Thursday, December 12, 2013

It's Winter Break Time

We just wrapped up our Fall Programming season this week at our library.  We divide our program year into quarters and always have a break in between, ranging from two to four weeks.  We use the time to plan storytimes and other programs, develop a new story or two, and put some energy into sometimes-neglected parts of our jobs, such as collection development (not like we don't do that all year, it's just that December's a great time to catch up).
quarters and

So I'm afraid I won't be posting any new stories here for about a month.  Weekly posts will resume around January 15th.  Meanwhile, I'll continue to post a new video each week on the "Storytelling with Puppets" youtube channel.  Coming this weekend:   "Anansi the Spider" by Gerald McDermott.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Extraordinary Animal Friendships, with Scans and Music

Book:  Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships  by Catherine Thimmesh
Puppets:  None
Props:  None
Technology:   Scanned Images Projected with PowerPoint;  Music
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Family Storytime  (mostly 3-7 year olds)

We use scanned images and PowerPoint in a variety of ways during our programs.  Sometimes it's just to make sure that our large crowds can see the excellent artwork....we call that a "straight scan," where we just show the pictures and read the words.  But more often we do something a little different.  One of my favorites is when we add music, which we did this week for our "Family and Friends" theme in Family Storytime.
Friends is a very cool book by Catherine Thimmesh.  She briefly tells the story of unusual animal friendships, and accompanies each story with a great photo of the pair.  We've tried this three different ways in our Family Storytime and finally got it right.  First we scanned the images and told the story of each pair in a couple sentences, shortening from the text for our mostly preschool audience.  It was fine, but a little too much for the kids to absorb.  So the next time we added music:  a nice instrumental version of "What a Wonderful World" (the one that was a hit for Louis Armstrong, not the Sam Cooke).  We played that medium-low while we narrated over the music....still too much.

Then Sheila had the solution:  No words at all, just show the pictures with music to accompany.  And it worked great.  We used "You've Got a Friend in Me" by Randy Newman (the kids know it from Toy Story).  We showed each image for about 10-15 seconds and clicked to the next, which fit perfectly for the two minute song.

Just focusing on the images allowed the kids to easily follow it and enjoy it without trying to absorb the back stories of each.  Just seeing the frog floating with the mouse on its head, or the monkey resting its head on the bird is enough to keep them absorbed.  We let them know it's fine to talk to each other during the story, because they're really eager to identify the animals and marvel at the unexpected combinations.

The music was light-hearted and fun, matching the mood of the photos.  And although we didn't use the words, we generated strong interest in the book, which doesn't work well for a large group in its entirety, but can be an excellent one on one read aloud at home.  We also pulled a bunch of other animal friend photo essays together for our book display and lots of those checked out too.  Titles include Koko's Kitten, Owen & Mzee, A Friend for Einstein, and several others.  It's a great way to promote non-fiction in a storytime.

Another fun music/scans combo is the one we did for our K-2 Book Adventure "Foods" program, using Saxton Freymann's food photo books.  Details are at the beginning of our Program Summary for our K-2 Book Adventure "Foods" program which we did a couple years ago (and just repeated last week).

And I really liked the way music worked with Mo Willems' & Jon Muth's City Dog, Country Frog.  We did narration with that one, along with four different music samples (one for each season).

We're lucky, of course, to have a built in projector in our story room, so we can project from the ceiling without having to have a projector on a table.  We got an iPad a few months ago and have added AppleTV which allows you to project from that screen...haven't quite explored the possibilities there, but we're still finding plenty of fun stuff to do with old fashioned PowerPoint.  For other examples you can click on the "Projector" label in the column on the right.,..

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Elephant and Froggie (aka Piggie)

Book:  I'm a Frog  by Mo Willems
Puppets:  None
Props:  Pig stuff, Elephant stuff, but really just pink shirt/gray shirt will do
Presenters:  Two   (also works as a one-person puppet story)
Audience:  Family Storytime
Video:  How to Tell I'm a Frog with Puppets

With a "Mo Willems Celebration" as our Family Storytime theme, Sheila and I were planning on doing Listen to My Trumpet, which we hadn't tried before....but Mo's latest, I'm a Frog, came in just a week before, and we knew we had to do this one instead.  It works great as a two-person act out.

Piggie (Sheila) starts behind a backdrop, and when Gerald looks for her she "ribbits," then hops onto stage.  And, as usual with the E & P books, we stick to the just-right dialogue straight from the pages.  Even though there aren't that many words, the back-and-forth has to be in the right order and with the right timing, so it does take a few run throughs to get it right.  It helps me to kind of break the story down into sections:

First it's Gerald reacting to the fact that Piggie is pretending to be a frog.  We take it kind of slow, making sure we give the audience time to react to Piggie's hopping and ribbiting and fly catching, and to Gerald's concern.  This section ends with Gerald stating:  "You learn something every day!," which comes up again later.

