Monkey and Crocodile

by Vicky on May 22, 2012

Last week was full of school visits, so I tried to keep my story time simple.

The Monkey and the Crocodile: A Jataka Tale from India, by Paul Galdone, is the story of how a Monkey outwits a particularly hungry and persistent Crocodile.

In my version, the story is narrated in part by my old chimpanzee puppet, and partly told enacted by my crocodile and tiny chimp puppets.  

The story is just scary enough to be exciting, but the device of having Old Bantu the Chimp telling the story as something that happened long ago helps to keep the scariness at a safe distance.  There is also quite a bit of comic relief in the story!

We celebrated the Monkey’s escape with a dance party.  I handed out all of our rhythm instruments and we all danced to “Jai Ho,” from the film Slumdog Millionaire.

Then the kids had a lot of fun making crocodile cards.


I love this story, which I discovered in Magical Tales from Many Lands, by Margaret Mayo and illustrated by Jane Ray.  In my version of the story, Unananna is a Rabbit, which seems appropriate to me since Rabbit is a trickster in many cultures.

I’ve described this story in more detail elsewhere.  It contains a bit of storytelling legerdemain that is one of my best inventions!

Afterwards, the kids made Elephant masks.

Soon there were elephants everywhere!


The Name of the Tree

by Vicky on May 22, 2012

The week before Earth Day, I told one of my favorite stories, The Name of the Tree: A Bantu Tale Retold, by Cecilia Barker Lottridge and illustrated by Ian Wallace.

There is a terrible drought that goes on and on, and the animals grow hungrier and hungrier.  An old tortoise remembers that there was once a wonderful fruit tree who would bend down and offer its fruit to the animals if they called it by name.  They trek for many days until they find the giant tree, but the fruit is too high to reach and no one can remember the name of the tree. 

The old tortoise tells them that the king must know the name, and someone must go and ask him.

When the first animal arrives to ask the lion king for the name of the tree, the monarch is at ease and benevolently offers the name.  However, he warns her not to forget the name.  But because she is thinking only of how the other animals will admire her for bringing the name, an unexpected fall knocks it completely out of her mind.  The next animal to make the attempt finds a considerably agitated king, but still succeeds in leaving with the name.  This animal is so preoccupied with showing off its prodigious memory, a mishap causes the name to vanish without a trace.  When a very young, slow tortoise volunteers to try, everyone scoffs, but the young tortoise points out that he is the great-great-grandson of the old tortoise who remembered that the tree had a name.

The tortoise finally arrives in the jungle, only to find that the king is in high dudgeon and has no intention of revealing the name.  While ranting about the forgetful animals, the king lets slip the name, and young tortoise meekly takes his leave.  So as not to forget the name, the tortoise chants the name all the way home:

The name of the tree is Ungalli.

And he keeps chanting all the way back to the foot of the tree, which bends down to offer its fruit to the starving animals.

Afterwards, the kids made tortoise puppets.


Leonardo’s Self-Supporting Bridge

by Vicky on May 22, 2012

For our final Spring Spectacular program honoring the birth of Leonardo da Vinci, we taught the kids how to build Leonardo’s self-supporting bridge.

My friend Kim, who is an architect, sent me some great exercises to get the kids thinking about the forces that affect bridges.

Stuart had cut some 2×2 boards into 4′ lengths so we could build a large version of the bridge.  We stacked some large heavy books on top, and the bridge easily held the weight.

Stanwood Hardware had generously donated a box of paint stirring sticks, and we gave the kids sticks and instructions and turned them loose.  They built their own bridges and began modifying them in interesting ways.

Then we folded another paper airplane based on Leonardo’s designs, and this inspired the kids to teach each other a number of other paper airplane designs.

All in all, I think Leonardo would have been pleased.


Patron Saint of Paper Airplanes

by Vicky on May 22, 2012

Our Spring Spectacular origami workshop honored Leonardo’s love of birds, fascination with flight, and flair for spectacle.

We folded a simple floating duck (the Boat Duck from Making Origami Birds Step-By-Step, by Michael LaFosse), the traditional flapping bird, and another paper airplane inspired by Leonardo’s designs.


Scientific American dubbed Leonardo the “patron saint of paper airplanes,” and created a trophy, the Leonardo, for the 1st International Paper Airplane Contest in 1967.

The kids discovered that duck boats made of different paper types had wildly different success rates in staying afloat.  Everyone folded great flapping birds, and the dads could not resist getting involved when the paper airplanes started flying!

Here is some cool video from The New Millennium Paper Airplane Contest, held in 2008 at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York (in homage to the historic 1967 contest, which was held in the same venue).


Happy Birthday, Leonardo!

by Vicky on May 21, 2012

Our Spring Spectacular programs for school kids during spring break celebrated Leonardo da Vinci’s 560th birthday.

We explored his fascination with flight and his inventions—particularly his flying machines and his self-supporting bridge.

Our first program focused on Leonardo’s flying machines.  I showed the wonderful short animated film, Leonardo, by Jim Capobianco.  Then we watched a clip from the documentary film, Leonardo’s Dream Machines, showing Judy Leden becoming Leonardo’s test pilot in 2002 when she flew a glider built from his 500-year-old drawings.

Then the kids made their own model ornithopters based on a project from the book, Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself, by Maxine Anderson.  They test flew their models and experimented with various modifications. 

Then they folded a paper airplane inspired by Leonardo’s ornithopter design.

They test-flew their paper airplanes and then began making modifications for further tests.

Leonardo would have been pleased with their experimental approach to design!


Bless your pea-pickin’ heart, MRM!

by Vicky on May 6, 2012

I have been telling a lot of Margaret Read MacDonald stories lately.  They have such great interactive elements that kids love.  For our story time on April 5, I told a puppet version of her tale, Pickin’ Peas.

