Genie vs. Jinni and the real story of Aladdin

This April we will be dusting off our magic carpets and journeying to Iran… but since we’re going back in time as well, we could also say Persia.  We are flying far beyond Disney to discover the original Aladdin tale from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Is this the Queen of Storytellers, Scheherazade?  Let's pretend it is!

Is this the Queen of Storytellers, Scheherazade? Let’s pretend it is!

I’m guessing that almost all the SunBee kids are familiar with Disney’s Aladdin.  There’s so many great things about that funny and sparkly film, but I never really loved it for one reason- it talks over the kids’ heads.  It was the first of many animations for children that did so,  and after Aladdin, from Shrek to Dispicable Me, almost all films for children have this kind of irony.  In Disney’s Aladdin, Genie makes many cultural references and jokes that are for the parents and not for the kids.  I think that on some level the children feel this.  Irony makes for a story that stands outside itself and doesn’t really take itself seriously.  The stakes are lower.  Much lower than in earlier films such as Disney’s Snow White, for example- nobody is laughing at that witch skulking in the swamps with a blood-bright apple.  The villain in Aladdin is a touch ridiculous and we are never in awe of the genie- although he is funny and endearing, he has no mystery.

No.

No.

At SunBee Circle we learn where stories come from, how they are thousands of years old sometimes, that the real versions are often darker and more magical and more complex than the Americanized versions and there are so many cultures other than our own.  In the real Aladdin, the villian is a seriously powerful magician.  The genie is a jinni! (I just think that spelling is more dazzling).  A jinni in Islamic lore is somewhere between an angel and a human.  They are spirits of fire.  Like humans, they can choose to be bad or good so you have to be a bit on your guard when you find one.

Yes.  The original jinni may look like a little devil but can be bad or good, just like a person.

Yes. The original jinni may look like the Western idea of a little devil but can be bad or good, just like a person.

SunBee Circle always has an activity after the story to encourage dramatic play.  What potential Aladdin has!  We will play dress-up with old clothes (not the ready-made kind- we like to use our imaginations!)  We will choose treasures from a magic chest.  We might try to tell stories like Scheherazade or use vinegar to transform tarnished pennies into golden coins.  The possibilities are endless with this one!

Although you can find Aladdin in any translation of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights,  this famous and beloved collection is not particularly a children’s book.  I really like Best-Loved Folktales of the World by Joanna Cole for reading aloud to children.  It’s a great collection of diverse tales and all of them are appropriate for little ones, so you won’t be merrily reading aloud and stumble onto, um, an extremely bawdy passage!

folktales

 

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.

tortillas

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.

 

Underdogs, Monsters and Ducks: Oh My!

This February features two stories about underdogs who come out on top.  For our little ones, we will have a puppet show based on the Chippewa tale Shingebiss.  Shingebiss is a little duck who has to fish through ice in winter.  But no matter how North Wind blows, Shingebiss can survive.

You can find this story for free online here: Shingebiss and the North Wind

There’s also a wonderful picture book version by Nancy Van Laan.

golem

Golem

 

Our big kids will be hearing about a whole community of underdogs who work together to free themselves from oppressors.  Part Frankenstein story, part Trojan Horse,  The Golem of Prague concerns a Jewish community whose very existence is in threat by the Holy Roman Emperor.  A clever Rabbi forms a giant monster-man out of clay and brings it to life to protect the community… but not all goes as planned.

Our big kids will be forming their own golem out of boxes and tape, and we will see what their inventive minds can create!

For those that want to learn more about golems: Stories of the Golem of Prague.

 

*A word about religion in SunBee Circle:

SunBee Circle is a secular teaching style.  But because we hear stories from all around the world, sometimes religions surface.  Children are never told what to believe but they do learn that Navajo people in Arizona pray to the Great Spirit, that there are Zen temples in Japan, Hansel and Gretel in a fairytale Europe pray to a Christian god for help, and that the Jewish people keep the Sabbath as a holy day.  The idea to tell the story of The Golem of Prague was inspired by the 70th anniversary this week of the liberation of Auschwitz.  I believe stories can heal, and that learning the values and customs of another culture through a story sows wonderful seeds of peace.