Then it's Gerald freaking out when he realizes that Piggie is a frog and the same could happen to Gerald.

Then Piggies explains about "pretending" (with the "You learn something..." refrain repeating).

And finally Piggie tells Gerald he can be a frog too, which leads to a fun "No I can't! / Yes you can" back and forth.  The conclusion is perfect, as Gerald reveals that he can't be a frog, because..."I am a cow.  Moo!"

We struggle from time to time with stories that have punch-line endings where we're never quite sure that all the kids, especially the 3's and 4's, really get.  And sometimes we add a clarifying line or something.  But this one is right at their level and everyone gets the joke.

Really, there's not too much to say about this one as an act-out, because it works so naturally and easily.  You can't really say Gerald or Piggie's lines without getting into their characters.  You don't even have to do much in the way of costume.  A simple pig/elephant hat or ears works, and we've even done E & P's just by wearing pink and gray.

This also works great as a one-person puppet show, and there's a video demo here.  I've added a "Label" on the bar at the right called "Video - Storytelling with Puppets" which gets you to all of the posts on this blog that also have a link to a YouTube video demo.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Slightly Spooky Dust Bunnies

Book:  Here Comes the Big Mean Dust Bunny by Jan Thomas
Puppets:   None
Props:   Dust Bunny costumes
Performers:  Five
Technology:    PowerPoint slides
Audience:  Family Story Time

We typically have two people do our Family Storytimes, and many (but not all) can also be done with one, but for this one you really need four or five.  So I know this means many libraries couldn't do this story this way, but we just had so much fun with it I have to tell it anyway.

With our annual "Slightly Spooky Stories" event we always use all five of us children's staff (Shannon, Brad, Sheila, Terri, and myself) and try to find stories where we all have stuff to do.  We had done Jan Thomas' Rhyming Dust Bunnies before as a two person puppet show (details here) and we all knew about this sequel, but never thought to try it until this storytime came up.  We realized we had enough people to have four Rhyming Dust Bunnies (RDBs) plus the Big Mean Dust Bunny (BMDB), but then decided to mix acting out (the RDBs) with PowerPoint scans from the book (the BMDB).  Jan Thomas' illustrations, with her thick black lines and bright colors, come through really well on the screen.  

For costumes, we happened to have a bunch of frilly skirts that are worn quite often in storytimes (though not so much by me and Brad).  Turns out if you wear one around your neck instead of around your waist and then tie a scarfy kind of thing around your head, you look just like a dust bunny.  Well not just like, but close enough.  So the four RDBs entered, sort of spinning around and bumping into each other, then went into the simple words from the book.  We had the words show up on the screen, which is a neat way to reinforce the rhymes.  It also helped us remember what to say.

The the Big Mean Dust Bunny appears as an image filling the screen, while Brad is offstage doing his lines with a microphone.  We did some simple PowerPoint animations to get the action into the story:   

1.  When the BMDB uses "Sit!" as the rhyme, the four RDB's get directly under the image on the screen, then pretend to get squished as the image moves down to the bottom of the screen.

2.  When the BMDB uses "Chase!" his image moves back and forth across the screen a couple of times, while the four RDB's run back and forth across the stage area, trying to stay in front of the image (which is harder to do than you'd think)

3.  When the BMDB gets squished by the Cat (Bob tried to warn him), had a sideways image of the BMDB that was squished, then two RDB's on each side pretend to pull it.  Each click switches to a less-squished version of the image, so it kind of look like the BMDB is getting stretched out to full size as we pull. 

Sometimes when we try to mix screen images and acting out it can be a little complicated, but in this case I thought the two styles mixed very smoothly.  I'm pretty confident that no one in the audience was really scared by this one, but that's why we call it "Slightly Spooky Stories."  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mo Willems Has Yet Another Good Idea

Book:  That Is NOT a Good Idea!  by Mo Willems
Puppets:    Goose, Wolf (or Fox), Goslings (3-5)
Props:    Pot (big enough to fit Wolf puppet); Veggies (optional) Puppet Stage (optional)
Presenters:   2, plus 2-4 kids from audience
Audience:   Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

Not all Mo Willems books are easily adaptable for presentation, but that doesn't mean we don't look carefully at every new one that comes along.  It took a bit of tinkering, but That Is Not a Good Idea! worked out very nicely when Sheila and I had "Mo Willems" as our Family Storytime theme last week.  In the book, Fox tempts Goose to accompany him, step by step, to the woods, to his kitchen, and into his soup pot.  Goose plays along and has a trick of her own at the end.  Meanwhile Goose's little Goslings act as a kind of a chorus:  Each time Goose agrees to one of Fox's sly suggestions, they yell out the title of the book.  The joke is that they're really warning Fox, not Goose, that things will end badly for him.

