Sunday, August 31, 2014

Funny Food + Scott Joplin

Book:  Food Play  by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers
Puppets:  none
Props:   Selected images from the books, scanned, printed, and laminated
Presenters:   one
Audience:   Toddler Time  (1's and 2's)

Saxton Freymann & Joost Elfers have done a bunch of books with photographs of fruits and vegetables put together to look like people, animals, and other stuff.  They're really amazingly creative and kids love to look at them.  We've used them more than once for our "Food in Fact and Fiction" K-2 Book Adventures program, putting scanned photos into a slide show that we ran with musical accompaniment.

Later, we used an adapted version of that in Family Storytime.  I decided to give it a try in Toddler Time, but there's just one thing:  we never, ever do anything in Toddler Time that puts the pages of a book on the screen.  Although I've really enjoyed our creative uses of the screen with stories for older kids, we're not going there with 1's and 2's.  Also, our Toddler Time crowd is small enough (20-25 kids, but they're little) to see pictures pretty well.

So my first thought was to play the music and use the book, just doing page turns.  That didn't work too well, though, because most of the pages have at least two separate images.  Which is great for a book, but in a group presentation you want to be able to focus on one photo at a time.  So I decided to enlarge and print out individual pictures, cropping where needed, and show one piece of funny food at a time.  For our earlier presentation, we selected images from a variety of books, but this time I stuck to just one book, Food Play, which actually consists of pictures from several of the other titles, kind of like a "Greatest Hits" collection.

In our slide show, we utilized three pieces of music, but for Toddlers I stuck with one:  Marvin Hamlisch's recording of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" (aka the Theme from The Sting).  It's an instrumental that has just the right bit of playfulness.  It also has a strong pattern, so you get very strong end-of-line cues on where to do your page turns.  Or in this case, page switches.  The music adds a lot to the experience, and I'm sure there are other tunes that would also work.   I actually did go to the trouble of "transcribing" the music, so I could organize the images neatly.  I don't know anything about music, so my transcription was just a line by line list of sounds, using a "d" for some reason:
    d d d D d D d D  /   d d D d d D d d D
It made sense to me anyway, and did help my planning some, so if anyone wants to try the story and would like the line by line, let me know and I can send it.  I'd also be glad to list the photos I used, but it's also fun to just pick out your favorites.

The song divides neatly into 6 sections, and I picked 4 illustrations for each section, grouping them into similar themes for each section:   Faces, Animals, People, Vehicles, More Animals, and Faces again to end.  With the slide show, we used more illustrations, switching them faster, because clicking for a new slide is seamless.  Also, the toddlers really need more time to absorb what they're seeing.  So doing 4 per section means that I held each one up for about 4 or 5 seconds.

I thought about putting the images on sticks to make them easier to handle, but just using two hands worked fine.  And even though "holding up a picture" sounds simple, Terri pointed out that there should be rhythm and sameness to the appearance of each picture.  So I picked up the picture from the stool on my right, slowly panned it from left to right, then slowly went back right to left, and picked up the next one.  That regularity meant the kids could focus on the images without having to work to track where the picture will be.

This is one where all the work is in the prep.  Choosing the illustrations, scanning, printing, and laminating, and practicing to the music.  You really want the transitions from one picture to the next to match the rhythm of the could work without that, but it's better with.  And then once it's time to tell it, you just put on the music and flip from one picture to the next.

The toddlers really enjoyed it, but I'm sure it was on a different level than the preschool or K-2 groups did.  The older kids see bananas that look like giraffes and are amazed at the cleverness;  toddlers just see giraffes that look kind of silly...and that's okay.  Identifying the fruits is more of a lap activity, and since so many of the Freymann/Jelffers books I had available checked out, I'm sure some of that happens later at home.

A couple weeks later I did this same version for a Family Storytime at the Hillsboro Library, where I'm a sub and do a Sunday Storytime a couple times per month.  We don't have the screen and projector set-up there, so using the pictures and my ipod worked just fine.  The things I was sure to do for Toddlers (fewer pictures, move them slowly and regularly) were equally useful for a mostly 4 and up group, so I really didn't need to change a thing for the older crowd.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tap the Magic Tree on the Screen

Book:  Tap the Magic Tree  by Christie Matheson
Puppets:   None
Props:   None
Technology:  Scanned Images and Projector
Presenters:   One or two
Audience:  Family Storytime  (mostly 3-7 year olds)

Making books interactive by directly involving readers in the action can be pretty cool:  There Are Cats in This Book and Press Here are two of the best examples from recent years.  Tap the Magic Tree takes that interactivity used so effectively in Press Here and fits it into a pleasing book about a year in the life of a tree.  For Family Storytime, we scanned the images, adjusted the placement of the words a bit, and used the PowerPoint click to work as a "page turn."

