St. Patrick’s Day

by Vicky on March 17, 2012

To get everyone in the mood for St. Paddy’s Day, I decided to tell the story I call “The Helpful Fairies,” which I learned from Margaret Read MacDonald (who calls it “The Little Old Woman Who Hated Housework”).  It’s a rollicking tale about an old woman who made the mistake of inviting a bevy of too-helpful fairies into her house, with disastrous results.

When I announced that I was going to tell them a story, all the kids immediately scooted up and clustered around me, their faces alight with anticipation.  It’s a longish tale, but I needn’t have worried about that because they all followed right along, joining lustily in the sound effects accompanying the fairies’ housework:

Klankety, klankety, klankety, klankety
Swishety, swishety, swishety, swishety
Flumpety, flumpety, flumpety, flumpety
Clickety, clickety, clickety, clickety!

And I just discovered that there is now a picture book of this story: Too Many Fairies: A Celtic Tale, by Margaret Read MacDonald (illustrated by Susan Mitchell).

My puppet show was a dramatization of King Puck, by Michael Garland.

In this tale, the fairies are helpful in a good way.  Taking pity on lonely old Seamus and his goat Finny (who dreams of gaining wisdom like the fabled Finn MacCool), the fairies enchant the goat with the gift of gab.  Inspired by Ireland’s oldest fair and the town where it takes place, the book also celebrates books and reading—and librarians!

For our music and movement activities, we played “Follow My Leader” and “Mill and Grab” (when the leader calls out a number, players have to get into groups of that number).  The older kids loved this challenge, but the younger ones just joined onto the nearest group, so there was lots of milling as the older kids then subtracted themselves and tried to reform so as to keep the numbers correct.

The King Puck mask project was a hit with everyone!


One Fish, Two Fish

by Vicky on March 17, 2012

During the birthday week of Dr. Seuss, I taught my colleague’s two preschool story times because she was on vacation.  It was hard to face the dismay on the children’s faces as it dawned on them that their beloved Mrs. Jones was absent.  But a lot of aerobic music and movement activities soon won them over!

Because some of the kids come to my family story time, I didn’t want to repeat my Green Eggs and Ham puppet show, so I gave them a flannelboard telling of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.  They had fun chanting along.  Then we practiced counting backwards.  It was a bit hard to count backwards from twelve, but everyone knew how to count down from ten. 

When we got to “Blast Off!” I zoomed my Cat in the Hat hat into the air like a rocket.

We also had a lot of fun with Hooray for Fish, by Lucy Cousins.

Hello, hello, hello, fish!
Red, blue, and yellow fish.

The kids were soon filling in the fish descriptions for me.

There were LOTS of fish to count in Hooray for Fish, and the kids proudly counted them all.

The kids picked out gauzy scarves and pretended to be fish swimming in the sea to the music of Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” from Le carnaval des animaux.

We enjoyed ourselves hugely.

HOORAY for fish!


Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

by Vicky on March 11, 2012

It was an amazing week of immersion in the wacky world of Dr. Seuss, starting on March 2, his actual birthday, when I was invited to a local ECEAP preschool to present a Seuss story time.

Green Eggs and Ham has always been one of my favorite Seuss books, although the book and I got off to a shaky beginning.  It was a gift from a dear friend of our family, and I read it immediately after stuffing myself shamelessly at our Christmas dinner.  Suddenly I wished I hadn’t eaten quite so much.

It works well as a puppet show!  For audience participation, have the kids listen for the refrain: “I do not like them, Sam-I-am.  I do not like green eggs and ham.”

That is their cue to chorus:

He doesn’t like green eggs and ham.  He doesn’t like them!

By next year I need to laminate the stick puppets I created for the puppet show, so they will last through many more years of Dr. Seuss birthdays.

I also need to sew cloth bodies instead of paper bags for Sam-I-am and his big friend.

The kids really wanted to play with my puppets, but my quickly-produced hand puppets and stick puppets were too fragile.  

And who could blame them?  These characters and the story are irresistable!

Fortunately, the kids in my family story time got to make their own finger puppets and play with them in the puppet theater!


