Lions and Rabbits and Tutus, Oh My

h1 July 23rd, 2009 by jules

I’ll explain in a second why there’s a ukulele here. It’s not as random as it looks.

This post is a respectful nod to two of my Top-Five Favorite Blogs in All the World (oh no sirree, no hyperbole there, even if I tend to get too “most”y at the blog here on a regular basis). And those would be the blogs of public librarian Adrienne Furness, What Adrienne Thinks About That, and the blog of storyteller Farida Dowler, Saints and Spinners.

First, Adrienne. I’ll get to Farida in a second. Promise.

As I tell Adrienne repeatedly, her posts about her library adventures (way up in Rochester, New York, as one of the Webster Public Library’s Children & Family Services Librarians) really make me want to try public librarianship one day. (I’ve only ever done the world of school librarianship.) The other thing that makes me want to try public librarianship one day is the wonderful, welcoming public library down the road from me, where my girls and I make regular visits. The ever-so friendly children’s librarians know I was once upon a time a librarian myself and that I want to keep my library’ing skills from going stale while I’m temporarily away from it, so I volunteer there every now and then. Yesterday, I was the visiting storyteller for the final day of programming in the summer reading program.

Adrienne, what with her top-notch, superpower public-librarian skills, does these posts about what stories, songs, etc. she and her fellow children’s librarian at Webster use during story times. I always look forward to reading them. Okay, I look forward to reading everything she writes over there. Here’s a recent one of those story-time posts, “What I Did in My Fun for 4s and 5s Storytime Today and How It Worked Out.”

The theme this summer for the reading program is The Arts. When I visited yesterday, I had some arts-stories in mind. (No “Julie Jams” or jazz hands, I’m sorry to report.) So, as Adrienne might put it, here’s What I Did Yesterday as Visiting Storyteller and How it Worked Out (that’s so fun to say!) . . .

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I love to use my feltboard (a hugely huge piece of plywood covered with felt, which my husband whipped up for me after grad school) to tell stories. There’s something about watching someone handle those soft, colorful felt pieces—or getting the opportunity to handle it yourself—during a story time, watching the narrative play out. Sure, it’s super old-skool, but I think that’s the appeal in this world of ever-evolving technologies, ones we’re introducing even to the youngest of children, for better or worse.

Now to Farida: Thanks to her, I decided to learn and tell the story of The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven. (Remember my October ’08 interview with her? That’s one of my favorite interviews ever.) I studied storytelling in grad school and can generally make do, but what kind of idiot would I be to not consult Farida’s fabulous, fun, and informative blog before any storytelling adventures? I always make a habit of going straight to the source, actually, and asking her directly. When Farida suggested Elisa’s story, I knew it’d be perfect, as in why didn’t I think of that? and cue smacking-of-the-forehead. It’s a great story about art, and the story itself is a celebration of color. To be sure, it’s a celebration of other things, such as friendship, but color plays a major role in the tale. Perfect. So, even though Farida suggested I read it, I decided to memorize the story (not word-for-word, mind you, but sorta kinda half-way close) and created the felt-board pieces. In no way did I attempt to make the characters as beautifully as Elisa Kleven does — or to perfectly match her incomparable style. I just made sure I had everything I needed to tell the story.

(Click to enlarge.)

The children seemed to love it. I found that it’s a great match for a felt-board story (thanks again, Farida!) in that you can ask the children to come up and put the lion’s tail tip on the lion each time it changes color. The children seemed to enjoy taking turns, handling the felt, and being part of the story. There’s also another good moment for audience participation during the parts of the story in which the lion has just left his cave in the morning with a newly-colored tail tip. The bird asks him each time, “Lion, Lion! Why is your tail so {whatever color it is}?” The children enjoyed yelling really loudly with me: “Lion, Lion! Why is your tail so green?” Then “yellow.” (It’s supposed to be orange, but I couldn’t find any orange felt, blast it all and go figure.) Then, “blue.”

Pictured above is my felt-board Lion and Little Red Bird.
Below that is what inspired them,
much more eloquent Lion and Little Red Bird, picking berries.

