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.

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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

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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

 

 

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

 

Maschenka and the Bear: A Russian Tale

 

I'm not the craftiest.  I made a Maschenka puppet Waldorf-style, but the bear is an old gray sock.

I’m not the craftiest. I made a Maschenka puppet Waldorf-style, but the bear is an old gray sock.

I like to tell this story in September.

I originally read this traditional story from the The Juniper Tree, a wonderful source for children’s stories, especially if you sign up for Suzanne’s newsletter.  I have adapted it into prose from the rhyming version, which has some rather archaic words, but did keep a few of the rhymes.  That’s the nice thing about old tales- you can always change them up a bit to suit you.

***

One upon a time there lived a little girl named Maschenka.  She lived with her grandparents on the edge of a great, dark forest.  One day she wanted to do something new so she asked her grandparents, “May I go into the forest to pick mushrooms and berries?  I would like to go all by myself!”

The grandparents said, “You’re getting old enough now so you may.  Just remember- don’t get lost and come home before night fall.”

Maschenka promised and said good-bye.  She had such a wonderful time in the forest picking berries and mushrooms that sure enough she got lost.  She spent a long time trying to find the way home, but the sun’s rays were getting longer and longer, redder and redder, and she knew night was coming.  Then she began to run.  But she only ran deeper and deeper into the dark forest, until it was so dark she could hardly see anything at all.  Then, she came to a small hut made of sticks.

She knocked on the door.  “Is anyone home?  Please can I come in?”

No answer.

So Maschenka tried the door and found it unlocked.  She was so tired she fell asleep right on the floor.

Soon, the owner of the house returned.  It was a big gray bear, and he said,  “Gruff and grim!  What is this on my floor?  A little girl!  Just what I needed!  You will cook for me, and light the fire, clean for me, and bake my bread, and you will stay here forever.”

“No, no,” cried Maschenka, who of course was awake now.  But there was nothing she could do.  She had to stay there in the hut and cook for the bear, and make the fire, and sweep the floor and bake his bread.

But she wanted to go home and soon she had an idea.

She got flour, sugar, eggs and milk, and mixed them together, and baked a nice cake.  Then she put it all nice into a big basket and she called the bear.

“Please let me go to the village, just for a little bit, and give this cake to my grandparents!  I do miss them so much.”

Of course, the bear was having none of that.  “You will stay here.  I will take the cake to them.”

Actually, that was fine with Maschenka- it was just what she wanted!

“Very well,” she said.  “But don’t you eat that cake.  Don’t smell it.  Don’t you even LOOK at it!  I am going to climb up that tall tall tree just outside.  And I will be able to see far and wide, and if you open the basket I will know.”

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“Oh… I won’t,” promised the bear.

“Good.  Now go outside and check the weather.  It would never do to travel in the rain and arrive with a soggy cake.”

The bear shuffled outside to check the weather.  Quick as a mouse, Maschenka hopped into the basket with the cake and pulled the lid shut over her.

The bear came back and there was no Maschenka to be seen.  “I guess she’s up in that tree,” he muttered to himself.  He picked up the basket and trudged on his way to the village.

It was a long way!  Soon the bear felt so tired and the cake smelled so nice and good.

“I think right now I will just sit

And from this cake I’ll taste a bit.”

But no sooner did the bear reach his big paw out for the basket cover, he heard a piecing voice:

“I’m watching you, I’m seeing you

I know just what you want to do.

Get up get up for heaven’s sake

And to my grandparents bring the cake.”

The bear was very surprised!

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“Oh me, oh my,

How she can spy with her bright eye!

I guess she’s still up in that tree

And that’s how she can see.”

And he went on his way.

It was a long way!  Soon enough, he got even more tired, and hungry, and the cake smelled sweeter than ever.

“I think right now I will just sit

And from this cake I’ll taste a bit.”

But no sooner did the bear reach his big paw out for the basket cover, he heard a piecing voice:

I’m watching you, I’m seeing you

I know just what you want to do.

Get up get up for heaven’s sake

And to my grandparents bring the cake.”

