighbors'!  Yes, we are neighbors.  The Library is right next to the farm..."  At which point Horse gives several irritated "Neighs" and storms off.  To make sure everyone's following, Cow asks Horse if he got a book:  "No, I kept asking for one, but the Librarian didn't understand what I was saying."  "I'll try," says Cow, so that when she says "Moo" to the Librarian, everyone is in on the joke by now. 

The same pattern follows with Cow:  Oh, you would like some Moo-sic?  I'll sing a song for you...; and Duck: "You want some Quack-ers?  Here you go" (and Duck spits them back at her).  This all sets the stage for Chicken, whose "Bok-Bok-Bok" sounds just like "Book-Book-Book."  From behind the stage, I could hear even the parents laughing as they just got the joke.  The Librarian gives Chicken a book (about chickens), then asks her what those other animals wanted.  After learning they also wanted "Book-Book-Books" the Librarian gives just the right book as each puppet pops back in turn.  Finally Frog makes his appearance and when the Librarian confidently gives him a copy of Froggy Gets Dressed he shakes his head and answers "Read-It!  Read-It!"  Again, this joke is right at the level of preschool kids. 

Doing this with two people makes it very smooth.  The puppetry isn't too complicated.  With this sort of hybrid act-out/puppet show presentation you just have to make sure the puppets respond to the person acting, not just to each other.  The moments when they interact physically (taking books, spitting crackers...) accentuate that nicely.  And moving them forward now and then, in front of the stage platform, also helps bring the two worlds together.   

For the solo version there's no puppet stage and no Librarian puppet.  I just be the Librarian and pull puppets out of the bag one at a time.  It's not as big and not as smooth as the way we did it with two, but the story and the jokes are strong enough that it still works well..

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Three Bears X 3

Story:  The Three Bears, Three Ways
Props:  #1:  kazoos;  #2: broccoli, bowls, beds (brick, big pillow, regular pillow);  #3 Star Wars stuff
Puppets:  #2:  Bears (3), Girl
Presenters:  #1: four;  #2: three;  #3:  four
Technology:   #3:  recorded narration and music
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-7 years old)

For our second annual "One Story Three Ways" Storytime, we presented three versions of "The Three Bears."  The idea for the theme comes from The Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival.  Last year we did "The Three Pigs," and although we're not committed to doing tales about three animals forever, it just worked out that way again this time.   

We opened with "The Three Bears with Kazoos," which is described in an earlier post.

Version two was "The Three Bears with Puppets," an almost straight version of the tale, but with mistakes thrown in.  I've done this as a solo puppet show and it's a little complicated for one (lots of puppet switching), but we had the luxury of using three, and we took advantage.  So Terri narrated in front of the puppet stage while Sheila and I worked the puppets from behind.  There's a bit of delay between Terri's words ("There was Papa Bear...") and the puppet's appearance, which sets up the jokes as every now and then the wrong thing pops up.  Such as:  "There was Baby Bear".....and a human baby puppet pops out.  Then Terri corrects the mistake:  "No, I said Baby Bear, not a Baby!"  When Baby Bear is supposed to pop out the next time, it's that Baby puppet with no clothes ("Not a bare Baby, a Baby Bear").  And we had a kind of similar routine using our big stuffed Broccoli, which popped up a few times instead of porridge.   And when it's finally over, Baby Bear smacks Terri on the head with the broccoli.  Good old fashioned puppet show humor.   We didn't go too far with the props:  we didn't use chairs, just had Goldilocks sitting in different places; for beds we had a too hard cardboard brick, a too bouncy cushion, and a just right pillow. 

Our third version was not so old fashioned.  It came from the very creative mind of Brad, who comes up with stuff I could never dream of.  In this case:  "The Three Bears with Star Wars Guys."  For this version, Brad recorded the narration (because he can do all of the funny voices) and the rest of us acted out the parts with masks and props.  Papa Bear = Darth Vader, Mama Bear = Yoda, Baby Bear = Chewbacca, and Goldilocks = Jar Jar Binks.  A short video clip is below.  This was a great way to end it.  Lots of preschoolers really know Star Wars these days (it's the Lego influence I think) and even for those who didn't, the voices and costumes were fun, plus of course it was framed within the familar story structure they'd just seen two times.  We took some heat from one five year old who was visibly upset that we would portray Darth Vader with a blue lightsaber when it should have been red.  He seemed to have no problem with DV and Yoda sharing a bowl of Sarlacc Stew, but clearly the lightsaber error was unacceptable. 