Leonardo Live!

by Vicky on March 4, 2012

Last Sunday evening Stuart and I drove down to the Seattle Center for a special showing of Leonardo Live sponsored by the Seattle International Film Festival.

It’s a filmed tour of the sold-out exhibit, Leonardo da Vinci, Painter at the Court of Milan, at the National Gallery in London, which brought together “the most complete gathering of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held.”

Seeing these masterworks on a big screen was a revelation. 

Aside from noticing details that I had never seen in reproductions, it was amazing to see the actual sizes of these works.  Their impact was visceral.  I was struck by the 3-D quality of the paintings and the impression of living movement captured in an instant.

Of course, nothing could compare to the physicality of standing in the presence of these paintings and drawings, but the filmed tour offered a taste of what that experience would have been like.  It was definitely worth putting up with the Olympics-style commentary and unscripted and mostly inane comments by various “experts.”

Dame Fiona Shaw, Creative Director of the Royal Opera House, did offer an unusually enlightening perspective.  She focused on Leonardo’s dramatic sense:

Theatre and religion…function from expectation–it’s a sort of a silence that you get, not in death, but in the moment somebody arrives in a door.

Several of Leonardo’s portraits give one the sense of glimpsing the subject at a doorway or in a moment’s glance across a crowded room.  Instead of showing a static surface, Leonardo somehow creates an illusion that lets us feel something of the personality and the physical presence as well as the hidden depths of these very real people.

Leonardo Live


Last Sunday, the Sno-Isle Libraries sponsored my puppet show, “Lessons from the Geese,” in partnership with the 2012 Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival.  The program was also supported by the Stanwood/Camano Friends of the Library and by my husband, Stuart, who created our beautiful Snow Goose puppet and performed the role of Canada Goose in the play.

It was wonderful to be a part of this community festival honoring the annual influx of wintering birds in the fields and wetlands bordering Puget Sound.  We’re still marveling at our good fortune to be living in the midst of such beauty.  Port Susan has been identified as a priority conservation area of high biodiversity importance within the greater Pacific Northwest by The Nature Conservancy.

The festival takes place in multiple venues in Stanwood, Camano Island, and environs.  Our performance took place at the Four Springs House, part of a 50-acre nature preserve on Camano Island.

My play was inspired by The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, by Selma Lagerlöf, the story of a naughty and inconsiderate boy who gets shrunken to the size of an elf and flies around Sweden with a flock of wild geese.  Lagerlöf was commissioned in 1902 by the National Teachers Association of Sweden to write a geography reader for the public schools, and the story is a vehicle for teaching Swedish natural history, folk tales, history and traditions, in addition to geography.  In 1909, Selma Lagerlöf became the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

After the puppet show, I taught kids and their parents how to fold an origami flapping bird.   We colored the wingtips black so it would look more like a snow goose.

Nils and the geese appear on the Swedish 20 kronor bill honoring Selma Lagerlöf.

The story is an enduring one, with many filmed adaptations.  As recently as Christmas 2011, a new 2-part adaptation directed by Dirk Regel was shown on German television. (I have no idea why the images in the video are reversed!)


Book Magic

by Vicky on February 18, 2012

One of my library lists alerted me to this marvelous short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg of Moonbot Studios.

Said to be “inspired by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books,” the film is a valentine to books and the healing power of stories.


Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock

by Vicky on February 17, 2012

For this week’s story time, we visited Africa!  Our puppet play was based on Eric A. Kimmel’s retelling of Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock.

Anansi, the Spider trickster, discovers a mysterious moss-covered rock in the forest.  Stranger still, the words “strange moss-covered rock” seem to trigger instant unconsciousness in anyone who utters them in the rock’s presence.

One by one, Anansi lures each of his friends into the forest and shows the rock. Then he runs back and steals their food while they are unconscious.

But Rabbit has seen what he is doing, and, when it is her turn to be led to the strange rock, she pretends not to see it.

Anansi gets so worked up over her obtuseness that he slips up and says the magic words himself.

Then Rabbit goes to Anansi’s house and takes all the stolen food back to its rightful owners.

But does Anansi learn his lesson?