 The book opens with a bare-limbed tree.

 Readers are told to do different things (like "tap it once"), and when the page turns, we see the effect.  Since we don't want 80 kids rushing up and touching the projection screen, we ask them to tap in the air.  When they do, we click on the PowerPoint remote to bring up the next image, which shows that a green leaf has been added:

In putting the PowerPoint together, we scanned the images and lined them up so that the tree was placed in the same spot for each image.  That way, it would look like the same tree, just with the added item (like the leaf above).  For the first scan (above), we covered up the text.  Then another click makes the text appear:

In the book, the words are sometimes on a facing blank page, so we re-typed all of the words to make them appear alongside the image of the tree.  By doing the text as a second step, instead of simultaneous to the illustration, we could guide the audience's attention properly.  First they see the visual change on the screen.  Then the text appears with the instructions that will lead to the next change.

As the year progresses, the tree changes, and so do the things we ask the kids to do to make it change:

When the tree is full of autumn leaves (above), we all "blow!" and the leaves fall off as we click:

Then we get the whole audience clapping to bring....:

The only other adjustment we made from the book was to put a colored frame around each image.  Borderless works just fine in the book, but we needed frames to make the pictures distinct against our big white screen.  I thought it would be cool to match the color of the frames to a dominant color from the illustration on that page, but I think next time we'll use just one color for the frame so that the change in the illustrations is the only change the audience sees.

It's a nice simple book to scan and tell, but with a very effective impact.  Our scanned PowerPoint presentation is really not different at all from the way we would read it to a smaller group.  I used the book version with my Toddler Time group and it was equally effective, but the scanning allows us to share it with much larger groups.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Online Course on Storytelling with Puppets

If you're interested in learning more about the puppetry side of this blog, this fall I'm teaching an online course called "Storytelling with Puppets" through the ALSC Online Education Program.

Details about the course are here.

The four-week course starts on the week of September 8th, but you can register now.  You register by going to the ALA Online Course Registration Page.

It's a "Moodle" course which is run asychroniously, which means you don't have to login to class on certain dates and times, just go through the assignments and participate in forums when it works for you.

This is the first time I'm teaching the class, but I think it will be fun.  The three main elements will be watching videos of storytelling with puppets, trying out some stories on your own, and sharing what you think and learn online.  The "trying out some stories on your own" part is very flexible.  You do have to tell in front of an audience, but that audience can be a co-worker, spouse, your own kids....anyone as long as they can give you a bit of feedback.  I'm hoping it will be useful to beginners and people who have already spent way too many hours with puppets on their hands.

If you have any questions or want to know more about the course, contact me at or add a comment below.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Three Wishes Acted Out

Story:  The Three Wishes  by Margot Zemach (also other versions)
Puppets:  Wizard/Elf
Props:   Axe, Tree, Sausage
Presenters:   Two
Techonology:  Sound effects - music, magic, spring, burp (optional)
Audience:  Family Storytime (mostly ages 3-6)

I did The Three Wishes once as a puppet show long ago, when I was just starting.  As I remember, I had technical difficulties with the sausage-on-the-nose-of-puppet, so I never tried it again.  I think by now I could work out those problems, but for a recent Preschool Stories and Science session, we did it as a two-person Act Out, and that was much easier.  Sheila and Terri developed the story, but when Sheila missed a day unexpectedly, I got to step in.

Like many folktales, sticking to the bare bones of the story works best with a mostly-preschool audience...and the bare bones are the best parts anyway.  Sheila found a nice accordion music clip to use in the beginning.  It has a nice folktalish feel.  As the Woodcutter, I grabbed my ax and narrated myself into the woods to chop down a tree.   Terri was behind our big tree (which we use for so many stories....if you want to make one big cutout prop to help with a lot of different acted out stories, definitely consider a tree).  As the Elf, she spoke from behind the tree a couple times just as I was about to chop.  Then the puppet popped up and explained that if the Woodcutter spared his home, he would grant three wishes.  Sheila added a nice magical entrance sound effect  to play when the Elf entered and exited.

As I walked away from the tree and back home, Terri walked inconspicuously from behind the tree to behind the home, kind of pretending to be sneaking when it was obvious that everyone could see her.  When you don't have trap doors and underground passages (maybe next year's budget?) for seamless transitions, it's fun to let the audience in on it and have them laugh along with you.