Brad has great ideas, and then he also adds just the right touches.  He created handheld masks and placards we wore around our necks (those used Lego images to be more recognizable to the younger kids), developed a script that retained just enough elements of the three bears, and did all the voices and narration, recording them with music and everything.  He had to miss the presentations sampled below, and we had a couple of other people out sick, so that's Andi (Adult Program Manager) as Darth Vader and Sam (On Call Librarian) as Yoda, both stepping in and doing a great job, plus me as Chewbacca, and Sheila as Jar Jar.  Brad, who does shows for libraries and other venues around the Pacific Northwest (contact and booking information here) also performs this as a solo act, which I haven't seen yet but will get to soon I hope!   Here's the clip from our version:

Now that we've done it twice, we're committed to doing "One Story Three Ways" every year I guess.  Not sure what we'll try next time, but I'm kind of wondering what kind of silliness we could come up with a bridge, a troll, and those three Norwegian goats....

Monday, April 30, 2012


Book:  Piggle by Crosby Bonsall
Puppets:   Pig, Bear;  Girl, Rabbit, Sheep, Boy optional
Props:   None
Presenters:   Two, though it works with one
Audience:  Family Storytime
Video:  How to Tell Piggle with Puppets

Crosby Bonsall's Piggle has always been one of my favorite early readers.  It's clever and funny and has excellent characters.  I've told it as a one person puppet story over the years, but got a chance to do it with a partner for a recent "Silly Stories" themed Storytime with Terri.  Terri put on a baseball cap and played Homer, while I was behind a screen (not a full puppet stage) with puppets.  In the book, Homer tries to find someone to play with him with no success, until he meets Bear and they play a game called "Piggle."  There's bit in the middle with some arguing and fighting that we don't include.  And although our original version included Homer's interactions with a girl (Lolly), a Rabbit, and a Sheep, we ended up boiling it down to the most key characters.  Homer, Pig, and Bear.

First Pig drives Homer crazy with smart aleck answers:  P: "What game shall we play?"  H:  "I don't care."  P: "I don't know how to play that game."  After a bit of similar back and forth Pig finally claims to know a game called Piggle, but won't tell Homer how to play it (because Pig really doesn't know).  Pig exits and Homer utters his trademark expression of frustration:  "Beans!"  Saying "Beans!" several times is the highlight of the story for me (I'm not sure why), so I should get some big-time teamwork points for letting Terri be Homer. 

Then Bear appears and makes up a Piggle game, which is just creating rhymes:  B:  "Piggle, like Miggle!"   H:  "Miggle, Bear?"   B:  "Miggle, like....Diggle!"  And so on.  Again, the back and forth between characters is fun, and so are the rhymes (with the added phonological awareness benefit of playing with sounds).  They continue rhyming ("Gillikin, Millikan, Zillikan!"  "Wumpity, Lumpity, Bumpity") until Bear has to go.  Here's where we skip the middle part of the book, and also skip the parts where Lolly, Rabbit, and others learn how to play Piggle from Homer (although I've included the playing Piggle parts in the past).   Instead, we bring Pig right back, and he sheepishly gets Homer to show him how Piggle goes.  And once Pig knows, he gives it a try and gets it all wrong:  "Cute, sweet, clean, clever, Pig!"  Homer lets him know that's not right (as do the kids in the audience) and Pig storms off with a "Beans!" of his own (so I do get to say it once). 

The ending is quite nice, as Bear returns and Homer invites him to play again, which is an idea that Bear thinks is:  "Splunderful, Junderful....Wonderful!"  Although we end up cutting quite a bit from the book, it would have been a bit too lengthy and a bit too complex for our Family Storytime audience.  With the shortened version we still get the key elements:  Fun wordplay; personable characters who interact a lot;  and a progression of events that's easy to follow.  The one-person version works fine too, which just requires a Boy puppet for Homer on one hand, and Pig and Bear alternately appearing on the other.  When the story's over I usually point out to the audience that "you can play Piggle yourself anytime....It's Simple!  Rimple!  Jimple!"

