Friday, February 22, 2013

Farm Animals Got the Beat

Book:   Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig, Illustrated by Marc Brown
Puppets:   4-6 Farm Animals (can make substitutions from the book)
Props:  None
Presenters:   One
Audience:   Toddler Time (1's and 2's mostly)

Since I use puppets a lot in Toddler Time, I want more books like Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown.  It's an excellent book to read aloud and share with pictures, but adapts to a simple puppet story very easily. Not quite directly, but just a few adjustments make it a just about perfect puppet story.  

The story is simple, as a toddler plot should be:  Chicks wake up Sheep; Sheep wakes Cat; Cat wakes Cow; and so on.  It's told with a rhythmic, repetitive rhyme that's easy for the teller to remember and easy for the audience to join in with:  "Chicks can't sleep.  Chicks can't sleep.  Chicks can't sleep 'cause they got that beat.  Peep!  Peep!  Peep-peep-peep!  All that peeping wakes up.....Sheep!"

So you can picture how this works with puppets.  Chick pops out and moves in rhythm to the chant.  When it gets to the "peep-peep-peep," Chick directs the peeps at the puppet bag.  An anticipatory pause after "wakes up..." leads to Sheep popping out.  Chick goes away, and Sheep does a turn with the same refrain, which leads to....Cat.  It's a nice smooth rhythm with an animal pop-out surprise at the end of each verse, and some good audience participation possibilities:  animal sounds, clapping along, and some will join in on the "--- can't sleep, --- can't sleep" refrain.
So it works great just following the text. But to make it just right for Toddler Time, I do make a few changes.

1. Switch plurals: The book uses plurals for some animals (like "cows" and "chicks") and I just keep everything in the singular.  It's that old I-only-have-two-hands problem.  And an easy adjustment. 

2. Cut repeated line: The book repeats the animal sound refrain: "Peep, peep, peep-peep-peep" happens twice in a row. You might get a bit more joining in from the group if you stick with doing it twice, but I just feel like it flows a little better with just one time. That one could go either way.

3. Change animal sounds: Those animal refrains are silly and fun in the book. Chick is a straightforward "Peep, peep, peep," to rhyme with Sheep, but Sheep goes "Tat! Tat! Tattity-tat-tat!' Fun to say, and also "Tat" rhymes with "Cat," to lead into the next verse. Works great with the book, but I decided to simplify these for the puppets. So Sheep's refrain becomes: "Baa! Baa! Baa-baa-Bat!" This way the toddlers get the animal sound they're used to, and can anticipate and play along more easily. Also, changing "Tat" to "Bat" at the end actually accentuates the rhyme that's about to follow because it's so clearly a switch from the expected sound. They can hear it better I think.
This really is an excellent stand-alone book, and here I've gone and made three changes to it. But these adjustments make sense when you think about the Toddler Time audience following puppets, rather than a child on a lap following the picture cues.
In the end the animals wake up Farmer Sue, who does go to sleep.  Then everyone wakes her, after which they all fall asleep. Here's where you need a bit of puppet management.  I make sure I have a place to put each puppet after they've done their verse, so I'm ready to bring them back one at a time for this ending.  I don't bother getting them in the right order, just grab what I find, make the sound, and grab the next one.  I don't even worry about slipping them onto my hand if that's awkward...just showing them for the quick sound refrain is fine.  When it end with:  "they fall in a heap!  Asleep!" I gather as many as I can onto my lap.  Having a second bag or a tub to put each puppet in once they've made the first appearance can help here, just so they're all handy for the finale.
The only problem with this book is if you're into early 80's pop music you'll probably walk around while you're setting up Toddler Time singing this song to yourself but mixing it up with the Go-Gos:   "See the Sheep walking down the street / Fall in line just watching their feet / They can't sleep / because the Chicks went "peep" / But they're baa-ing in time / They got the beat, Sheep got the beat, yeah / Sheep got the beat."  Or maybe that's just me....

Friday, February 15, 2013

Moose, Zebra, and 25 Letters

Book:   Z is for Moose  by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Puppets & Props:  Zebra and Moose puppets for sure.  Plus an alphabet's worth of puppets, props, and/or pictures
Presenters:  Two
Audience:   Family Storytime, but also will use for school-age

When I first read Z is for Moose I had two questions:   #1:  Could this mean another Zelinsky Caldecott?  and #2:  Can we do this in Storytime?  #1 was a no, it turns out, but I think we worked out #2.  For Family Storytime this week Sheila and I did a puppet show version.  Our theme was "Friends," and there's really not much evidence of friendship for 25/26th of the book, but when you're excited about a new picture book, you squeeze it into a theme anyway you can (see future post about how It's a Tiger works for "Reptiles.")
One of the many virtues of the book is that it has real changes of pace and plot shifts, even though it's an alphabet book.  Those shifts helped us construct the puppet show. 

