Tag Archives: puppets

Storytime: Book Retellings

We are on a brief live storytime hiatus as we re-adjust for whatever the fall will bring, so I thought I would highlight one of my favorite storytelling tools: Book Retellings!

Book retellings were a part of my storytimes well before COVID and the move to virtual programs, though I’ve been happy to dig into them more since I am presenting more storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers. I sometimes use a book retelling element for babies with puppets, but mostly any “story” element is for the caregivers, with me focusing on and emphasizing the puppet reveal and animal sound for the babies.

Book Retellings Pros and Cons

Book retellings allow you to:

  • appeal to visual or action-based learners and listeners (so, most toddlers)
  • make things larger–puppets are often bigger than the pictures on a page, especially when presenting to a large in-person crowd (this distinction isn’t such a big deal behind a camera)
  • include more repetition – a book you read earlier in storytime or the week before could be used as a flannel or puppet activity
  • give caregivers ideas for ways to get excited about familiar stories that might be read over and over and over again at home
  • include props, puppets, and other manipulatives in your program

On the other hand, book retellings put more pressure on you as a presenter. Reading the words on a page with the proper inflection, emotion, timing, and engagement is a challenge on its own. Pulling that off without exact words to guide you can be more challenging. However, I also like to think of book retellings as more freeing–viewers can’t see the words, so if I mix up an animal or two, or intentionally skip an entire portion of the story or rearrange something to make more sense visually, as long as I keep my cool, the audience doesn’t have to know. (I think there is a better word than “audience” here. Storytimes are presentations, in a way, but there is a back and forth–what is the word for an engaged, participating audience? Is that still audience? I’m digressing.)

To Memorize or Not To Memorize

I’m going to say something here that may make some library folks cringe–yell in the comments. Please. I know this is my opinion, and it isn’t a popular one, but I still feel strongly about it, so: it is better if you memorize.

Yes, we aren’t actors. Yes, our caregivers know this. No, most kids don’t really notice if we read. But there are kids that do, and there are adults who also notice, and…well I was that totally judge-y preschooler who really didn’t know any better, and compared you (rightfully or not) to Barney and Sesame Street and the Wiggles, and those real people aren’t reading off of a page or constantly glancing off screen to read their next line.

Yes, there will be mistakes, and no, you shouldn’t refilm a 30-minute pre-recorded storytime 17 times because of one error toward the end. Have a cheat sheet somewhere but don’t make it a script and don’t rely on it. I normally put a list of key words taped either directly below my camera on my tripod or right beside the location where I am hiding the puppets or flannel pieces. If I decide to do a dramatic reveal and look back and forth a few times with fun facial expressions–I’m probably re-reading the next line.

I know this isn’t the way most librarians view or encourage this type of storytime experience, especially because it can make it harder or scarier to jump into something like this. But…I do, personally, feel like it makes it a little better. The storytelling experience is stronger and less stilted. But if you need that script, try it with the script. With time and repetition, you’ll know the story so well that you may be able to stop relying on the piece of paper. (End of Annamarie being rude and judge-y. Please berate me in the comments.)

How to Make Props and Flannels

I steal. I am not as creative as some of my coworkers. Do not be fooled by awesome flannel sets in videos. Some of these things are made by them. Other things are designed based off of me seeing someone else’s work online and remaking piece by piece. Other selections are my personally owned purchased sets, made by awesomely talented people who are not me.

I am not going to continue rambling here because my skills are not great or varied. My one tip, which is obvious to regular crafters but not to those of us new to this domain: get. scissors. just. for. felt. Use for nothing else. The world is a much, much more magical place.

Book Retellings Examples

There are so many great ways to retell stories, but now that I’ve made so many videos for our patrons to watch online, I decided to collect some of my favorites below, in alphabetical order by book title.

Bark George by Jules Feiffer (prop & puppets)
Learn about how I made George in this blog post.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. (puppets)
Change to whatever animals you have on hand. I tried to select stuffed animals that were different colors to continue the color emphasis from the physical book.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. (flannel)
Abbreviated because you don’t realize how long this book is, and how many letters there really are, until you are halfway through.

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (puppets)
Such a great and easy story, made for retelling with props or flannel pieces.

Do Crocs Kiss? by Salina Yoon (puppets)

Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd (flannel)
I’ve also seen this done as a really cool dry-erase marker activity. I was going to do this on a physical stuffed dog with flannel dots, but my velcro dots didn’t work the way I imagined. Still curious about doing this with a stuffed animal though!

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London (flannel)
Filming this was the worst because socks kept falling off the flannel board. Something to keep in mind during creation or execution–so many small parts.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (flannel)
I re-wrote part of the story to create the all-items-enter and all-items-exit effect.

I Went Walking by Sue Williams (puppets)
Change out the animals to whatever you have on hand. I focused on having animals of different colors.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff (flannel)

Jump! by Scott Fischer (puppets)

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and James Dean (flannel)

Tickle Monster by Edouard Manceau (flannel)
If you just want to try retelling, this is the story for you. The set is super easy to make, and the order of body parts really isn’t that important. Caregivers can tickle little ones throughout.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (flannel)
This is a great example of a story where you don’t need to memorize or have a script–just have your flannel pieces in the order you need them. The words are essentially the foods that you are adding to your board.

White Rabbit’s Color Book by Alan Baker (props)
I wish I had claim to any of this, but I do not. Someday I will make my own personal set, probably when I can get to a Target or craft store again and get buckets that are these sizes but solid colors.