The bear was very surprised!

“Oh me, oh my,

How she can spy with her bright eye!

I guess she’s still up in that tree

And that’s how she can see.”

And he went on his way.

Finally, very tired and hungry, he arrived in the village.  He knocked on the cottage door, but just then he heard an awful yipping and howling and barking.  All the village dogs were after him!  The bear dropped the basket in fright and took off into the forest.  He never wanted to come to the village again!

Then the grandparents opened the door.

“Oh look, a gift!” said Granny.

“Nothing can make me very happy without my Maschenka,” said Grandfather.  “But we may as well open it.  Oh look, a cake, and…

MASCHENKA!

The little family was so happy to be together again and they began to dance and sing.

Grandfather dear, Grandmother dear, Hey diddle dee

Forever now I’m staying here, hey diddle dee.

Maschenka sweet, Maschenka dear, forever now you’re staying here

Hey diddle diddle dee

How happy we will be!

Hey diddle diddle dee

How happy we will be!

Snip, snap, snout

My tale is all told out.

September is a Season

September Nature Table.  First row: pine, sage, rosemary, oregano. Secone row: pecans and pinecones, plums, magnolia seeds, moss ball thingy.

A Gulf Coast September Nature Table. First row: pine, sage, rosemary, oregano. Secone row: pecans and pinecones, plums, magnolia seeds, moss ball thingy.

Ah September.  September is autumn.  It is crunching through orange leaves through the autumn mists on the way to your one-room red schoolhouse, plucking apples from the trees on the way, clapping your hands to get warm, inhaling the brisk air of fall.  Tra la la… or not.

Maybe if you live in rural Vermont.  September here on the Gulf Coast plain tells a different story and it doesn’t look like that at all, (even though those are the images children receive from school, books and movies each year).  But we do have a change of season.  September may not look like orange leaves, but there are significant changes none-the-less, and it’s fun to discover them with children.  Along the way we might discover that our wet, stormy, semi-tropical subtle fall has its own beauty.

September is…

September is RAIN!  Those delicious afternoon storms piling indigo upon indigo in the clouds, almost every afternoon.  It’s monsoon season… and unfortunately it’s also hurricane season.

September is pecans and pecan shells underfoot, if you happen to have the trees in your yard.  If you know how to open them (nutcracker, hammer for the less refined of us) you can feast every time you go outdoors, and make things of the shells, little boats and fairy dishes.

September is saying goodbye to some of our bird friends.  The white wing doves are still around but why are they not singing any more?  I guess courting time is over…

doves

The Sound of Silence.

I still glimpse the iridescent black and blue coat of our loud, cussing friend, the Grackle, but I don’t notice armies of them ominously hunkered on the telephone wires any more.

What?

What?

I wonder why some birds stay and some move on.

September is hot days still, but cooler mornings, and maybe even the first cool front.

September is bees, and flowers blooming- our second spring.  Black-eyed Susan, trumpet vine, morning glories, oh my!  A friend tipped me off: you can see our second spring blooming at the Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.

Who says we don't get fall colors in Houston?  From the Mercer Arboretum

Who says we don’t get fall colors in Houston? From the Mercer Arboretum

By the end of the month, I’ll see that September is dusk falling at 7 pm instead of 8, and the noon light changing from hard white to a softer yellow.

SunBee’s September story will be posted soon!  In the meantime, just look at the garden at  Te House of Tea where we have our circle… what a lovely September garden.

Flowers in September

Flowers in September

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The beautiful new trellis

 

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All enclosed by morning glories

What do you and your children notice about Houston September?  Is there anything I might have missed?

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My Grandma and the Magic Drawer- or Why I Tell Stories

 

My Grandma Lucille and me, 1985

My Grandma Lucille and me, 1985

When I was little and we went to my Grandma’s house, she never said too much.  She grew up on a Kansas farm in the dustbowl, the child of Swedish immigrants and one of many children.  She was quiet and reserved.  She still pincurled her hair so it made soft little white roses around her face.  Her eyes were a sea-blue.  She wore blouses and knee-length skirts she sewed herself and she was slender and she wore little maryjane square-dance shoes with a square heel, and every time she sat down her ankles would cross as soon as she hit the chair.  She never raised her voice, was modest as could be, and yet it was she who introduced us to an untamed world of pure wild magic.