Regular Alphabet Book Beginning:   Sheila was Zebra, announcing the alphabet from the upper part of the stage.  I was Moose below, with props for A through Q ready to go.  The first three letters just appear briefly on the stage. 

Moose Barges In:    Moose pops out for Duck to start the funny part, inserting himself into most letters leading up to M.  Many of these work just great as puppet show sight gags.  Hat appears on stage, then rises higher to reveal the Moose is wearing it.  An Ice Cream carton rises into view, then Moose pops out of it (through the unseen cut-out bottom).  We did a few letter substitutions that led to better puppet show antics.  For example, Moose popping out of Kangaroo's pouch is perfect in the book, but we opted to velcro him to a Kite and had that fly above the stage as he cries "Is it myyyyyy turrnnnnnn?" 

Moose Gets Mad:  Just when the audience thinks they get where it's going, Mouse shows up for M, and Moose is not happy. A few beats of silence when Mouse pops up accentuates the surprise, then Moose loudly enters to protest the unexpected choice for M.  Then the next series of letters has some good old fashioned puppet show violence.  Moose tosses Owl off stage;  Moose battles with Pirate.  (Another substitution from the book, since we could do more with a puppet pirate than we could with a pretend pie....a real pie could have been fun, but too messy).  Queen primly announces that it's time to end all this nonsense....and Moose charges, antlers-first, and mows her down.

Zebra Shifts Strategy:   Now Zebra presents objects R through Y rather than Moose.  For R and S Zebra uses a picture of Ring and Snake, rather than the real things.  We just made versions of each picture, one with Moose's  additions (he draws antlers on the objects, crosses out the correct words and writes "Moose" instead).  Moose snatches the good version from Zebra, shows his big red crayon, goes below, switches pictures, and gives Zebra back the  crayoned version.  After that Zebra and Moose interact from the top curtain of the stage:  They have a tug-of-war with Truck; and Zebra bops Moose on the head with Umbrella.

Moose Gets Sad:  Just when the audience is anticipating what the next clash will be, Moose stops coming out and cries from behind stage instead as Zebra brings out V, W, X, and Y without incident.  It's neat to hear the change in the audience from behind stage...they get a little quiet as they realize, with Moose, that it's almost over and he's not going to be in the story.  

Happy Ending:  Zebra talks sad Moose into coming out for the last letter.  Moose appears below, with Zebra above at first; then joins him up top for the conclusion:  "Z is for.....Zebra's Friend:  Moose!"  Very satisfying. 

One obvious challenge is finding the 26 items to fill out the alphabet, and we managed to find puppets or props to do the trick.  We substituted a few just because they just worked better for a puppet stage presentation (see K and P above, plus Net for Needle and Vase for Violin.  It would have worked fine to substitute a picture for several of the items, especially the ones that Moose doesn't interact with that much. 

Puppet and prop management was pretty easy considering how much stuff we used.  I just kept Moose on one hand the whole time and used the other to bring up props and puppets, most of which didn't really have to do much.  And remembering which one comes next is as easy as abc.    

I still think Z is for Moose would have been a fine Caldecott choice, but am very glad that it makes such a good puppet show.  As for the equally excellent book that did win the Caldecott:  big fish; little fish; hat...there must be something we can do with that one.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Perfectly Fractured Rapunzel

Book:  Falling for Rapunzel  by Leah Wilcox
Puppets:   None
Props:   Ladder, Underwear, socks, dresses, soap, pig, batter, prince stuff, Rapunzel stuff, maid stuff
Presenters:   Three (could work with Two plus a child volunteer)
Audience: Family Storytime, K-2 Book Adventure

This is one of those stories we just about any time we can.  We've done it for Family Storytimes and most recently included it in our K-2 Book Adventure "Fractured Folktales" program and a school Family Night (grades K-5).  We acted it out with three people:  Rapunzel (Sheila), the Prince (me), and the Maid (Terri, who also narrates).  We set up a short ladder behind a trifold screen to serve as Rapunzel's tower.  And pretty much stick to the words in the book, with only minor changes. The story fosters phonological awareness (clever rhymes), sophisticated vocabulary words (tresses, and best of all: one person throwing stuff at another person....what more do you need?

The premise is pretty simple, as so many of the best ones are:  The Prince wants Rapunzel to let down her hair, but she hears him wrong and throws down stuff that rhymes with what he says. 

