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.

 

 

Native American Stories for Earth Day

April’s stories revolve around Earth Day.  The Earth Day Houston festivities put together by Air Alliance Houston will be happening in Sam Houston Park on Saturday the 16th, and I will be telling some tales there at 2:40.  It’s all free, so do stop by!

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This month in SunBee we will be telling a series of shorter stories from some of my favorite books ever- the Keepers Series by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.  I’ve decided to be a bit drier than usual in this blog post and just share with you my lesson plan for the month.   The lessons in the books tend to be more for older children.  I made this plan for my students aged 4-7.  If you have access to the Keepers books (I first discovered them in the Houston Public Library) you may like to use it for your class or children.

Part 1: Taking Care of the Earth: What is Stewardship?

We will hear The People of Maize and The Woman who Lives in the Earth from  Keepers of Life, which teach us about two kinds of people: those who know how to take care of the earth and those who don’t.

Part 2: Dreaming of Trees

We will consider our tree friends in Why Some Trees are Always Green and learn How Fox Brought the Forests From the Sky, also from  Keepers of Life.

Part 3: Can the Earth Really Die?

To finish off our Earth Day Month I’ll draw from Keepers of the Animals and Keepers of the Earth.  The tale of White Buffalo Calf Woman and the Sacred Pipe is a Lakota Sioux tale about good stewardship of the earth.  But the tales of The Passing of the Buffalo and The Lake of the Wounded (animals) deal with extinct animals and vanished resources.  They confront the tragic truth that what we destroy now will be gone forever, and we have already lost so much.

But I don’t want to leave the kids with a feeling of helplessness.  I want them to feel empowered! So after hearing these stories I will introduce them to the endangered species on the World Wildlife Fund web page, which is really cool because it gives you many endangered animals to choose from, and you can make a donation to protect your favorite one.  WWF will send you a certificate and everything.

The kids will vote on the animal they’d like to sponsor, and brainstorm ways to earn money for the 55$ it costs.  I hope to show them that while Earth’s problems are serious, it’s not too late and there’s always something that can be done.  And that the future belongs to them.

"White Buffalo Woman" Maxine Noel (Santee Sioux)

“White Buffalo Woman” Maxine Noel (Santee Sioux)

 

Oh, Those Russians

Oh, snap!  SunBee friends, I am posting my January stories at the beginning of February!  That’s all right, because we have a bit more cold weather before us, and that is just perfect for Russian tales.  Also, I have the wonderful opportunity to share with you the kids’ reactions to these stories, as we have been telling them all month.

I focused on two Russian tales.  The first is the Firebird, also called Ivan, Firebird and Gray Wolf in the version I used.  This is appropriate because while the Firebird is a beautiful prize, the true heart of the tale is the young tsarevich Ivan’s relationship with Gray Wolf.  Gray Wolf can be dangerous if he wants to, but he chooses to help Ivan and oh, what a powerful, crafty, and wise friend to have on your side.

Gray Wolf by SunBee student

Gray Wolf by SunBee student

The children were fascinated by Gray Wolf.  I found this to be an especially popular story with boys: a youngest son, a difficult quest, and a REALLY badass helper on your side.  “This is the best story EVER,” declared one six year old.  (And he’s kind of a tough customer, I can tell you.)

Firebird in the Garden, by SunBee student

Firebird in the Garden, by SunBee student

I wanted a story with a girl protagonist after that, and remembered an image from a book I bought in college at a little Russian shop in a snowy street in Manhattan some fifteen years ago.  A young woman in a dark woods with a lighted skull… Vasalissa.

Vasalissa by Ivan Bilibin, circa 1900

Vasalissa by Ivan Bilibin, circa 1900

The story came up again recently when I was reading the incredible Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  A version of Vasalissa is in that book, and it really called to me.  Here is another story about a neglected young person.  Like Ivan, the pretty people in Vasalissa’s world are mean as rats, and the terrible scary being in the forest (in this case, the witch Baba Yaga) ends up being a powerful friend.  The children were fascinated by the descriptions of Baba Yaga’s house (that it stands on chicken legs and dances around is only the beginning!) We were stuck inside that day because of rain, and they were cranking out drawing after drawing of Vasalissa, the dark forest, the wise but wild witch.

