The Name of the Tree

by Vicky on May 16, 2011

The Name of the Tree, retold by Celia Barker Lottridge and illustrated by Ian Wallace, was our featured story at the May 13 Page Presents class.

Since our story was from Africa, Mr. Matt got the kids going with body percussion to the African market place rhythm.  Then he handed out shakers to some of the kids and added a steady shaker rhythm to the mix.  Finally he handed out claves to another group of kids and taught them a clave rhythm.

Maestro Matt had THREE rhythms going all at once, played by preschoolers, meshing perfectly!!  It was thrilling.

Then I taught them the Small Tortoise’s chant:

Ungalli, Ungalli!  The name of the tree is Ungalli!

My staging for the story was fairly elaborate.  The stage was covered with desert camouflage and colorful textiles.  Bantu, the chimpanzee puppet, was sitting above the stage and began telling the story of the animals starving during the long dry time.

Finally, the animals resolved to go in search of food.  As they walked across the savannah they noticed a small bump far away on the horizon.  The bump grew bigger and bigger until they could finally see that it was a great tree.  (At this point in the story, I produced the tree’s canopy and placed it in the top of the pole, thus magically transforming it into the great tree. Then I took up the story…)

When they reached the tree, the animals were overcome with the scent of its delicious fruits.  But they discovered that the tree was too tall for even the giraffe to reach, and its trunk was too slick for the monkey to climb.  The animals sat down at the foot of the tree and cried.  But the Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Tortoise spoke up and told them that she remembered hearing of a wonderful tree that would bend down and offer its fruits if its name was spoken.  She was sure that the King would remember the name of the tree.

The Zebra is the fastest, and successfully finds out the name of the tree, but forgets it when she falls into a rabbit hole on her return trek.  The Elephant, with the longest memory, goes next.  He, too, succeeds in finding out the name of the tree, but gets his foot stuck in the same rabbit hole and can’t remember the name.  Finally, the Small Tortoise takes up the challenge, even though everyone says she is much too slow and too young to succeed.  But she keeps putting one foot ahead of the other, and all the long way home she chants to herself, over and over:

Ungalli, Ungalli!  The name of the tree is Ungalli!

(At this point, the kids took up the chant, too.)  She too falls into the rabbit hole, but she never stops chanting.  She slowly marches right up to the great tree and says, in a very loud voice:

Ungalli, Ungalli!  The name of the tree is Ungalli!

And the animals saw the great tree bend down and offer its delicious fruit to them! (Here I lowered the umbrella and helped the Monkey up into the canopy.)

And, to this very day, all of the animals still remember the name of the tree.

Ungalli, Ungalli!  The name of the tree is Ungalli!

After the story, the kids made fabulous Tortoise shakers from paper plates (with a paper bowl for the carapace, and a small paper plate for the plastron) decorated with African textile designs, with beans and popcorn stapled inside.

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