Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ninja Pigs and Perfect "Pork Chops"

Book:  The Three Ninja Pigs  by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Illustrated by Dan Santat
Props:  Wolf Hat (or similar), Pig Ears (or something like that), Fake Bricks, Pre-cut Stick, Martial Arts Clothes (or even a plain bathrobe would be funny)
Presenters:   Three
Audience:  K-2 (also works for Preschool, just not quite as well)

Even before I saw the book, I knew just from the title that there would have to be something fun we could do with The Three Ninja Pigs.  We decided to try it for our K-2 Book Adventures "Heroes and Villains" program.  It's a clever re-telling of "The Three Pigs," where each pig learns a martial art, but the first two don't stick with their training.  The third one's a girl and a good student, and she saves the day. 

For our three-person telling we decided to go with one person (Teri) as all three pigs.  Sheila was the Wolf and since the text rhymes and we wanted to get that just right, I was narrator.  We usually don't mind half-memorizing and acting out with a script, but Terri couldn't do that this time:  she had to have her hands free for Ninja moves.  The illustrations are also excellent, and give the kids a more tangible sense of what the book is all about, so we selected some of those and projected them as the story progressed.  We also threw in a bit of the martial arts terminlogy as visuals, and added word balloons for most of the dialogue.  For the script we trimmed a stanza or two just to fit our time slot.

With that in place, the story plays out pretty smoothly.  Terri borrowed an authentic Taekwondo Ki to wear from a co-worker.  She even learned an authentic move or two, but in the end she went for comical effect, and it was definitely funny.  I'm pretty sure "the cartwheel, the crescent, the crane" don't go quite the way she did them.
Pigs one and two battled Wolf briefly.  We projected a scan from the book, then clicked to add word balloons for their lines.  Then Pig Three demonstrated her skills.  Terri broke a stick (pre-broken ) and shattering bricks (cardboard ones, but still visually impressive).  This scares Wolf and he leaves without even coming to blows ("I love to eat ham / But I think I should scram / before she makes mincemeat of me").

We'll probably use this for Family Storytime as well, but K-2 is really the perfect audience, since they get most of the jokes, like when Pig Three performs a "perfect Pork Chop."  Younger kids will still get the heart of the story, though, and will love the silly action. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A. Wolf and 3 Pigs, Acted Out

Book:  The True Story of the Three Little Pigs  by Jon Scieszka, Illustrated by Lane Smith
Puppets:  Sheep, Bunny, 3 Pigs
Props:  Wolf ears (or similar)
Technology:  Projector with scans (optional)
Performers:  3, but works with 1
Volunteers:  3 kids (optional)
Audience:  K-2

We featured Jon Scieszka in a K-2 Book Adventures a while back and decided to finish with The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.  The storytelling voice really makes the book, so we did it as an act-out and we mostly stuck to A. Wolf's narrative from the book, with a few extras.
Since we had the luxury of three tellers (Sheila, Terri, and I), we switched off in the role of Wolf/Narrator, passing on the wolf ears each time.  We introduced it by saying that all three of us wanted to be the Wolf, and since we couldn't decide, we would take turns.  And of course everyone knows:  tallest goes first.  So I started as A. Wolf, explaining about how "this whole Big Bad Wolf wrong."  With the line about "it's not my fault wolves like to eat cute little animals like bunnies and sheep," I hold up a puppet of each, turn my back to the audience and "swallow" them, turning back with them visibly stuffed under my shirt. 
Then I turn it over to Terri, passing the wolf ears to her, and she tells about how she accidentally "sneezed a great sneeze," and ate the first little pig.  We gave one volunteer from the audience apig puppet and a couple of lines to say, in this case:  "No! I'm not in!"  When Terri "sneezes a great sneeze" I grab the pig puppet off the child's hand and toss it in the air.  Terri eats it ("think of it as a cheeseburger just lying there"), stuffing it under her shirt.
We followed the same pattern with Sheila getting the second pig and me again, trying to get the third.  Each  time we have a child with a puppet, one good line to say, and the big sneeze and a pig puppet toss.  Along the way we throw in a few slides on the screen just for fun.  When Wolf tells what each house is made of, the first slide shows a mistake.  Plastic Straws instead of Straw;  Chicks instead of Sticks; and Blue Bricks instead of Red Bricks.  Wolf notices and corrects himself each time.  We also had slides for the mentions of Cheeseburgers and the Cup of Sugar at the beginning and showed the illustration from the Newspaper at the end, followed by a Jail slide.  These aren't necessary, but were fun, and we do like to mix our media when we get a chance.       
This is one tale where you really do have to be in character to pull it off. The audience has to listen to Wolf's excuses but also realize but Scieszka's words are so good, you can't really read them without becoming A. Wolf.  The whole story could be done just fine by one person, along with the kid volunteers for the pig.  Three tellers worked great for us, but we did miss out on one element: a solo teller's stomach would have gotten bigger and bigger with each puppet eaten, while we all kind of started from scratch each time.  These are the hard choices one must make when telling silly stories.     