We used our puppet stage and regular hand puppets for Goose (maybe not technically a goose, but Sheila made this great bird puppet years ago and I use it every chance I get) and Wolf (we have a Fox puppet, but our Wolf is just a bit more expressive).  They appear on stage, Wolf makes a suggestion ("Shall we walk in the woods...?"), Goose agrees, then both exit. 

For the chorus of Goslings, we scanned, enlarged, and laminated the guys from the book, then stuck them onto paint sticks.  My original idea was that they would appear above the puppet stage, looking down on the other two.  Then Sheila had a better idea:  we had four kids from the audience come up to hold one Gosling each next to the stage, while Sheila held the first one.  This worked even better for their "chorus" role.  Sheila ran them through their line before we started, adding that they would say "really not..." then "really really not..." and so on.  She also encouraged the rest of the audience to join in on the refrain, and they did. 

We didn't bother with any backdrops; Wolf just said: "Now that we're in the deep dark woods..." and that was enough.  Each time the audience chimed in with the "..not a good idea" part, Wolf would pop back up and say something:  "you be quiet," or "it is too a good idea."  That's not in the book, but we felt like adding interaction between Wolf and Goslings helped establish the chorus' role and Wolf's plans.

When it's finally time for soup, Wolf puts a big plastic pot on the stage, adds a few vegetables to draw it out (and a lollipop just to be silly) and finally prepares to add the last ingredient, which everyone thinks will be Goose.  The Goslings give their last warning, then Goose grabs Wolf and stuffs him in the pot.  First, though, she explains that the Goslings "did try to warn Wolf..."   We wanted to make that clever twist very clear to everyone in the audience, short of spelling it out directly.  

Once Wolf is in the pot, Goose calls the Goslings down to have lunch with her.  The kids bring their stick figures over, Goose takes a bite or two of Wolf, and the kids, following Sheila's lead, have their Goslings gather round the pot for their own share.  Sometimes we find simple ways to soften the ending of a story that ends gruesomely, trying to respect the delicate nature of three and four year olds without compromising the story.....not this time.  We just followed the perfect ending of the book and that Wolf got eaten up.  The story was just so silly and so neatly constructed, it was by far the most satisfying way to end it (for the storytellers, as well as for the hungry geese). 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fat Cat Tries to Sit on People (not puppets)

Book:  What Will Fat Cat Sit On?  by Jan Thomas
Puppets:  None
Props:   2 Signs each for Cows, Chickens, Pigs, Dogs, 1 each for Cat and Mouse
Presenters:   2, plus 4 child volunteers
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 years old)

I've enjoyed doing What Will Fat Cat Sit On? with puppets, and it was even my first post on this blog (January 17, 2011).  Terri and I decided to do it as an act-out for our "cats" themed Family Storytime.  In the story, Fat Cat half-threatens to sit on five different animals, so we decided to use kids for four of those, with Terri as Mouse, who comes in at the end.  Sometimes with stories like this we've had kids hold puppets or have something on their heads to identify the animals, but this time we just decided to have them hold a mask, laminated and mounted on a paint stick.  Some of the kids put the masks in front of their faces, some held them at their chest and either way works.  We had some store-bought farm animal masks for Cow + Chicken + Pig already that we'd used for a different story.  Then for Cat, Dog, and Mouse, we scanned, enlarged,

and laminated face pictures from the books.

Having the masks on sticks makes it real easy to switch, so we decided to have Terri and a child as each animal (except Mouse).  That way Terri could cue the kids and supply some of the personality, but it also gives the kids enough room to get into it too (and some did, some didn't).  I was thinking maybe I should stuff my shirt with a pillow to make a really fat cat, but Terri said don't worry about it:  curved arms, big wide steps, and a deep, goofy voice is all you need....and she was right, as usual.  
So first I come out as Fat Cat, wondering what I should sit on.  All four kids are sitting on small chairs, while Terri is behind the backdrop poking the Mouse mask out and back, which the kids see, but I don't, to sort of preview the Mouse ending (and parallel what Jan T. does with her illustrations).  Then Terri comes out, grabs a Cow mask and steps up with the Cow child as Fat Cat notices them and says:  "Will Fat Cat sit on...the cows?"  Then there's a short, slow chase as Fat Cat takes big steps towards the cows, circling them, until the cows say:  "Sit on the Chickens!"  The pattern continues with Chickens and Pigs, then shifts a bit when the Dogs growl and Fat Cat runs away.  

