Five Beautiful Moments from Camp Today

 

tellingSPECIAL REPORT FROM Whole Kids Summer Camp!

SunBee Friends, I feel so blessed to be part of the amazing alchemy of imagination and magic that is going down at NiaMoves this week at Whole Kids Summer Camp.  I’d really like to share five things from today that were absolutely soaked in sunshine and sparkles and enchantment.  You see, it’s hard for me to explain to people about this camp when they ask me because it really is so multidisciplinary.  So perhaps these five jewels will help explain…

  1.  I told the beginning part of “The Crystal and the Whale”, a tale about two children got caught in a storm at sea!  Kids made journals and took some time to write and draw their responses to the story.  One girl mapped out the entire island.  Several showed me their interpretations of the famous “Warrior’s Tattoo” from the story.  Another showed me just what a girl with fins on her ankles and a gill on her forehead, like the main character, would look like.

2.  Theater teacher Gabriela Maya invited the kids to use sounds and movement to create the beginning of their play.  The children began with creating a storm: one was the spirit of the wind, another pair were seagulls pulling at each other’s wings, and another twirled like a spinning tornado.

The Beginning of a Storm!

The Beginning of a Storm!

 

3.  The plot thickens.  Some kids become animals on the island.  Another girl arrives: a human, but the storm gods do not like humans!  Drama.  There was definitely some drama.

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Pounding the floor with feet and hands to create thunder sounds.

4.  Outside, the children work with artist Holly Hudley to create a totem.  On REAL wood with REAL paint!  I dunno, it’s such a thrill when you get to work with a heavy material like actual wood- not cardboard pretending to be wood, but actual timber!

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5.  Speaking of high quality materials: we all screen printed our own T-shirts!  Screen printing is awesome…

 

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PS. Another thing that brought me joy today, although it was unconnected with the kids’ camp, was the contents of the recycling bin at Nia Moves.  Keep calm and kombucha on.

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You know you’re in the Houston Heights when…

The Crystal and the Whale (Stories for a Summer Camp)

One of my characters was inspired by Hawaiian girl surfer Ha'a Keaulana. Photograph by Paul Nicklen for National Geographic.

One of my characters was inspired by Hawaiian girl surfer Ha’a Keaulana. Photograph by Paul Nicklen for National Geographic.

“Could you make up a tale about a peaceful civilization?  What would that look like?”

This question was posed to me by Lisa Gale, who needed such tales for  this year for her wonderful Whole Kids Summer Camp (no relation to Whole Foods).  Lisa is a shamanic yogi who has tossed stories with shanakees in Ireland, and she knows a thing or two about magic.  Our camp theme this year was “tribal, or what makes a community.”

I had been reading Lost Lands by Lucy Cavendish, so my imagination went to the mythical “lost” cities of Lemuria and Atlantis and wove stories about how they might have been.  Two children from the tribal world of Lemuria wash up on the shores of the spaced-aged, tech-happy Atlanta and meet an Atlantean child.  Adventures ensue, including deep sea diving for pearls, crystal healing, riding a whale and a tsunami.

The whackadoodle yet fascinating Australian book about vanished undersea cities.

The wackadoodle yet fascinating Australian book about vanished undersea cities.

Other teachers are going to come in with playwriting, cooking, movement, dance, and art all inspired by the story.  The children will do the same, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.  I’m already brimming with questions to get them going: which would you rather live in, Atlanta or Lemuria?  I made these stories up based on what I imagine they were like… what do you think?  What if you could invent your own tribe and community and civilization?

I will be recording these stories and hope to have them on MP3 soon.  Thus I shall now say “to be continued…” I will update this post so it has some actual tales on it! The stories are conceived for kids 6 to about 9.  This will take me into the realm of recording technology where I have never traveled, but I figure if I can dream up the streets of Atlanta I can handle this!

Here is a bit of the magic that took place last year at Whole Kids Camp, which still has spots left.  Register here (when you click on the link, you gotta scroll down a bit).

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Storytelling

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Art installation: under the sea

 

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This looks like an innocent milk carton, but it’s actually the statue of a wicked empire with a deadly curse trapped inside.

 

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Using a sheet they painted the day before to create the underwater dragon’s cave!

Native American Stories for Earth Day

April’s stories revolve around Earth Day.  The Earth Day Houston festivities put together by Air Alliance Houston will be happening in Sam Houston Park on Saturday the 16th, and I will be telling some tales there at 2:40.  It’s all free, so do stop by!

