Spooky Mexican Stories for October

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Sugar Skull Season!!!!

All the sugar skulls are starting to sparkle and glow around Houston!  I was inspired to mine Mexico and the Amercian Southwest for my story treasures this month.  Joe Hayes was a wonderful local storyteller here in Texas who left us a great legacy of Hispanic stories he collected and retold, mostly from New Mexico.  I am a huge fan of his books The Day it Snowed Tortillas, and also The Coyote Under the Table.

The kids had such fun hearing “If I Were an Eagle,” which is just a hands-down straight-up classically awesome fairy tale: a giant, kids on a quest, magic and changing into animals.  The kids had a lot of fun designing “costumes” for the animals they would like to turn into and then acting out the story in their own way.

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I’ve also really wanted to tell La Llonora for a couple of years.  I have hesitated because the story is… very scary.  I asked Mexican and Latino friends if they heard the tale as kids, and if hearing it traumatized them.  All of them had grown up with the tale, but didn’t seem any more damaged than I was by “Hansel and Gretel.”  That is, it was rather deliciously scary, but nobody was in therapy because they heard it.

Much scarier seemed to be El Cuco, who is sort of like the Mexican boogeyman.  He doesn’t have a narrtive story, but seems to be sort of this mysterious essence of malevolence that will simply come and GET you if you are bad.  My friends said he is used as a scare tactic to make kids behave in some families.  He seemed really threatening, so I’m going to stay away from telling that one.

Woman Hollering Creek, possibly named for La Llorona, on I10 West towards San Antonio.

Woman Hollering Creek, possibly named for La Llorona, on I10 West towards San Antonio.

Why would I tell scary tales to children?  I believe fairy tales in their original scary forms have their uses.  Kids can encounter darkness and fear in stories in small doses that they can handle, in a safe and protected environment.  When fear comes in real life (and it always will), kids have already had an emotional dress rehearsal, so to speak.  Fear is not quite so scary.  They already know dragons can be overcome, and Lloronas can be escaped.

La Llonora

La Llonora

I’m including some YouTube links of Joe Hayes storytelling these spooky tales (I will tell them a bit differently, but he really is a master!)

NOTE: Mr. Hayes was performing to elementary school-aged children.  I would strongly advise these videos for kids of 5 or 6 years and older.   If your child is highly sensitive, I would preview first.

 

 

 

 

A Story for Harvest Time: The Moon Lady

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The moon will be full this Friday- forget the man you’ve been taught to look for.  Can you find the shape of a rabbit and a lady?

In China, around the time of the September full moon is the Mid-Autumn Festival.  It’s a quiet gathering with lanterns, moon cakes, friends and loved ones, but my favorite part is the story of Chang’e.

Chang’e was the wife of the Sun.  He had something special: a pill of Immortality.  There are many different versions of the story, but in the one I know, Chang’e takes the pill to prevent it getting stolen by some thieves.  She grows, oh so round, so bright, and with her little rabbit, floats up to the moon!  There she lives forever in a jade castle with her rabbit, in lonely and luminous splendor.  A few times a year, she gets to visit her husband the Sun… but to us, it just looks like an eclipse.

This story is so easy to find online: here is just one version.

But I’m always a bookworm, so of course I can recommend a book for you: Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragon Boats.  It’s warmer, gets more into the characters and is more in-depth.

I absolutely love this book- it has stories and activities for all of the lunar Chinese festivals.  The activities are lovely.  I will be using it again for the New Year.

 

 

 

When the Storyteller meets the Dancer

How shall a Storyteller collaborate with a Dancer?

Well, first the Storyteller spins a story to a group of very imaginative kids, ages 7-11 years old.

The story is about two lands: one is the tropical paradise island of Lemuria, and the other is the crystal urban labyrinth of space-aged Atlantis.

After the story, she gives them paper and crayons to draw scenes from the story.  That’s an okay idea, but the kids explain to her that what they what they really need is to build.  Out come the magnet blocks.  The children begin to build the crystal structures, how they imagine the buildings of Atlantis to be.  It was the architecture that interested them most.

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Now the Storyteller’s work is done.  The kids transition into the dance studio with Amanda Barrett Hayes (who runs a lovely movement program for children, Moving-Body).  The Dancer.

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Amanda

 

Amanda asks the kids: “If you were in the streets of Atlantis, how would you move?  How would you move through this techno city?  Like a robot?  Fast? Slow?  Are there tunnels to crawl through? Are there crowds to get through?”

The kids begin to unroll yoga mats and lay them out like streets.  Techno music plays, and they begin to fly through space, and crawl, and roll, drop to the ground, spring up again, pivot, freeze, and turn.

 

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The song ends.

Now it is time for Lemuria.

The Dancer asks:

“How would you move if you were in Lemuria?  Through the sea, how do you dive, are there animals?”

She opens a magic box filled with color, and passes out silk veils to all the children.

Music.  A drumbeat, with a sprinkling of piano falling like petals.

The children begin to fly around the space with the silk and color, like butterflies.

And as for me,  the Storyteller, I have been watching this entranced.  And I know that tomorrow my story will have tunnels, and bridges, and animals, and children who move like butterflies.

*

This post is part of a series about my experiences collaborating with educators, artists and children at Whole Kids Summer Camp, Houston.

 

Five Beautiful Moments from Camp Today

 

tellingSPECIAL REPORT FROM Whole Kids Summer Camp!

SunBee Friends, I feel so blessed to be part of the amazing alchemy of imagination and magic that is going down at NiaMoves this week at Whole Kids Summer Camp.  I’d really like to share five things from today that were absolutely soaked in sunshine and sparkles and enchantment.  You see, it’s hard for me to explain to people about this camp when they ask me because it really is so multidisciplinary.  So perhaps these five jewels will help explain…

  1.  I told the beginning part of “The Crystal and the Whale”, a tale about two children got caught in a storm at sea!  Kids made journals and took some time to write and draw their responses to the story.  One girl mapped out the entire island.  Several showed me their interpretations of the famous “Warrior’s Tattoo” from the story.  Another showed me just what a girl with fins on her ankles and a gill on her forehead, like the main character, would look like.

2.  Theater teacher Gabriela Maya invited the kids to use sounds and movement to create the beginning of their play.  The children began with creating a storm: one was the spirit of the wind, another pair were seagulls pulling at each other’s wings, and another twirled like a spinning tornado.

The Beginning of a Storm!

The Beginning of a Storm!

 

3.  The plot thickens.  Some kids become animals on the island.  Another girl arrives: a human, but the storm gods do not like humans!  Drama.  There was definitely some drama.

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Pounding the floor with feet and hands to create thunder sounds.

4.  Outside, the children work with artist Holly Hudley to create a totem.  On REAL wood with REAL paint!  I dunno, it’s such a thrill when you get to work with a heavy material like actual wood- not cardboard pretending to be wood, but actual timber!

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5.  Speaking of high quality materials: we all screen printed our own T-shirts!  Screen printing is awesome…

 

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PS. Another thing that brought me joy today, although it was unconnected with the kids’ camp, was the contents of the recycling bin at Nia Moves.  Keep calm and kombucha on.

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You know you’re in the Houston Heights when…

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!

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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)

 

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

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:

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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:

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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.

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

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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:

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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.