From the monthly archives:

September 2010

Cric? Crac!

by Vicky on September 29, 2010

In Haiti, when people gather for storytelling, a person who has a story to tell calls out, “Cric?”

“Crac!” answer the listeners, if they are ready to hear the story.

This week’s story for Page Presents was The Banza, a Haitian tale retold by Diane Wolkstein and illustrated by Marc Brown.

For Mr. Matt’s Minute, Matt introduced Haitian rhythms and drumming styles, which he connected up with the market place rhythm from Africa that we have been learning.  Everyone got to play along on rhythm instruments, while I played the market place rhythm on a drum and Matt played cool Afro/Caribbean counter-rhythms on a cowbell.  The rhythms were so infectious that the kids started dancing along as they played their shakers or clapped out the beat.

As a prelude to the story, I played “Rhythme de Tambours Bata á Osun” from the CD Islands of the Sun, from Haiti to Trinidad, and got the kids to yell, “Crac!” in response to my “Cric?”.

The story begins with a terrible storm and lots of thunder and lightning.  Two small animals take shelter from the storm in a cave and begin talking to each other in the dark.  In the morning, they emerge into the light and look at one another.  “Be be be-e-e!” bleats Cabree, a small goat.  “R-r-rowr-rrr?”  says Teegra, a small tiger.  “Want to be friends?” asks Cabree.  “Now!” Tegree purrs, and they go off through the forest together, playing and exploring.  One day Teegra’s family shows up, and Teegra wants to introduce them to Cabree, but Cabree runs into the cave and refuses to come out.  Teegra goes home with his family, but he is back the next morning.  “Cabree! I have brought you something!”  he calls into the cave.  “You brought something for me, really?” asks Cabree.  “Yes, it’s a banza!  It will protect you!” Teegra tells her.

“What’s a banza?  asks Cabree, “How can it protect me?” 

“It’s a small banjo.  It used to belong to my Uncle,” Teegra replies.  “The heart is the strongest thing in the world, Auntie says, and she told me to tell you that if you hold the banza over your heart as you play, one day the heart and the banza will be one!”

“Does it really work?” Cabree wants to know.  “Oh, I don’t know, Cabree,” says Teegra, “But I do know that I will never forget you.”  And he runs home to his family.

Cabree takes the banza out of the cave to admire it in the daylight.  She strokes its strings, and hears a lovely humming sound.  She goes off happily, stopping now and then to play the banza.  One day, she stops to drink at a pond, but first carefully places her banza where it will not get wet.  “Growrrrr!”  She looks up, expecting to see Teegra, but instead there are ten fat tigers staring at her hungrily.  Oh! how she wants to run away—but she can’t leave her precious banza, Teegra’s gift.  She plucks up her courage and slowly moves over to the banza and picks it up.  The head tiger taunts her, and Cabree holds the banza over her pounding heart.  She accidentally plucks a string, and, before she knows it, she begins singing in a deep, menacing voice:

Ten fat tigers.
Cabree eats tigers raw.
Yesterday Cabree ate ten tigers.
Today Cabree eats ten more.

By the time she has finished, three tigers have disappeared.  “Who is Cabree?” the head tiger asks, “And where did you get that song?”

“I am Cabree,” the little goat says in her new deep voice, “and this is my song.  I always sing it before dinner.”

The head tiger sends two of the tigers to fetch a drink for Cabree (but privately tells them to not come back).

Cabree looks at the tigers, and sings:

Five fat tigers.
Cabree eats tigers raw.
Yesterday Cabree ate ten tigers.
Today Cabree eats five more.

Suffice it to say that Cabree triumphs over the tigers, and she sends this message to Teegra: “Today Cabree’s heart and the banza are one!”

After the story, the kids made their own banzas from two heavy-duty paper plates, one long paint stirrer, four strong rubber bands, and two craft sticks.  What amazing instruments!  My husband, Stuart, improved on a design I found online by cutting notches in the paint stirrers with a jigsaw.  This allows the tension in the rubber bands to hold the instrument together, with no need for hot glue and staples.


Tricky Tortoise

by Vicky on September 21, 2010

We stayed in Africa for this week’s Page Presents class, which featured Tricky Tortoise, retold by Mwenye Hadithi and illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway.

The story begins with Elephant stepping on Tortoise for the three hundred and thirty-second time. Tortoise gets mad and tells Elephant to watch where he’s going.  “You think you’re so important!” he fumes.  Elephant says, “Well I am important, and I’m also the biggest.”  “What about your head?” demands Tortoise.  “Have you seen what a tiny empty head you have?  Your head is so tiny and so empty that I bet I could jump right over it.”  Of course, the bet is on! 