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Three Bears with Kazoos

Story:  The Three Bears 
Puppets:   None
Props:   4 Kazoos
Presenters:   4
Audience:   Family Storytime

For our second annual "One Story Three Ways" Family Storytime, we presented "The Three Bears" in three different ways.  We started with a kazoo version, inspired by storyteller Beth Horner, who performed the story solo with a kazoo at the Multnomah County Library's Tapestry of Tales Storytelling Festival a few years ago.  I couldn't find a video of her amazing performance and it's probably just as well...I might have decided anything we did would be lame in comparison.  But we decided to try it in our own way, which was:    No words, just sounds you make from the kazoo, and no props, just four people acting it all out.  We kept to the bare bones of the story so kids could follow the action easily.  So Papa Bear (me) walks out and says hi; Mama Bear walks out and says hi (that's Andi, our library's Adult Program Coordinator, who stepped in at the last minute when Terri was sick);  and Baby Bear walks and says hi (that's Sam, our On-Call Librarian, also filling in for an absence).  Baby Bear actually doesn't come out when she should, so Papa and Mama have to call him...that's one little running joke we repeated a few times. 
Then Papa Bear tries his porridge, followed by...well you know how it goes.  Reference Librarian Burton Haun filmed one of our performances, and here's a short video clip to give you the idea (although the kazoos sound funnier live): 

We kept our kazoos in our mouths the whole time, so we looked silly and sounded sillier.  Our sounds pretty much matched the rhythm of the story's words, so the kids could tell when we made sounds for "too hot!" or "somebody's been sleeping in my bed!" 

The Bears exit and Goldilocks (Sheila) comes in for a solo turn.  The Bear parts were pretty easy, and there were three of us.  Sheila, though, had to make her bit work on her own and she did a great job.  She paced it just right, without rushing, and used the space really well so that you almost felt like you could see the too-hard chair and the just-right bed.  She gives a long "Uh Oh!" after she finishes the porridge and breaks the chair, and the Bears repeat that "Uh Oh!" later when they discover the damage she's done, so that works as a little aural refrain.  Here's a short video clip of Goldilocks and the porridge: 
The Bears return to find the damage she'd done. When Baby Bear discovers her empty bowl, then her broken chair, all three Bears gave that long "Uh oh" at the same time. Then when the Bears finally discover Goldilocks, she looks at them and does that same "Uh Oh," which is followed by a lively (but not too fast) chase.  It ends with the Bears kazoo-ing:  "And don't come back!"    

The whole thing worked really well. We gave a mini-summary of the story during the introduction, just to kind of prepare the kids: "If you watch what we do and listen to the sounds, you'll be able to tell when the Bears are tasting their porridge or when Goldilocks breaks the chair..." We also showed them what a kazoo was and made some sample sounds, because most of the kids hadn't seen or heard one before. It turns out that it's actually kind of hard to keep a kazoo in your mouth for a long time without a break, but we managed okay.   A future post will describe the other two ways we did "The Three Bears" for our "One Story, Three Ways" storytime sessions. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Ball for Daisy with Screen and Music

Book:  A Ball for Daisy  by Chris Raschka
Puppets:   None
Props:   Dog Stuff to wear;  Pillow (dog bed);  Trash Can;  Red Ball;  Blue Ball;  Popped Red Ball (or balloon)
Presenters:   Two
Technology:   PowerPoint + Projector + Music
Audience:  Family Stortime, K-2nd

Sheila's been wanting to find a way to do Chris Rascka's wordless A Ball for Daisy since the day it came out.  When she and Brad had a "Cats and Dogs" Storytime they started talking about scanning the images and acting it out at the same time, but it didn't seem like quite enough.  Then they started talking about adding music, and that was it.  You could see the wheels turning as Brad started playing around with song clips and trying different combinations.  He finally worked it out, and it was a big hit in Storytime.  A month or so later Sheila and I did it for our Caldecott-themed "K-2 Book Adventure." 