Hear some grown-up stories about the liberation of Auschwitz here.

Jewish Cemetery, Prague

Jewish Cemetery, Prague

 

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.

japan_stories

 

 

Turkey and the Big Reed: A Navajo story for November

I love to focus on Native Americans during November.  This is because Thanksgiving is such a beautiful, truly American holiday that generally gets sort of overshadowed by Christmas, or, on the Waldorf circuit, the very beautiful but very European Saint Martin’s Day.  Thanksgiving was a Native American harvest celebration long before the pilgrims ever arrived and got invited, so that’s why I think it’s a beautiful month to sing songs and tell stories about this highly spiritual, sustainable and responsible culture.  I don’t mention the pilgrims… I don’t have anything against them but I know kids will definitely be learning about the Mayflower and all that in school, all of their lives…and unfortunately probably not about the Native Americans.  And, like the pilgrims, we need their culture and wisdom so much.

from "Navaho Folk Tales" by Franc Johnson Newcomb.  Illustrator unknown.

from “Navaho Folk Tales” by Franc Johnson Newcomb. Illustrator unknown.

So here I will share a Navajo story about Hosteen Turkey and how he saved the seeds- and thus, the food- for the people during the flood.  Following that is a lovely song for this time of year.

Story: Turkey and the Big Reed (adapted by Brooke Bailey from Navaho Folk Tales by Franc Johnson newcomb, University of New Mexico Press, 1967.)  Because this tale is pretty long, I have made a pdf so that it’s easier to print out: Turkey and the Big Reed

Spoiler alert:  In my experience telling this story to five and six year olds, children really identify with Turkey when First Woman chews him out for trying to be helpful.  What kid hasn’t gone through that?  When First Woman realizes she made a mistake, she apologizes.  As an adult, I love that.  As a teacher I often made the mistake of hastily reprimanding a kid who meant no harm… (“I’m not splashing water out of the pool for no reason!  I’m trying to protect us from the ants crawling around here on the pavement!”)  And I’ve had to laugh at myself and apologize.  What teacher or parent hasn’t gone through that?  What a great story.

Song: Land of the Silver Birch

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Okay, so it’s not a silver birch, it’s a redbud tree. We are some ways from Canada down here and it’s the best I could do!

It’s interesting to note that my favorite song to sing at Thanksgiving is actually a Canadian folk song!  I love to sing this canoeing song with the children and make-believe we are paddling our own canoe, off to have adventures in the great North American wilderness. They really get into it, drumming their knees like drums in the boom-diddy refrain.  Words are based on a poem by First Nation poet Pauline Johnson.

My paddle’s keen and bright
Flashing with silver
Follow the wild goose flight
Dip, dip and swing
Dip, dip and swing her back
Flashing with silver
Swift as the wild goose flies
Dip, dip and swing
Land of the silver birch
Home of the beaver
Where still the mighty moose
Wanders at will
Refrain:
Blue lake and rocky shore
I will return once more
Boom diddy-ahda
Boom diddy-ahda
Boom diddy-ahda 
Boom diddy-ahda boom.
High on a rocky edge
I’ll build my wigwam
Close to the water’s edge
Silent and still
Refrain
My heart grows sick for thee
Here in the low lands
I will return to thee
Hills of the north
Refrain

 

 

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.”

100_2995

“Oh… I won’t,” promised the bear.

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

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

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

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

“I think right now I will just sit

And from this cake I’ll taste a bit.”

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

“I’m watching you, I’m seeing you

I know just what you want to do.

Get up get up for heaven’s sake

And to my grandparents bring the cake.”

The bear was very surprised!

