A new puppet show- Twiggy

twiggy

Old Woman, gray goose, with Baby Twiggy in the bed, and the yarn-snake in the background.

For teachers of  young children like myself who are weary of apple crafts… to those of you trying to home school all Waldorf style… September in Houston can be frustrating.  Ain’t no apples.  Ain’t no crisp leaves.  Ain’t no harvest we can see.

But there are…. TWIGS!

I love dead sticks!

I love dead sticks!

A great story for autumn-not-autumn is “Twiggy”.  A Ukrainian tale, I first discovered this story about a twig that comes to life in the Acorn Hill book of Waldorf songs, circle games and stories, “Let us form a Ring“.  Basically, an old couple longs for a child.  The old woman finally just takes a stick and begins to love and care for it as if it were a baby.  One day the stick comes to life, and “Twiggy” the sweet little twig child learns who he can trust, and whom he shouldn’t.

I chose it to make a puppet show of because (as some of y’all may know) my deepest dreams are fulfilled when children play with sticks.  After the show, the children searched the playground for the perfect Twiggy, and made him boats and homes from little boxes.  They were so deeply in the moment and as happy playing with their Twiggys as they were with the plastic sand toys.

Of course, if you would like to tell this tale to young children, you don’t need to make a full on puppet show at all.  You can use just… a stick.  Anything can be a puppet.  As the wonderful Houston puppeteer David Caranza (of Caranza Puppets) says, a puppet is nothing but an inanimate object you seemingly make “come alive”.  So the old lady can be your finger, the goose your hand, the snake a bit of yarn (as my snake puppet is).  And the imagination of the tiny child will do the rest!

 

A Story for Harvest Time: The Moon Lady

moon_lady_horizontal

The moon will be full this Friday- forget the man you’ve been taught to look for.  Can you find the shape of a rabbit and a lady?

In China, around the time of the September full moon is the Mid-Autumn Festival.  It’s a quiet gathering with lanterns, moon cakes, friends and loved ones, but my favorite part is the story of Chang’e.

Chang’e was the wife of the Sun.  He had something special: a pill of Immortality.  There are many different versions of the story, but in the one I know, Chang’e takes the pill to prevent it getting stolen by some thieves.  She grows, oh so round, so bright, and with her little rabbit, floats up to the moon!  There she lives forever in a jade castle with her rabbit, in lonely and luminous splendor.  A few times a year, she gets to visit her husband the Sun… but to us, it just looks like an eclipse.

This story is so easy to find online: here is just one version.

But I’m always a bookworm, so of course I can recommend a book for you: Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragon Boats.  It’s warmer, gets more into the characters and is more in-depth.

I absolutely love this book- it has stories and activities for all of the lunar Chinese festivals.  The activities are lovely.  I will be using it again for the New Year.

 

 

 

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.

tomten

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.

tomten_book

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.

trolls

tales

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?

changelings

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

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:

nutkin

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):

 

Mice are Sinners, Too

Our sweet puppet show this year is a German fairy tale I first saw performed by Connie Manson of Starlite Puppets  at the  Sunbridge Institute, and it’s so cute I’m shamelessly copying her!

I like this tale because although the cat did wrong and took the mouse’s tail, the mouse is not an angel either.  He had to promise to stop nibbling Farmer’s grain before he can finally get his tail back from cat.

Be we ever so small, cute and innocent, none of us are without flaws- not even mice!

Here’s a pdf of the story if you would like to use it at home with your little mouse 🙂

The Mouse Who Wanted her Tail Back

cat puppet by Amaruska

cat puppet by Amaruska

PS.  I love puppets but I’m not the craftiest.  I guess I really mean I never seem to have the time.  This story is easy to do with stuffed animals, and you can get toy mice for cats at the pet store to be the mouse.  Or you can get adorable creatures like the one pictured at Amaruska.

Story from the River, Story from the Sea

Did you know that one of the most famous Japanese warriors of all time is called Peach Boy?

It’s true.  An old man and woman find a giant peach, and when it opens, inside is a little baby whom they name Peach Boy, or Momotaro.  Momotaro grows to be a fearless youth who takes it upon himself to teach the mean ogres in the mountain next door a lesson.  Although in the story Peach Boy is around 15, I made him into a younger child for our puppet show.  It just tickled me pink peach how a tough little warrior is called, not Superman, not Ironman, not Hulk, but Peach Boy.  YEAH!