It’s the story of a little girl who sings as she picks her peas:

Pickin’ peas, put ‘em in my pail!
Pickin’ peas, put ‘em in my pail!

Tricky Rabbit follows along behind her in the next row over, singing:

Pickin’ peas, land on my knees,
Pickin’ peas, land on my knees.

The little girl thinks she hears an echo, and stops singing.  She catches Rabbit and puts him in a box while she eats her peas.  But Rabbit makes such a ruckus inside the box, she asks him what is going on.  Rabbit explains that he wants to dance, and, since he is such a good dancer, she should take him out of the box to entertain her while she eats.

Rabbit dances and sings:

Pickin’ peas, land on my knees,
Pickin’ peas, land on my knees,
Heard my mama callin’ me,
Right over there!

Every time he sings “right over there,” he hops to the right, until he gets close enough to hop right out the window!  I told this story with a rabbit puppet and a flannel board with rows of felt pea pods to pick.  The puppet stage had a window cutout over the stage opening.  There was a low bench in front of the puppet stage, on which I put a coffeepot and some mixing bowls and dishes.  I moved from the flannel board pea patch to the kitchen as I told the tale, and, when Rabbit dives through the window, I let the momentum of his jump propel the glove puppet right off my hand and through the window (vanishing behind the puppet stage–a nice effect!).

Afterwards the kids made their own Rabbit masks, and then they had fun re-enacting the story with masks, puppets, felt peas, and window puppet stage set.


An April Fools “Fish Story”

by Vicky on April 1, 2012

For this week’s story time, I decided to help the kids get ready for April Fools Day a few days early.  I told them that I was going to tell them a “fish story” and that the expression “fish story” is usually synonymous with “tall tale.”  As a matter of fact, the title of the featured book was Kumak’s Fish: A Tall Tale from the Far North, by Michael Bania.

But first we had to get in the mood by playing Inuit children’s games, which are quite challenging!  We started with the Owl Hop, in which you have to hook one leg behind the other knee and hop around on one leg. 

Then we tried the Kneel Jump, in which you have to jump up and forward from a kneeling position.  Finally, we tried the Seal Crawl, in which you have to lie flat on the floor with ankles crossed, then push up and crawl around using your arms!  After we had tried each game, I played an Inuit chant and led the kids in all three games.  They all played with gusto, and I was impressed with how well they all did.  Our seal crawl was especially realistic!

The story of Kumak’s Fish is much like The Enormous Turnip.  Eventually it takes a village to land the fish, which turns out to be a whole string of fish (mirroring the string of villagers at the other end of the epic tug of war!).  In our version, however, which is an even sillier tall tale, there is a HUGE fish at the end of the string of fish.  Stuart, the Big Fish, appeared to the bombastic strains of the Marseilleise, wearing a sash which read “Poisson d’Avril.”

This brought down the house.  Of course I had to explain the French custom of taping paper fish on the backs of unsuspecting people on April Fools Day.  The kids had lots of creative ideas for fun with paper poissons.


Mabela the Clever

by Vicky on March 30, 2012

It was high time to do some spring cleaning, so I’m just now posting photos from last week’s story time, which featured the tale, Mabela the Clever (retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and illustrated by Tim Coffey).

I like telling MRM’s stories, because her versions always include a lot of audience participation, which kids love. Mabela the Clever also has a great opening line:

In the early times, some were clever and some were foolish.
The Cat was one of the clever ones.  The mice were mostly foolish.

But the tiny mouse named Mabela was different.  She had been taught cleverness.

Mabela’s father teaches her that when she is out and about, she should 1) keep her ears open and listen; 2) keep her eyes open and look around her; 3) pay attention to what she is saying; and 4) if she has to move, move FAST!

The Cat comes to the mice village and announces that the cats have voted to allow the mice to join their secret society.  They are to show up at the Cat’s house on Monday morning to be learn the secret cat lore and be initiated.

The Cat teaches the mice the Cat Society’s secret song:

When we are marching, we never look back.
The Cat is at the end, Fo Feng! FO FENG!!

The mice line up with the smallest (Mabela) at the head of the line, and march singing into the forest.

Suddenly, Mabela notices that the singing doesn’t seem quite as loud as at first, and she remembers her father’s instruction to keep her ears open and listen.  Hmm…definitely softer!  And then Mabela remembers her father’s second instruction to keep her eyes open and look around.  She sneaks a glance back out of the corner of her eye and notices that the line is much shorter. 

That reminds her of her father’s third admonishment: “Mabela, when you are speaking, pay attention to what you are saying.”

The Cat is at the end…

Who is watching the Cat?

Suffice it to say that Mabela remembers her father’s last piece of advice in time.  She dodges the Cat, who gets tangled up in a bramble, and all of the mice escape from his backpack.

I love the ending of this story, which comes to us from the Limba people of South Africa.  Limba grandparents tell their grandchildren:

If a person is clever, it is because someone has taught them their cleverness.

After the story, we played the fo-feng game.  The kids sang and marched while marched at the end wearing the Cat mask and fo-fenged the last person in line until I made it to the head of the line.  Then the kids made their own Cat masks and mice paperdolls so they could re-enact the puppet play for themselves.


by Vicky on March 17, 2012

Power to the People!

Paolo Freire, author of Education as the Practice of Freedom and Pedagogy of the Oppressed, would be pleased.

His countryman, Raul Lemesoff, has transformed a Ford Falcon (formerly an armored military vehicle) into a “weapon of mass instruction” as his “contribution to peace through literature.”

He drives through Argentina giving away books.

“Education…becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed