Sunday, May 25, 2014

We Are in a Book on a Screen

Book:  We Are in a Book!  by Mo Willems
Puppets:  None
Props:  Elephant hat, Piggie ears (or similar)
Technology:   Scanned word bubbles and projector
Presenters:  Two
Audience:   K-2

We've done plenty of Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie stories at our library, both as two-person act-outs and as one-person puppet stories (including I Am Going, I Broke My TrunkI'm a FrogLet's Go for a Driveand Watch Me Throw the Ball).  But I always just dismissed my favorite E & P book, We Are in a Book, as not suitable for Storytime.  Then I learned that Rick Samuelson of Washington County Cooperative Library System (Rick can be seen in WCCLS's excellent Fingerplay Fun Youtube pages) had adapted it as a stage puppet show (neatly re-titled as "We Are in a Puppet Show").  I never got to see Rick's show, but it got me thinking again about the book, and finally Sheila and I got a chance to do it for one of our K-2 Book Adventure programs.

Using PowerPoint and our Projector and Screen was the key.  We made a series of slides to replicate the book.  Each slide has a frame, with a page number down on the bottom right.  And clicks make the word bubbles appear.  So all we had to do was read from the word bubbles.  Which actually isn't that easy, because they're behind you, but a quick glance was all we needed.  (Sure, memorizing would have been even better, but sometimes there's just not time for that).  

When the book begins, E and P are just on the page, not realizing they are in a book:

Then Gerald looks out at the audience and tells Piggie that they are being watched.  We had some fun with that, stepping away from the screen and towards the audience, then back against the screen, trying to match the great scene in the book where Piggie looks out at the readers:

Then we realize we're in a book:

After that, the two have fun by getting the readers to say "banana."  This was the one part I wasn't sure would work.  I wondered if the kids would read all of the word bubbles out loud, so that when "banana" appeared on the screen the joke wouldn't work so well.  But it was fine.  A couple kids were reading aloud most of the way, but when Sheila/Piggie introduced the plan and said "Here I go...," and the word "BANANA" appeared in a word bubble, everyone said it.  As Gerald says:  "so funny!"
Then things take a different meta-turn when Piggie realizes the book will end.  In the book, Piggie appears to peel back the bottom right-hand pages to find out what the last page number is.  That worked fine in our version:  Sheila peeked behind the bottom corner of the screen, where the page numbers would be if it were a book.  

Then Gerald starts fretting about the book ending too fast as each page turns:  

And here's how the real corresponding page looks:

It all finally ends with Piggie's fine idea of having Gerald ask the kids to "read us again."  Which fit neatly into our program, since with our K-2 Book Adventure events we always have multiple copies of the books we feature, and the kids really did go check those out.  And read them, we hope.

The only problem with this way of doing the story is that we couldn't use it when we went out to schools to promote the event, as we do each month.  We really needed the word bubbles and mock-page for this one.   No problem, though:  we just substituted another E & P: I'm a Frog, and you don't need anything for that (though pig ears and elephant hat do help).

As for We Are in a Book, in the Slate Book Review, David Plotz says that this book "is arguably the most disturbing book published in America since The Road."  Sheila and I talked about it, though, and we decided that it's challenging enough to adapt Mo Willems....we'll pass on Cormac McCarthy for now. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Carrot Seed: 1945 Book + 1950 Record = 2014 Storytime

Book - The Carrot Seed  by Ruth Krauss, Illustrated by Crockett Johnson
Puppets:   None
Props:   Box for garden, Flibber, Big Carrot, Simple costumes stuff for Little Boy, Mother, Father, and Brother
Technology:  Audio of the 1950 recording of the book
Presenters:  Two
Audience:  Family Storytime  (mostly ages 3-6)

Sheila, Brad, and Terri have all done The Carrot Seed since it was developed in a very cool way (by Sheila and Brad) a few years ago.  None of the stories we've done is anything quite like this.  It's always been one of my favorites to watch, but I haven't written about it on this blog partly because it's easier to write when you've done it, not just watched it, but mostly because I really just couldn't figure out to describe it with words and pictures.  So we filmed it this time, and I'm hoping watching the video clip below will make sense along this written description.

It started when Sheila found this old recording of the book on the web from 1950, narrated by Norman Rose (a classic voice, whose roles included "Death" in Woody Allen's Love and Death and the Juan Valdez Columbian Coffee Commercials).  Brad downloaded the recording from the web, then edited it a bit.

