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!

earth_art

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.

fish_bright

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)

Genie vs. Jinni and the real story of Aladdin

This April we will be dusting off our magic carpets and journeying to Iran… but since we’re going back in time as well, we could also say Persia.  We are flying far beyond Disney to discover the original Aladdin tale from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Is this the Queen of Storytellers, Scheherazade?  Let's pretend it is!

Is this the Queen of Storytellers, Scheherazade? Let’s pretend it is!

I’m guessing that almost all the SunBee kids are familiar with Disney’s Aladdin.  There’s so many great things about that funny and sparkly film, but I never really loved it for one reason- it talks over the kids’ heads.  It was the first of many animations for children that did so,  and after Aladdin, from Shrek to Dispicable Me, almost all films for children have this kind of irony.  In Disney’s Aladdin, Genie makes many cultural references and jokes that are for the parents and not for the kids.  I think that on some level the children feel this.  Irony makes for a story that stands outside itself and doesn’t really take itself seriously.  The stakes are lower.  Much lower than in earlier films such as Disney’s Snow White, for example- nobody is laughing at that witch skulking in the swamps with a blood-bright apple.  The villain in Aladdin is a touch ridiculous and we are never in awe of the genie- although he is funny and endearing, he has no mystery.

No.

No.

At SunBee Circle we learn where stories come from, how they are thousands of years old sometimes, that the real versions are often darker and more magical and more complex than the Americanized versions and there are so many cultures other than our own.  In the real Aladdin, the villian is a seriously powerful magician.  The genie is a jinni! (I just think that spelling is more dazzling).  A jinni in Islamic lore is somewhere between an angel and a human.  They are spirits of fire.  Like humans, they can choose to be bad or good so you have to be a bit on your guard when you find one.

Yes.  The original jinni may look like a little devil but can be bad or good, just like a person.

Yes. The original jinni may look like the Western idea of a little devil but can be bad or good, just like a person.

SunBee Circle always has an activity after the story to encourage dramatic play.  What potential Aladdin has!  We will play dress-up with old clothes (not the ready-made kind- we like to use our imaginations!)  We will choose treasures from a magic chest.  We might try to tell stories like Scheherazade or use vinegar to transform tarnished pennies into golden coins.  The possibilities are endless with this one!

Although you can find Aladdin in any translation of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights,  this famous and beloved collection is not particularly a children’s book.  I really like Best-Loved Folktales of the World by Joanna Cole for reading aloud to children.  It’s a great collection of diverse tales and all of them are appropriate for little ones, so you won’t be merrily reading aloud and stumble onto, um, an extremely bawdy passage!

folktales

 

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.

 

Frog Creates Rain: A Story for Spring

Once upon a time the land was very dry.  It was so dry that a fire started and nobody knew how to put the fire out.

First Woman was the mother of all the people and she felt very sad.  As the boss it was her responsibility to take care of everyone and protect them.  So she went around trying to find a way to put the fire out.  Nobody had any good ideas, and she was practically ready to cry when she came to a swamp where Frog lived.

first_woman

“Friend Frog!” she cried.  “We know you have enough water here in this deep swamp to cover the whole land!  Will you take some out of your swamp and use it to put out the fire that is burning everything up?”

Frog raised his head out the water and saw First Woman standing among the reeds waiting to talk to him, so he swam out and sat on a lily pad.  Once upon a time, Frog had been tall and strong, with a pleasant face and straight legs, but now his legs were crooked, his back was hmped, and his eyes bulged from his head.  But still he wore a beautiful coat made of green mosses, a vest of white lichen, and gloves of bright yellow, and he was considered something of a dandy.  In one way Frog was a most unusual person, for he wore two coats.  One was the usual coat of shiny skin common to all the Water People, but the outer coat was like a coat of green sponge.  It was porous, filled with lots of tiny holes.  It could sop up lots of water, just like a sponge.  Then when Frog didn’t want the water anymore, he would squeeze his coat and let go of all the water- just like when you squeeze a sponge.  Then he could hide in the water if he felt like it, and no one could find him.

First Woman knew all about that.  So she spoke to him very politely.  “We all know you are a magic person and have control of all marsh water.  If you will take some to the fire and put it out, we will be so grateful to you!”

“Hmm,” croaked Frog.  “I think I can, I think I can.”

He dived off the lily pad and swam deep, deep under the water.  He swam so deep that all the Bird People and Human People standing around started to wonder if he had changed his mind and would never come up again.  But really he was soaking up all the water at the bottom of the lake, like a sponge.  Everyone saw the lake getting smaller and smaller, drying up.  When Frog had all the water he could carry, he got out and stood on the shore.

“Now I have plenty of water to put out that fire,” he croaked.  “But someone will have to carry me to the fire.  I cannot fly, and if I walk, it will take too long.”

The Birds were worried.  “If we take him, our sharp talons will poke his coat and all the water will leak out,” they said.

First Woman had an idea.  She took some reeds and made a little swing for Frog. He could ride in it just fine.  But who would carry him?

White Crane said he would do it.  He clamped his talons tight on the Frog swing and spread out his great white wings, and took off.

Vintage illustration from the original source.

Vintage illustration from the original source.

It was hard! Frog was so full of water that he was very heavy!  Crane started out flying high, but soon began to sink lower and lower.  He just wasn’t strong enough.  He thought he could hold Frog no longer.

“Ohhh, Frog,” he groaned.  “I have to let you go!”

“No!” croaked Frog.  “”Don’t do that or we will never put out the fire!  I will squeeze out a little water so I won’t be so heavy!”

He squeezed some water out of his coat and it fell down hard on the fire below, a big torrent of rain, and it put out the flames.  But that was only a little part of the fire.  There was still a lot more.

Crane felt better, but soon began to get tired again. “Ohhh, Frog,” he groaned.  “I am so tired- I am going to drop you!”

“No, don’t do that!” xoraked Frog.  “I can make myself lighter!” And again, he squeezed, and more rain fell out of his coat.  He did it bit by bit, little by little, until all the fire was out out.

Now he was easy to carry, so Crane flew him home.

They landed in the marsh by First Woman.  “We did what you told us,” they said.  “The fire is out.  The problem is, our marsh used to be a lake but now it is only mud and puddles.  So please, in payment, promise not to take any more water from the marshes or we will run out.”

“We will never take water from a marsh,” agreed First Woman, “and what’s more, cranes and frogs will always live there together.”

Frog and Crane were made bosses of all the rain.  Crane could call white rain by waving his white feathers, and Frog could call blue rain by using his cheeping, croaking songs.

That is why, if you find a white feather or you hear a frog sing, it just might rain pretty soon.

 Snip, snap, snout

My tale is all told out.

*This story was adapted by me from a wonderful find from a used bookstore:  “Frog Creates Rain”, Navaho Folk Tales, Franc Johenson Newcomb. 1967, 1990, University of New Mexico Press. pp 151-161.

I simplified it a lot to make it suitable for young children.

Next week we will learn how to tell the story orally and remember everything, and how to act it out!