The scanned images appear on the screen, while at the same time Daisy (me) and Brown Dog (Sheila) silently act out.  So Daisy starts in bed with the red ball, while the happy song plays:  "In the Mood" (sound clip from  Daisy pops up, walks around, plays with the ball, etc.  So the kids are seeing me playing with the ball as Daisy, while behind me the screen shows images of Daisy playing.  It sounds kind of confusing, but it actually works really well visually (though you can't see it so well in the photo here).  The red ball stands out so neatly in Raschka's illustrations, and the red ball we use is equally bright, so that kind of anchors the presentation, tying the live action to the screeen, but not too tightly.  We considered using balloons for the balls, because they kind of let you play in slow motion, but they just weren't round enough and it was important for them to match the balls in the books as closely as possible. 

After Daisy plays for a bit, Brown Dog pops out, and she and Daisy play with the ball together, with the music still playing.  Finally, though, the ball rolls behind the backdrop, Brown Dog follows it, and the music abruptly stops.  (Brad set up the PowerPoint so that the song would continue playing until we reached this particular slide).  Then there's a bit of silence and a loud pop, which is Sheila popping a balloon behind the backdrop.  Daisy stands there crestfallen for a moment, then the sad music starts:  Chopin's "Funeral March."  The kids are totally involved at this point...their hearts are breaking for that poor dog (even though it's actually a tall man with a goofy dog hat).  Then Brown Dog walks out with the popped ball in her mouth.  Daisy takes it sadly, drops it in the trash can, and flops sadly back on her pillow.  
Daisy wakes up though, and as she walks slowly along....back comes the happy music!  And out pops Brown Dog from behind the backdrop with a new blue ball!  The two dogs play happily again and all is well.
This was a fun story to act out, but I especially enjoyed watching Brad and Sheila present it earlier.  I knew the screen/act out/music combination would be entertaining to the kids, but until I saw it I didn't realize how well it captured the themes and visual imagery of the book.  It wasn't a direct representation of course....for one thing, it was dogs only, without the humans.  But you get the joy/sorrow/joy of the story, with the wordless storytelling retained, the fantastic artwork prominently featured, plus a little Glenn Miller and Chopin thrown in.   


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tops and Bottoms, Carrots and Broccoli

Book:  Tops and Bottoms  by Janet Stevens
Puppets:   None
Props:   Carrot, Broccoli, Corn (with tops and bottoms), Bunny Ears, Bear Ears or similar
Presenters:    Two, plus 3-5 kids
Audience:   K-2, but fine for preschoolers
Video:  How to Tell Tops and Bottoms with Puppets

 Janet Stevens' vertically-oriented picture book Tops and Bottoms makes an excellent two person Act-Out story.  We presented it for our "Caldecott Celebraton" theme at a K-2 Book Adventure, with me as Hare and Terri as Bear.  Hare offers to do all the work of planting and harvesting vegetables and then split everything with Bear.  Bear will get the top half, Hare the bottom.  The dialog between Lazy Bear and Tricky Hare is fun...the kids can tell a trick's coming, but they're not sure what it is yet.  Hare gets his children to help:  that's just getting three or four kids from the audience, and giving them bunny ears.  It's easy for them to follow along as we plant seeds, water them (squirting the audience with a water bottle), and pretend to gather them up.  Then I reach behind our backdrop to pull out a sample of our harvest:  A carrot, which of course leaves Bear with just the green part. 

Once Bear sees he's been tricked, they strike a new deal, with Bear getting the bottoms.  And the crop turns out to be broccoli.  This sets up the final episode, where Bear insists on tops and bottoms, and still loses out because they grow corn and Hare takes the middle. 

The folktale structure works really well here, with a pattern that repeats twice, but with a twist each time.  It's also my favorite kind of child-participation story:  The kids have stuff to do, and it's meaningful in the story (because Hare needs to feed his whole family), but you don't need to break up the story to give instructions, and even if they don't quite get the actions right, the story still flows fine.

