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:

sir_george

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.

 

 

Story from the River, Story from the Sea

Did you know that one of the most famous Japanese warriors of all time is called Peach Boy?

It’s true.  An old man and woman find a giant peach, and when it opens, inside is a little baby whom they name Peach Boy, or Momotaro.  Momotaro grows to be a fearless youth who takes it upon himself to teach the mean ogres in the mountain next door a lesson.  Although in the story Peach Boy is around 15, I made him into a younger child for our puppet show.  It just tickled me pink peach how a tough little warrior is called, not Superman, not Ironman, not Hulk, but Peach Boy.  YEAH!

Peach Boy is a bad*$#, as seen by this statue standing in Okayama, Japan.  Photo by jumbokedama on Flickr.

Peach Boy is a bad*$#, as seen by this statue standing in Okayama, Japan. Photo by jumbokedama on Flickr.

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The kind old couple finds a baby boy in a giant peach.

Tale of the Oki Islands (The Legend of Tokoyo)

Our oral story inspiration this June also comes from sea-encircled islands of Japan.  A young girl Tokoyo is the kind of strong girl hero I love to find in old stories.  An excellent pearl diver, Tokoyo sacrifices herself to save another girl and journeys to the bottom of the sea.  There she meets the Dragon King, and battles him when all others have given up hope.

I wish I could credit this lovely picture.  I think it's from Studio Ghibli.

I wish I could credit this lovely picture. I think it’s from Studio Ghibli.

Both of these tales were found in my trusty copy of Best-Loved Folktales of the World by Joanna Cole.  But many Japanese tales can also be found on the website Kids’ Web Japan, if you’re into ogres, tanukis and toothpick warriors… and who isn’t?

SunBee Circle in Summer at Ervan Chew Park

This hot, hot June SunBee Circle will have a new time and new location.  Our Friday class for mixed ages (2-8) will take place at the Ervan Chew Park on Dunlavy, a few blocks south of Richmond.  This park has a gazebo, picnic tables, a playground, and most importantly a splash pad for cooling off!  We will enjoy a lot of watery activities inspired by Tokoyo, Dragon King and Peach Boy.  We will also have a new time of 10-11 AM- all the better to cool us with, my dear!

See you there!

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

 

 

Autumn Blanket: A Story for Little Ones

 

Our Texas Blanket

Our Texas Blanket

This October has been very special for me because I had my first ever little SunBee Circle class!

All of the children in October’s session were little ones.  We have a one-and-a-half year old, a two-and-a-half year old, and a more mature gentleman of four-and-a-half.

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 Octobers.  Sometimes it’s quite okay to be simple!

Click here to read the story:

The Autumn Blanket pdf

 

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.

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.”

ice on green leaves

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.