Craicmonkey’s Storytime Delight #4

There’s an Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer

What can you do when you know there’s an alligator under your bed? Sure, you can’t see it when you look for it and of course your parents don’t believe you, but you know it’s there! What can you do? Why set a trap, of course. Find out how one young boy must face his fears and take matters into his own hands to rid his bedroom of an elusive crocodilian. A light-hearted story written and illustrated by Mayer, it demonstrates how one’s fear can be overcome by a little bit of planning, and how unsuspected consequences must be addressed as well.

Wild Boars Cook by Meg Rosoff

Boris, Morris, Horace, and Doris are wild boars. They are bossy and selfish and stinky and, well, boorish; and they are hungry; very hungry! Nothing can satisfy their insatiable appetite, nothing that is, except a massive pudding! Giggle, grimace, and even gag along with the children as you find out what goes into making a massive pudding that’s big enough, messy enough, and nasty enough for our wild boars. Will the massive pudding be enough to fill these beastly boars’ bellies?

Wolf’s Coming! by Joe Kulka

There’s panic throughout the woods. Wolf is coming! “Quickly! Quickly! Get inside! Shut the door, better hide.” Rhyming text makes this a quick book to master, and plenty of suspense will have the children leaning forward in anticipation. What will happen when Wolf comes upon the hiding place of the woodland creatures? Are they ready for what’s about to happen? Is Wolf? Are you?

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Circulations of a pedestrian cyclist. Part 3, Chew on this!

The odd thing is, I hate chewing gum. Oh sure, there were those carefree days as a young boy when I would stuff a whole pack of Big League Chew in my mouth just for the hell of it. I am of course appalled to have found out later on in life what Big League Chew was emulating, but then we all had fun with Popeye Candy Cigarettes, didn’t we? Then there was my maturation into Hubba Bubba and Bubblicious. Past that, however, the thrill of chewing gum had ended. Later in life I found the act of chewing gum to be tedious and annoying. The flavour never stays long enough, despite the advertising, and I find my jaw becomes sore and tired from the whole business. I am forever denying offers of gum from people, and I often find packs of gum in bags with only a single piece ever being removed, causing me to wonder, “Why did I bother to buy that pack of gum?” I’d much rather have a mint. Yes, I believe I am a mint type of guy, even though I habitually crunch them up prematurely.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was biking home from work the other day and a singular thought flashed in my head –

 “Damn. I could use some gum right about now.”

Seriously. I was really desperate for some gum; yet at the time, I couldn’t figure out why. It was only when I got home, dismounted my bike and subsequently unlocked my jaw that it dawned on me; I need something to help me deal with the stress of biking to and from work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my commutes are horribly distressing and that I barely make it alive; but the fact of the matter is that every so often I do get those close shaves with passing cars and stopping buses. It’s at times like these that I find myself clenching my jaw and gritting my teeth. It’s at times like these that I could use some gum to chew away some of the nerves and prevent me from filing my teeth down to stubs.

The next morning I hunted down one of those slightly used packs of gum and took a piece for the road. Well, it worked wonderfully. It helped me focus in the tight situations, and gave me something to do at stop lights, ridiculous as it may sound. Yes, this really did seem to be working even if the flavour did pass away as quickly as my desire to continue swimming on Monday evenings.

I still hate chewing gum, but then without context there would be no irony.

A sudden, seemingly inexplicable jonesing for gum. Hmmm… wonder how that could have come about…

We’ll eat you up we love you so!

This week, Maurice Sendak died at the age of 83. Sendak was the author and illustrator of several books including Where the Wild Things Are, In the Midnight Kitchen, Pierre (A Cautionary Tale), and Outside Over There. I grew up with Where the Wild Things Are. My parents read this story many times to me, I read it to myself, and now I read it to my children. Last Halloween I even dressed up as one of the wild things.

