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.

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

 

 

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

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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

 

 

the story bag: how to remember an oral story

When I first started telling stories to children (as opposed to reading them from a story book) I worked way too hard.  I would try to memorize the story with the effort of a Shakespearean actor learning lines for Hamlet.  But storytelling isn’t the same as learning a script.  It’s looser, it changes, improvisations and deviations are okay.

Pre-literary people had a lot of little tricks to cheat and help them remember the story.  For instance, all those repititions of “rosy-fingered dawn” in the Odyssey?  They were actually pauses to help the storyteller get his bearings to remember what was coming next.  While the audience enjoyed a few lines of lovely singing, the storyteller was taking a mental coffee break.

I have a mystery in my hand...

I have a mystery in my hand…

Fairy tales also use repitition, and it’s not just because children love it.  In the fairytale Donkey Skin, the princess buys time to wriggle out of a marriage with her incestuous father by asking first for a dress the color of weather, then a dress the color of the moon, then a dress the color of the sun.  The repitions give structure to the storyteller and help her remember what is coming next.

My own trick that I like the best is not only repitition, but something tangible- using a Native American story bag.

“The Iroquis storyteller or Hage’ota carried a bag full of items that acted as mnemoic devices- each item represented a story.  The Hage’ota, or perhaps a chid in the audience, would pull an item out the bag, the item would be shown to the people and the story would begin. ” -Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, Keepers of the Animals.

Three Characters

Three Characters

I adapted this idea a little because I need more help remembering!  Sometimes I will fill a little bag with something simple, like three little objects.  If I were telling “Frog Creates Rain” I might put in my bag:

A pebble, for First Woman

A bit of sponge, for Frog

A feather, for Crane

Holding these objects as I tell the story helps me remember.  When I hold the pebble, I remember First Woman, and so on.  When I know the story very well, I can involve the children by letting them choose and hold objects from the story bag.

Anything to help remember!