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“Oh me, oh my,

How she can spy with her bright eye!

I guess she’s still up in that tree

And that’s how she can see.”

And he went on his way.

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

“I think right now I will just sit

And from this cake I’ll taste a bit.”

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

I’m watching you, I’m seeing you

I know just what you want to do.

Get up get up for heaven’s sake

And to my grandparents bring the cake.”

The bear was very surprised!

“Oh me, oh my,

How she can spy with her bright eye!

I guess she’s still up in that tree

And that’s how she can see.”

And he went on his way.

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

Then the grandparents opened the door.

“Oh look, a gift!” said Granny.

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

MASCHENKA!

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

Grandfather dear, Grandmother dear, Hey diddle dee

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

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

Hey diddle diddle dee

How happy we will be!

Hey diddle diddle dee

How happy we will be!

Snip, snap, snout

My tale is all told out.

September is a Season

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

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

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

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

September is…

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

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

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

doves

The Sound of Silence.

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

What?

What?

I wonder why some birds stay and some move on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers in September

Flowers in September

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The beautiful new trellis

 

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All enclosed by morning glories

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

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

 

My Grandma Lucille and me, 1985

My Grandma Lucille and me, 1985

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Bad Wolf as illustrated by the great Svend Otto S.  We loved to be scared by this guy.  Um... most of the time.

The Big Bad Wolf as illustrated by the great Svend Otto S. We loved to be scared by this guy. Um… most of the time.

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

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

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

 

 

the story bag: how to remember an oral story

When I first started telling stories to children (as opposed to reading them from a story book) I worked way too hard.  I would try to memorize the story with the effort of a Shakespearean actor learning lines for Hamlet.  But storytelling isn’t the same as learning a script.  It’s looser, it changes, improvisations and deviations are okay.

Pre-literary people had a lot of little tricks to cheat and help them remember the story.  For instance, all those repititions of “rosy-fingered dawn” in the Odyssey?  They were actually pauses to help the storyteller get his bearings to remember what was coming next.  While the audience enjoyed a few lines of lovely singing, the storyteller was taking a mental coffee break.

I have a mystery in my hand...

I have a mystery in my hand…

Fairy tales also use repitition, and it’s not just because children love it.  In the fairytale Donkey Skin, the princess buys time to wriggle out of a marriage with her incestuous father by asking first for a dress the color of weather, then a dress the color of the moon, then a dress the color of the sun.  The repitions give structure to the storyteller and help her remember what is coming next.

My own trick that I like the best is not only repitition, but something tangible- using a Native American story bag.

“The Iroquis storyteller or Hage’ota carried a bag full of items that acted as mnemoic devices- each item represented a story.  The Hage’ota, or perhaps a chid in the audience, would pull an item out the bag, the item would be shown to the people and the story would begin. ” -Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, Keepers of the Animals.

Three Characters

Three Characters

I adapted this idea a little because I need more help remembering!  Sometimes I will fill a little bag with something simple, like three little objects.  If I were telling “Frog Creates Rain” I might put in my bag:

A pebble, for First Woman

A bit of sponge, for Frog

A feather, for Crane

Holding these objects as I tell the story helps me remember.  When I hold the pebble, I remember First Woman, and so on.  When I know the story very well, I can involve the children by letting them choose and hold objects from the story bag.

Anything to help remember!

 

 

Frog Creates Rain: A Story for Spring

Once upon a time the land was very dry.  It was so dry that a fire started and nobody knew how to put the fire out.

First Woman was the mother of all the people and she felt very sad.  As the boss it was her responsibility to take care of everyone and protect them.  So she went around trying to find a way to put the fire out.  Nobody had any good ideas, and she was practically ready to cry when she came to a swamp where Frog lived.

first_woman

“Friend Frog!” she cried.  “We know you have enough water here in this deep swamp to cover the whole land!  Will you take some out of your swamp and use it to put out the fire that is burning everything up?”