I heard of Sendak’s passing on Tuesday morning and knowing that I had a storytime that day, I had decided to read Where the Wild Things Are. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived to the library and discovered that we had no copies available. I was upset that I had my own copy at home but didn’t think to bring it with me, assuming that we’d have at least one copy available. As I went around setting up the library for opening, I found myself reciting the story in my head, and as I recounted it through to the end I knew what I would do; I would tell the story from memory. Suddenly I remembered last week’s fiasco with my less than stellar improvisation, but this was different. These weren’t my words, these were Maurice’s words; and yet, there was more to it than that. As I went over the story again and again, and as I started to speak the words out load, knew that if I were to tell this story to the children then Maurice’s words would have to become my words; and as I thought back to my youth and the all the times I had read the story to my children, I found that indeed, the words were becoming mine.

Tuesdays we offer a storytime for child care groups. Usually we get a big crowd in, and I was excited to share this story with them. A fellow staff member asked if I wanted to practice telling the story to her, and as I did I found myself becoming more and more comfortable as I took on more and more ownership of the words. Finally, it was time to gather the children into the programme room; but where were all the children? There was only on small group of five when usually we have several groups that can run into the twenties, thirties, or more. I won’t lie by admitting that this was a bit of a let down and that it did hurt my pride. I stopped short in my lamentations, though, as I remembered that this wasn’t supposed to be about me. I was doing this in honour of a brilliant author and illustrator who had created one of my all time favourite books; and while I had prepared for a larger, more dramatic presentation, I found instead the perfect opportunity to deliver an intimate and personal telling of a wonderful story. I shared Maurice’s story, my story, our story, and it felt wonderful to have the children roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth and roll their terrible eyes and show their terrible claws. I now know that even if I cannot find the book, the story will always be with me.

As I write this, I am looking at the cover of Where the Wild Things Are. There is something beautiful and serene about the image of the wild thing sitting amongst the trees, eyes closed, as a boat bobs in the water in the background. Is he dreaming, and if so, what could he be dreaming about? Whose boat is it? It looks like Max’s private boat, yet there’s no name on it. Maybe this boat belongs to the reader. Maybe this is my boat, or my children’s boat, or your boat. Maybe this boat waits for all of us to sail off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year…

… to where the wild things are.

A pig parade was a terrible idea… among others

One aspect of my job at the public library is reading stories to children. It’s probably the part of my job that I enjoy the most. I’ve been doing it since this past September and so I have some experience reading to groups of children, but let’s be clear on one point, I am not a storyteller. What I do is read stories to children; there is a difference.

I am not a natural performer or public speaker, and it has taken me some time to get comfortable with my storytimes. That being said, I have gained enough confidence in my ability to interact with children that I am able to throw in little bits of humour, improv, or even simple editorials here and there in order to get their attention or to stall for time as I work out what I’m going to do next. The one thing I do not do is make up stories on the spot. As I said, I read stories; I am not a storyteller.

Case in point, I recently had a storytime that can definitely be filed under Learning Experience. This storytime happened to be one of our short storytimes that we offer on a daily basis. One of the challenges of these daily storytimes is getting a quick feel for your audience as you scan the library a few minutes before to see what age range you’ll be dealing with. This day I was in luck as most of the children were around the 3-5 range. I had picked some stories ahead of time and did a quick look through to make any last second decisions. There was one, A Pig Parade Is a Terrible Idea, that I wasn’t too sure about (a bit of foreshadowing in the title I suppose) but I thought I’d give it a try. I gathered the children into the programme room and things got underway. It was soon apparent that I had a spirited group. One boy, who is a regular at our storytimes, is usually quite energetic during the stories and loves to bounce and shout out answers. I was prepared for him, but then I found that there were two other, equally energetic boys in the group. This had the potential to be interesting.

The first two stories went fine, and I seemed to have a handle on the energy levels, but then I pulled out the puppets. I had done a song in one of my other storytimes that involved animals and dancing:

If you should meet a crocodile (elephant/monkey/etc.)

On a summer’s day

What would you do

And what would you say

I’d say hello Mr. Crocodile

How do you do

It’s nice to meet you crocodile

I’d like to dance with you.

At which point I would perform a silly dance and get the children to join in.

Well this was going just fine until the children started to get a bit, should I say, crazed. As I danced around with the elephant puppet the children started to move in and try to grab its trunk. I should have stopped there, but I felt compelled to pull out the monkey puppet as well. By the time the dance portion of the song came they had surrounded me and were clawing at the monkey puppet, which by this point had a look in its eyes that said to me, “Why? Why have you done this to me? You can make this stop. You must make this stop!”