The next day at dawn Elephant arrives at the agreed-upon place and finds Tortoise doing exercises.  Elephant doesn’t know that Tortoise’s identical brother is hidden in a clump of grass nearby.  The other animals gather to watch the contest.  They, too, are tired of Elephant throwing his weight around, and they know that Tortoise is a very tricky fellow.  A hilarious sequence ensues, with Tortoise crying, “Hup we go,” as he jumps up, and as Elephant turns his head, he sees Tortoise’s brother coming down, crying, “Down we come, easy, easy!” (having merely jumped up from his place on the other side of Elephant).  The watching animals cheer and declare Tortoise the winner, and Elephant (who doesn’t like feeling foolish) has to host a huge feast in Tortoise’s honor.

Matt taught the kids a great elephant dance.  While he drummed, we had to stomp from side to side like an elephant, with one arm swinging in front like a trunk.  Then, when the drumming stopped, we had to raise our trunks and trumpet loudly!  The kids loved it, and went elephanting around most elegantly.

Then we made tortoises, using the same bowl pattern we had used for the story of The Magic Gourd.  Turned upside down, and with the addition of a head, legs, and tail, it made a splendid Tortoise!  And the photocopied image of African mud cloth was perfect for Tortoise’s patched and mended shell!

Ravi and Miles missed the story, because they are in preschool now.  They arrived in time to make a tortoise, but afterwards they came over to me and said, “Ms. V, would you please tell us the story?”  When I had concluded a quick version of the story, they cried, “Now, Ms. V, you be the Elephant, and we will be the Tortoises!”  And we proceeded to play-act our way through the story again together.

This is exactly the kind of dramatic play that promotes children’s literacy development as they practice reconstructing a narrative and telling a story in sequence—excellent preparation for communicating through written language!

Here are some of the many tricky tortoises that were constructed!


Endangered School Libraries

by Vicky on September 21, 2010

My friend, Deb, a master teacher and retired principal who now teaches at the college level, sent me this Edutopia blog posting by Kate Brown: “Let’s Make Information Literacy a Priority.”  In response to a thread (“School librarians being cut“), Brown wrote:

“The supreme paradox of the leaders of the town’s schools firing those most prepared to take the children into the 21st century is astounding….We know information like nobody else in the district, but nobody…realizes what we know and how critically important we are to their success in bringing kids and faculty into the modern era….[We] are the people they should be looking to to bring about the changes they want in the schools.”

Brown points out that “nobody…realizes what we know” because school librarians are working so hard (due to previous cuts) just trying to stay even that they do not do the crucial community organizing and advocacy for information literacy that would transform parents, faculty, and administrators into school library supporters and advocates.

This Google map, A Nation Without School Librarians, “marks the cities, towns, communities, and states that have made the decision to either eliminate certified school library positions (indicated in blue) or require one school librarian to work with two (2) or more school library programs throughout the week (indicated in red).”

During the time I have worked in both academic and public libraries, I’ve had a chance to observe the lack of information literacy skills in college students.  I’ve even had some ideas of ways to help younger kids get started learning these vital 21st century survival skills.  So this was a well-timed kick in the pants!

I can start with the kindergarten teacher who scheduled a field trip to bring her class to our library in order to combat the falling-off of library awareness among her students and their parents.

One of the messages in Kate Brown’s posting is that librarians are so busy trying to keep up with 20th century library issues that they are failing to keep up with the rapid pace of change in our profession and in the world.  This is definitely an issue in my library system, where the technology is badly outdated and budget cuts have been severe.  This article from School Library Journal, “Things That Keep Us Up At Night,” is keeping me up at night too.

I’ve been really inspired by a couple of school librarians who are doing really exciting things with their students, Doug Valentine at the Harry McKillop Elementary School in Texas, and Gwyneth A. Jones, the Daring Librarian, at the Murray Hill Middle School in Maryland.

Check these awesome book reviews by students at McKillop Elementary!


Unanana and the Enormous One-Tusked Elephant

by Vicky on September 13, 2010

This week’s Page Presents class featured “Unanana and the Enormous One-Tusked Elephant,” a Zulu tale from South Africa.  It’s in the collection, Magical Tales from Many Lands, retold by Margaret Mayo and illustrated by Jane Ray.

Unanana builds a house for herself and her two beautiful children in the middle of a wide road, even though everyone tells her not to build there, because it is the animals’ road through the bush.

One day, when she has left her children in the care of their Big Cousin, the animals come down the road one by one and ask, “Whose children are these?”  Big Cousin says that they are the children of Unanana, and each animal remarks, “What beautiful children,” and goes off down the road.  But when the enormous one-tusked elephant comes along, he says, “What beautiful children…but they are playing in the middle of MY road!”  And he swallows them up.

When Unanana comes home and learns what has happened, she stirs up a big pot of corn pudding and heads down the road in search of the enormous one-tusked elephant. When she finds him, the elephant swallows her up too!  Unanana finds a lot of people and animals are in the stomach, all just sitting around gloomily.  She finds her children and feeds them, and then shares her corn pudding with everyone.  When they all begin to dance energetically, the elephant yells, “Get out now!  Get out of my stomach!”

“And how are we supposed to do that?” Unanana demands.

