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.