I struggled to wrench the monkey puppet away and tried my best to get the children to sit back down. They finally did sit down, but they were now bouncing up and down on their cushions. What to do now? I decided to try another book. I decided to try, A Pig Parade Is a Terrible Idea. I enjoy this book; my daughter enjoys this book; that might be where it ends. I was only able to make it three pages in when I realized that I had lost my audience. Half of the children were bouncing up and down, the other half were talking to one another; there was one child who was actually listening to me. It just so happened that a pig parade was a terrible idea. I stopped reading and addressed the children, “I think maybe we’ll stop with this story. It doesn’t seem like you’re very interested in it.”

That’s probably where it should have ended. I should have wrapped up with another rhyme and then sent them on their way, but I didn’t. No, instead I did something that I shouldn’t have done; I decided to improvise and create a story. Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t start out trying to make up a story, I honestly just wanted get the children’s attention.

“Ok, everyone! Put your hands up in the air! Now put them down! Now put them up again! [What the hell am I doing?] Alright, we’re going to tell a story using our hands. [What did I just say? We’re going to do what?] One day the rain started to come down and it sounded like this, everyone tap on your knees like this, good. Then it started to rain even harder, tap faster, and harder, tap faster, and harder, keep tapping. And the wind blew like this, everyone blow, whooosh, whooosh. And the thunder sounded like this, stomp your feet. And the lightning went crash! clap your hands.”

By this point everyone is involved and following along, and I’m thinking to myself, I should have just done this, my weather making routine. Why did I bother to introduce it as a story, because now I’m invested and I feel compelled to continue.

“The rain keeps falling down and we’re getting all soggy and wet, so we start to run, use your feet and run, run, run. Oh, I can’t believe how wet we’re getting! [Oh, I can’t believe how lame this story is getting]. Quick! There’s a doorway! Let’s hide there so we can get out of the rain. Whew! We’re out of the rain, but we’re still so soggy and wet, so we knock on the door, knock, knock, knock” [Whoa, whoa, whoa! What are we doing? We’ve ducked into a doorway and now we’re knock on some stranger’s door? What have I got these kids into? This isn’t right at all!]

Well, now I’ve put myself, not to mention the children, into a problematic situation. Brilliant, Seán. How can I salvage this wreck before it bleeds stupid all over the floor?

“The door opens, crrreeak, [umm, umm] and there’s… Grandma! [Wow. No one saw that coming. What are the chances that we just so happened to duck into Grandma’s doorway? What an amazing, unbelievably asinine plot twist. Thank you, Grandma]. Grandma says, ‘Hello, my dear! wave, I was just about to put these cookies in the oven, how big do you think the cookies are? This big? This big? [Why I insist on trying to keep up the charade that this story is still dependent on hand play is beyond me] So Grandma puts the cookies in the oven, put the cookies in with me, and in a little while they come out hot and yummy, mmmmm, munch, munch, munch. The end.” [Ugh.]

Well, that was one of the more painful experiences in my life. What can I do to cap it off? Oh, I know. Let’s read another story. Yes, that’s right boys and girls, I’m going to drag this disaster out just a little bit more. Everyone seated comfortably? No? Too bad, because here I go. I honestly haven’t the faintest clue as to why I was still going on. It’s like I was trapped in some sort of tractor beam that continued to pull me towards the Death Star of crap decisions. I pull out, There Is a Bird On My Head! which is one of my go-to books; good old Mo Willems! Yet, on a day like today, in a storytime such as this, not even Gerald and Piggy can save me. I am struggling beyond belief to keep the children’s attention as a slog through the book which, mercifully, is a short one. The storytime ends and I thank everyone for coming and for listening.

What was I thinking? I’m not a storyteller. It was folly to don such an ill-fitting hat. I retire to the back office defeated, and recount my experience to my coworkers. Well they have a great time hearing about what happened, and we all end up laughing, taking delight in the comedy of errors that I had just created

Oh, sure. Now I can tell a story.