In the book, it's only the Chicken who tells Fat Cat to sit on someone else, but Terri had the good idea to do this for each animal, to really make the transition clear to the audience and to give the child volunteers a little more of an active role.   When Mouse comes out, Fat Cat repeats the big "What will Fat Cat sit on?" refrain, getting closer and closer to Mouse, who finally suggests the chair.  Each time we did this, when Fat Cat sits on the chair, the audience thought it was over, making the final twist ("Now....what will Fat Cat EAT?!") even more fun.  Fat Cat gets off the chair and we have another slow chase as all the animals take off.  

To give it a nice clear conclusion, after chasing the animals I say one more "What will Fat Cat eat?" and pull a carrot out of my pocket.  Not in the book, but it worked just right for this presentation.  For two of our four performances we had a third teller, Carson Mischel (a visiting children's librarian from the nearby West Linn Public Library), and this story worked fine with three too.  Carson took the Mouse part, leaving Terri to do the other animals. 


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dog's the Best

Book:  I'm the Best  by Lucy Cousins
Puppets:   Dog, Horse, Ladybug, Frog, Duck
Props:  None
Presenters:  two
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6)

This Lucy Cousins story has a pretty simple structure and a character whose defining trait (self-centered, conceited) is fun to play around with.  Sheila and I did this using puppets.  We thought about doing it from behind the stage, but decided we needed to show the actions of the animals more broadly. So we were on stage with puppets on our hands.

Sheila was Dog, who thinks he's the best.  Following the book, we told it all in dialogue, so she had to show dogs conceit through her voice, but also lend a bit of silliness to it so he came off as more childish than mean. After his opening brag, each of the animals come out for a contest.  We switched a puppet or two to match what we have.  Actually we switched everyone but Ladybug.  But it works the same:   Dog has a contest with the animal, and outruns Frog, outswims Horse, outjumps Duck, and is just way bigger than Ladybug.  Those were all simple to act out with puppets, and easy for the kids to get what's happening.

Then after Dog has hurt everyone's feelings, they come back and have a different series of contests, playing to their strengths:  Duck outswims Dog, Frog outjumps him, etc.  Then, because Dog's sad, his friends cheer him up by reminding him that he's the best at being their friend.  If that had been the end of the book I would have been disappointed, but fortunately Dog finishes with one last brag about how his fluffy ears really do make him the best.  I mean, it's fine to have a positive message and all, and I do believe Dog really did learn something, but at a certain level, a dog that full of himself is just going to be that way no matter what. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Pirate, A Parrot, and Vanilla Wafers

Book:  Pirate Pete  by Kim Kennedy; illustrated by Doug Kennedy
Puppets:  none
Props:   Treasure Map, Pirate Hat, Toothbrush;  Pot;  Potatoes; Pillow Case; Book; Chest; Vanilla Wafers
Presenters:  2, plus 3 child volunteers
Technology:  PowerPoint scans
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

We present our Family Storytimes with two people, rotating combinations among four of us (Me, Brad, Sheila, and Terri).  Usually we develop stories together or sometimes tweak ones we've done before.  Last week I was a last minute fill-in for Brad, so I did "Pirate Stories" with Terri.  The two of them had everything all worked out, so all I had to do was step in...they'd already done the hard creative part of making the stories work. 

They've developed an especially neat way to present Pirate Pete, using props, kids, and scans.  I played Pete and Terri was Polly, his parrot.  We find a treasure map that says we'll find gold on Mermaid Island.  Pete's refrain is "Where there's a-gold, that's where I'm a goin'!"  So we get in our ship and sail, which gives a nice interlude where the kids get up and stretch:   We all put hands above our heads (like a sail) and move from side to side while singing this quick refrain:  
  "We sail and we sail and we Stop! / We sail and we sail and we Stop! / We sail and we sail and we sail and we sail and we sail and we sail and we Stop!"

Then we all take out our imaginary telescopes and look for Mermaid Island.  This is where the scans come in.  While Pete and Polly look out towards the audience, we click to make a telescope view appear.  The kids see the scan, but we don't, so we have some fun making it disappear when we turn around, then reappear, until finally we spot it.  But this isn't Mermaid Island, it's.....Candy Island!  Pete decides there might be gold there because:  "Where there's candy, there's kids; and where there's kids, there's teeth; and where there's teeth there's cavities; and where there's cavities there' fillin's!"

Here's where the kid volunteers come in.  We look in the audience for gold fillings and find the child we gave a big toothbrush to earlier.  We bring her up and have her open her mouth.   But no fillings, of course, because she brushes her teeth with that toothbrush.  We take her toothbrush anyway (because that's what pirates do), and she sits down.