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This month in SunBee we will be telling a series of shorter stories from some of my favorite books ever- the Keepers Series by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.  I’ve decided to be a bit drier than usual in this blog post and just share with you my lesson plan for the month.   The lessons in the books tend to be more for older children.  I made this plan for my students aged 4-7.  If you have access to the Keepers books (I first discovered them in the Houston Public Library) you may like to use it for your class or children.

Part 1: Taking Care of the Earth: What is Stewardship?

We will hear The People of Maize and The Woman who Lives in the Earth from  Keepers of Life, which teach us about two kinds of people: those who know how to take care of the earth and those who don’t.

Part 2: Dreaming of Trees

We will consider our tree friends in Why Some Trees are Always Green and learn How Fox Brought the Forests From the Sky, also from  Keepers of Life.

Part 3: Can the Earth Really Die?

To finish off our Earth Day Month I’ll draw from Keepers of the Animals and Keepers of the Earth.  The tale of White Buffalo Calf Woman and the Sacred Pipe is a Lakota Sioux tale about good stewardship of the earth.  But the tales of The Passing of the Buffalo and The Lake of the Wounded (animals) deal with extinct animals and vanished resources.  They confront the tragic truth that what we destroy now will be gone forever, and we have already lost so much.

But I don’t want to leave the kids with a feeling of helplessness.  I want them to feel empowered! So after hearing these stories I will introduce them to the endangered species on the World Wildlife Fund web page, which is really cool because it gives you many endangered animals to choose from, and you can make a donation to protect your favorite one.  WWF will send you a certificate and everything.

The kids will vote on the animal they’d like to sponsor, and brainstorm ways to earn money for the 55$ it costs.  I hope to show them that while Earth’s problems are serious, it’s not too late and there’s always something that can be done.  And that the future belongs to them.

"White Buffalo Woman" Maxine Noel (Santee Sioux)

“White Buffalo Woman” Maxine Noel (Santee Sioux)

 

Shadow Puppets in the World of Hans Christian Andersen

A SunBee mom lent me a lovely new edition of  The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen.  (Anyone who knows my love of vintage illustration will realize why I love this book!)  It’s also available at the Jung Center bookstore in Houston.  We are immersing ourselves in “The Ugly Duckling” and “Thumbelina” in SunBee this month.  Both are tales of a highly sensitive being who doesn’t fit in, but come spring time, each finds their place in the world.

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Thumblina (Illustration by Brooke Bailey)

Andersen’s tales are richly visual and have inspired many artists including myself.  So it seemed like a good time to try shadow puppets with the kids, which I have always wanted to do ever since learning the technique from artist Justin Dunford at Gina Vazquez’s wonderfully creative summer camp Flor y Canto several summers ago.  Justin’s materials were very simple: the sort of thin cardboard cereal boxes are made of, tape, and those very thin shish kebab sticks.  Because my kids are much younger than the kids at that camp, I used straws (less poky), animal foam stickers, doilies, and some stencils for the kids to trace.

You draw or trace your character on the cardboard, cut it out, and tape it on a straw.  So much for puppets.

For the theater, I used a packing box and white paper, and duct tape for the edges.  I got the idea from this link about how to make a simple theater. The only thing I changed: I kept a sort of “frame” around the “screen” to prevent the whole box from flopping over and taking a nap mid-performance.

 

 

The kids enjoyed this so much one rainy afternoon that we will be working on it all of March!  To the stage!

Friend. (Thumbelina illustration by Brooke Bailey)

Oh, Those Russians

Oh, snap!  SunBee friends, I am posting my January stories at the beginning of February!  That’s all right, because we have a bit more cold weather before us, and that is just perfect for Russian tales.  Also, I have the wonderful opportunity to share with you the kids’ reactions to these stories, as we have been telling them all month.

I focused on two Russian tales.  The first is the Firebird, also called Ivan, Firebird and Gray Wolf in the version I used.  This is appropriate because while the Firebird is a beautiful prize, the true heart of the tale is the young tsarevich Ivan’s relationship with Gray Wolf.  Gray Wolf can be dangerous if he wants to, but he chooses to help Ivan and oh, what a powerful, crafty, and wise friend to have on your side.

Gray Wolf by SunBee student

Gray Wolf by SunBee student

The children were fascinated by Gray Wolf.  I found this to be an especially popular story with boys: a youngest son, a difficult quest, and a REALLY badass helper on your side.  “This is the best story EVER,” declared one six year old.  (And he’s kind of a tough customer, I can tell you.)

Firebird in the Garden, by SunBee student

Firebird in the Garden, by SunBee student

I wanted a story with a girl protagonist after that, and remembered an image from a book I bought in college at a little Russian shop in a snowy street in Manhattan some fifteen years ago.  A young woman in a dark woods with a lighted skull… Vasalissa.