She would lead us back to her bedroom, my sister and me.  There was a certain drawer in the dresser that we loved because it was ours, it was a Magic Drawer.  Each time we came to visit she would tell us, “Open the drawer now girls,” and we would, and there was always a treasure for us.

Great Swedish Fairytales, illustrated by John Bauer.  The infamous book that fell to pieces, we read it so much.

Great Swedish Fairytales, illustrated by John Bauer. The infamous book that fell to pieces, we read it so much.

Looking back, the things in the drawer weren’t fancy or expensive.  Sometimes it was a new pack of crayons, or a book of paper dolls, but what I remember most were the books- old-fashioned books of fairy stories and nursurey rhymes, with glossy, realistic , impossible illustrations of jade-green forests, lolling ruby tongues of wolves, the glimmer of a golden crown.

So my childhood was always full of fairy tales.  My grandma even managed to weave them into real life, like the time when she visited Sweden with my Grandpa and I still remember the postcard she wrote to me: “Today I saw a moose and a witch’s house.”  She was a first-grade teacher and knew all about making magic for children, but I didn’t know anything about that, then.  She never drew attention to herself; she made it seem as if the magic was coming not from her but as if she just plucked it accidentally out of real life, casually as a golden apple.  It took me until adulthood to realize it was she the whole time, who was magic.

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.

It was also only when I grew up that I realized not all children were blessed to grow up with fairy stories.  In my experience as a pre-k and kindergarten teacher I could read as many as I wanted to the children during “rest time” or “free time”, but during the official circle I had to read books about such topics as How to Say Please and Thank You and Going to the Dentist and Getting Along with my Little Brother and Colors, Shapes, Counting, ABC.

I’m not saying these books don’t have meaning, but sometimes I think that is all some children get.  Babysitting the two little ones of a friend, we watched some cartoons on the Disney Channel.  Shapes, Counting, hackneyed Morals- I was bored, dazed, and somewhere in there, my inner child was appalled.  Where were the creatures and heroes and villains of the cartoons I used to watch in the 80’s?  I mean, they were dreadful cartoons but at least they were about overcoming conflict and a fight for the good and empathy and magic and emotion (not to mention, a love of stories that translates later on into a love of reading).  These cartoons were about getting a single, simple right answer.

I wanted to start SunBee Circle because the greatest accomplishment in life is not identifying a triangle.  It’s not getting an answer right.  What it IS- that’s a mystery that only a story can unveil.  My Grandma shared this with me.  I will share it too.

 

 

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!

 

 

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!  

Winter in the South

Sometimes it can be very hard to find stories for winter time… a southern winter time, that is.  Here in Houston it has been cold for us (read: ICE!) but there are no snowmen, no penguins, and no hibernating bears, and let’s face it, it’s really hard to find any charming winter songs without these things.

February in Houston does have its own personality, though.  February is gray and icy cold fronts swooping down from the north, followed by the balmy days when you notice the white wing doves are back from Mexico and cooing outside of your window.  February is stepping out one morning in a T-shirt, only to run back home an hour later for your winter coat and hat because that front has moved in.  February is the time to grow paperwhites indoors, and prune the roses, and drive out to the prairie to see the last of the geese if you can.

We're back!

We’re back!

