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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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!

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.

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.  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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tales

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?

changelings

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…

 

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

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

*****

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.

 

 

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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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.