Not he!

Once a trickster, always a trickster!

Check out the cool Anansi finger puppets the kids made.

I loved how some of them recreated my Anansi puppet’s kufi in miniature!


The Tale of Two Bad Mice

by Vicky on February 12, 2012

For this week’s story time, I told one of my favorite stories, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, by Beatrix Potter.

My rather flimsy flannelboard backdrop that I made last year did not survive the move, so Stuart made me a much sturdier (and larger!) one out of cardboard. 

We are working on a much grander plan, but this beta version looked great and performed very well.

The bad mice are so delightfully naughty, with feathers flying as they trash the bedroom, that kids always get a big kick out of my retelling with puppets.

For more pictures, see this post from one of last year’s performances.

Afterwards, the kids made paper bag puppets of Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb.

The Tom Thumb puppet had a blue collar, and the Hunca Munca had a lace apron and/or cap.


We had our after hours pajama story time and stuffed animal sleepover last Friday.  We had 33 kids, 36 stuffed animals, and 35 adults.  The animals got to spend the night in the library!

I tried out the Alphabet dance/stretch that I learned from my calligrapher friend, Ewan Clayton.  You draw invisible letters of the alphabet, with flourishes, using your full reach like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.  The kids had a blast with this.  What fun to have a full body physical memory of each letterform.  I am going to make this a regular feature of my story times.

Then we presented Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein, as a puppet play.  The chicken puppets used the top of the puppet theater as their stage, disappearing behind it when each bedtime story began.

As Papa Chicken began to read, Jill, our branch manager, lifted the book into the puppet theater stage, open to each bedtime story spread.

Chicken jumps in front of the book to interrupt the story, and Papa Chicken reappears above the theater, calling, “Chicken.”  “Yes, papa?” Chicken answers, appearing next to him.  Kids and parents loved it.

Before our second story, The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear, we all sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to get in the mood.  We split into groups and sang it as a round, which worked really well.  Choral singing starts young in this community!

The action took place on the puppet theater stage.  The pea-green boat, the small guitar, the Piggywig, the runcible spoon….we had it all.

The Owl and the Pussycat kept stopping to smooch as they danced by the light of the moon, which the kids enjoyed hugely.

After the stories, the kids made paper bag puppets.  They could make a Chicken, an Owl, or a Pussycat.

Note to self:  mammals win every time.  Chickens were least favored, followed by Owls, with Pussycats the clear winner.

Fortunately, I was prepared for this contingency and was able to quickly make up some extra Pussycat sets.  I designed the three animals to use almost identical, largely interchangeable parts.

Thanks to the great work of Jill and our super volunteer, Janet—and always Stuart!—handing out all the project supplies went amazingly smoothly.

Here are some of the fabulous puppets made that night!

After singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” led by Maestro Copernicus Mouse, the kids said goodnight to their toys and headed home.  There were a few tears, and daddies substituted some less well-loved toys that could be parted with for one night.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!

Then it was time for the stuffed animals to explore the library!

My friend Linda, musical partner and former boss, just sent me a link to this Harvard Business Review blog piece by Grant McCracken, who was charmed by a similar event at his local library.  He speaks of libraries as portals to magical realms, reaffirmed by programs such as this.

The library as place, a home away from home filled with possibility and serendipity, coexists easily with the virtual library we can access electronically any time, any place.


Year of the Dragon!

by Vicky on February 8, 2012

How could I forget to include our story time celebration of the Year of the Dragon?  Especially since I am a Dragon and have been looking forward to this year for a long time!

I read This Next New Year, by Janet S. Wong, and told the story “Big Fish” (from Usborne Stories of Dragons, by Gillian Doherty) about a fisherman who catches a huge fish that turns out to be the son of the Dragon King under the sea.  In return for freeing the dragon, the fisherman finds that he has abundant catches forever after.

The next I went to the iYouth conference at the University of Washington Information School the next day, and got to meet Janet Wong in person!  And she autographed my copy of This Next New Year!  Her presentation was great, as was the entire conference.  I have so many new ideas to try out.

Here are the simple Dragon puppets we made at our story time.

They flew beautifully.