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!

 

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…

Little Golden Star… and a Big Bad Wolf

A golden star falls from the sky and fastens itself to the forehead of a poor girl.  After that, her life begins to change in magical ways.  Estrellita de Oro is our tale this March (Little Golden Star to English speakers).  I came to this story in an interesting way.

The children and I were looking at a map, marking out all the places we’ve travelled via stories this year.  “Why are all the dots on the top of the map?” wondered one observant little girl.  Why indeed? Probably because my cultural heritage is from Europe and I am American, so the tales I love most are the ones I’ve heard all my life, from these places.  But the SunBee Kids have their own cutural backgrounds to explore and were ready to spread their wings! Down into the Southern Hemishpere we go… or at least farther south than usual… starting with Mexico, where many SunBee kids can find their own roots.

Glora Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez illustrated “Little Gold Star,” or “Estrellita de Oro,” a version of the Cinderella story.

Glora Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez illustrated “Little Gold Star,” or “Estrellita de Oro,” a version of the Cinderella story.

Although most Latino kids will know this tale, it is new for me.  I found it by stopping by one of my favorite places in Houston, Casa Ramirez in the Heights.  Mr. Ramirez is a wonderful activist, artist and teacher and one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon is stop by his shop for some cinnamon cookies and a Mexican coke, bathe my eyes in the beautiful colors of the art and crafts, and listen to him tell stories of his boyhood in San Antonio and his work with Latino children all over Houston.  He’s always ready to share a tale and sharing Mexican culture is his passion.  What a treasure for Houston!

Mr. Ramirez in his workshop.

Mr. Ramirez in his workshop.

On this particular day,  he wasn’t there but Mrs. Ramirez was so helpful showing me story books, and telling me of the classic Mexican tales like El Cucuy, La Llonora and Estrellita.  I ended up purchasing The Day it Snowed Tortillas, by storyteller Joe Hayes.  This book is in English and Spanish so I can practice my feeble Spanish a little!  All of the stories are appropriate and fun for children.

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If you are looking for a picture book, I love the vibrant illustrations in this edition of Estrellita de Oro, also by Joe Hayes.

Meanwhile, for my little ones I am sewing a puppet of the Big Bad Wolf.  The journey to a wolf tale also started with the children.  At Beehive Preschool a game has developed.  I am a Wolf and I sleep while the children ask “Wolf, wolf, what are you doing?”  Sometimes Wolf is innocently shaving, playing basketball, talking to his mom on the phone or knitting.  But sometimes… Wolf gets hungry.  If Wolf shouts DINNER TIME, better run!

Why do the children delight in outwitting Wolf?  Why do we always seek out deliciously scary tales of the dark loper of the forest?  Even when we know wolves hardly ever kill humans and actually live in social harmony?

Illustrator and writer Ed Young made a wonderful book of Lon Po Po, the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood.  I think he answers this question very well in the preface he wrote to his dark tale:

To all the wolves of the world

for lending us their good name

as a tangible symbol

for our darkness.

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.

And below, the version I made with an old sock.

He's Big.  He's Bad.  He's da Wolf.

He’s Big. He’s Bad. He’s da Wolf.

 

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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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…

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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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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!

 

 

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.”

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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.