Frog raised his head out the water and saw First Woman standing among the reeds waiting to talk to him, so he swam out and sat on a lily pad.  Once upon a time, Frog had been tall and strong, with a pleasant face and straight legs, but now his legs were crooked, his back was hmped, and his eyes bulged from his head.  But still he wore a beautiful coat made of green mosses, a vest of white lichen, and gloves of bright yellow, and he was considered something of a dandy.  In one way Frog was a most unusual person, for he wore two coats.  One was the usual coat of shiny skin common to all the Water People, but the outer coat was like a coat of green sponge.  It was porous, filled with lots of tiny holes.  It could sop up lots of water, just like a sponge.  Then when Frog didn’t want the water anymore, he would squeeze his coat and let go of all the water- just like when you squeeze a sponge.  Then he could hide in the water if he felt like it, and no one could find him.

First Woman knew all about that.  So she spoke to him very politely.  “We all know you are a magic person and have control of all marsh water.  If you will take some to the fire and put it out, we will be so grateful to you!”

“Hmm,” croaked Frog.  “I think I can, I think I can.”

He dived off the lily pad and swam deep, deep under the water.  He swam so deep that all the Bird People and Human People standing around started to wonder if he had changed his mind and would never come up again.  But really he was soaking up all the water at the bottom of the lake, like a sponge.  Everyone saw the lake getting smaller and smaller, drying up.  When Frog had all the water he could carry, he got out and stood on the shore.

“Now I have plenty of water to put out that fire,” he croaked.  “But someone will have to carry me to the fire.  I cannot fly, and if I walk, it will take too long.”

The Birds were worried.  “If we take him, our sharp talons will poke his coat and all the water will leak out,” they said.

First Woman had an idea.  She took some reeds and made a little swing for Frog. He could ride in it just fine.  But who would carry him?

White Crane said he would do it.  He clamped his talons tight on the Frog swing and spread out his great white wings, and took off.

Vintage illustration from the original source.

Vintage illustration from the original source.

It was hard! Frog was so full of water that he was very heavy!  Crane started out flying high, but soon began to sink lower and lower.  He just wasn’t strong enough.  He thought he could hold Frog no longer.

“Ohhh, Frog,” he groaned.  “I have to let you go!”

“No!” croaked Frog.  “”Don’t do that or we will never put out the fire!  I will squeeze out a little water so I won’t be so heavy!”

He squeezed some water out of his coat and it fell down hard on the fire below, a big torrent of rain, and it put out the flames.  But that was only a little part of the fire.  There was still a lot more.

Crane felt better, but soon began to get tired again. “Ohhh, Frog,” he groaned.  “I am so tired- I am going to drop you!”

“No, don’t do that!” xoraked Frog.  “I can make myself lighter!” And again, he squeezed, and more rain fell out of his coat.  He did it bit by bit, little by little, until all the fire was out out.

Now he was easy to carry, so Crane flew him home.

They landed in the marsh by First Woman.  “We did what you told us,” they said.  “The fire is out.  The problem is, our marsh used to be a lake but now it is only mud and puddles.  So please, in payment, promise not to take any more water from the marshes or we will run out.”

“We will never take water from a marsh,” agreed First Woman, “and what’s more, cranes and frogs will always live there together.”

Frog and Crane were made bosses of all the rain.  Crane could call white rain by waving his white feathers, and Frog could call blue rain by using his cheeping, croaking songs.

That is why, if you find a white feather or you hear a frog sing, it just might rain pretty soon.

 Snip, snap, snout

My tale is all told out.

*This story was adapted by me from a wonderful find from a used bookstore:  “Frog Creates Rain”, Navaho Folk Tales, Franc Johenson Newcomb. 1967, 1990, University of New Mexico Press. pp 151-161.

I simplified it a lot to make it suitable for young children.

Next week we will learn how to tell the story orally and remember everything, and how to act it out!