Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fish On Stick Steals Hat

Book:   This Is Not My Hat  by Jon Klassen
Puppets:   Fish  (on a stick, copies from book)
Props:   Stick to put the Fish on
Technology:  Scanned images, projector
Performers:   2
Audience:   Family Storytime (but also K-2)

Tomorrow morning is the announcement of the Caldecott, Newbery, and other Youth Media Awards.  I don't have a role in that like I did last year (Newbery Chair), but I got to relive the moment in a different way:  I used one of the award winning books in Storytime.  No, we didn't do a puppet show of The One and Only Ivan...but I've been wanting to do This Is Not My Hat for a while, and since Terri and I had a "Getting Dressed" theme last week, we had the chance.

Using the illustrations was a must, of course, so we scanned a selection of these to project on the screen.  But I also wanted to get Little Fish into a more active role.  First I thought I would use a hand puppet fish and move him around in front of the screen, but no, it has to be the Little Fish from the book.  So we scanned, enlarged, printed, laminated, and stuck it onto a long stick.

I started out with a script that followed the book exactly, but Terri had a perceptive suggestion:  In the book Little Fish says "it" a lot when referring to the hat and "him" when talking about Big Fish.  This works great on the page, but we knew the sparseness of the text would be a challenge for the younger side of our audience.  So we inserted "the hat" and "the Big Fish" several times, just to make it all clear for the 3's and 4's.

For the images, I scanned most, but not all of the images, cropping Little Fish out (since he would be the stick puppet).  So we had a nice background for Little Fish to move around in front of.  Terri sat below the screen, holding the long stick puppet.  She moved Little Fish, mostly from audience's left to right, as he made his escape.  She slipped him behind the screen to the right, then brought him back in front on the left side, so he was always moving left to right.  It kind of worked like a puppet stage when you want to show that continued motion in one direction.  With her moving and me telling and clicking, the timing was a little tricky.  Little Fish's movements across, behind, and back in front of the screen have to match the pace of the story, so it took some rehearsing for the two of us to time it right.  

The effect of the Fish in front of the screen, with the projector light hitting it, was effective, with a nice mottled look.  Terri didn't move the Fish too fast, just sort of floating around.  It was tempting to add a little basic PowerPoint animation, especially when the Big Fish sets out after the Fish, but we left that alone.  In the book, the still images suggest just the right amount of motion, so we didn't change that.
The progression of scans worked very well.  There's that great section where we see the Big Fish sleeping ("he probably won't wake up"); then awake ("he won't notice his hat is missing");  then looking up ("he won't know it was me that took his hat"), then looking forward.  That's a perfect series of illustrations in the book, and they translate quite nicely to scans, where a click substitutes for the page turn.

We ended it pretty much like the book pretty much.  Little Fish goes behind the screen and makes a couple of confident statements from back there ("nobody will find me...") while the audience sees Big Fish approaching on the scans.  Terri shook the screen a bit with the stick to show there's something going on back there.  Then come the slides of the Crab watching and Big Fish floating off with hat on head.

To make sure our young audience got it, we added two questions.  I asked the audience:  "Can you see where the hat is now?" and they did.  Then it was:  "What do you think happened to the Little Fish?"  Most answers were "he got eaten," but some thought he might be back in the plants (and they're not necessarily wrong...he could be back there, unlike the definitely-eaten rabbit in Klassen's I Want My Hat Back).  Terri, meanwhile, has taken Little Fish off of the stick and hidden him with tape behind the screen.  So she comes up and shows us all the empty stick, inciting an extra bit of curiosity about where the puppet fish went.

