Monday, April 28, 2014

The Little Red Hen, with or without velcro and felt

Story:  The Little Red Hen  
Puppets:   none
Props:   Laminated shapes, felt board
Presenters:  One or two
Audience:   Family Storytime

Our Family Storytimes all have at least two tellers, but back when I used to do solo ones to smaller crowds, I always included one oral tale in each session.  It was challenging to find a  year's worth of tales that worked for a mostly preschool-age audience, but it was fun.  And some stories were just a natural fit.  Like The Little Red Hen.  It has the key qualities you want in an oral tale for young kids:  An easy to follow pattern, so they can hold the story in their minds without getting confused.  A satisfying twist at the end that makes sense (when the "Not I's" switch to "I will's" and the Hen finally gets to eat the bread she baked.  And a fun piece of participation.

When I tell the story, I have the kids join me with the "Not I" parts.  And we all use different voices for the animals (Dog, Cat, and Pig).  I tell them Dog has a sort of deep voice, and Cat has sort of a meow-y voice, and Pig has a snort-y voice...and after we do Pig's "Not I," we all give one snort.  It's important to emphasize just one snort or things can get out of hand.

I've tried adding participatory actions:  they can pretend to dig, and water, and thresh, and all.  But more often I think it's just a little too much extra and distracts from the forward movement of the story.  Doing "Not I's" only is just about right for the oral version.

For a recent Family Storytime, Terri led a variation of this approach.  She told it using laminated shapes, attaching them with Velcro to our big felt board.  This is a storytelling format that was used a lot at our library in the past, but as crowds got bigger, we've started using scanned images projected on the screen more often, since we can make those pretty big.  But there's something very appealing about actually moving the shapes on a board, and it draws the kids' attention in different ways. Even with the shapes added, it's still essentially an oral tale.  Terri told it, but since we had two of us, I led the kids with the "Not I" bits.

The oven piece included a simple little trick, with two doors where there appears to be one.  So Terri pulled the door open, put in the Bread Dough shape, but when she opened it (using the second door this time), it had turned into baked bread.  One of the reasons it's so fun to tell stories to four year olds:  They're pretty easy to fool.

This was actually just on of three "Little Red Hen" versions we shared as part of our "One Story Three Ways" theme.  A summary of that session will come soon....   

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pat the Bunny, Tap the Screen

Book:  Pat the Bunny  by Dorothy Kunhardt
Puppets:   None
Props:   None
Technology:   iPad, App, Projector
Presenters:   2, could be done with 1
Audience:   Family Storytime (mostly ages 3-7)

We use technology frequently in our storytelling at our library, but usually it's been PowerPoint, either to scan and project illustrations or to add different visual effects, or some combination of those.  We've been looking at picture book apps, looking for ones that really fit in with the other stuff we do.  ;Most of what we've seen didn't seem workable for our storytimes.  A few weeks ago, though, Brad and Terri used Pat the Bunny and it was a much better fit.  Their theme was "Classics," and I thought their idea of using an eminently classic book (65 years old, 6 million copies sold, ground-breaking book-making) in an electronic form was a nice twist.  It's an app that parallels the book pretty effectively, and also one that we can't share in book form in a large storytime in any other way we can think of.  Brad and Terri did a good job of thinking through the pieces of an app presentation:

Technology:  That was pretty simple.  We used a VGA adaptor so we could project from the iPad screen onto our big screen.  

Set Up:  Brad propped the ipad on a table so the audience could see it.  They couldn't see the details on the screen well, but they recognized that this was the device he was using and saw that his fingers on the iPad screen (and later the fingers of other kids) were causing the action on the big screen.  He also set the book right next to it to emphasize that print-screen connection.

Introduction:  This was pretty important.  We wanted to celebrate the classic book, and at the same time acknowledge a new format.  Brad showed the book (we bought a couple of the extra large versions), gave a bit of its history, and showed a few sample pages.  Segueing to the app, he mentioned how it's the adult/child interaction that really makes a book (or an app) come alive and that's where the real learning and engagement comes in (but he said it better than that). 

Demonstration:   Brad demonstrated a few pages from the app.  He explained each thing he was doing:  "I'm going to tap these ducks.  Watch what happens to them on the screen."  And getting interaction from the audience:  "What do you think will happen if I touch this frog?"  The goal wasn't to dazzle the kids with some cool animation and sound effects, but to demonstrate, to kids and grown-ups, how an app can be fun and interactive.  