That pattern repeats twice more:  Back into the ship;  Sing the song;  Look for Mermaid Island;  Find other islands instead; Bring up a child with props.  For Clover Island the child has a pot...but inside is potatoes, not gold.  For Sleepy Island it's a pillow slip, but the treasure isn't gold dust, but a book (which we admit is a treasure, just not the treasure we're looking for). 

Finally we find Mermaid Island and read from the treasure map to find the treasure.  We go forward 5 paces, backward 8 paces, and wind up crashing into a chest that's been there the whole time, but covered with fabric.  We peek in, but don't let the kids see.  Then we pretend that there's nothing there, the story's over, and we sailed off to follow the gold in the sunset.  The kids, of course, don't buy it and really want to see what's inside.  So we reveal the gold doubloons:  Which are actually
Vanilla Wafers.  And when Storytime is over, we pass out one "piece of gold" to each child. 

The story really works well.  The song and stretch makes a perfect interlude, the kid volunteer piece is fun and purposeful, and the scans work well within the acting out and tie it strongly to the illustrations from the book.  And it worked out great for me:  Brad and Terri did all the creative stuff, and all I had to do was show up and talk like a pirate. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Brave Cowboy and His Lullaby

Book:  Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas
Puppets:   Cow, Sheep, Wolf
Props:  Cowboy Hat, Flower, Pillow and/or Blanket
Presenters:  One (also works as a two-person act-out)
Audience:   Toddlers (1-2 years);  also works with Preschool

My Toddler Time group is for ones and twos and I try to choose material accordingly, but every once in a while I just have to try a story that’s more of a 2-3 year old choice.  Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy fits that description.  In the book, Brave Cowboy tries to sing the cows to sleep, but gets scared by things that aren’t really scary:  a flower that he thinks is a stick, for example.  For preschool kids, you can really play up the mock-scariness of the story, but everything for ones and twos has to be pretty gentle.

I put on a cowboy hat to play the role of Brave Cowboy, rather than using a separate puppet.  That way I can control the goofiness and make sure any suspense is always light-hearted.  I used one cow puppet, rather than the pair used in the book.

I sing the lullaby to the tune of “Home on the Range” (the “Oh give me a home…” verse part, not the “Home, home on the range…” part)Sheila and Terri worked that out when they did this story for older kids. I had to write it like this:  "It's time for little cows to rest their heads / It's time for little cows to-go-to-bed," with the dashes in the last bit so I remember to run those together and match the rhythm of the song.   
  The song ends with: “It’s time for little cows to say….” And then instead of a gentle “good night,” Cowboy says:  “OH NO!”  (It’s “EEEK!” in the book, but I’m not sure toddlers get “eek!” so I changed it).  Cow asks what’s wrong and Cowboy points to the puppet bag:  “I think I see a Huge Hairy Spider.”  As Cowboy, I reach in and poke out the top of the flower, so everyone can see it’s not a spider.  Then Cow pulls it out and reassures Cowboy.  Since it's toddlers, I don't act too scared at the suspected spider.  And I reveal the top of the flower for a bit before Cow identifies it for Cowboy.  That keeps the kids one step ahead of Cowboy, which is just right for the story.

The same sequence repeats:  Cowboy sings the song;  Thinks he sees a Large Lumbering Bear;  It’s really a Sheep.  The book also has a bit with a Snake / Stick, but I decided we only needed two Cowboy errors with toddlers, and then could go right into the last bit.

Now Cowboy realizes he’s been overreacting. But when he says that the next thing in the bag might look like a Huge Shaggy Wolf, Cow zips away behind the back.  Cowboy says it’s “probably just a Big Giant Bunny, right Cow?”  Cow sneaks back, looks and says “No, it’s really a Wolf.”  For preschoolers this is a fun, wild moment that you play up a lot, but with this crowd you keep a smile on your face and never have Cowboy be all that scared.|

The ending wraps it all up nicely, as Cowboy sings the song to Cow and Wolf and they finally make it to the closing line of “It’s time for us to say:  Goodnight.”  In the end, this one worked the way slightly-too-old-for-Toddlers books often do:  They enjoyed it, even though they might not have fully grasped the humor of a Cowboy who claims to be brave but really isn't.  But...there's a storyteller in a cowboy hat, some puppets doing silly things, and a nice little song, though, and you can't go wrong with all that.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Tortoise and the Hare and Fats Domino

Story:  The Tortoise and the Hare
Props:   Rabbit stuff (ears will do), Tortoise stuff (green shirt and hat works), something to mark finish and starting lines
Puppets:   None
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly preschool age)
We finally started our Fall Storytime sessions last week.  Brad and I drew "folktales" as the Family Storytime theme and decided on "The Tortoise and the Hare" as one of our stories.  I've done this with puppets and as an oral tale, but it also seemed like a natural choice to act out with two people.  So we did.  When we do "act outs" we usually don't worry too much about costumes.  We had some bunny ears that Brad put on.  I just wore a green shirt and a backwards green baseball cap.  Especially with a story like this, with such clear action and characters, the audience focuses on what we do and say in character, not on how we look. 