And, of course, afterwards I told the parents all about Elisa’s books and how she’s one of your best go-to author/illustrators for stories about the arts, and I had pulled some of her other titles off the shelves. I was there as storyteller, but the librarian—and children’s lit geek—in me just. couldn’t. help. it. And I showed them some of the spreads from the book. How could I not show them Elisa’s illustrations? To not do so would be a crime, people.

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Now, this next part of the storytime hour might involve a serious infraction of the rules, but I couldn’t help myself. Just don’t tell on me. I read the children an ARC of a book, scheduled to be released in September from Random House, called The Yellow Tutu, written by Kirsten Bramsen and illustrated beautifully (just look at that cover) by her sister, Carin Bramsen. It’s not about dance (remember, I was aiming for stories about “the arts”), but it involves a tutu. I made sure to tell the children that it was a long story why I had a wobbly copy of the book (unbound ARC, held together with rubber bands) not on their library shelves yet, but that I was just suuuuuure that their very nice children’s librarians would consider ordering a copy for the library when it comes out. The book tells the story of a young girl who gets a yellow tutu on her birthday; pretty much knows she’s the very essence of brilliant (in more ways than one) when she decides to wear it on her head, emulating the sun; but then gets mocked by her classmates when she shows up at school that way. It all works out in the end, no worries. Another reason I chose it is that I learned—just for this story time—to play the ukulele (the music portion of “the arts”), and I can actually pull off “You Are My Sunshine.” In the book, after Margo (the protagonist) first puts the tutu on and decides she IS sunshine, she sings, “I am my sunshine, my only sunshine. I make me happeeeeeee when skies are gray. . . .” Heh. I love Margo.

So, we all practiced “You Are My Sunshine”; I read the book; and when we got to Margo’s self-confident rendition of it in the middle of the tale, we stopped and sang it again. Sang about our “selfshine.” My five-year-old gets the credit for “please don’t take my selfshine away.” “Selfshine” is a good thing to have, I think. Even if, when you get to school, one boy calls you “stupid” for having a tutu on your head.

* * * * * * *

I had also learned on the uke (same three chords, but hey, this instrument-playing was all new to me) a song Sara Hickman sings on this great children’s CD from 2001, “Oh, I Wish I Were A Fishy in the Sea!” I adapted the lyrics to be about the arts (“I wish I were a little masterpiece…I’d hang on your wall and hope I didn’t fall…” and “I wish I were a little set of paints…I’d paint a story for you to help you when you’re blue…” and on and on). Yeah, yeah. I bet I’m breaking all kinds of copyright regulations here (though I think the song might be pre-Sara-Hickman anyway). Don’t tell on me again. At least I credited Sara Hickman and spoke well of her CD. The song is written to include audience participation/singing aloud, so that was fun.

I was wobbly on some chords. Made some mistakes. Segovia I am not. But I don’t think I broke the kids’ ears or anything. And when I mumbled, “move over, Spinal Tap” after one song, at least one parent laughed. Probably my friend, but that counts anyway, right?

* * * * * * *

Lastly, and rounding out a lion-themed story time that I didn’t even plan for (a lion with a tutu for a mane also springs from the imagination of the Bramsens in the wonderful Yellow Tutu), I told—once again with my massively huge felt board—the old (East) Indian folktale The Foolish Lion and the Clever Rabbit, which evidently comes from The Panchatantra. I’ve told this lots of times, and it’s so fun to get the children yelling back as the foolish, arrogant lion’s echo as he roars into the well at the end of the story, before plunging to his death. I thought this could work as a “drama” story for the arts theme, since the children would have to use a bit of acting skills (and PROJECTION!) to be the furious lion. Yeah, that’s a stretch, but it worked.

And I made sure to point out that the book I had just finished reading the day before, Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, includes a version of this fable. I did a ten-second zippy-quick booktalk of that, ’cause it’s a great novel, as I mentioned yesterday.

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Now, that was fun. Thanks to Adrienne and Farida for the inspirations. If there are any 7-Imp public-librarian readers, do tell what you’ve been doing this summer.

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Elisa’s illustration is from THE LION AND THE LITTLE RED BIRD. Illustration © 1992 by Elisa Kleven. Published by Dutton. Posted with permission of Kleven. All rights reserved.