Then we act it out, kind of mock-lip-synching to the narration.  In our recent Family Storytime, I was the Little Boy, wearing a beanie and standing on my knees (it's hard to pull of Little Boy when you're 6' 3").

We covered a wooden cart with brown butcher paper for the garden and put our big carrot and a flibber inside (see below for flibber details).  It's pretty funny when I mouth along to the Little Boy's songs.  But then Brad comes out, first as the Mother, with an apron on, and we hear the Mother's high, old-fashioned singing voice coming from him, and it's really funny.  He quickly changes props to become Father, then switches again and hops on a scooter to portray the Brother.  In between each of these, the Little Boy sings that catchy little song.

When the carrot finally comes up, I reach into the box to pull out the flibber, which grows and kind of "blossoms" as you pull it apart.  Flibbers don't always work perfectly, but usually well enough.  I hold the end of the flibber to the top of the stuffed carrot to make an impressively sized carrot.

Then Brad comes out again as Mother, then Father, then Brother, but this time he has to switch very quickly (by layering the props and wearing all at once, then taking them off), which always gets another big laugh.  You can see the whole thing here:  

About Flibbers:  Sheila kindly constructed our flibber, which I learned to make from Robert Lopshire's excellent How to Make Flibbers, Etc.: A Book of Things to Make and Do.  The book is long out of print but the flibber instructions from it are here.

About Big Stuffed Vegetables:   The stuffed carrot is one we got at Ikea...they also have broccoli and strawberry and we seem to use all three pretty regularly. You never know when you'll need a big stuffed vegetable.

About Old Children's Records The Carrot Seed also appears on a very cool website called "Kiddie Records Weekly," which has dozens of recordings from "the Golden Age of Children's Records" which was in the 40's and 50's.  You can stream or download The Pied Piper of Hamelin narrated by Ingrid Bergman, Gene Kelley doing The Little Red Hen, and a Disney recording of "Robin Hood," that I think might be the exact same one that I had as a kid (though we had 33's, not 78's...I'm not that old).  Not that I think we'll use more of these in Storytime or anything, but it's a pretty interesting site, especially if you grew up listening to stories on records as I was lucky enough to get to do (thanks, Mom).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Measuring Scanned Birds, Inch by Inch

Book:  Inch by Inch  by Leo Lionni
Puppets:   Inchworm
Props:   None
Technology:   Scanned Images Projected
Presenters:  1
Audience:   Family Storytime  (mostly 3-6 year olds)

A long time ago, when I was still trying the occasional felt story, I put together a felt version of Inch By Inch.  I traced the birds from the book and used a little finger puppet worm to measure each one...I think it was just a green tube with an eye on it.  I soon decided that cutting things out of felt was not a skill I had and never would be, but this is one of the stories I remember as being pretty easy to create and fun to do.

A couple decades later, it was interesting to take the same idea and use a mix of technology and puppetry to tell it again.  In the book, an inchworm measures a bunch of birds.  When a nightingale insists that he measure her song, he inches away to safety while the bird sings.  

For the PowerPoint presentation, I scanned each bird illustration from the book.  For an inchworm, I made a simple stick puppet, based on the ones on this neat Etsy page.  I don't make puppets often, so you know this couldn't have been hard.  Just a couple of dowels, a green boa thing we had around, and two big google eyes.

When each bird appears, the inchworm measures it.  That just means slowly moving the rods together and apart to make the worm inch along the screen.  I asked the kids to count along with me, from the long neck of the Flamingo (10 measurements) to "the whole Hummingbird" (just 1).

As always when you're interacting with the screen, you have to remember to make the puppet do its things, but also be sure to face the audience most of the time, since you're the storyteller, not just the puppeteer.

The story is so simple that it's easy to learn, and captures the kids' attention very nicely.  I did try to memorize the author's phrasing, because I just like the way he writes ("an inchworm, green as an emerald...") And the scanning was straightforward, since Lionni's illustrations are so compelling.  I did have to make sure to white out the inchworm from each image, since I had my own.  When the Robin carries the inchworm "to where other birds wanted to be measured," I put the puppet alongside the Robin's back and had the image fly slowly across the screen (with a Motion Path from PowerPoint), bringing the puppet along with it.