The opening verse sets it up:  "Once upon a bad hair day / A prince rode up Rapunzel's way. / From up above he heard her whine, / upset her hair had lost its shine. / He thought her crying was a plea / And sallied forth to set her free. / Alas she was too far away to quite make out what he would say..."
As Prince, I ask Rapunzel to throw down her hair...and she throws down:  Underwear!  (Terri recently found a big pair of muppet boxers at Goodwill...we've already used them twice (see future Froggy Gets Dressed post)).  Then Prince tries to think of other ways to say "hair":   "Curly locks" gets him "dirty socks;"  "Silky tresses":  "dresses."  Getting more frustrated, he asks for "rope" and she beans him with a bar of "soap"  (actually "cantaloupe" in the book, but that's one fake fruit we don't have).  "Ladder" is a fun one:  She dumps "pancake batter."  We try to do this story last, because it can be hard to do more stories when you're covered in flour.  The rhymes and vocabulary are more sophisticated than you'd expect, so the kids anticipating what the next throw will be usually can't guess it easily, which adds to the fun.

The book includes some excellent verses that we didn't include for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, when you act it out the action takes center stage...the rhymes that impact the action (hair/underwear) come through better than the follow up lines that are more commentary.  I hate to drop a couplet like this:  By now the prince was feeling hammered / not to mention less enamored"...but perfect as it is within the book, it gets lost in an act-out.  Also, there's too much going on to hold a script and with rhymes you pretty much have to get the words down exactly.  So reducing the amount to memorize is not a bad thing. 

The ending is just right:  He asks for her "braid" and she throws down her "Maid," who comes tumbling out from behind the "tower" and turns out to be a better match for the Prince: "I fell for you when we first met" (because she "fell" out of the tower, get it?  The kids usually don't, but I always enjoy it anyway).
Thie three-person version works really well, but I also think it could be done with two, having the Prince narrate and using a child from the audience as the Maid.  You wouldn't have quite as smooth an ending, but the premise, the rhymes, and the stuff being thrown from the tower is really the heart of the tale. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Newbery Break is Over

After trying for half a year to keep up with this blog and chair the 2013 Newbery Committee, I decided to take a break from Beyond the Book Storytime posts until the Medal was chosen.  The Medal and Honor books were announced a week ago, so now it's time to return.  I've done plenty of storytime stuff in the last six months that I'll post about, but I thought maybe in honor of the Newbery year I should try to come up with a few ideas based on the books we selected.  This blog features ways to present stories using puppets, props, acting, and other "beyond the book" methods....I haven't actually tested these in a real storytime situation, but there's got to be a way: 

The One and Only Ivan. 
Let's see....I've got a good gorilla puppet, that's a start.  But he's not all that expressive, and Ivan is one of the most unique characters I've ever met in a book.  Maybe if I just focus on the funny bits of the story.  How about something with "me-balls?"  According to Ivan the gorilla, "a me-ball is made by rolling up dung until it's the size of a small apple, then letting it dry.  I always keep a few on hand."  He sometimes throws them at the humans who "for some reason...never seem to carry any."  A little brown play-doh could do the trick.  Good possibility for audience participation there, and a little scatological humor is almost always a good thing...but no, I just don't think this one will work in storytime after all.  On to the Honor books.

Splendors and Glooms:  On first glance, this might be just the thing.  It's all about puppets, so it should be a natural fit for storytime.  It's just that as a puppeteer, I'm not all that comfortable with being associated with the puppeteer in this book.  Grisini is one the best villains ever ("best" measured here in literary terms not in terms of moral goodness, where he would be the opposite of the best), but he does, after all, turn children into marionnettes and ransom them for large sums of cash, along with other evil stuff.  The orphan Parsefall's also a puppeteer, and a much nicer guy (though far from perfect), but I could never do his accent right.  Best stay away from this one after all.

Bomb:   I like to mix a little non-fiction into our programs when I can, and this is an amazing informational book.  So I would do this one, but unfortunately I can't find my Robert Oppenheimer puppet, and apparently it's been discontinued by Folkmanis.  You just can't do a puppet show of Bomb without a decent Oppenheimer puppet.

Three Times Lucky:  I love to use stories with good dialogue, and this has some of the best.  How can I get some of these lines into a puppet story?:  "I wouldn't say stole...but I did borrow it pretty strong;"  "My heart leaped like the cheerleader I will never be;"  "I never forgive. I like revenge too much."  No....excellent lines for a character in a novel, but I don't see Pink Pig or Sheldon the Sheep Dog pulling these off. 

Well, I tried, but it's just not going to work.  Apparently "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" is not the same as "adapt this for your next storytime presentation."  And on the bright side, I imagine the Printz Committee members are having an even harder time with this (Good luck doing Code Name Verity or In Darkness in storytime). 

So I'll say goodbye to Newbery for sure and be back soon with a post on a book that didn't win any awards, but has silly rhymes, dress-up opportunities, and underwear jokes....just the right ingredients for a surefire storytime hit.