“Any way you can, just hurry up!” groans the elephant.  So Unanana snips an opening in the elephant’s side with her sewing scissors, and everyone climbs out and goes home.  But they frequently come back to visit Unanana and her beautiful children, and to have wonderful dance parties.   As for the enormous one-tusked elephant, he made a wide detour around Unanana’s house from that time on and never came trampling down that road again.

For Mr. Matt’s Minute, Matt taught everyone the marketplace rhythm at a slow tempo and then gradually speeded it up.  Everyone caught onto the rhythm and enthusiastically joined in.

Soon he had everyone clapping and dancing to the music of “Africa” by the Soweto Gospel Choir.

I told them that they would need to be ready to dance during the story!

Then, at the point in the story when everyone in the elephant’s story starts dancing, I told the kids that they would need to help upset the elephant’s stomach.  I played “Ewa Ka Djo” from Angelique Kidjo’s Logozo album, and everyone danced energetically.  Since it’s quite a long cut, I turned down the volume while I finished telling the tale.  When Unanana leads everyone out of the stomach, I opened a little door in the elephant bodi-puppet and pulled out a long string of paper dolls.  This special effect delighted the audience!  Then I turned the volume back up for the dance party when everyone returns to visit Unanana and her children.  The timing worked out perfectly.

After the story, the kids made their own Enormous One-Tusked Elephant bodi-puppets.

This kid was so thrilled with his bodi-puppet, he was racing pell-mell to show it to me!

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Back to School Origami

by Vicky on September 12, 2010

Our monthly Origami Cool Zone workshop actually happened a week ago, but I’m just now posting the images.

Everyone was having so much fun that it was hard to get them to leave at closing time!  We learned the classic Cootie Catcher/Fortune Teller, a T-Rex Head with Chomping Action by Kunihiko Kasahara (from Origami Omnibus: Paper Folding for Everybody), and the classic Gum Wrapper Chain.

The Cootie Catcher turned out to be a great stand for the T-Rex Chomping Head!


Perceval, le Maistre Chat (1987-2010)

by Vicky on September 12, 2010

Our cat, Percy, passed away on Wednesday, September 8, after a four day illness.  He almost succumbed in May, but confounded the vet’s prognostication that our 23-year-old cat wouldn’t see July.  Instead, he put on weight, his coat regained its elegant luster, and he lived to savor one last, glorious summer.

He was my mother’s cat, and he came to live with us after she passed away in January 2005.  He was already a very old cat then, yet he learned an incredible number of new behaviors during the five years he was part of our family—an exemplar of life-long learning!

Like a Jedi master, he maintained his alpha cat status among our family of cats with a subtle and graceful, invisible projection of chi, right up until his last moments.

As a parting gift and special emblem of favor for some dear friends who were visiting from Germany last month, he caught a bird.  With characteristic panache, he announced this noblesse oblige with his signature lion roar!

The Master Cat taught us much.

We will miss him.

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Puss in Boots

by Vicky on September 5, 2010

(Cue trumpet fanfare) It’s September! and this week Page the Bookworm finally returned from his travels to host Page Presents: Learn with Stories, Music, and Art for the first time at the Tony Hillerman Library!

Page explained that he had been chewing his way through a tasty book when he suddenly found himself in the midst of a story!  It turned out to be Charles Perrault’s story of “Le Maistre Chat, ou Le Chat Botté”—which we know as Puss in Boots.

Many years ago I was given the edition illustrated by Fred Marcellino, along with a matching Puss in Boots doll, and I had fun making the other puppets needed for the story.  For the Ogre’s transformation into a giant Lion, I had attached a lion mask and a lion-colored piece of fake fur to a large kite, which I swooped up from behind the backdrop for a great special effect!  When the Ogre transformed into a mouse, I flipped one of our cats’ small catnip mice over the backdrop, and Puss pounced on it immediately.  “Purrrrrrrrr….that was the best Ogre I ever ate,” the Master Cat murmured, cleaning his whiskers with a flourish.

Percussionist Matt Thomas, who brings us Mr. Matt’s Minute every week, was even more amazing than usual.  Since I had told him that I wanted to use period music for the story, he had researched seventeenth century French baroque dance music and taught us several steps: the pas grâve, the demi-coupé, and the chassée.

Then we played the Tambourins I & II from the Prologue to Rameau’s orchestral suite from Dardanus (a more stately version than this version on Youtube, which would be impossible to dance to).  The kids amazed us by clapping along in rhythm and performing the dance steps they had just learned.

I opened the puppet show with an overture: the first minute of the Rigaudon from Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, which really set the mood.  During the music, I buckled on a large belt, pulled on tall boots, and donned a cavalier hat.  At the end of the puppet show, which culminated with the wedding of the princess and the miller’s son, I played the celebratory Contredanse from Act IV of Rameau’s orchestral suite from Dardanus, and the children got to join in the celebration with their new baroque dance moves.

Afterwards the kids made elegant cavalier hats embellished with swooping feathers and a golden fleur-de-lys.