Peach Boy is a bad*$#, as seen by this statue standing in Okayama, Japan.  Photo by jumbokedama on Flickr.

Peach Boy is a bad*$#, as seen by this statue standing in Okayama, Japan. Photo by jumbokedama on Flickr.

100_3340

The kind old couple finds a baby boy in a giant peach.

Tale of the Oki Islands (The Legend of Tokoyo)

Our oral story inspiration this June also comes from sea-encircled islands of Japan.  A young girl Tokoyo is the kind of strong girl hero I love to find in old stories.  An excellent pearl diver, Tokoyo sacrifices herself to save another girl and journeys to the bottom of the sea.  There she meets the Dragon King, and battles him when all others have given up hope.

I wish I could credit this lovely picture.  I think it's from Studio Ghibli.

I wish I could credit this lovely picture. I think it’s from Studio Ghibli.

Both of these tales were found in my trusty copy of Best-Loved Folktales of the World by Joanna Cole.  But many Japanese tales can also be found on the website Kids’ Web Japan, if you’re into ogres, tanukis and toothpick warriors… and who isn’t?

SunBee Circle in Summer at Ervan Chew Park

This hot, hot June SunBee Circle will have a new time and new location.  Our Friday class for mixed ages (2-8) will take place at the Ervan Chew Park on Dunlavy, a few blocks south of Richmond.  This park has a gazebo, picnic tables, a playground, and most importantly a splash pad for cooling off!  We will enjoy a lot of watery activities inspired by Tokoyo, Dragon King and Peach Boy.  We will also have a new time of 10-11 AM- all the better to cool us with, my dear!

See you there!

Butterflies and Tricksters

I have always wanted to make a puppet show adaptation of “How the Butterflies Came to Be.”  I first discovered this story from Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac’s  Keepers of the Animals.  It is not particularly a young child’s story but I felt I could adapt it for very small children- after all, that’s who Elder Brother made the butterflies for!  Children have always reminded me of butterflies- their bright colors and smiles, their fragility and promise, even the light, bobbing, darting ways they move.

Elder Brother, who combined flowers, leaves, pollen and pine needles to create the butterflies for children.

Elder Brother, who combined flowers, leaves, pollen and pine needles to create the butterflies for children.

Many children right now are learning about butterflies in school and I felt this story would dovetail nicely with that.  As we all know, our own native monarch butterflies are at risk.  Milkweed is what they must have to live and reproduce, so planting some will keep our beautiful friends around.

I was lucky and found a copy of the story online, so I assume it’s legal.  Enjoy!

“How the Butterflies Came to Be”

spider

THIS BLOG POST HAS BEEN INTERRUPTED BY THE TRICKSTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes.  Our older kids in their final school-year session of SunBee Circle will be introduced to a character who capers through world folklore with no regard for manners or morals… the Trickster.

Certain sorts show up as tricksters.  They can be people, always the underdogs.  In animal form they most often manifest as ravens, coyotes and rabbits.  Especially rabbits.  Don’t trust rabbits.

In Africa, at least among the Ashanti tribe, the trickster is a clever spider named Anansi.  Anansi tales leave me cracking up laughing and I can’t wait to share them with the kids, who love stories that make them laugh. Gerald McDermott has a wonderful picture book version as well.

rabbit

Oh yes, about rabbits.

After we have laughed ourselves silly over Mr. Anansi, we will jet on over to our own American South to hear the Uncle Remus tale of Brer Rabbit and that briar patch he absolutely, positively, definitely does not want to be thrown into… or does he?

Enjoy and have a very silly spring!

Oh… and I just couldn’t resist.

 

Little Golden Star… and a Big Bad Wolf

A golden star falls from the sky and fastens itself to the forehead of a poor girl.  After that, her life begins to change in magical ways.  Estrellita de Oro is our tale this March (Little Golden Star to English speakers).  I came to this story in an interesting way.

The children and I were looking at a map, marking out all the places we’ve travelled via stories this year.  “Why are all the dots on the top of the map?” wondered one observant little girl.  Why indeed? Probably because my cultural heritage is from Europe and I am American, so the tales I love most are the ones I’ve heard all my life, from these places.  But the SunBee Kids have their own cutural backgrounds to explore and were ready to spread their wings! Down into the Southern Hemishpere we go… or at least farther south than usual… starting with Mexico, where many SunBee kids can find their own roots.