Over the years I've tried different things for the vegetables.  I've used real ones, which would be great except the veggies you find at the grocery store usually only have the good stuff carrot greens, broccoli roots or corn stalks.  So I've done things like buy a carrot, then attach parsley to it, and once you start grafting (actually taping) different foods together it kind of defeats the whole idea of using real stuff.  I've also just used pictures, printing out an image or photo and enlarging it, and that's okay, just not as interesting. 

This latest time, though, was the best.  Several months ago Sheila bought some big stuffed vegetables from Ikea to use as toys/decorations for the play area in our library, and they were perfect.  Terri got the idea of just rolling up colored paper for roots and stalks and lightly taping them to the ends.  They were big and looked great, plus it set up a good visual moment when Hare hands the carrot to Bear and can easily pull apart the tops and bottoms, so Bear is left staring at his unappetizing root.  Sadly, there were no stuffed corns at Ikea, but we had a large plastic corncob that worked fine.  (Food props always seem to come in handy, so we have a drawer full of them.  And although we bought them for decorations, we've used those stuffed veggies in at least five stories since we got them)      

I've also tried this story as a one person puppet show, both behind a stage and with no stage.  This works okay, but I like it best as an act out, where you can move around more and get more audience involvement. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: Wild Animals

 For our "Wild Animals" K-2 Book Adventures program we performed some old favorites, put a twist on a new favorite, and highlighted some excellent animal non-fiction.  We opened with something different:  We projected scans of the illustrations from Jerry Pinkney's amazing Lion and the Mouse.  At the same time we had musicians and students from our local music school providing string accompaniment.  This was very cool...the four musicians had chosen music ahead of time and had some sound effects for different moments in the story, like when Lion roars for help and when Mouse appears to save the day.  It was a little tricky timing our clicks/page turns to their music only because we barely had time to run through it beforehand, but the illustrations and the music really worked well together.

Scranimals  by Jack Prelutsky and Peter Sis was a nice poetry interlude.  We scanned two of the illustrations and read the accompanying poems:  "Oh Sleek Bananaconda" and "Sweet Porcupineapple," which got laughs from the kids and led them to check out our copies to read more.

We did a bit of Reader's Theater to present My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett and Ruth Chrisman Gannett.  This is one of my favorite books ever, so I love to introduce it to kids any way I can.  For this one, I introduced the basics of the story (Elmer Elevator wants to rescue a baby dragon from Wild Island), read the list of what he took in his backpack (with images popping up on the screen for each one (culled from Google images), including two dozen pink lollipops, seven hair ribbons of different colors, chewing gum, and more odd stuff.  Then we jump to the scene where he meets the tigers, who are played by kids (wearing simple paper tiger ears), each one reading the line from the book.  And once the tigers are ready to eat Elmer....."he opened the knapsack and took out the chewing gum."  Which is where we end it, with the kids wondering how some chewing gum might help Elmer escape seven hungry tigers.   

"Name That Wild Animal" was a fun segment where we projected an animal photo from a book, but revealed only a small portion so the kids could guess what it was.  Then we'd reveal another section, when most would be able to get it.  And finally the whole thing.  This is easy to do with PowerPoint, using Shapes to cover the picture and Animations to remove them in order with a click.  We took all the pictures from the "National Geographic Readers" series, which has several animal titles.  These are just right for our target age, plus since they all have the same kind of look, they made a very pleasing book display. 

The Gunniwolf acted out is always a success, and we had great fun with it again.  This was the story we also took to the schools for our quick promotion of the travels well also, since all you really need is a few flowers. 

We always need a stretch break for these programs, which tend to stretch beyond our 45 minute goal, and the natural one here was to do some simple animal yoga.  We did two interludes with poses from A Yoga Parade of Animals by Pauline Mainland, including Giraffe and Lion. 

Then we highlighted two excellent "Life Size" animal series: Actual Size and Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins and Life-Size Zoo and Life-Size Aquarium by Teruyuki Komiya (English adaptation by Kristin Earhart). For these it was just a matter of showing a few of the most impressive examples: Squid's Eye, Rhinoceros Horns, nearly a whole Walking Stick.

We closed with a quick puppet show by me based on Jan Brett's Annie and the Wild Animals. This can really be an excellent puppet show, but on this day I was a little too hurried and the kids had been sitting a little too long, so it wasn't as good as it might have been.

