More About the Faeries

Fairy Glen, Conway, Wales

Fairy Glen, Conway, Wales

I have written before about real faeries.  But you can never learn too much… and I have learned alot this month from the tales I will will be telling from The Welsh Fairy Book, by W. Jenkyn Thomas.  My roommate found this treasure once at Kaboom Books, and I happened to peruse it once on a rainy afternoon, and… well, let’s just say I learned alot.

Things you should know about Faeries and the Country of Faerie:

Those that have been to Faerie say it is always misty, gray weather there.

Those who have seen faeries usually discover them singing in a ring. Witnesses hear most beautiful music ever, and everyone is dancing.

Entryways to Faeirie are through the earth, through a door in the earth or underground tunnel.

Faerie people are not tiny like pixies, they are human sized… but small, with pale skin and dark hair.

Time is different in Faerie- you may be five minutes there, and five hundred years may have passed here.

Tea time with the Fair Folk

Tea time with the Fair Folk

Faeries are not “bad” or “good” but if you mess with them, you will be sorry.  They can steal your babies and substitute a faery child (changelings), they can take you to Faerie and you’ll never come back, and they can really mess with your cows, goats, butter, milk and basically anything to do with your cottage dairy industry.

Faeries turn into animals, and talk to them, and enchant them to do the faery’s will.

Faeries mostly eat milk flavored with spices, no meat.

Never call them Faeries- you might call one to you!  Just say “Fair Folk” or “Little People” to avoid ticking them off.  I really hope they don’t read blogs.

If they like you, they might shower your life with blessings such as a harp that always plays beautifully, a purse of gold, or a very prosperous cottage dairy industry indeed.

All you need to to make a Faery story are these facts, a mortal who gets into Faery and (hopefully) comes back again.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

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 new puppet show- Twiggy

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Old Woman, gray goose, with Baby Twiggy in the bed, and the yarn-snake in the background.

For teachers of  young children like myself who are weary of apple crafts… to those of you trying to home school all Waldorf style… September in Houston can be frustrating.  Ain’t no apples.  Ain’t no crisp leaves.  Ain’t no harvest we can see.

But there are…. TWIGS!

I love dead sticks!

I love dead sticks!

A great story for autumn-not-autumn is “Twiggy”.  A Ukrainian tale, I first discovered this story about a twig that comes to life in the Acorn Hill book of Waldorf songs, circle games and stories, “Let us form a Ring“.  Basically, an old couple longs for a child.  The old woman finally just takes a stick and begins to love and care for it as if it were a baby.  One day the stick comes to life, and “Twiggy” the sweet little twig child learns who he can trust, and whom he shouldn’t.

I chose it to make a puppet show of because (as some of y’all may know) my deepest dreams are fulfilled when children play with sticks.  After the show, the children searched the playground for the perfect Twiggy, and made him boats and homes from little boxes.  They were so deeply in the moment and as happy playing with their Twiggys as they were with the plastic sand toys.

Of course, if you would like to tell this tale to young children, you don’t need to make a full on puppet show at all.  You can use just… a stick.  Anything can be a puppet.  As the wonderful Houston puppeteer David Caranza (of Caranza Puppets) says, a puppet is nothing but an inanimate object you seemingly make “come alive”.  So the old lady can be your finger, the goose your hand, the snake a bit of yarn (as my snake puppet is).  And the imagination of the tiny child will do the rest!

 

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.

 

 

 

Sometimes a Girl Needs a Sword

Illustration by Trina Schart Hyman

Illustration by Trina Schart Hyman

“I cried when Rey picked up the light saber too. And it wasn’t because it was the greatest movie ever. It was because I’d been waiting thirty years and more for a girl to pick up a light saber, and I never even realized it before.”

My sister posted this on facebook last winter (here is the article she was responding to; it’s quite a good read).  It stuck in my mind this year as I was telling Saint George and the Dragon and one little student, a first grade girl, asked if George’s sword was like Rey’s.

Rey.

I haven’t seen Rey’s movie, but I remembered the words of my sister.  And I knew that little girl needed a dragon to slay!

I want to share with you The Serpent Slayer, a fantastic book all about warrior girls, pirate girls, clever women who trick the bandits out of treasure, sassy old women who outsmart the devil, and a gentle sun girl who saves and heals a dragon prince.  I would have loved this book when I was little.  I had a wonderful cozy rainy morning spending some time with it and my inner child.

It wasn’t like she didn’t know she was a hero.  She just never had the stories to match her own.  Well, now she does.

 

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PS. I’ve found little boys love stories with a girl hero just fine.  As long as there are pirates, dragons and monsters, the gender of the protagonist doesn’t seem to matter.

