Sunday, March 16, 2014

There are Cats in This Puppet Show

Book:  There are Cats in This Book  by Viviane Schwarz
Puppets:   2 Cats
Props:  Blanket, Yarn, Box, 2 Pillows, 2 Fish, Net, Blue Material (for water), Puppet Stage
Presenters:  Two
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 years)

Because our Family Storytimes have big audiences and two people, I don't get that many chances to actually read books to kids.  My main chance comes when preschools and kindergartens come on library visits, and one of the books I love to use is There are Cats in This Book.  It's a great book for interactive sharing, since the cats address the reader/audience directly, and it has physical features like flaps and shaped pages that are very purposeful and effective.  When Sheila and I did a "Librarians' Choice" theme, I considered this favorite of mine and how we could do it with a larger audience.  Turns out it translates pretty well into a puppet show.

I'm  behind the stage with two cats (instead of the three from the book).  Sheila narrates and does some audience interaction, the way you would if you were reading the book.  So she starts with "There are cats in this puppet show.  The cats aren't on the stage yet" (in the book it's:  "the cats aren't on this page").  I lift the cats up under a blanket.  Sheila talks to the audience:  "Should we lift the blanket?"   The cats appear and we go through most of the elements from the book.  The cats talk sometimes to the audience and sometimes to each other.  So it's:  "You look nice" to the audience and "I wonder what else in this puppet show..." When Sheila pulls out a ball of Yarn and tosses it up and down so the cats can see it, it's:  "Do you think there's yarn in this puppet show?"   Sheila brings the audience in again:  "Do you think cats like yarn...?"

Sheila picks a child from the front row and asks her to give the yarn to the cats.  This worked very well mostly.  The kids did a nice job of handing the objects to the cats, and it made the interactive elements even stronger.  The only tricky part is choosing the child quickly enough so the focus stays on the puppet show and not on the clamoring to get picked.  Once they have the yarn, the cats play with a little bit, then intentionally tangle themselves up in them.  They ask Sheila for help and she untangles them.  The cats say:  "I wonder what else is in this puppet show?  And Sheila picks up a Box. 

That pattern repeats:  Sheila gets an item, the cats wonder if it will be in the puppet show, a child (or two) gives the object to the puppets, and the cats play with them.  With the Box, they dance on it, climb it, then fall offstage with it, reappearing hidden under it; when Sheila opens it, they pop out.  With Pillows, the cats rest on them ("Cozy pillow!  Comfy pillow!") then one says:  "you know what else you can do with a pillow?....Pillow Fight!"  After they bop each other a few times, one throws a pillow at Sheila and the other throw one into the crowd.  The Fish dive offstage with the cats holding on, then the cats rise back up under a piece of blue thin fabric (and say "we're underwater" just in case the kids don't get what the fabric's supposed to be).  At the same time Sheila squirts the audience so they get the water effect as well.  We added a Net, which Sheila uses to rescue the cats from the water.    

One of my favorite parts of the book is when the cats ask the readers to dry them off.  The audience blows and when you turn the page it has a great illustration of fluffed up cats.  We couldn't work out how to copy that with puppets, so we just have the cats say "we're wet, can you dry us off?", then Sheila asks them all to blow.  The cats just say "I feel fluffy!"  Not quite as cool as the book, but effective enough.  

We end the way the book does, with the cats going back under the blanket, and saying good night.  Sheila says "Did you like the cats?  I think they really liked you," like in the book, and that makes a very satisfying ending.  I liked the way that this was a gentler, calmer story than what we usually do with puppets.  There was enough action (pillow fights, box pop-outs), but it wasn't as wild as we sometimes get. And sometimes that makes it a little easier for the kids to really absorb the story, instead of just reacting to what happens on the stage.

As is typical when you adapt a perfect book, we weren't able to capture everything:  Like the blow-dry effect mentioned above, or the cat the book the three cats have names that kids really enjoy ("Tiny," "Moonbeam," and "Andre") and distinct looks and personalities.  We didn't name our cats, and although I give them different voices of course, there really wasn't room to establish separate personalities.  I think we did capture the spirit of the book, though, and led plenty of families to check out copies, where they'll experience the story in a different format.  


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