It's nice as an act out because the characters are so distinct.  Brad was the fast, frantic, impatient Hare and I was Tortoise.  We set up a cut-out tree at one end of the stage and a cut-out bush at the other.  Hare challenges Tortoise to the race and says it will be "twice around the tree and then back to it."  So Hare zips off to start it out and disappears behind the tree.  Then Tortoise saunters along.  Once he rounds the tree, Hare speeds out from behind it, goes around the bush, and stops, just where the race began (having completed one lap).  As Hare tells the audience how great he is and how he's going to stop to read a book, Tortoise trudges past behind him (on the way to the bush), then rounds the bush and passes in front of him.  Hare is engrossed in his book and doesn't see him.  

When Tortoise makes it to the tree, Hare looks up, realizes he's behind, and takes off again.  The physical set up worked fine.  Kids totally get what's going on, I think partly because many know the story, but also because the story is just so simple they catch on right away. 
As with my puppet show version, I had Tortoise sing a little theme song each time he walks, to kind of punctuate each segment.  The song I use is to the tune of "I'm Walkin'" by Fats Domino (which spent 6 weeks at the top of the R&B charts in 1957, though I don't share that fact in Storytime), substituting words about the race and singing it in a slow tortoise voice:  "I'm walkin', / It's a beautiful day / I'm walkin', / I'm on my way / I'm hopin' / That I might win this race."

 After Hare passes Tortoise again and takes a nap,  we try to build up the ending so the kids are anticipating and very involved.  Tortoise passes ("I'm walkin', / I'm feelin' fine. / I'm walkin', / There's the finish line. / I'm thinkin' / That I'm gonna win this race").  Tortoise stops short of the tree while Hare wakes up, then waits until Hare has almost made  it before slapping his hand on the tree.  Tortoise consoles Hare by suggesting that he try another race with a different opponent:  his good friend Snail. 

It's all very easy to learn and to act out, and except for the song refrains, you don't have to memorize much.  Just playing with the personalities of the characters and following the structure of the race makes it work.  The first time we did the story we had the guys do three laps; we cut one lap for the next three performances because we ran over.  The shortened version was actually even a little better because it gets from the general idea to the fun finishing scene quicker.

This is a good simple story for puppets with a stage. You can really play up the fast/slow contrast by the way you move the puppets.  It also works well as an oral story that's also a chance for the kids to stretch.  I tell a sort of bare bones version of the story, but have the kids stand up while I tell it and run in when it's Hare and slow when it's Tortoise.  So the focus there is more on the speeds and participation, rather than the personalities.  Sometimes I think that Aesop guy must have been a children's librarian, because his stories sure work in a lot of ways...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

2 More Puppet Videos

Since I'm low on new stories to blog about (see previous post) I did a couple more "Storytelling with Puppets" entries on Youtube:

The Napping House by Audrey & Don Wood


The Wide Mouthed Frog,  a traditional tale

You can see all of the videos (now up to 21!) at:

Monday, September 2, 2013

I Wonder if These Books Will Work?

August is just not a great time for new "Beyond the Book Storytimes" posts.  We have a long Storytime Break so I don't have much to share.  Things start back up in early September.  Meanwhile, though, we're looking ahead and planning some future storytimes.  We repeat lots of stories from previous just takes too much time to develop three two-person stories every week.  But we all love to find new books to try as well.  So far we've identified a handful that we'd like to try.  Here's a few I'm looking forward to, some for two-person Family Storytime, others for Toddler Time solo, along with some early thoughts about how we might do them.  If they make the final cut and we actually do them, I'll report on them with details here eventually:

I Want My Hat Back  by Jon Klassen
I'm thinking we have one person either dressed as Bear or with a Bear puppet outside of the puppet stage, then another with puppets behind the stage.  At the end Bear disappears behind the stage, then emerges with his hat.  And the audience can speculate about Rabbit's fate. 

This Is Not My Hat  by Jon Klassen
You've got to show these pictures, so I think maybe we scan most of the illustrations, but have Little Fish as a puppet in front of the screen.  In our brainstorming, not everyone could see this working, but I think once we walk through it this will work great.  We may do this in Family Storytime, but may save it for a K-2 Book Adventure (we may do a "Caldecott" theme in February)

That is Not a Good Idea
by Mo Willems

(see, we're not only thinking of Jon Klassen books)
This could be a good two-person puppet show.  Goose and Fox down below interacting, with the chorus of Goslings up above, acting as a sort of chorus. far I've listed three stories and we've got a Bear eating a Rabbit, a Big Fish swallowing a Little Fish, and a family of Geese enjoying Wolf soup.  Maybe we could squeeze in a "Death and Dying" theme in between Getting Dressed and Silly Stories. 