I am always, always looking for more books to retell, especially stories that are about diverse characters or by diverse authors. This video list is very white, and and in storytimes I try to balance that, at least a little, with diversity in my physical book for the week. What are some of your favorite stories to retell?

Baby Play: Puppet Time

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

If your library is anything like mine, you have a good stash of high quality puppets stashed away somewhere. These are probably frequently used by librarians in storytime–there are so many amazing puppet rhymes, books, and songs for all ages (check out my Bark George post for one of my favorites).

One of my coworkers asked a great question about a year ago–why do we leave the majority of these puppets locked away in cabinets most of the time? We may use 3-5 in an average storytime, leaving 50 puppets in storage. While we don’t want to put these often expensive puppets out in public areas for unsupervised free play–we are well aware of what happens to items left out for public use–these could be used as a play item in supervised, post-storytime play.

Puppets are an excellent tool for developing social and emotional skills in children of all ages. Puppets provide an easy way to grab the attention of little ones. Babies and toddlers like exploring their soft texture. Older toddlers can fit their hand inside of a puppet to make it move and interact with others, practicing social and fine motor skills.

There are a variety of ways to include puppets in your storytime, beyond the standard puppet rhymes. Consider:

  • Using puppets as a “manipulative”, just like you would use shaker eggs or scarves. Little ones can select a puppet from a bin (practicing making choices). Provide some questions for little ones and caregivers to answer together–“what animal is your puppet?”, “what sound does your puppet make?”, “what is your puppet’s name?”. End with a dancing song that makes it easy to include their new stuffed friend.
  • Put out a bin of puppets (or a baby pool of puppets) during storytime after play. Puppets naturally promote parent-child engagement while also providing some time for little ones to explore this item often reserved for adults.

Recommended Puppet Purchases

Our best puppets are from Folkmanis. You really cannot go wrong with their puppets, but some of my favorites from their current selection include:

Price: Use what you own. Folkmanis puppets are expensive (often $30+ each). Make sure to ask about discounts for buying in bulk–they have a deal allowing you to get 50% off all puppets if you agree to spend a certain amount (around $300-$400 after the discount).

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What animal did you pick?
  • What sound does this animal make?
  • How does the puppet feel?
  • Can you make the puppet talk?
  • Can you tickle the puppets head?
  • What can you do with the puppet?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Animal
Colorful
Fluffy
Friendly
Furry
Hand

Hidden
Jump
Laugh
Loud
Pet
Pretend

Quiet
Soft
Sound
Surprise
Tickle
Touch

Storytime Prop: Bark George

Funny stories and book retellings are a staple of my storytimes. I love leaning into the humor of preschoolers, and I particularly like when a story can make parents snicker as well.

I like retelling stories in different formats, and I am always looking for books that can be retold with large props or puppets. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of flannel board story retellings. I do not have great vision, and I struggle to focus on (or even see) tiny flannel pieces. We often have large storytime crowds, and all I can think about when holding small items is that if I was sitting on a chair in the back of the room, I would have no idea what the librarian was holding up. The same goes for finger puppets.

Because of that, I look for ways to adapt things in a large scale way. The book Bark George by Jules Feiffer is a perfect story to retell with props. Essentially, the dog George makes various animal sounds that dogs don’t make (moo, quack, oink, etc.). When George goes to the vet, everyone realizes he has swallowed these animals. The vet pulls them out safe and sound. This continues until George barks again. At the very end of the story, George says a slightly ominous “hello.”

When I was in library school, I saw an amazing online post where a librarian retold Bark George with a giant dog stuffed animal with a mouth that opened. She cut the seam inside the mouth and used some awesome sewing skills to make it possible to physically stuff the dog with animal puppets that can be pulled out as you reach that point in the story.

I unfortunately don’t have those sewing skills, but another amazing librarian blogger made a dog out of a box, and I copied their structure for my Bark George prop.

I found a large square box (about 18-20″ on each side). I taped the flaps and reinforced the seams with duct tape and shipping tape. I then cut a slit diagonally down two sides and about two-thirds of the way down the new “front” of the box using a box cutter.

This creates a “mouth” that can be opened easily for me to reach inside and find various animals.

I used brown butcher paper to wrap the box, aiming to keep all seams as invisible as possible. In this case, seams are located on the inside, bottom of the box, the back of the box, and underneath what eventually are covered by dog ears.

This was my second time making George, and I had learned a few lessons from the first time. Double sided tape and shipping tape were my main tools. In the past, I attempted to use hot glue, but that resulted in a lot of peeling over time.

After wrapping the box in brown paper, I worked on the smaller elements to create the dog face. I used dark brown construction paper for the ears.These wrapped around the front corners of the box, to cover the paper seams. Ears were secured with double sided tape.

From my first version of George, the ears were the element I had to replace the most often. I have debated laminating them, but I am not sure how the shiny ears would look on the overall box.

The rest of the dog face was created using black, pink, and white cardstock and black sharpie.

George is a staple in my family or preschool storytimes. I hide him in a large black garbage bag before it is time for him to make his debut, with 4-5 animal puppets inside. Since I tell the story myself, I pick whatever puppets are most readily available that make obvious animal sounds. Just make sure you remember what puppets you put inside–it was an interesting storytime the day that George said “oink” but hadn’t eaten a pig.

Do you have a favorite storytime prop? I’d love to learn about it in the comments!