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):

 

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.

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.

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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!

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

 

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

 

 

Of Tomte and Trolls

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.

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

Trolls. But if your kids are doing SunBee Circle this December please don’t let them see it! Trolls are so unique and delightfully gross that we will first listen to the story… then draw a picture of the trolls we saw in our minds… then look at this artist’s interpretation of the trolls.

As you can see from this vintage John Bauer illustration, trolls are… not so nice.  They are known for their ugly looks, fondness for eating snakes and toads, hatred of bathing, and nasty tempers.  Some are worse than others but I am afraid our story features a bad bunch and their old troll mother, the worst of all!  This tale comes from another childhood favorite of mine, Great Swedish Fairy Tales.

greatswedish

One of the best books ever! Sadly, I believe it’s out of print now.

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.  We had a strong female lead in First Woman for our November tale, so now I’ll give the boys a brave protagonist who defends someone in trouble.  I like to alternate between months.

How do you vanquish a troll?  Well, the secret is they HATE fresh air!  So you simply say the secret rhyme:

Come west wind and blow away

Long ear, huge chin, big nose.

Come west wind and blow away

All these trolls from mountain gray.

Have a wonderful holiday and watch out for the trolls!

 

Turkey and the Big Reed: A Navajo story for November

I love to focus on Native Americans during November.  This is because Thanksgiving is such a beautiful, truly American holiday that generally gets sort of overshadowed by Christmas, or, on the Waldorf circuit, the very beautiful but very European Saint Martin’s Day.  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.  I don’t mention the pilgrims… I don’t have anything against them but I know kids will definitely be learning about the Mayflower and all that in school, all of their lives…and unfortunately probably not about the Native Americans.  And, like the pilgrims, we need their culture and wisdom so much.

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

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

So here I will share a Navajo story about Hosteen Turkey and how he saved the seeds- and thus, the food- for the people during the flood.  Following that is a lovely song for this time of year.

Story: Turkey and the Big Reed (adapted by Brooke Bailey from Navaho Folk Tales by Franc Johnson newcomb, University of New Mexico Press, 1967.)  Because this tale is pretty long, I have made a pdf so that it’s easier to print out: Turkey and the Big Reed

Spoiler alert:  In my experience telling this story to five and six year olds, children really identify with Turkey when First Woman chews him out for trying to be helpful.  What kid hasn’t gone through that?  When First Woman realizes she made a mistake, she apologizes.  As an adult, I love that.  As a teacher I often made the mistake of hastily reprimanding a kid who meant no harm… (“I’m not splashing water out of the pool for no reason!  I’m trying to protect us from the ants crawling around here on the pavement!”)  And I’ve had to laugh at myself and apologize.  What teacher or parent hasn’t gone through that?  What a great story.

Song: Land of the Silver Birch

100_3000

Okay, so it’s not a silver birch, it’s a redbud tree. We are some ways from Canada down here and it’s the best I could do!

It’s interesting to note that my favorite song to sing at Thanksgiving is actually a Canadian folk song!  I love to sing this canoeing song with the children and make-believe we are paddling our own canoe, off to have adventures in the great North American wilderness. They really get into it, drumming their knees like drums in the boom-diddy refrain.  Words are based on a poem by First Nation poet Pauline Johnson.

My paddle’s keen and bright
Flashing with silver
Follow the wild goose flight
Dip, dip and swing
Dip, dip and swing her back
Flashing with silver
Swift as the wild goose flies
Dip, dip and swing
Land of the silver birch
Home of the beaver
Where still the mighty moose
Wanders at will
Refrain:
Blue lake and rocky shore
I will return once more
Boom diddy-ahda
Boom diddy-ahda
Boom diddy-ahda 
Boom diddy-ahda boom.
High on a rocky edge
I’ll build my wigwam
Close to the water’s edge
Silent and still
Refrain
My heart grows sick for thee
Here in the low lands
I will return to thee
Hills of the north
Refrain

 

 

Autumn Blanket: A Story for Little Ones

 

Our Texas Blanket

Our Texas Blanket

This October has been very special for me because I had my first ever little SunBee Circle class!

All of the children in October’s session were little ones.  We have a one-and-a-half year old, a two-and-a-half year old, and a more mature gentleman of four-and-a-half.

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 Octobers.  Sometimes it’s quite okay to be simple!

Click here to read the story:

The Autumn Blanket pdf