Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Take a Chance, Hamster Dance!

For me, it all started back around the turn of the century when my cutting-edge sister was visiting with her laptop. We plugged into a telephone line and, amid much giggling, Julia turned me on to the original Hamster Dance. We listened to it a LOT (remember Sarah?)

Years later, it took me a very long time to track it down again because the original website (which I won't even dignify with a link) had, in the words of another fan, "'evolved' from pure simple joy to, to this this weird Livin-the-Vida-Alvin-and-the-Chipmonks-and-buy-the-CD thing." For those of you who need context, you can get the big picture here. Heaven's blessings fall upon Lee for being a visionary. He was the first person I'm aware of who thought to rescue one of my favorite memories by archiving it in his domain.

There is actually a really funny tribute on YouTube in which people of all ages dance for the camera in public places (airports, shopping malls, street corners, driveways, scenic overlooks, restrooms - obviously a lot of it was filmed on family vacations) and it is all set to the music of Hamster Dance. This is YouTube at its best; creativity, community, humor and family fun all come together here.

Thanks to Alice for suggesting that we all need some Hamster Dance!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How and Why, Butterfly? Part Two

Many, MANY educators are doing great things with Pourquoi stories in the classroom. This story form is easy to emulate and lots of fun. In fact, one of my childhood teachers (I wonder who?) used the theme for a creative writing unit. Somewhere in my vast collection of paper ephemera I probably have the story that I wrote. I remember that it is kind of Egyptian and involves both adultery (I read a lot of Greek myths when I was a kid - the philandering of Zeus and Aphrodite must have infiltrated my subconscious) and the origin of cats (big surprise!)

Anyway, I'm not trying to be comprehensive here. These are just a few of the creative people who have helped and inspired me with this workshop. I have provided links to the authors & artists when I think they are particularly interesting:

Nine-In-One Grr! Grr!: A Folktale from the Hmong People of Laos,
told by Blia Xiong and adapted by Cathy Spagnoli (Children’s Book Press, 1989)
I love the slightly befuddled tiger in this story and I love the sing-song refrain that she sings—you can really make it lilt and have the children sing along with you. I made a flannelboard for Nine-In-One and purposely made it primitive and cartoonish. The tiger resembles the cats I used to draw as a child—a big circle for the body, a little circle for the head and two triangles for ears. When I show this to kids, they instantly gain a lot of self confidence and lose any inhibitions they have about their drawing abilities!

How & Why Stories: World Tales Kids Can Read & Tell,
by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, (August House, 1999)
This book is one of several by Hamilton and Weiss, aka Beauty and the Beast Storytellers, which are written to help young people become storytellers. In fact, the audio version of this book showcases eight guest kid tellers ranging in age from nine to fourteen years. The book also happens to be a great resource for adult tellers. The stories are from cultures all over the world. Each story is no more than one or two pages in length and includes a short note "About the Story" and some "Tips for Telling".

Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children, by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac (Fulcrum, 1989)
Native American cultures are a rich source of how & why stories. The authors provide thought-provoking activities as well as scientific information related to each story. Other books in this series include: Keepers of the Animals, Keepers of the Night, Keepers of Life.

Folktale Themes and Activities for Children, Volume 1: Pourquoi Tales,
by Anne Marie Kraus (Libraries Unlimited, 1998)
This book is part of the Teacher Idea Press “Learning Through Folklore Series” and the author has packed this book with fun and useful activities. Her annotated bibliography is cross-indexed by culture and by topic and gives enough myriad details to help you find just the right story for any program. She also addresses the fact that many how & why stories are still part of a living culture and she provides inspiration that should help workshop leaders convey a sense of respect for the original tellers of these tales. On page 49 she shares various ways that pourquoi stories can be used to involve children in group storytelling. See also pp. 32-34.

Book of Greek Myths, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire (Doubleday, 1962)
This is a favorite childhood book for myself and for many other people (yes-it’s the tall orange and yellow book with the horses on the cover.) You may be tempted to discount Greek myths for a how & why program because they are too “overdone” or “not primitive enough.” I however, find Greek mythology to be a very satisfying source of pourquoi stories. If I have extra time left over at the end of a program, I like to tell the story of hundred-eyed Argus, Hera’s faithful servant who died while serving her. To memorialize him, Hera, queen of the gods, caused the eyes of Argus to appear on the tail of the peacock.