I'm the Best 
by Lucy Cousins
This could be an easy one to act out, with one person as Dog and the other person switching to each
of Dog's friends.  Lots of chances for action as Dog does various activities either better than, or worse than his friends.

Don't Copy Me by Jonathan Allen
We might act this one out with some child volunteers.  Four of five young puffins copy everything the grown-up puffin know, the irritating game anyone with a sibling has done at one time or another.  Should be fun.

A Kiss Like This 
by Mary Murphy
A nice flap book that could work with a puppet follow-up in Toddler Time.  Maybe pulling various puppets out of the bag and having them kiss any toddlers who are willing...

Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy 
by Jan Thomas
Terri and Sheila did this as an act-out in Family Storytime, but I'm thinking of using puppets for Toddler Time.  Possibly me putting on a cowboy hat, then interacting with a cow puppet, and taking getting scared at stuff I see in the bag:  like a spider (but it turns out to be a flower), a snake (stick), etc. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Few More Puppet Videos

I've uploaded seven more videos to my "Storytelling with Puppets" YouTube channel.  The stories are:

All the videos are on the YouTube page, but here's a sample:   "Silly Sally" by Audrey Wood

Monday, August 5, 2013

Monkey Meets a Bunch of Other Guys

Book:  Monkey See, Look at Me  by Lorena Siminovich
Puppets:  Monkey, Bird, Rabbit, Lion, Elephant (substitutes could work for all but Monkey)
Props:  None
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Toddler Time  (1's and 2's)
I often wish there was a way to do this search in a library catalog:   “Picture books where one guy meets a bunch of other guys one after another.” (like Ask Mr. Bear, The Fat Cat, etc.) Also "Picture books where one guy meets another, then that guy meets another guy, and so on..." (that's the Jump Frog Jump, Big Fat Worm model).  Because those can be the best books for telling with puppets.  They're easy to adapt, never require more than two characters at a time, and have those strong patterns that make them very accessible to young listeners.
But I don't see either description listed in my big red LC Subject Headings books (actually I don't even see those they even make those any more?), so I try to keep an eye out for both structures, which led me to notice Monkey See, Look at Me on the new Picture Book
shelves.  In this one it's Monkey who meets various animals, always right after he’s pretended to be that animal.  So, with a few adjustments for Toddler Time presentation, the puppet progression is pretty clear:
Monkey tells the kids he’s pretending to be a bird and pretends to fly (“Look at me, I can fly…I’m a bird!” is the repeated pattern). Then Bird pops up from the puppet bag and shows him how to really fly…and flies away.  The same pattern follows with Rabbit / Hopping, Lion / Roaring, and Elephant / Stomping (in the book Elephant splatters and splashes, but it’s easier to show stomping with puppets).  It's not that dramatic and would probably be kind of boring for preschoolers, but for the 1's and 2's in Toddler Time it's just the right level.  
With puppets, I try to amp up the silliness of Monkey’s attempts a bit.  For flying:  he jumps a couple times, takes off, freezes in mid-air, and crashes.  His hops barely get him off the ground and his roar is almost a whisper.   I also have Monkey continuing his animal imitations for a while after the animal comes out, so Rabbit sees him hopping and Monkey doesn't notice right away, adding just a bit more humor.  These antics are fun to watch, give Monkey a bit of personality, and also contrast more blatantly with the real animals, all of which works well with toddlers.  
The book ends with all four animals pretending to be monkeys by swinging.  That messed with my whole “only-two-hands” limitation, so I changed it a bit and had each animal reappear and do a different Monkey-like thing.  So Bird says “Look at me, I can eat a banana…I’m a monkey!”  Rabbit climbs a tree; Lion swings; and Elephant scratches.  That way they all appear one at a time and the idea of them imitating Monkey the way he imitated them is reinforced. 
Monkey’s response to their imitations wraps up the story nicely:  I’m silly.  I’m a monkey,”which echoes the response each of the animals had given him earlier.  A nice, containable, fairly easy to manage puppet story...and if we just had a couple good new subject headings I know there are more like this out there...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Two Mice, High and Low

Story:  "Very Tall Mouse and Very Short Mouse" by Arnold Lobel  (from Mouse Tales)
Puppets:  None
Props:  None
Technology:  None
Presenters:  One
Audience:  Preschool, Early Elementary

Here's a fun and simple oral tale that I usually like to also use an "in-betweener," because it gets the kids up and moving.  It also has great opportunities for participation and vocabulary stretching.