Our other effect was to add a clip of an actual Nightingale song downloaded from  The song played while the inchworm "measured away, measured and measured, inch by inch...," with the puppet inching along the plants across the screen.   When he finally "inched out of sight," the puppet slips behind the screen.

It all stayed true to the book, but the technology/puppet combination made it work quite nicely for our big groups.  Plus I kind of enjoy using technology to present a classic.  One that's so old, as I mentioned in my introduction, that it was first published the same year I was born! Which I don't think means that much to the preschoolers, but it boggles my mind a bit. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Little Red Hen, Three Ways

Story #1:    The Little Red Hen with felt
Story #2:    The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza with puppets (from the book by Philomen Sturges, illustrated by Amy Walrod)
Story #3:    The Little Red Pirate (a Brad Clark original)
Puppets:  Hen, Cat, Dog, Pig (#2)
Props:  Laminated Shapes and Felt Board (Version #1);  Flower, Rolling Pin, Penguin, Pizza (#2);  Pirate clothes, Parrot, Treasure Chest, Squirt Bottles (#3)
Technology:  none
Audience:  Family Story Time (mostly 3-7 year olds)

Once a year we do a "One Story Three Ways" theme in Family Storytime.  In previous years we've featured "The Three Pigs," "The Three Bears," and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," but this year we broke our "Three" streak and tried "The Little Red Hen." 

We started with a traditional version, which Terri told using our big felt board and laminated, velcroed figures.  Details of this version are on a previous post.   We always like to start this three-version program with a pretty straightforward one.  This way the kids have the basics down and will recognize the parallels and get the jokes (well, some of them anyway) when we do the broader variations.  The child participation parts of this version do even more to help the kids know the story.  

For version two, we did a broad adaption of The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza by Philomen Sturgis.  We made it "The Little Red Rooster..." instead, mostly because my hen puppets is pretty static, while my Rooster is very nimble and animated.  Rooster was above the curtain, asking his three friends for help.  Dog and Cat each say the expected "Not I," but Pig replies with an "I Will!" and proceeds to bring Rooster the wrong thing:   a Flower instead of some Flour; a Squeaky Hammer instead of a Rolling Pin;  and a Penguin instead of a Pepperoni.  That penguin didn't really make much sense, but I just really liked the idea of something completely nonsensical, plus having little Rooster toss a big Penguin puppet behind the stage is a pretty fun visual.  At the end, Rooster wants to just look at
his pizza, then can't figure out what else to do with it.  When his friends suggest that he should eat it, he rewards that great idea by sharing it with them.  All three of us were behind the stage for this one; it could probably be done with two, but three made prop handling and movement nice and smooth.

For the last version, Terri and I got to just relax while Brad told his original story of The Little Red Pirate.  Brad does performances at several dozen other libraries all over the state, and this was one of his featured stories last summer.  He brings up two volunteers to be Polly the Parrot, and the First Mate, while the rest of the audience is The Crew.  So everyone gets their chance to do "Not I!" when Brad (as the Little Red Pirate) asks for help in finding the treasure.  Steps include Lifting the Anchor, Steering the Boat, Rowing the Dinghy, and Digging for Treasure.

Brad always does a great job of working with the child volunteers.  In one session, the First Mate volunteer did not want to play.  We could tell because he said:  "I'm not doing this."  But he stayed up there and Brad turned his defiance into a character trait, making it lots of fun without making fun of the boy at all.  There's also an excellent ending:  When we finally see the Treasure Chest and The L. R. Pirate points out that no one helped him, he decides they should all....Walk the Plank!, at which point Brad pulls two squirt bottles out of the chest and squirts everybody.  

We had lots of copies of different versions of The Little Red Hen available for checkout, but we had to tell the audience that there was no book version of The Three Little Pirates...yet.  Brad is actually working on finding a publisher for this and for a couple of other stories, and I'm sure it's just a matter of time before he'll be a published picture book author.  Wouldn't you use this book in storytime?

Here's a short video clip from Brad's story:  It starts from the point where The Little Red Pirate is Reading the Map, then has Digging the Treasure, and the excellent squirt bottle ending.....

This "One Story Three Ways" theme is always a fun one to put together, but it also has a purpose.  We always mention that by telling a story and retelling it in different ways we're playing with our narrative skills, just like kids do when they play and act out based on books.