Landscape, sound recording by Coyote Oldman (Xenotrope Music-BMI, 1988)
Coyote Oldman is Michael Graham Allen and Barry Stramp. These musicians create atmospheric melodies with primitive flutes, bells and pan pipes. Use this recording, or one like it, as background music for the Time Travel exercise. The first track, “People of the Glacier” is almost fourteen minutes long and provides ample time for a group leader to narrate a journey back through the ages.

Changes: Native American Flute Music, sound recording by R. Carlos Nakai (Canyon Records, 1983)
R. Carlos Nakai is of Navajo-Ute heritage and has become well known for his personal musical interpretations using traditional musical forms of the Native peoples of North America. Nakai’s recordings are relatively easy to find. The selections here are quiet and haunting and many of them were composed outside in the open air. For me, these pieces truly evoke an earlier time; the flute is the only instrument used and it echoes as if it is being played in a desert canyon.

“Teaching With Pourquoi Tales,” by Kama Einhorn & Dana Truby, Scholastic Instructor, April 2001, pp. 51-54

Multicultural Folktales: Stories to Tell Young Children,
by Judy Sierra (Oryx, 1991)
I'm not sure, but I think this contains a useful concise section on telling stories with flannelboards. Anyway, it's a good book.

The Flannel Board Storytelling Book, by Judy Sierra (H. W. Wilson; 2nd Revised edition, 1997)
Judy Sierra expands on her earlier work describing construction and use of flannelboards for storytelling.

Soapbox moment: Don't forget to check at your local library for some of these books. Even if your library doesn't own them, they should still be able to borrow them for you through the magic of interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan (in which your library finds a book at another library, the other library sends it to your library, you borrow the book and read it, you return the book to your library and your library sends it back where it came from) is a library service that has been around for at least 100 years and is still going strong. So USE it! Your tax dollars at work, folks! (I know that I'm preaching to the choir with a lot of you. Why else would you even be here?)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Show Us the Way, Jay

Storyteller Jay O'Callahan specializes in telling original stories based on history and on his personal experiences. He is not at all folksy. He is often more like an actor performing a scripted one-man show. One of his characters that I love is the flamboyant Mrs. Lawrence in "Electra" from his Pill Hill Quartet recording. The link is from Jay's website and I don't know how long it will last, so grab on while you can. (Just click on the word "Electra", Uncle Fred!) If you like to listen to stories, check out the new category in the column to the right of your screen: Stories for Listening.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I wanted to get this out before the day is over. When Jeff and I were at the 9/11 Memorial in Jersey City a couple weeks ago and he took this beautiful and terrible photograph.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tell Us the Truth, Ruth, Part 1

From Ruth Sawyer's The Way of the Storyteller (Viking Press, 1942):

"Storytelling is a folk art. To approach it with the feelings and the ideas of an intellectual or sophisticate is at once to drive it under the domination of mind and critical sense. All folk-arts have grown out of the primal urge to give tongue to what has been seen, heard, experienced. They have been motivated by simple, direct folk-emotions, by imagination; they have been shaped by folk wisdom. To bring a sophisticated attitude to a folk art is to jeopardize it. Or rather, it is to make it into something that it is not. To the unpracticed, unthinking public there is no difference between dramatic reading, recitation, and storytelling. But to one who knows, dramatic reading and recitation belong to a comparatively modern and sophisticated age, and storytelling is one of the oldest traditional arts, having its roots in the art of articulate expression. I think is is a common experience among storytellers of long standing to have the millstones of dramatic reading and recitation hung about their necks. Sometimes worse. The wife of a university president once said to me: "I haven't any parlor tricks. I wish you'd stay a week and give me some lessons in storytelling."

Of course, isn't the very act of reading a book about storytelling kind of like copping the attitude of "an intellectual or sophisticate"? OMG, I've corrupted myself!