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Simplest Elephant & Piggie for Puppets

Book:   I Am Going  by Mo Willems
Puppets:   Elephant, Pig
Props:   Food (optional)
Presenters:  One
Audience:   Storytime
Video:  How to Tell I Am Going with Puppets

Since our Family Storytimes are done with two storytellers, we've presented several "Elephant and Piggie" books as Act Outs, including I Broke My Trunk and Watch Me Throw the Ball.  Both of those stories would also work great as one person puppet stories, I'm sure.  But the simplest E & P to tell with one person and two puppets is I Am Going.  It's a short, simple tale with great opportunities for humor, both visual and personality-based.  
Willems sets the stage for all the drama by having E & P agree that "this is a good day." So when Piggie announces that she is going, Gerald's melodramatic responses are even funnier. 

Basically, Piggie tells Gerald the elephant that she is going, and he freaks out.  He asks who will do fun stuff with the book it's Skip, Play Ping-Pong, and Wear Silly Hats.  I switched a couple of those to things that are more easily demonstrated with puppets.  Skip becomes "Dance":  my legless elephant puppet can't show skipping very well, but he can dance fine.  And Ping-Pong becomes "Play Ball":  he can hold a ping-pong paddle, but it's more fun to have him toss a ball in the air and catch it (or drop works either way).  And he can do all three at once, as Gerald does in the book.
Another highlight is when Gerald declares that he is going too, though he's bluffing of course.  Puppet motions are simple here, as Gerald slowly walks away, stops, looks back, etc.  When telling with puppets, your eyes can help pace a scene like this.  When Gerald looks back to see Piggie's reaction (which is nothing), you can also look from your Elephant puppet, back to silent Piggie.  It's a subtle way of directing the audience's eye from one character to the other at the appropriate time. 
Gerald's attempt to have Piggie go later ( year!) is fun in the book, with the illustration showing him tossing a calendar in the air.  I thought about doing this but decided it would be too distracting and a little more abstract than the other jokes.  So I just used the words, but no calendar prop. 
Gerald finally explodes with a blizzard of "Why??!!'s", another fun bit to do with puppets.  Though Gerald is pretty manic at this point, there's no need to overplay it, either with fast and wild motions or with an over-the-top craziness in the voice.  The kids know Gerald well enough by now and going far, but not too far with his overreaction works perfectly. 
Voice and expression are the key to telling this with puppets. Obviously Gerald is emotional and active, while Piggie is calm, quiet, and pretty still. The contrast in personalities is extreme, and it's tempting to make the dialogue exchanges quick...but better, I think, to slow it all down. Leaving a bit of a pause between Piggie's words and Gerald's responses gives the listeners a chance to anticipate.  Willems' illustrations pace his stories with moments of silence and responses, and kind of replicating these with puppets works very well. 
When Piggie finally reveals her reason for going ("lunch"), the story reaches its satisfying conclusion.  I have her bring out a basket of fake fruit and share with Gerald, but it would work just as well without a visual representation.  And the ending scene is another example of holding back a bit with the puppetry.  Instead of an immediate reaction, Gerald can do a slow, silent double take, looking at Piggie, then the audience, then back again.  So as he slowly realizes that he's been very silly, the kids have time to process it all too. 
For E and P I use a couple of puppets from my elephant vaguely resembles Gerald, but my pig is very un-Piggie like.  There are Elephant and Piggie puppet-making ideas on the web or you can buy plush dolls that I bet could be transformed into puppets pretty easily.  But really, it's the personalities and storytelling that carry the stories, so basic, close-enough puppets work fine.