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. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Labels added for one-person/two-person tales

Some of the stories I post on this blog are for solo presenters; others require two or more.  Someone pointed out that it would be handy to be able to look at one or the other, since not everyone has other tellers they can team with.  So I've added "labels" for One Teller, Two Tellers, and Three Tellers to all of the postings.  So you can click on one of those labels (on the right of the screen) to just see those.  Hope it's helpful....

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Elephant & Piggie & Suitcases & Umbrellas & More

Book:  Let's Go for a Drive by Mo Willems
Puppets:  None
Props:  Many:  2 or 3 Suitcases;  2 or more Sunglasses;  2 or more Maps;  2 or more Umbrellas; Pig and Elephant stuff (optional)
Presenters:  2

Our latest attempt to act out an "Elephant & Piggie" story is one that Sheila and I first did as an outdoor story at the City's Art Fest. It's a little prop-heavy for an outreach performance, but Sheila had all the stuff and it worked fine, it's just that the crowd was small.  Small crowds were not a problem last week when Sheila and Terri did  it for their "Preschool Stories & Science" presentation.

We do this one as an act out, following M.W.'s just-right words as usual.  For props, they had a three-bag set of suitcases, a couple of umbrellas, a couple of sunglasses, and a bunch of old maps set behind our backdrop.  Piggie goes and fetches each one as the story progresses. 

E & P decide to go for a drive and share an excited:  "Drive, drive, drivey, drivey, drive!"  Gerald's the planner in this one and reminds Piggie that they will need a map.  When Piggie returns with the map it's:  "Map, map, mappy, map, map!" and again "Drive, drive, drivey, drivey, drive."  A refrain that repeats with variations and more props as the story continues which works great for audience participation and for storytelling.  (Also for beginning readers using the book, further evidence of Mo's genius).   
As always with Elephant and Piggie, capturing their distinct personalities is a big part of it.  Sheila's been Piggie many times, but still uses the specific illustrations with each book to help her get Piggie just right...the expressions in the drawings really do show you just how to play them.  Terri adds a nice storyteller's touch to Gerald that I hadn't thought of when I performed it.  When he declares:  "Get those maps!"  (or "sunglasses," "umbrellas," etc.) she hesitates a bit and prompts the kids to join in.  It brings the audience even further into the story, highlights a key refrain from the book, and just as importantly, gives Piggie just a little more time to grab the props and return.
The ending is great in the book and works in the act-out too.  After both characters realize that they everything they need for a drive except a car, they decide to use the stuff they've gathered for something just as fun:  they can play pirates!  Here's where an illustrator has a distinct advantage over storytellers.  Mo's pictures clearly show the pirate ship they make, and those sunglasses really do look like pirate patches.  The transformation we do requires a bit more imagination on the part of the audience. 

We unzip one suitcase just enough to prop one umbrella up, then fit the second umbrella into the folds of the first one.  One big map with a precut hole is used for the sail.  With our big crowds of 130 or so it's a bit hard for all to see the suitcases on the ground, but putting them up even on a small table just seemed too unnatural; you don't construct a suitcase/umbrella/map pirate ship to look at:  you want to climb on and sail it.  So we kept them on the floor.  To make the conclusion work we veered from the book a bit.  E & P make the transformation from car trip to pirate ship wordlessly, but we narrated a bit to make sure the kids, especially the younger ones, could follow:  "...if we spread this map out, it's like a sail!...I can make my sunglasses look like an eyepatch!..." 
The only downside to doing an Elephant and Piggie in the summer:  There aren't enough books for kids to checkout after the story.  We own 96 copies of E & P and had 6 on the shelf, all checked in just that day.  So clearly the guy who orders early readers  needs a good talking to (oops, that's me...I'll go place an order now.)