Vasalissa by Ivan Bilibin, circa 1900

Vasalissa by Ivan Bilibin, circa 1900

The story came up again recently when I was reading the incredible Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  A version of Vasalissa is in that book, and it really called to me.  Here is another story about a neglected young person.  Like Ivan, the pretty people in Vasalissa’s world are mean as rats, and the terrible scary being in the forest (in this case, the witch Baba Yaga) ends up being a powerful friend.  The children were fascinated by the descriptions of Baba Yaga’s house (that it stands on chicken legs and dances around is only the beginning!) We were stuck inside that day because of rain, and they were cranking out drawing after drawing of Vasalissa, the dark forest, the wise but wild witch.

Russian stories seem to me to have such a wealth of gorgeous visual images: the Firebird at night in a king’s garden, the girl with the skull in the woods, the yellow eyes of Gray Wolf, the broom of the witch made from the hair of “someone long dead.”  How delightful for these cold winter nights!  Enjoy.

PS. The following is, ahem, not for kids, but a special treat for you.  Rah rah!  Oh, those Russians…

More Trolls, and a Tomte Too

*(This blog post is a somewhat revised version of the same last year.)

This December we will be journeying to the cold forests of Sweden and learning about tomte and trolls.

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A tomten is a little creature who lives in a farmhouse and protects the people and animals- the farm animals and wild animals- within it.  They are good spirits.  Our Little Kids will experience a puppet show based on the Astrid Lindgren classic.  I am so partial to this story because I grew up with it, my Grandma being Swedish.  It’s hushed, quiet, magical mood makes it a wonderful holiday story no matter which tradition you celebrate.  The recurring theme of a good being watching over the farm while all are sleeping comforts and calms children.  I am always struck by how quiet they are after this puppet show.

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Our Big Kids of the mature ages of 4-7 years old have expressed a love of adventure and danger so for these guys we will be learning about trolls.

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This story is called “The Boy and the Trolls, or the Adventure” by Walter Stenstrom and it does follow the classic format of a youngest son who saves a princess who has been kidnapped by the trolls.  I told this story last year and it was the most popular tale I ever told, across the board, in all the classes.  I will be telling this old favorite again… but did you know there are also girl trolls?

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There she is.  The wild troll girl, laughing!  Two babies- a troll princess and a human princess- are switched at birth.  A golden-haired, angelic (and rather goody-goody) Swedish princess raised in a troll family?  A cruel, wild troll princess raised in a civilized palace?  Wait and see what happens…

 

Remember November

 

The Autumn Blanket

The Autumn Blanket- the children made this!

Autumn Blanket is a great little story for our smallest friends because it is very simple, very repetitive, and very visual.  It is easy to make a simple puppet show just with a tableaux of leaves and a scarf.  Very little children love to watch and touch the objects that Mother Earth slowly adds to her blanket, help her place them on, and help her find new ones.

When working with very little children, I have to remember that what’s simple for me is still magical to them.  After all, they’ve only seen a few Novembers.  Sometimes it’s quite okay to be simple!

Mother Earth will also appear to us in another puppet show with her children.  The children have a big job to do in Spring, but as cold weather comes, it’s time to go underground and rest.

Mother Earth and her Root Children

Mother Earth and her Root Children

Thanksgiving was a Native American harvest celebration long before the pilgrims ever arrived and got invited, so that’s why I think it’s a beautiful month to sing songs and tell stories about this highly spiritual, sustainable and responsible culture.  In this story, a flood is coming and everybody saves something very important to take with them when they go inside to wait out the storm, knowing that everything will be washed away.  Only slow, awkward Turkey remembers the most important thing of all…

from "Navaho Folk Tales" by Franc Johnson Newcomb.  Illustrator unknown.

from “Navaho Folk Tales” by Franc Johnson Newcomb. Illustrator unknown.

Sources:

I have adapted the Turkey story from a lovely little book, Navaho Folk Tales by Franc Johnson newcomb, University of New Mexico Press, 1967.)  My adaption below:

Turkey and the Big Reed

The Autumn Blanket pdf

“Autumn Blanket” is by S. Perrow, from Autumn: A Collection of Songs, Poems and Stories for Young Children published by Wynstones Press

Mother Earth and her Root Children is in print!  In English!  Amazon.com

Also, many of my autumn songs come from this delightful book which I HIGHLY recommend.  It is one of the best sources I have ever used:

“A Journey Through Autumn” by Connie Manson

Free Halloween Storytime and Puppet Show!