Once home, the Woodcutter is hungry, so I wished for a sausage.  From behind the screen, Terri tossed the sausage over the top.  It's just a construction paper creation, attached to a fishing line so she could control the landing onto the table.  Sheila had added a spring-y sound effect for the sausage's appearance.   Then Terri came out as the Wife, and we went through the back and forth argument about wasted wishes.   When she wishes it was stuck to my nose, we click on the sound effect again and up comes the sausage.  To attach the sausage to my nose, I just held it there:  technical difficulties solved.  Our argument continues as the Wife tries to pull the sausage off of the Woodcutter's nose, with some funny tug-of-war/back-and-forth movements, then she picks up that ax and nearly chops it off.

In the end, of course, they use the third wish to remove the sausage, and at least have a nice meal to show for it all.  We pretend to eat the sausage, the accordion music comes back, and we finish with a final sound effect of a loud burp.  That one is optional, but it did get some laughs.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

More For Bear, But a Few Less Rhymes

Book:  Bear Wants More  by Karma Wilson
Puppets:  Bear, Mouse, Rabbit, Raccoon, Chipmunk (forest animal substitutions ok, except for Bear)
Props:  Grass, Berries, Carrots, Fish, Net (or Fishing Pole), Basket of More Food
Presenters:   One
Audience:   Toddler Time  (1 and 2 year olds)

When I decided to try adapting Bear Wants More into a puppet story for Toddler Time, I knew I’d have to make some pretty big changes.  As a picture book it works great, and Karma Wilson does a better than average job of writing rhymes that really flow easily when you read them.  My problem was, I wasn’t going to read them, I was going to memorize them, and my memory’s not all that good.  So I cut some lines out, simplified some others, and tried not to mangle the author’s flow too much.  

Here’s a section from the book:  “Mouse scampers by with his acorn pail. / “Come along,” Mouse squeaks, “to Strawberry Vale!” / So up Mouse hops onto Bear’s big back. / They tromp through the woods for a fresh fruit snack.”  With pictures from the book and a leisurely storytelling pace, the rich language (“scampers… tromp…”), alliteration (“fresh fruit….Bear’s big back…”) and specificity (Strawberry Vale) all work great. 

With puppets and toddlers, though, I strip it down to the bare bones:   “Mouse scampers by and he’s feeling quite merry / ‘Come along, Bear, let’s find some berries!” No Zolotow Award for that, but it supports the interaction of the puppets, shortens it enough for me to remember, and retains a passable rhyme. Then we skip straight to:  "The berries are sweet / And they eat, eat, eat!"   With puppets and a young group, it works better when the words are direct and simple, even if it means losing some of the poetry and flair.  I made similar adjustments to other sections, keeping to the original whenever I could.

The puppetry part also required a bit of adjusting.  The story starts and ends with Bear's den, and I couldn't work that out until I decided to use my puppet bag for the den.  So I pop Bear out of the den in the beginning (“A bear wakes up very hungry and thin!”).  He nibbles on grass “till the last blade is gone…”  Then I hesitate so the audience will start to join in on the repeated refrain:   “But the bear wants more!” 

Then Bear meets three friends (I use Mouse, Rabbit, and substitute Raccoon for Badger).  Each one invites Bear to join them for food (Berries, Carrots (instead of clover), and Fish), and each time “Bear wants more!” (with the audience joining in).  I was a little rushed that morning and forgot to bring my little fish.  I used my goldfish and you'd think that would be okay, but it's just a little too cute, and the other one just looks more...edible.   You can see from the photo that you'd much rather have Bear nibbling on the little guy than the pretty (and large) goldfish.  The little one looks more like food than a character, at least to toddlers.  They still have plenty of time to learn that meat comes from animals and then promptly become vegetarians (at least that's how it worked with my own kids)  

In the book, several of Bear’s friends prepare a surprise party for Bear while he’s gone.  I trimmed that to just one (Chipmunk) and simplified the party description:  “She gathers a lot of Bear’s best things to eat / So when he gets back he’ll be in for a treat.”  Then Chipmunk puts the food the bag, and I close the zipper a bit.

When Bear returns, the words describe that he’s grown bigger: “Bear is so big…that he can’t fit in!”   And with the zipper more closed, the kids can see that he really can’t fit, and finally gets stuck.  The visual image isn't all that convincing, but the story is so clean and direct that they all got the idea.  

In the book, Badger pries Bear out with a stick, but since I can’t show the inside of the den/bag, I have Mouse pull him out, which is a nice visual puppetry piece.  When he pops out Mouse flings him into a flip in the air then he lands on the bag.   The ending matches the book:  Bear eats all of the party food (which I drop into the bag when he's done) so his friends just sniff at the empty basket while snoring Bear is “full, full, full…but…his friends want more!”     

For that final bit I just grab whichever two puppets are nearest and have them shake their heads atop the sleeping bear.