We've now done the last two Caldecott Medal books in our programs (this one plus A Ball for Daisy), so we'll see what the prospects are for tomorrow's winner.  I know, "potential for adapting into storytime presentation for large audiences using puppets, props, and/or projected images" is not in the Caldecott criteria, but it still could work out...[update:  Locomotive just won the Caldecott Medal...amazing book, but will not be showing up in Storytime]

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pickin' Peas with Puppets or Rabbit Ears

Book:  Pickin' Peas  by Margaret Read MacDonald
Props:   Pillow case (puppet version);  Rope, Rabbit Ears (act-out version)
Puppets:   Rabbit,  Girl
Presenters:   One or Two
Audience:  K-2 (also fine for preschool)
Video:  How to tell Pickin' Peas with Puppets

It makes sense that the books of a storyteller like Margaret Read MacDonald would adapt very neatly into oral and/or puppet presentations, and Pickin' Peas is one of the best.  The story is simple:  Girl picks peas;  Rabbit sneakily picks peas when she's not looking;  Girl catches Rabbit;  Rabbit tricks Girl and escapes.  But it also has strong character interaction, a catchy song, and some great opportunities for hiding, all three of which are excellent act-out/puppetry elements.  I've done it as a two-person act-out, a puppet show with stage, and a puppet story with one person.

Sheila and I acted it out last week when we visited schools to promote our K-2 Book Adventure ("Funny Festival").  She was the little girl and sang the song while she pretended to pick peas:  "Pickin' peas, put 'em in the pail, Pickin' peas, put 'em in the pail."  We didn't use a real pail or anything, just imagination.  Musical notes are on the back of the book, but you can use any tune (you can hear the one I use on the video link above).  As Rabbit, I jump out once she's at the far end of the stage and sing my song ("Pickin' peas, land on my knees") while she's not looking.  Then I hide, she returns to the other side pickin' and singing again.  This time I follow a ways behind, and when she looks behind I hop back to hide. She returns for one more row of picking, with more popping out and hiding.  You can play this part up and kind of improvise, which is lots of fun.

Finally the Girl hides, and when Rabbit thinks the coast is clear, she jumps out and wraps a rope around him.  In the book, she takes him back to her kitchen, but we just have them stay in the pea patch.  Rabbit convinces her to let him go so he can show her his dance, which is really his trick to escape.  When he gets to the "here" of "Heard my momma calling me right over here!" he takes one jump away and she grabs him back.  The second time through it's two big jumps, and the third time, he gets away after a bit of a chase. 

The book ends with a nice rhyme for Rabbit ("gonna eat all I want, cause you can't catch me!"), but with  I like to end it with a rhyme from the Girl:  "I picked some peas, I put 'em in my pail / And that is the end of this pea pickin' tail!"  Another addition I like to use:  Rabbit's "land on my knees" refrain is fun, but I like to make it a bit more silly by throwing in other rhymes:  "Pickin' peas....:  climbin' up the trees...I got a lotta fleas...think I lost my keys....I know my abc's..."

The tale is great for acting out like this because the kids so easily get the gist of the story and the dynamic between the two characters.  The visual elements of hiding, finding, catching, chasing, and escaping are all simple to perform, but very engaging to the audience.

For our actual K-2 Book Adventure event, we did the same story with puppets, using our stage.  It's an easy transition for the tellers.  We used the same script.  Going up and down the rows of peas was just back and forth across the stage.  Rabbit was able to do a little more hiding and peeking as a puppet with a curtain and all.  And the timing of Girl looking and Rabbit hiding at the same time took just a bit of long as both puppeteers do it fairly slowly, it works great.  Instead of roping Rabbit, Girl stuffs him in a pillow case, and Rabbit trying to dance from inside it, where you can just see his shape bouncing around, is a good visual moment.  Once he's out, you have to time Rabbit's failed escape hops right.  Again, slowing it down almost to slow motion works:  Rabbit takes off with a jump to the right, then Girl zips towards him, grabs him, and pulls him right back to the spot.  She should look sort of like a rubber band, stretching out to grab him, the snapping back to where she took off.  Another strong visual moment.  When Rabbit escapes, I just loosen him on my hand and toss him so he flies back over the screen of the puppet stage.  You can't do that with a puppet that's tight on you hand, but my raggedy old gray rabbit works very nicely.  

For a video demonstration of the one-person, puppet storytelling version, you can go to the Storytelling with Puppets youtube page.