I’ve been looking for stories that celebrate this urban southern Houston winter.  I grew up with stories about snow and penguins in Houston, and while I have no problem with either, hearing only about this sort of classic storybook New England winter as a child made me rather dissatisfied with the balmy one I had.  I always felt that there was something wrong with my native climate; that it wasn’t normal, wasn’t behaving itself, was somehow defective and therefore not worth much; it didn’t really count.  I heard a lot about squirrels, but they were always the cute red kind found up north, not the big gray Texas kind as aggressive and capable of urban survival as the rat.  And I never heard about the doves.  My thinking is that never hearing stories about your own landscape leads to a kind of subconscious devaluing of it.  And Houston has pretty much the worst self-esteem of any city I’ve known.  “It’s ugly, it’s hot, it’s flat”- you hear it all the time.  The prairies are paved with suburbs and we are losing them; we grow up into adults who don’t think our landscape is worth saving.  It doesn’t “count.”

ice on green leaves

ice storm, late January

So I am offering a song about rain, and a Native American story about a freak ice storm coming down to a southern state from up north (sound familiar)?

If children value their own landscape, can this translate to more ecologically conscious adults?  I absolutely think so!

And maybe someday soon, I’ll have a poem about the doves.

Rain Song by Connie Manson

It’s raining, it’s raining, the roofs are getting wet.

The rain will make the flowers bloom,

the mud, we’ll sweep off with a broom,

it’s raining, it’s raining,

the roofs are getting wet.

Ice Man

This tale is a Cherokee legend.  I have adapted it for telling to children.  I originally found it here.  I like it for Houston children because, although we haven’t had snow this winter, we have definitely had a lot of sleet and ice!

Once upon a time, the people had make a fire in the forest, and by accident a big tree caught on fire.  The fire was so big, it even burned down, down, down, all the way into the roots of the tree, and made a big hole in the ground.  Even then the fire did not stop, but kept burning and burning, and the hole of fire got bigger and bigger and bigger.  The people tried to put it out, first by beating it with sacks and then with water, but nothing worked- the fire just got bigger.  The fiery hole grew so big they began to be afraid that it would swallow the whole world!

Finally somebody remembered there was a person who could help!  Far to the north, where it was very cold, there was a little house made of ice.  And in this house was a little man, and he had two long white braids that hung all the way to the ground.  He was the Ice Man.  So the people chose some messengers and they traveled for days and nights to find this man.

It took a long, long time, but finally they reached the little ice house.  The little Ice Man said, “Why yes, I can help you.”  Then he unbraided his long, white hair.  He took it all in his hand in a big bunch, and then THWACK!  He slapped it against his other hand.  “What is he doing?” the messengers asked each other.  But then, they felt a cool, soft wind blowing against their faces.

Once again the little Ice Man took a bunch of hair and slapped it against his other hand- THWACK!  This time the messengers felt a light rain falling.

THWACK!  Ice Man swung his hair a third time.  Sleet started falling down, pointy, wet, fast and cold.

THWACK!  Ice Man swung his hair a fourth time.  CLACK, CLACK, CLACk!  Giant hailstones the size of baseballs pounded down.  The messengers covered their heads with their hands.  Ice Man stopped, and laughed.  Then he sent them all back home.

Back at home, every thing was just the same- except that the giant burning hole in the forest was bigger, and the people were even more scared.  Everybody sat down to watch, and see what Ice Man would do, from his little ice house so far away.

Well, first a cool wind began to blow.  But it didn’t stop the fire- it only made it blaze up higher!

Then a light rain began to fall, but it only made that fire burn hotter.

Then, that rain turned to sleet, so pointy, fast and cold, falling like needles onto the fire, and then hailstones big as baseballs came pounding down- CLACK, CLACK!  HISS, HISSSS said the fire, as it began to steam, smoke and die.

By now the people were even more scared, but not from the fire- they were scared of Ice Man’s storm!  Everyone knows when it is sleeting and hailing it’s best to get inside.  So they ran into their houses and peeked out the windows.  That was a good thing, because now a whirlwind came, full of ice and sleet, throwing hailstones big as boulders down on that fire, into every nook and cranny, smashing every flame and spark, until there was nothing left of that fire, nothing at all, not even the steaming of wood.

Well, finally the whirlwind went away, I guess back up north to Ice Man.  And the people came outside, and do you know what they saw?  That big hole that had been full of fire, was now full of water- a lake!

The only funny thing was… if you went to that lake and listened closely, it almost seemed to be making a crackly sound, like fire.

Snip, snap, snout,

My tail is all told out.