I adore picture books that highlight the themes of love and kindness. That’s why it’s my great pleasure to be a stop on Laura Sassi’s LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour. Readers, this book is incredibly sweet (and I don’t mean because it includes a little something about a box of chocolates), and the ending (which I won’t give away) is darling. Speaking of darling, check out the cover of LOVE IS KIND, featuring Little Owl, the star of the book.
And, guess what? You get to meet Little Owl, the brand new story time puppet, right here on Frog on a Blog! Hello Little Owl!
Laura’s stopped by today to talk about how she uses puppets to enhance the story time experience and engage her young audience, and how you can too. Little Owl will soon be joining her on her author visits.
MEET LITTLE OWL: Using Puppets to Engage Young Readers
I started using puppets with the release of my very first book. Since a pair of skunks play an important role in that book, and thinking that my very youngest readers might not be familiar with the species, I thought having a pair of skunk puppets would be an engaging way to introduce the story. The former teacher (and crowd control freak) in me, also thought skunk puppets might be a friendly way to help young audiences settle down before and during the reading since, as you know, skunks are notorious for making a big stink if they get startled.
Those skunks became such an integral part of author visits, that I decided to incorporate puppets into the author visits for every one of my books – skunks for GOODNIGHT ARK, a rooster for GOODNIGHT MANGER, a seal and mouse for DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, and now, for LOVE IS KIND, my newest release, a darling little owl.
Now, in celebration of sharing books with little ones, here are TEN tried-and-true tips for using puppets to enhance a story time experience.
Before the story time.
1. Pick a puppet that fits the book. The puppet you choose can either be a protagonist, like my seal, mouse and owl, or minor characters such as my skunks and rooster. The most important thing is that you have a good reason for picking that puppet – a reason that enhances your story time. For example, the skunks are useful in introducing an important and fun subplot in GOODNIGHT, ARK. (They are hiding under the bed in every spread until – at last – they make a big stink that’s important to the resolution of the story.) And that rooster, while very minor to GOODNIGHT, MANGER, becomes a fun and engaging way to introduce the concept of loud vs. quiet voices when putting a baby to bed.
2. Play… and plan ahead of time! This is probably obvious, but it’s worth spending time in advance putting together a little stand-up routine for you and your puppet. This is your chance to tap into your inner comedian. The more you ham it up, the more the kids will love it!
3. Practice your ventriloquist skills. There are two ways to use your puppet. Either you can just talk with it and it can shyly nod, react etc., OR you can have that puppet actually converse with you, or “cock-a-doodle-doo” as my rooster does and SING as that darling Diva Delores loves to do! If you decide to have them speak, then I’d recommend practicing your ventriloquist skills in front of a mirror ahead of time.
During the story time.
4. Use your puppets to break the ice. If you are a little shy, like me, then you’ll probably agree that mingling is easier with a buddy. In that awkward “before the story time officially begins” period, I’ve discovered that EVERYBODY enjoys a little mingling with the author and her storytelling companion – especially when it’s a cute stuffed animal puppet.
5. Have your puppets help introduce the story. This takes a little planning ahead of time (see step 2), but a short puppet routine is a great way to introduce the themes of your story, any special concepts, or just to get the kids excited. For DIVA DELORES, for example, my seal puppet likes to sing for the audience so they can hear what opera sounds like. Then she invites them to join along in singing the refrain that appears on certain spreads in the book. I haven’t finalized exactly what Little Owl is going to do before I read LOVE IS KIND, but it will surely have something to do with kindness and love.
6. Have the children model for the puppets what “good listening” looks like before you read. It’s amazing how eager young readers are to engage with the puppets, and I’ve discovered over time that little ones especially like the opportunity to model for my puppets what good listeners look like. So, I have THEM show the puppets what it looks like to sit quietly with eyes on reader, ready to be read to. (I also use those skunks to my advantage (see intro)).
7. Use your puppets to engage young readers in some post-reading ponderings. After my readings, I like for the kids to reflect with me on what the characters in the story learned and I’ve found that involving the puppets in the process is effective and popular. For example, after reading GOODNIGHT, MANGER we ponder what made the difference in getting Baby Jesus to sleep. (The answer has to do with creating a quiet, peaceful atmosphere). Then, together, we see if we can teach our very NOISY rooster to do a quiet cock-a-doodle-doo. If he learns well, we invite him to join as we sing a final lullaby to Baby Jesus. For LOVE IS KIND, I think I will have Little Owl help me select volunteers to share their post-reading thoughts by looking with me for participants who are showing kindness by being good listeners with each other during our post book chat.
8. Include your puppets in the story time farewell. This can be very motivational if your audience is getting antsy because you can promise your young participants that if they hold on just a little longer, then they can pet and hug the visiting puppet! They love this! And I am just charmed by how many “I love yous” each puppet has so gently received over the last four years since I first started using puppets.
After the story time.
9. Have a puppet de-briefing session with yourself. After each story time, I find it helpful to evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do next time to make that puppet even more integral to my story time. For example, it wasn’t until I had done a few story times in that I decided to have my GOODNIGHT, ARK skunk puppets engage my audience in a little quiet “thumbs up” challenge. But it worked so well, that now, at every GOODNIGHT, ARK story time, my skunk puppets challenge the audience to quietly put “thumbs up” as soon as they spot the skunks on each spread – which makes for a nice set up to the stinky climax!
10. Most important: HAVE FUN! Yes, let’s not forget this last important tip. If you are having fun, it will be contagious!
Thank you for having me, Lauri, and I hope my love for puppets inspires others to experiment with incorporating something new into their story times as well.
Hurrah for puppets! And what a fun post! I wonder if that monkey puppet is still around that I had when I was a kid. Hmm…
Folks, don’t forget to check out the other stops on the LOVE IS KIND tour.
ZonderKidz, the publisher of LOVE IS KIND, has generously agreed to give away a copy of the book to one U.S. blog reader. Just leave a comment here to be entered to win. A winner will be chosen at random on September 30. Be sure to follow Frog on a Blog so that I can contact you if you win.
Thank you Laura and ZonderKidz!