Volunteers:  After a few of those, it was time for kids to give it a try.  Terri managed the volunteers, making sure we had one at a time at the screen, plus one on deck to be the next to try.  As they arrived, Brad would help as much or as little as needed.  In some cases he could just say:  "See what happens if you touch the snowman?" and an experienced pad user could take it from there.  Other times he had to guide their hands, or even touch the pad with them.  I wasn't sure this would work.  I thought maybe that while the chosen child was having an interesting time, the audience would get bored or restless.  But the app was simple enough and Brad guided them smoothly enough that there was minimal time between actions up on the big screen.  So the audience enjoyed the visuals, and also got to see how easily kids could work with the ipad. 

Follow Up:   Pat the Bunny was the last segment of the Storytime, so when it was over, Brad and Terri invited kids to come up and try out both the book and the app.  We had four copies of the book, and we had lots of kids trying out both the print and electronic version.

Patron Reaction:   I was on the Children's Desk after this storytime and asked many of the attendees what they thought of the use of an app in our Storytime.  All of the responses were positive.  I think because they're already used to seeing us use the screen in many different ways as part of our storytelling, they took it in stride pretty well.  Several people were particularly impressed with the Pat the Bunny app.  One mom said:  "we have an iPad and there's just so much out there, I don't know what's good for my kids.  We'll definitely add Pat the Bunny."  Which is similar to the reaction we shoot for with books, as we introduce

Staff Reaction:   This worked for me.  I can't think of a better way to share this book with a large group.  It flowed very smoothly within our Storytime format.  It met several of our Family Storytime touchstones:  Engaged the group; Generated excitement about literature; Was interactive;  Highlighted high quality examples of the material;  Modeled ways for parents to interact with literature; and:  Was fun.
So just as we try to introduce the best books to kids in Storytime (they also saw Caps for Sale and The Carrot Seed that morning), we can also highlight the best apps.  I don't see most of the apps I've looked at working well in Storytime, but after seeing what Brad and Terri did with Pat I'm ready to say that a well-chosen app with a carefully developed presentation can work well....and anything short of that might not be worth trying.  

Moving with No David

Book:  No, David!  by David Shannon
Props:  None
Puppets:  None
Technology:  Scanned Images and Projector
Presenters:  One or more

With our themed "K-2 Book Adventure" programs we always insert a couple of segments that get the kids up and moving, since we usually run 40-45 minutes.  I like it best when we can use an actual book that fits our theme to cover this.  No David is one example, and we've used it both times for our "Caldecott Celebration" theme.  It seems like many kids have met David by the time they reach early element by this age, but that's good, because we don't actually read the whole book.  Instead we show selected illustrations and have the kids do whatever David's doing.  We've scanned the images and put them into PowerPoint, so we can regulate the activity pretty well.  We tell the kids that we'll stay in one place and do what David does, then show David in action:

And everyone Jumps up and down.  But we've also cued them that when they see the words "No, David!" they have to say the words and freeze.  So we click and the label zooms out at them:

And everyone stops.  It's pretty simple, but very effective.  Having a clear visual cue as a transition is so much smoother than saying (or shouting, because you'd probably need to) the words.  And then once they're frozen, all eyes are on the screen to see what's next.  We did Climbing (as he goes for the cookie jar), Swinging a baseball bat, Chewing (that great illustration with his wide open food-filled mouth).  And a couple that were extra fun:  When Running appears we make a hurried announcement that everyone must keep their clothes on, which always gets a few giggles:

And when this next one appears, we pretend to be all surprised and click again so that it disappears almost immediately.  We say, with mock horror:  "We didn't mean to include that one:  nobody should do that."

And of course we finish it off like the book, with David calm, his mother hugging him, and "Yes David."

So it's one book that works well as a stretch, while also conveying the fun and playfulness of the story.  And I also like to use it because it shows that a goofy book with illustrations that are kind of child-like can be worthy of the Caldecott.  I doubt that means much to any kids, but it pleases me.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gulls Copying Puffin

Don't Copy Me  by Jonathan Allen

Puppets:  none
Props:   none
Technology:  none
Child Volunteers:   two or three
Presenters:   two
Audience:   Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

We often like to get kids up to help us tell during Family Storytime, but some stories work better than others.  You want the kids to have stuff that's not that hard to do, but you also want their actions to be a meaningful part of the story.  Don't Copy Me meets the second condition every time, and the first one most of the time.  For our "Silly Stories" themed sessions, Sheila and I did this one as an act-out.
The story features a puffin and three gull chicks.  We didn't bother with costumes or hats or anything like that, it was just:  "I'm a puffin; these guys are gulls," and that was fine, especially since the animal species don't really affect the plot.  Plus the story is familiar to most kids, because who hasn't done the copying thing just to be annoying to a sibling.  Well maybe not the three year olds, but they'll learn soon enough.  As Puffin, I tell the audience that I want to take a walk by myself, while Sheila, as Gull #1, is prepping two child volunteers for what they need to do:  copy the way I move and repeat what I say.  So I walk across the stage with exaggerated steps, then they follow me.  I stop, they stop.  I walk, they walk.  Pretty simple, and the audience instantly gets what's going on.