 

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Mouskin’s Golden House

You are invited!

Before the sun sets on Trick-or-Treating day, come rest up in Fleming Park before taking on the neighborhood. All kids and parents are welcome!

La Llonora

La Llonora

Woman Hollering Creek

Woman Hollering Creek

Schedule:

4:00 “Mousekin’s Golden House”
A puppet show about a mouse who decides to live in a Jack O’Lantern. Suggested ages: 0-6

4:15 “La Llornora”
You’ve driven by Woman Hollering Creek on the way to San Antonio, haven’t you? This is the classic Tex-Mex legend about that hollering woman. Suggested ages: 4-9.
*This story can be Hansel-and-Gretel scary, as it’s about a woman who drowns her children in a creek, becomes a ghost, then tries to drown any passing child forevermore! Use your discretion- you know your child best 🙂

4:30 “Mousekin’s Golden House”
A re-show.  Because sometimes 4 is too early.

Find a map to Fleming park and RSVP at Facebook event page.

 

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Starring Squirrel Nutkin

 

Squirrel Nutkin being silly

Squirrel Nutkin being silly

Our puppet show this month will be an adaptation of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter.

I love this story- and all of the tales of Beatrix Potter- for their rebel spirit.  If I ever become the leader of a punk band, I shall blame it on the influence of none other than Miss Beatrix Potter.  In her stories there is often a good little animal, like Flopsy & Co. in Peter Rabbit.  And then there is a naughty character, like Peter, who goes where he shouldn’t, and acts up, and breaks rules, and gets consequences- but oh, some fun is had.  I like Nutkin because, like many kids, he pushes the envelope on silly behavior to see how much attention he can get from a big old boring authority figure.  In fact he goes almost too far- but not quite.

Nutkin and Twinkleberry

Nutkin and Twinkleberry

In adapting this for a puppet show for American children, I substituted Potter’s delicious riddles for a simpler rhyme.  This is because the riddles are oh so British and to me they work better for any American, child or adult, when puzzled over in a book, rather than try to follow them in a puppet show.  But if you have never read this gem of a story (I never did, actually, until I was an adult) I certainly recommend it, especially for those delightful riddles!

Here is the original book:

The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Mr. Brown

Mr. Brown

My own adapted version for a puppet show can be found here:

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There is also a lovely song about Squirrel Nutkin with lyrics by F.B. Wood.  I found a lovely link on YouTube for the tune.  Here are the words:

Squirrel Nutkin has a coat so brown

Quite the loveliest in Woodland Town.

Two bright eyes look round to see

Where the sweetest nuts might be.

And the tune (Charming British accent optional):

 

Let’s Get Real About Faeries

The Procession of the Faeries. By artist Stephanie Law.

The Procession of the Faeries. By artist Stephanie Law.

It’s the time of year for faeries.

In old England and Ireland and Scotland, they used to say the thin veil separating the human world from that of Faerie thins on October 31, and on that night anything is possible.  Our tales this month will be all about the faeries and the little people, but Tinkerbelle and your Disney friends- sorry, ladies, go somewhere else.  We are getting real about faeries this October.  These faeries are the Gaelic kind, the kind who are beautiful but dangerous, who look like humans but whose blood flows ice-cold, who confer good fortune and favor beyond belief, but who might also kidnap children and bring them back to the enchanted realm of Faerie, never to return.  This is the Faerie Land that is the most wonderful place in the world- until you realize that if you go there, you may never get back to this side of the veil.

Fairy mound, Ireland

Fairy mound, Ireland

What better tale to delve into the mysteries of real faeries than Tam Lin?  An old Scottish ballad,  the tale concerns a youth named Tam Lin who is kidnapped by the Faerie Queen and forced to haunt a forest forever more.  When the feisty Janet passes through the enchanted wood, she and Tam Lin fall in love.  But Janet will have to endure quite a few trials to save her love from the magic of the Faerie Queen.

I have adapted the rather, eh, steamy original so it is appropriate for children.  My version here:

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And just for kicks, the Scottish original:

Ballad of Tam Lin

We will also tell Snow White and Rose Red.  The Little Person here is not a faerie but a dwarf who is having a very bad hair day (or beard day, I should say).  Two sisters must use their wiles to free yet another enchanted young man from this grouchy creature’s spell.  (This is a Grimm’s tale, so versions of it are easy-peasy to find.)

Snow White and Rose Red. Drawing by Brooke Bailey.

Snow White and Rose Red. Drawing by Brooke Bailey.

Enjoy the tales… but don’t stay out too late on Halloween night!  For it is the night when faeries walk.