Overall, though, the program worked very well, and allowed us to promote some excellent picture books, non-fiction, a chapter book, and poetry. 


Monday, March 26, 2012

Bellybutton Monster

Story:  "The Bellybutton Monster"  (from More Ready-to-Tell-Tales  from Around the World by David Holt and Bill Mooney;  version of the story is by Olga Loya)
Puppets:  None
Props:   A button
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Preschool, School Age

Most of the stories in this blog involve puppets, props, and/or technology, but I also like go "beyond the book" with oral storytelling.  Oral tales seem to be most often used with school age kids, but there are some stories that are really just right for preschoolers.  It's pretty impressive how easily they get into a tale, how willing they are to use their imaginations to fill in the details without pictures or puppets or anything.  And it's a great way to develop early literacy skills, especially Narrative Skills, Phonological Awareness, and Vocabulary....when you're just listening you need to pay attention to words and sounds even more keenly and in different ways. 

"The Bellybutton Monster" has been a storyteller's favorite that I've heard a few times, though I'm afraid I can't remember the tellers.  Olga Loya's version from More Ready to Tell Tales from Around the World (full text is in Google Books) is good...she mentions in the notes that it's perfect for K-3rd grade, but if you simplify it a bit, it's great for preschoolers too:  

I start out by asking if they're ready for a monster story, in a kind of mock-scary voice.  You can see them getting a bit nervous, until I reveal that the monster is:  "The Bellybutton Monster!"  Then they get that it's just going to be funny.  Just the word bellybutton is enough to make a four year old laugh.  In the story, a girl named Rosie thows off her covers every night which drives her dad crazy (I use girl/dad instead of boy/mom).  Participation is almost required in any oral tale for preschoolers, so together we pull up the covers to her chin.  Then we roll our arms (like a travelling call in basketball) and fling them to the side each time she tosses her covers off.  I just do that twice, then jump right to the Bellybutton Monster's appearance.  He pulls off the bellybutton with a "Pop!" (more participation) and flies off. 

At this point the kids aren't sure what to think, but when Rosie has a drink of orange juice in the morning and it squirts out of her bellybutton, they always laugh a lot.  Then there's the bath, where her stomach fills up with water and she has to squeeze it all out.  When she goes back to the bed there's another refrain of tossing off the blankets, and the Monster returns.  I have Rosie bring a regular button to bed (the one prop in the story, although it's optional to use) which she offers to the Bellybutton Monster in a trade.  You can build this up a bit if you want:  "But that night, she brought something special to bed with her...what do you think it was?" 

When the Monster arrives there's another funny bit where the Monster replaces her bellybutton, each time with a "Pop!" but it's in the wrong place (ear, nose, etc.)  He finally gets it right, flies off, and Rose never throws her blankets off again.

The story has many of the qualities that you need with an oral tale for preschoolers:  Participation, as mentioned;  A pattern, so they can hold the story in their head easily;  Surprises in the pattern, to keep them guessing and wondering;  A world and stuff that they know about already:  basically bedtime and bellybuttons; and silliness that works right at their level.   

Participation from the kids increases each time a refrain recurs.  I don't rehearse them before hand, just when the moment comes in the story:  "She threw off her blankets [I roll my arms]...can you do this with me [roll them again, and the kids join in.]"  For the "Pop!" sound, it's just drawing out the words just before so they know it's coming:   with.....a.........Pop!"  

One more note about storytelling with preschoolers:  I usually introduce an oral tale by pointing out how many ways there are to enjoy stories:  sometimes with books, sometimes with puppets, and sometimes with nothing but our imaginations.  It helps to kind of set the stage and cue them that they're going to need to listen and think in a slightly different way.  When I had a smaller weekly storytime I would include one oral tale each  week, and they really got used to it, but for some it's a new experience.   

