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.

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

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:

tam_lin

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.

Thar be Dragons

Any teacher or parent who is using Waldorf as school opens this September knows that it’s all about St. Michael/George and the Dragon, meteors in the sky, fire and flame.  For those of us who are not familiar with this story, it’s basically a good one for this time of year- girding up our loins, stepping out on new journeys with nothing but our knapsacks and a pocket full of courage.  It’s new beginnings, and conquering our inner fears- the dragons inside of us.

Medieval Beasies

Medieval Beasties

It has been a bit difficult for me to find a version of the story that really works for me (if you’ve found a good one, do share!)  I have rewritten the story in my own way to share with SunBee Circle kids.  First of all, I made it a bit more personal and George more vulnerable.  Because my program is secular, I have changed Saint George to Sir George and taken out the Christian references to make it accessible to all kids… but the cool thing about stories is, you can always tweak them to suit your needs!  I will share my version with you but encourage you to adapt it til it feels just right for your child.

The first time I heard this story, and learned about how you’re supposed to tell it in September and stuff, I was somewhat hesitant.  It’s about, well, killing- and I am nonviolent.  Usually in SunBee Circle I try very hard to find stories with an alternative message to Good Guy defeats Bad Guy.

"Bad dragon!"

“Bad dragon!”

But sometimes… even I go for the classics.  First of all, it makes me EXTREMELY popular as a storyteller, because children love clearly defined villains and justice doled out!

Secondly, I think the human spirit needs this David-and-Goliath archetype of little guy defeats the invincible.  Why else would we have such a rich history of hero stories?  Why else would my little five year old nephew crave Batman stories?  Haven’t you ever had a dragon in your life?  Some situation or person that you had to face, and it took every bit of your courage and strength and you came out okay?  That is the message I want to focus on in this classic knight and dragon story.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” -Neil Gaiman

*****

That said, I will also be telling the story of Martha and the Dragon.

Martha and the Coolest Dog on the Block

Martha and the Coolest Dog on the Block

Martha dealt with a French dragon, a creature so monstrous and infamous it had a name: La Tarasque.  Head of a lion, body of an ox, feet like a bear, tail like a scorpion, something like that.  Martha’s way of dealing with the creature is different- with kindness and spells, she tames the beast.

Here are the stories:

sir_george

martha

Check back next week to hear about SunBee Circle’s puppet show for our littlest friends!  And whether you are going back to school or homeschooling, have a great first week and may all your dragons be tamed.

 

 

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

 

Everybody loves a tanuki

For many years as a preschool teacher I followed a typical January curriculum: all activities, songs and stories shalt focus on ice, snow, and penguins.  But after a while I didn’t like teaching about snow in a Houston winter.  It really, REALLY tends to spotlight the fact that we kind of don’t have any snow.  Our native Gulf Coast climate must be defective.  Which means we might not value it very much or think it’s ecology is worth protecting.  It’s a slippery, snowy slope.

So.  We are not going to obsess about snow in SunBee Circle this winter.  Our January theme is… Japan!

A tanuki is a doglike foxlike creature with markings like a raccoon, native to Japan.

A tanuki is a doglike foxlike creature with markings like a raccoon, native to Japan.

I love Japanese tales because of two reasons.  (Well, a million, but just to narrow it down…)  First of all, so many are about things turning into other things.  You know, shape-shifting.  A crane into a woman.  A peach into a boy.  A tea kettle into a tanuki dog.  In these tales, nothing is really quite what it seems.   Secondly, there is a moral suppleness to many of the tales that our western stories just don’t seem to have.  The line between good characters and bad, virtue and evil, is not so stark.

Illustration of Bunbuku Chagama by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1889-1892.

Illustration of Bumbuku Chagama by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1889-1892. The walls are all cracked because Bambuku has bashed them up!

This January I have been telling the kids at Beehive preschool “The Magic Tea Kettle,” a classic Japanese fairy tale about a tea kettle in a Zen temple that turns into a tanuki dog and runs wild!  It’s also called “Bumbuku Chagama,” Bumbuku being our tanuki’s given name.  This story is full of those delightful smudges in the good/bad line that I love so much.  And what a lot of humor comes out of that!  The Zen priest, who should be a model of acceptance, certainly doesn’t care for a tea kettle that doesn’t behave itself (by the way, he’s a tightwad, too.)  It’s the poor junk dealer who adopts the runaway tanuki-kettle, the junk dealer who knows how to take things as they come and be kind to animals.  Children can easily identify with the magical tanuki, who seems naughty but isn’t.  Even when wreaking havoc on the monks’ meditation hour he isn’t really bad.  He just needs the right context for his high spirits, and they work much better in the junk dealer’s circus than in a Zen temple.

I read this delightful story in the wonderful “Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories” by Florence Sakade , along with many others.  This book makes the tales wonderfully accessible to children and the illustrations are a dream.

japan_stories