Glora Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez illustrated “Little Gold Star,” or “Estrellita de Oro,” a version of the Cinderella story.

Glora Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez illustrated “Little Gold Star,” or “Estrellita de Oro,” a version of the Cinderella story.

Although most Latino kids will know this tale, it is new for me.  I found it by stopping by one of my favorite places in Houston, Casa Ramirez in the Heights.  Mr. Ramirez is a wonderful activist, artist and teacher and one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon is stop by his shop for some cinnamon cookies and a Mexican coke, bathe my eyes in the beautiful colors of the art and crafts, and listen to him tell stories of his boyhood in San Antonio and his work with Latino children all over Houston.  He’s always ready to share a tale and sharing Mexican culture is his passion.  What a treasure for Houston!

Mr. Ramirez in his workshop.

Mr. Ramirez in his workshop.

On this particular day,  he wasn’t there but Mrs. Ramirez was so helpful showing me story books, and telling me of the classic Mexican tales like El Cucuy, La Llonora and Estrellita.  I ended up purchasing The Day it Snowed Tortillas, by storyteller Joe Hayes.  This book is in English and Spanish so I can practice my feeble Spanish a little!  All of the stories are appropriate and fun for children.

tortillas

If you are looking for a picture book, I love the vibrant illustrations in this edition of Estrellita de Oro, also by Joe Hayes.

Meanwhile, for my little ones I am sewing a puppet of the Big Bad Wolf.  The journey to a wolf tale also started with the children.  At Beehive Preschool a game has developed.  I am a Wolf and I sleep while the children ask “Wolf, wolf, what are you doing?”  Sometimes Wolf is innocently shaving, playing basketball, talking to his mom on the phone or knitting.  But sometimes… Wolf gets hungry.  If Wolf shouts DINNER TIME, better run!

Why do the children delight in outwitting Wolf?  Why do we always seek out deliciously scary tales of the dark loper of the forest?  Even when we know wolves hardly ever kill humans and actually live in social harmony?

Illustrator and writer Ed Young made a wonderful book of Lon Po Po, the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood.  I think he answers this question very well in the preface he wrote to his dark tale:

To all the wolves of the world

for lending us their good name

as a tangible symbol

for our darkness.

The Big Bad Wolf as illustrated by the great Svend Otto S.  We loved to be scared by this guy.  Um... most of the time.

The Big Bad Wolf as illustrated by the great Svend Otto S. We loved to be scared by this guy. Um… most of the time.

And below, the version I made with an old sock.

He's Big.  He's Bad.  He's da Wolf.

He’s Big. He’s Bad. He’s da Wolf.

 

Underdogs, Monsters and Ducks: Oh My!

This February features two stories about underdogs who come out on top.  For our little ones, we will have a puppet show based on the Chippewa tale Shingebiss.  Shingebiss is a little duck who has to fish through ice in winter.  But no matter how North Wind blows, Shingebiss can survive.

You can find this story for free online here: Shingebiss and the North Wind

There’s also a wonderful picture book version by Nancy Van Laan.

golem

Golem

 

Our big kids will be hearing about a whole community of underdogs who work together to free themselves from oppressors.  Part Frankenstein story, part Trojan Horse,  The Golem of Prague concerns a Jewish community whose very existence is in threat by the Holy Roman Emperor.  A clever Rabbi forms a giant monster-man out of clay and brings it to life to protect the community… but not all goes as planned.

Our big kids will be forming their own golem out of boxes and tape, and we will see what their inventive minds can create!

For those that want to learn more about golems: Stories of the Golem of Prague.

 

*A word about religion in SunBee Circle:

SunBee Circle is a secular teaching style.  But because we hear stories from all around the world, sometimes religions surface.  Children are never told what to believe but they do learn that Navajo people in Arizona pray to the Great Spirit, that there are Zen temples in Japan, Hansel and Gretel in a fairytale Europe pray to a Christian god for help, and that the Jewish people keep the Sabbath as a holy day.  The idea to tell the story of The Golem of Prague was inspired by the 70th anniversary this week of the liberation of Auschwitz.  I believe stories can heal, and that learning the values and customs of another culture through a story sows wonderful seeds of peace.

Hear some grown-up stories about the liberation of Auschwitz here.

Jewish Cemetery, Prague

Jewish Cemetery, Prague