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sam Who Never Forgets

Book:  Sam Who Never Forgets  by Eve Rice
Puppets:  Sam, 3+ Zoo Animals, Elephant
Props:  Food for Zoo Animals
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Toddlers, Prescshoolers

Another old (1977!) favorite of mine that tells quite well with puppets.  It stars Sam the Zookeeper and several zoo animals.  You don't need to have all of the animals to tell it with puppets.  Sam feeds each of the animals one by one.  I have each animal lined up in my puppet bag on my left hand side and the food props for the animals in a box on my right hand side.  The telling is, like the book, a combination of narration and dialog: 

"First Sam feeds.....[reach into bag and pop out...]....Giraffe!  For Giraffe, Sam has brought....[hesitate, let kids guess while you reach for the prop]...leaves!  'Hello, Giraffe!  I've brought you some nice green leaves today.'  'Thank you Sam!' Leaves are just what Giraffe likes best."

The gentle, friendly interaction with props and puppets is nice, but when he gets to Elephant...Sam's wagon is empty!  This is one of those nice moments when you get to watch your audience of two year olds, who were so comfortable with reliable old Sam and the clear repetitive pattern of the book start to get worried.  So far they only had to think about which animal would come next and what the food would be.  They never dreamed he would skip someone!  And as Elephant calls out ("Sam....did you forget?") there's just enough of that toddler tension to set up the triumphant ending, where Sam reappears with a wagonful of hay.  Because Elephant is just so very large that Sam needs a whole wagon to carry his food.  And the happy ending is perfectly punctuated with "three cheers for Sam, Sam who never ever forgets."

For Toddler Times, this story works fine with just three animals plus elephants.  I typically use Monkey, Giraffe, and Crocodile, mostly because I have the food props to match:   Banana, Leaves, and Small Child (just kidding...Fish).   For Elephant's hay I just drag out the paper cutter and yellow construction paper and chop up a bunch of strips.  Sam can be any person puppet (male or female and you don't even have to change the name).  I've also told it without a Sam puppet, acting as the Zookeeper myself, and that works okay too.

The first times I did this (early 90's) I used to go a little farther, setting the animals up on chairs, using a box decorated to look like a wagon and, as Sam, walking from one to the next.  It's more of a production, and in the end really didn't add anything to the heart of the story, so as usual I opted for the more basic approach.  Plus this meant I could remove the box-that's-decorated-to-look-like-a-zookeeper's-wagon from my limited prop storage place (though come to think of it, the box was also just right for The Box with Red Wheels by the Petershams, an even older book which I haven't done for quite a while).

I do think Sam Who Never Forgets would make a good two-person story acted out though, with one teller as Sam and the other using puppets or animal hats for each of the animals.  Maybe one of these days in our Family Storytime.....

I have to admit I've always been just a bit bothered about the logic of this otherwise perfect picture book.  We know Sam feeds the animals every day.  And every day he must have the same situation:  he needs to make a separate trip for Elephant's food.  So does Elephant forget that this is going to happen every day?  Is the same drama going to play out tomorrow, and the next day, and every day from now on?  Is Elephant that forgetful?  Or is this maybe Elephant's first day at the Zoo?  But if so, why does he seem to be familiar with Sam already?  I know, this is more thought than you need to put into a picture book, especially one that captures this moment so perfectly, and of course no child or parent has ever raised this question....but I still think about it every time I share the book.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Grandpa Toad and the Scanned Enemies

Book:  Grandpa Toad's Secrets  by Keiko Kasza
Puppets:  None
Props:  Frog hats or something else froggy to wear
Presenters:  Two
Technology:  Projector for scanned illustrations
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

Keiko Kasza is a favorite of mine (and of many Storytime presenters). Her books have just the right amount of action and humor, and are usually paced just right for group sharing. For a "Monsters" themed Family Storytime, Terri and I decided to do Grandpa Toad's Secrets, which I've shared often as a straight read aloud in the past. For our larger group, we decided to combine an "act-out" with selected scanned illustrations from the book.

So as Grandpa I explain to Terri (as Little Toad) how we toads must be brave when facing enemies. Then the illustration with the hidden Snake creeps across the screen, while Little Toad says "I don't see any enemies." This brings the kids into it, as they point out the image behind us. We take a look, then show another image, this one of the snake stretched menacingly above (appearing with a "zoom" effect to make it a bit dramatic). Grandpa Toad then talks directly to the Snake on the screen about how toads can be too big to eat, and "puffs himself up." The image switches to one of the Snake bending down crestfallen, then a bit more simple animation as he slides off of the screen.