Russian stories seem to me to have such a wealth of gorgeous visual images: the Firebird at night in a king’s garden, the girl with the skull in the woods, the yellow eyes of Gray Wolf, the broom of the witch made from the hair of “someone long dead.”  How delightful for these cold winter nights!  Enjoy.

PS. The following is, ahem, not for kids, but a special treat for you.  Rah rah!  Oh, those Russians…

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.

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…

 

Remember November

 

The Autumn Blanket

The Autumn Blanket- the children made this!

Autumn Blanket is a great little story for our smallest friends because it is very simple, very repetitive, and very visual.  It is easy to make a simple puppet show just with a tableaux of leaves and a scarf.  Very little children love to watch and touch the objects that Mother Earth slowly adds to her blanket, help her place them on, and help her find new ones.

When working with very little children, I have to remember that what’s simple for me is still magical to them.  After all, they’ve only seen a few Novembers.  Sometimes it’s quite okay to be simple!

Mother Earth will also appear to us in another puppet show with her children.  The children have a big job to do in Spring, but as cold weather comes, it’s time to go underground and rest.

Mother Earth and her Root Children

Mother Earth and her Root Children

Thanksgiving was a Native American harvest celebration long before the pilgrims ever arrived and got invited, so that’s why I think it’s a beautiful month to sing songs and tell stories about this highly spiritual, sustainable and responsible culture.  In this story, a flood is coming and everybody saves something very important to take with them when they go inside to wait out the storm, knowing that everything will be washed away.  Only slow, awkward Turkey remembers the most important thing of all…

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

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

Sources:

I have adapted the Turkey story from a lovely little book, Navaho Folk Tales by Franc Johnson newcomb, University of New Mexico Press, 1967.)  My adaption below:

Turkey and the Big Reed

The Autumn Blanket pdf

“Autumn Blanket” is by S. Perrow, from Autumn: A Collection of Songs, Poems and Stories for Young Children published by Wynstones Press

Mother Earth and her Root Children is in print!  In English!  Amazon.com

Also, many of my autumn songs come from this delightful book which I HIGHLY recommend.  It is one of the best sources I have ever used:

“A Journey Through Autumn” by Connie Manson

Starring Squirrel Nutkin

 

Squirrel Nutkin being silly

Squirrel Nutkin being silly

Our puppet show this month will be an adaptation of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter.

I love this story- and all of the tales of Beatrix Potter- for their rebel spirit.  If I ever become the leader of a punk band, I shall blame it on the influence of none other than Miss Beatrix Potter.  In her stories there is often a good little animal, like Flopsy & Co. in Peter Rabbit.  And then there is a naughty character, like Peter, who goes where he shouldn’t, and acts up, and breaks rules, and gets consequences- but oh, some fun is had.  I like Nutkin because, like many kids, he pushes the envelope on silly behavior to see how much attention he can get from a big old boring authority figure.  In fact he goes almost too far- but not quite.

Nutkin and Twinkleberry

Nutkin and Twinkleberry

In adapting this for a puppet show for American children, I substituted Potter’s delicious riddles for a simpler rhyme.  This is because the riddles are oh so British and to me they work better for any American, child or adult, when puzzled over in a book, rather than try to follow them in a puppet show.  But if you have never read this gem of a story (I never did, actually, until I was an adult) I certainly recommend it, especially for those delightful riddles!

Here is the original book:

The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Mr. Brown

Mr. Brown

My own adapted version for a puppet show can be found here:

nutkin

There is also a lovely song about Squirrel Nutkin with lyrics by F.B. Wood.  I found a lovely link on YouTube for the tune.  Here are the words:

Squirrel Nutkin has a coat so brown

Quite the loveliest in Woodland Town.

Two bright eyes look round to see

Where the sweetest nuts might be.

And the tune (Charming British accent optional):

 

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.