 

 

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…

The Crystal and the Whale (Stories for a Summer Camp)

One of my characters was inspired by Hawaiian girl surfer Ha'a Keaulana. Photograph by Paul Nicklen for National Geographic.

One of my characters was inspired by Hawaiian girl surfer Ha’a Keaulana. Photograph by Paul Nicklen for National Geographic.

“Could you make up a tale about a peaceful civilization?  What would that look like?”

This question was posed to me by Lisa Gale, who needed such tales for  this year for her wonderful Whole Kids Summer Camp (no relation to Whole Foods).  Lisa is a shamanic yogi who has tossed stories with shanakees in Ireland, and she knows a thing or two about magic.  Our camp theme this year was “tribal, or what makes a community.”

I had been reading Lost Lands by Lucy Cavendish, so my imagination went to the mythical “lost” cities of Lemuria and Atlantis and wove stories about how they might have been.  Two children from the tribal world of Lemuria wash up on the shores of the spaced-aged, tech-happy Atlanta and meet an Atlantean child.  Adventures ensue, including deep sea diving for pearls, crystal healing, riding a whale and a tsunami.

The whackadoodle yet fascinating Australian book about vanished undersea cities.

The wackadoodle yet fascinating Australian book about vanished undersea cities.

Other teachers are going to come in with playwriting, cooking, movement, dance, and art all inspired by the story.  The children will do the same, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.  I’m already brimming with questions to get them going: which would you rather live in, Atlanta or Lemuria?  I made these stories up based on what I imagine they were like… what do you think?  What if you could invent your own tribe and community and civilization?

I will be recording these stories and hope to have them on MP3 soon.  Thus I shall now say “to be continued…” I will update this post so it has some actual tales on it! The stories are conceived for kids 6 to about 9.  This will take me into the realm of recording technology where I have never traveled, but I figure if I can dream up the streets of Atlanta I can handle this!

Here is a bit of the magic that took place last year at Whole Kids Camp, which still has spots left.  Register here (when you click on the link, you gotta scroll down a bit).

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Storytelling

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Art installation: under the sea

 

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This looks like an innocent milk carton, but it’s actually the statue of a wicked empire with a deadly curse trapped inside.

 

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Using a sheet they painted the day before to create the underwater dragon’s cave!

Shadow Puppets in the World of Hans Christian Andersen

A SunBee mom lent me a lovely new edition of  The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen.  (Anyone who knows my love of vintage illustration will realize why I love this book!)  It’s also available at the Jung Center bookstore in Houston.  We are immersing ourselves in “The Ugly Duckling” and “Thumbelina” in SunBee this month.  Both are tales of a highly sensitive being who doesn’t fit in, but come spring time, each finds their place in the world.

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Thumblina (Illustration by Brooke Bailey)

Andersen’s tales are richly visual and have inspired many artists including myself.  So it seemed like a good time to try shadow puppets with the kids, which I have always wanted to do ever since learning the technique from artist Justin Dunford at Gina Vazquez’s wonderfully creative summer camp Flor y Canto several summers ago.  Justin’s materials were very simple: the sort of thin cardboard cereal boxes are made of, tape, and those very thin shish kebab sticks.  Because my kids are much younger than the kids at that camp, I used straws (less poky), animal foam stickers, doilies, and some stencils for the kids to trace.

You draw or trace your character on the cardboard, cut it out, and tape it on a straw.  So much for puppets.

For the theater, I used a packing box and white paper, and duct tape for the edges.  I got the idea from this link about how to make a simple theater. The only thing I changed: I kept a sort of “frame” around the “screen” to prevent the whole box from flopping over and taking a nap mid-performance.

 

 

The kids enjoyed this so much one rainy afternoon that we will be working on it all of March!  To the stage!

Friend. (Thumbelina illustration by Brooke Bailey)

More Trolls, and a Tomte Too

*(This blog post is a somewhat revised version of the same last year.)

This December we will be journeying to the cold forests of Sweden and learning about tomte and trolls.

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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.  The recurring theme of a good being watching over the farm while all are sleeping comforts and calms children.  I am always struck by how quiet they are after this puppet show.

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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.

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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.  I told this story last year and it was the most popular tale I ever told, across the board, in all the classes.  I will be telling this old favorite again… but did you know there are also girl trolls?

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There she is.  The wild troll girl, laughing!  Two babies- a troll princess and a human princess- are switched at birth.  A golden-haired, angelic (and rather goody-goody) Swedish princess raised in a troll family?  A cruel, wild troll princess raised in a civilized palace?  Wait and see what happens…

 

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.