We follow the same pattern with the Snapping Turtle. One image of him hiding; one of him threatening; and one where Grandpa Toad has tricked him, and an exit. Just using selected illustrations like this keeps the focus on the characters, and when the images appear we interact with them as if they were puppets or people....kind of different, but it works. We're also careful to retain Kasza's well-chosen phrases: like the way Grandpa Toad declares "Not a bit!" when Little Toad asks if he's scared, for example, which sets up the twist that comes next neatly. 

The third creature is a "humungous Monster," and this time Grandpa Toad is scared, and runs away. In the book, the Monster grabs Grandpa and is about to eat him. We couldn't figure out how to interact with the images to that extent (but how cool if we could have made a little animated Steven with his Toad hat on and inserted it!)  So we have Grandpa just hide while Little Toad tricks the Monster. For that, we show the image of the Monster's legs from the book, and while Little Toad mimes throwing berries, each click of the remote sends a red dot on a "motion path," so it kind of looks like the dots really were coming from Terri's hands and landing on the image. The Monster runs away (more motion paths criss-crossing the screen, with the image getting smaller each time) and then there's that satisfying Kasza ending, where Grandpa Toad reveals that the third secret is having a "friend you can count on."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

K-2 Book Adventure Program Summary: Trickster Tales

Our January K-2 Book Adventure program featured "Trickster Tales."  The core of this program was four tales, and we mixed up some other "tricky" books to provide variety.  The tales included Gerald McDermott's Raven and Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock by Eric Kimmel and Janet on the links to see details of those.  One nice thing about those two books is Kimmel and Stevens have done several other Anansi tales and McDermott has a series of trickster tales that have a similar look, so we gathered multiple copies of those as well and most of them checked out. 

For Thatcher Hurd's Mama Don't Allow we brought kids up from the audience to be the "Swamp Band."  Terri was Miles, I narrated, and Sheila was a hungry Alligator.  In the book, parents and townspeople comment at how awful the band sounds, so we projected their comments in word bubbles on the screen ("Play outside!"  "How dreadful!") and had the audience read them. 
 "The Dancing Gator" was adapted (very broadly)  from "Buh Rabby and Bruh Gator," a story in Virginia Hamilton's A Ring of Tricksters.  This has been a long-time favorite of mine to tell with puppets, but my first chance to act it out with a partner.  I'll try to do a full blog entry on that one in the near future.  A Ring of Tricksters isn't easy for younger readers to manage, but it has some great readalouds for adults to share, and I was pleased that several copies got checked out.

In between the four tales, we highlighted books that were tricky in different ways.  One of our goals or this K-2 Book Adventure program is to expose kids to a wide variety of books, including non-fiction, picture books, poetry, and anything else that fits. 

"Tricky Photographs":   For Look-Alikes Jr. by Jan Steiner we scanned three of the illustrations, projected them, and had the kids identify the everyday items that are used in the amazing photographed scenes.  We'd name an item ("where's the spatula on the rocket?") and then with a PowerPoint click we'd add an arrow pointing right to it.  And of course we had the others in the series available too.
"Tricky Words":   We scanned and tried out a few tongue twisters from Alvin Schwartz's Busy Buzzing Bumblebees (illustrated by Paul Meisel), which is just right for this age group.  And had more tongue twister books on hand for checkout. 
"Tricky Nature":  We used the very cool book Where in the Wild (David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy, photos by Dwight Kuhn).  In the book, you see a photo with a camoflauged animal, then turn the page and see the same page with everything but the animal visually muted.  This worked great when transferred to PowerPoint and used with animations.  We scanned both pages and had the front one very slowly "Exit/Dissolve" while the next page very slowly "Enter/Dissolve," so you'd gradually see the hidden green snake emerge.  Another of those rare cases where I have to grudgingly admit that technology works as well as the printed page (but you still can't feel it or smell it).

And since we never expect this group to sit still for 45 minutes, we added a "Tricky Game," to get them moving, a variation of "Simon Says" that Terri led.  There are times when working our themes into a cohesive program takes some struggling, but this time the combination of tricky tales and tricky non-fiction seemed like a nice and natural mix.