Image of lion and forest animals comes from this site.

15 comments to “Lions and Rabbits and Tutus, Oh My”

  1. All right, Jules. Wish I could have been there to see you. I’ve considered volunteering at story time, mainly so I can pick up some tips for reading aloud.

  2. Wow, very inspiring! I might have to copy you…or at least make a felt board. My school teaching aunt makes them with (unused) pizza boxes.

  3. Oh, Jules, I wish I could have been there! I love your felt board pieces. Now *I* want to make some for The Lion and the Little Red Bird. I really enjoy working with the felt pieces, just the way they look and feel.


    What age levels did you get in your storytime? Here, we seem to skew really young with our big drop-ins, lots of 2 and 3 year olds, so I often won’t do stories because I’m worried they won’t have the patience for them. I do more variety in my special 4 and 5 year old storytimes.

  4. “I am my selfshine” kind of makes me verklempt. I need a tattoo of that. That yellow tutu book is GORGEOUS.

    It all sounds AWESOME, Jules.

  5. Felt boards were my favorite thing about library storytimes. Glad to see they haven’t become obsolete. Would love to hear your ukulele playing sometime. Make a video, yeah!!! ROAR . . .

  6. Thanks, you all.

    Adrienne, I’d say the average age was maybe 6? This was an all-ages thing, as usual, so one never knows. And I hear ya on the not-learning-stories thing for the younger crowd. The other thing here is that I just do this once in a blue moon, so I can give lots of time to learning a story or two (okay, so I always plan on lots of time, yet cram the week before). Anyway, if I were working every day, shoot. That’d be hard.

    I also, since I’m just visiting, don’t have to do the counting-all-the-participants thing. When I see the librarians doing that, I always want to jump up and volunteer to do it for them. Crazy-making that must be.

    (Why am I talking like Yoda? Because brain-dead I am and nap I need.)

  7. p.s. Lisa, I’ve seen that pizza-box-story idea before, too. Pretty cool. Children LOVE LOVE LOVE those felt-board characters. One could also make tiny little ones for them and hand ’em out and let them do strories themselves. Even just using thick cardboard and taping it with felt would work.

    And, yeah, everyone. I love “selfshine,” too. I hope no one EVER takes Piper’s selfshine away.

  8. I’m always forgetting to count and using estimates, but Jason gets really anal retentive about the whole thing. Yesterday we both counted the kids at this bats program we hired someone to come in and do–I came up with 42 and he came up with 40. I thought he was going to drag me around and make me count the kids with him. It bugs him that I don’t care if we record 40 or 42. In the grand scheme of things, is it that big a deal? I can tell you no one is giving me more money for those extra two kids one way or the other. Anyway.

  9. Thanks for this post, Jules! You and Adrienne are inspirations to me, too. That’s a great felt-board and I like it that the children can add the lion’s tail colors. (What, you don’t have orange felt? Why didn’t you tell me? I’m Felt Central around here. Keep a lookout in the mail.) The librarian in me is always citing sources, offering suggestions for books to go along with the stories, etc. At a certain point it becomes so ingrained that even if one doesn’t work as a librarian for awhile, the practice still remains.

    Adrienne: No kidding on the stat counting.

  10. Dude, next time I come home to visit we are totally going to have a jam session – you on your uke, and me on my cowbell. ROCK ON.

  11. Yes, what this post needs is MORE COWBELL:

    Yes, Farida, I coudn’t find orange felt. What was up with that? I say. And, yeah, I can’t help citing sources, recommending more books. Man, I need to get back into a library.

  12. Yay for your successful storytelling event! Great subject line. Great use of felt. What a cute little lion & bird!

    Now I want a yellow tutu. Not because it’s yellow, but because it’s a tutu.

  13. Little Willow, if I had a yellow tutu, it’d be all yours. Alas, I don’t.

  14. […] I mentioned recently that I couldn’t find some orange felt for some storytelling I did. Farida sent me some, as well as two different shades of purple and a color called SPICE! I’m tempted to eat the beautiful spice-colored felt for dessert. Thanks, Farida! […]

  15. […] mentioned this title here at 7-Imp in the summer of 2009, when I read it at a story time at my local pubalic liberry. As I […]

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