Then it's "Are you following me?" followed by (when it goes just right) Sheila saying the same thing, then child #1 saying it followed by child #2 saying it.  Which happened maybe two out of six times.  Other times we had both kids saying it together, which was just as good.  Or one child saying it perfectly and the other one not saying a word.  And that's really okay too. By the last couple sessions we decided that we should have three kids instead of two, to increase our chances of getting at least two to play along all the way.  That worked just fine.

When the kids were less vocal, I just did a few more actions and used a few less lines.  It's easier for the kids to do what you do than it is to say what you say.  I ran fast across the stage, they followed.  I crawled fast across the stage, they followed.  (And skinned my knee on the rug...I'm okay, but still have a scab on my knee four days later...nobody said being a children's librarian is painless) 

When Puffin finally has an idea to trick the Gulls, we wanted to make sure everyone in the audience will follow it, so I tell them (in a whisper-y voice so the Gulls don't copy) that I have a plan.  And when the plan works (Puffin sits perfectly still; Gulls get fidgety; Puffin sees them out of the corner of his eye;  Sheila tells other Gulls "this is boring" and they all leave, hiding before our trifold backdrop).  Then Puffin addresses the audience again, explaining the trick just in case anyone didn't quite get it.  And they may need to know that trick themselves if someone pulls the copying game on them some day.

For the finale, Puffin resumes his original walk, and of course the Gulls reappear to copy him again.  We finished with Puffin saying "The end!"....and the Gulls repeating the same words.  Since we did our usual four sessions during the week, plus two more for visiting Head Start classes, we had plenty of chances to work this story out.  It was fun each time, and we concluded that it's best of all when we picked three kids and when the Puffin didn't crawl across the rug and skin his knees...he's been doing stories a long time and should know better by now.     

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Charlie and Lola at the Library

Book:  But Excuse Me That is My Book  by Lauren Child
Puppets:  None
Props:   Books
Presenters:  Two
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

We don't tend to seek out picture books based on tv cartoons for storytime, but this one is just too much fun.  And Charlie and Lola did start out in picture books, it's just that this particular story appeared first in animated form.  I'm also not always always crazy about book with strong messages about libraries reading...wait, that doesn't sound right, does it?  I just mean books with over-obvious, heavy-handed messages.  And this one avoids that nicely because Lola is just such a funny kid.

In the story, Lola wants to check her favorite book (Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies) out of the library, but when she gets there it's gone.  Charlie finally convinces her to try a different book (Cheetahs and Chimpanzees) and it becomes her new favorite.  Not much to it, but Lola's personality fills it with all kinds of humor.  Sheila and I presented it as a two-person act out.  The book's illustrations are quite effective, which usually isn't the case when they come from an animated presentation.

We talked about getting the illustrations into it somehow....maybe scanning some images and using them as background.  But in the end we decided that it's really a character driven story and we'd let them carry it.

Charlie does a bit of narration, but it's mostly dialogue between the two.  We trimmed a fair amount from the book, but kept the language because it's so key to Lola's persona:   "the bugs are quite buggy and the butterflies are really beautiful and the beetles are very silly. The beetle gets stuck!  And his legs are very funny!  And he can't turn over!"  Charlie interrupts to remind her that Dad's waiting, and she finishes with:  "All his funny little legs, Charlie!"

So this is an act-out where the presenter really needs to get into the character.  Sheila used Lola's words and had great facial expressions and physical gestures.  You should have seen her holding her arms out stiffly in front of her as she said:  "All his funny little legs!"

Once they get to the library and the book's not there, Charlie recommends some other books for Lola.  Of course the books are the kind that seem especially interesting to Charlie:  dinosaurs, castles, and the like.  So his love of books comes through too as he tries to convince her.  We had a short stack of books on a table that Charlie pulled from to show Lola.  This was one bit we shortened from the book, just having Lola look at three books and reject them.  Meanwhile, before Storytime started, we had given a copy of Beetles Bugs and Butterflies to an adult in the audience.  Not that actual book, which I think is made up, but a book with bugs on the cover and "Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies" printed out and taped over the real title.  When Sheila points to the adult volunteer, that's her cue to stand up and walk out of the room.  Which sets up Lola's despair at realizing that "her" book has been checked out by someone else.

In the end, Lola tries one of Charlie's recommendations and loves it even more.  And we did the same thing with Cheetahs and Chimpanzees:  found a book with a likely cover illustration and taped a new title over it.  As for the messages, they comes out very naturally in the story, as Charlie tries to explain how people share library books and Lola demonstrates how much a single book can mean to a child.  I actually like both of those messages a lot....but I like Sheila (as Lola) imitating the funny little beetles even more.