I have the kids all stand up and tell them that we're telling a story about two friends and when we tell about Very Tall Mouse we'll all stretch as high as we can; and when we tell about Very Short Mouse we'll all bend down as low as we can.  Then we start, with:  

One day two friends went on a walk:  Very Tall Mouse (and we all stretch up) and Very Short Mouse (and we all scrunch down). When they came to a tree, Very Tall Mouse (stretch up) said:  "Hello leaves!"    And Very Short Mouse (scrunch down) said:  "Hello....trunk!"   So this sets up the way the rest of the story goes, and a preschool or early elementary crowd catches on pretty quickly to the idea:  VTM sees what's high up and VSM sees what's low. 

I continue this pattern but now encourage the kids to provide the "high" thing and the "low" thing, using examples from the book, but also other stuff if there's time and we want to extend it a bit.  So it's animals, and the kids will guess what Very Tall Mouse says "hello" too (birds...bees...giraffes...) and what Very Short Mouse greets (ants...snails...moles...).   Same thing with flower, car, rain storm...or anything else you think of.  It's tempting to let the kids pick what they see next, but also a bit of a risk because it's actually a bit hard to think of something that has clear high and low components on the spot....I've tried it both ways but usually keep the "what they saw" component for myself and let them go with the greeting details.

The tale has a nicely satisfying ending:  After they see a rain storm they go inside ("Hello ceiling, Hello floor").  Then Very Tall Mouse sees something wonderful through the window.  But Very Short Mouse (here your voice goes all mock sad) is too short to see out of the window.  So his friend picks them up and they both look out the window together and say:  "Hello Rainbow!"  

It's really a fun bit of vocabulary building, because they not only have to come up with words, they have to find words that fit both the thing the mice are seeing and the high/low concept.  Not all kids get it and you do get some answers that don't make sense at all, but that's fun too.

And of course they're going up and down the whole time, so it's a good between-stories break as well.  And finally, it's a way to promote a great book that's just two small to share with groups.  "The Journey" is another story from Mouse Tales that has similar elements of storytelling/action/participation, so using both stories in one session can be just right. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Not a Stick": a one-prop story

Book:  "Not a Stick"  byAntoinette Portis
Props:  Stick
Puppets:  None
Technology:  Projector with scanned images
Presenters:   Two (could work with one)

Not a Stick is one of those books that's brilliant and at the same time so simple.  And it's a natural fit for the way we often act out picture books.  We do it with two people:  One is the guy with the stick (this was me when we did it a few weeks ago), while the other (Terri in this case) responds to each new idea.   So I find a stick and pretend it's a fishing pole.  Terri asks what I'm doing with the stick, and I reply of course:  "It's not a stick."  I think the story would really work just fine if that's all we did.  The kids would still chime in with their ideas about what I'm imagining the stick is.  But we add projected scans from the book.  So the first slide is just the stick with the posture:

Then I take the stick and pretend to be fishing.  The kids will usually make a guess or two without prompting.  Then when I reply "It's not a stick," the rest of the picture fades in, showing the hook, fish, sea, and dock. 

And the pattern continues just like that.   The plain slide appears.  The stick guy looks at the slide, ponders a bit, then starts doing the thing that he should be doing.  The kids guess, the narrator prompts, and then the full picture fades in.  It's an easy one to tell, with lots of room for improvising and interacting with the audience, which is always nice.  You don't really even have to memorize, since the slide on the screen tells you what actions come next.  (Unless you get mixed up and think the bandleader's baton is actually going to be the knight's sword, and spend a bunch of energy battling a pretend dragon only to see the next slide appear and reveal the marching band....not that you would ever do that.  I'm sure I wouldn't.  At least not more than one time anyway).

Since the kids are guessing what you're doing and filling in the blanks with their imagination, this approach really captures the essence of the book.  And it leads naturally into an after-comment about the importance of "play" in developing early literacy and learning skills. 

After one presentation I was talking with a boy about this story and the companion book Not a Box (which he knew) and asked him if he could think of any other similar possibilities....and he came up with:  "Not a Blanket!"  And with a few hints, came up with some great ideas:   Flying Carpet;  Fort;  Parachute....   So that made me feel like we did do some justice to the book and its potential for inspiring imaginative play. 

Having one "observer" and one person acting out works nicely.  It gives you more room to play and interact and the narrator can prompt and manage the audience interaction.  It could work with one person, though, talking more directly to the audience to get them to say "it's a stick."

Portis Not a Box is an equally excellent book and could work with the same approach we used, but the imaginative activities in Stick just adapt a little more easily to acting out.