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....