Sunday 25 March 2012

Guest Blog- Dramatising Picture Books by Julia Donaldson

Today we are delighted to welcome Julia Donaldson to the Picture Book Den.  

Julia became the Children's Laureate in June 2011.
Her wonderful picture books are loved by children and parents all over the world. Her rhythmic and rhyming stories continue to delight time after time.

Julia's events are always a lot of fun and here she talks about dramatising her books.

I did my first ever author visit eighteen years ago. The idea of “talking about my books” to a class of seven-year-olds was a bit daunting, so I decided to act out A Squash and a Squeeze (my first book).

It was easy. I just got the children in a circle, with two of them lifting their arms to form an arch, then chose four animals and a wise old man to stand outside the circle while I, as the little old lady, stayed in the middle. Some of the children in the circle were the curtains and some were the food, and they all joined in the chorus.
I’ve never since then managed to write a picture book which is quite so easy to dramatise as A Squash and a Squeeze. But I keep trying, and I now have a room in my house devoted to props and costumes.

Children acting out my poem "Nut Tree" 
(from the picture book Wriggle and Roar,
 illustrated by Nick Sharratt).

I do recommend drama as a tool for any author visiting a school or library. The children love joining in, and it means they don’t have to sit on their bottoms for the whole session.

It’s surprising how many picture books can be acted by a whole class – even ones with only two main characters.

Pam Wardell, a drama expert based in Edinburgh, does a wonderful production of Brian Wildsmith’s version of The Sun and the Wind.

The class is divided up into different groups, such as Garden, and Sea. When the sun shines the plants in the garden grow, and when the wind blows the boats at sea (represented by hats) are tossed and buffeted.

illustrated by Joel Stewart

One of my own favourites to act out is The Magic Paintbrush, based on a traditional Chinese tale.
Everything that a little girl paints becomes real, but she’s only allowed to paint for the poor, so when the greedy emperor demands a tree of coins she has a problem.

Acting out The Magic Paintbrush

The best thing about doing this with a class is the children’s joyous reaction when their unsuspecting teacher gets cast as the emperor,

but they also enjoy being divided up into horrible henchmen (or women) and innocent villagers.

I am still, however, wrestling with the problem of how to stage my newest book, The Singing Mermaid (due out in April 2012, with illustrations by Lydia Monks).

In this story a mermaid is lured to the circus but misses the sea. Her escape is thwarted until an acrobat teaches her to walk on her hands. Tricky!   I don’t think many infant classes contain two children who can do this.

So I’m going to meet Kim and Symon from the Edinburgh Puppet Lab to see if they can make me a puppet mermaid.

Meanwhile, any suggestions gratefully received.


Alison Boyle said...

I like the idea of surprising the teacher, asking him or her to take a part on the spot - no acting skills required for that 'look of surprise'.

Dramatisation is such a good way to involve everyone, and in groups the shy children are not exposed. The only problem I sometimes encounter is bringing the class back to re-creating the whole story after they've had an abandoned time being eagles rampaging down the mountain or pushy swordfish. Suggestions gratefully received from any readers of this blog.

For your walking on hands acrobat problem, before you have your puppet: Why not set up the pretence that hands are feet? If children pretend to be walking on their hands they will probably move differently in the guise of a mermaid acrobat.

Paeony Lewis said...

Yes, perhaps if the children put their inner wrists together above their heads and fan out their hands - that could be a tail (the hands are then fins), and so the feet are hands. You could put bit gloves on your feet (to represent hands!) and make a mermaid tail hat?
Or in pairs, one child could hold up the legs of the other child as they walk on their hands? Oh, the chaos!

Amanda Lillywhite said...

An adult (the teacher?) could dangle a child by the ankles so that their hands can touch the ground? If the kids are anything like my daughter was at that age they are likely to attempt walking on their hands and will not accept a substitute so this may be a way of avoiding flailing feet. Whatever you do there is a lot of potential for a memorable day for the children.
The story sounds wonderful.

Abie Longstaff said...

I like the idea of acting out the book - for my pirate book I have little accessories for children to wear and shout pirate-ish things like 'Avast ye hearties!' (Does anyone actually know what this means??). I do wish I could sing well, though. It would be great to get them singing pirate ditties (the clean ones).

Ellen L. Ramsey said...

I love the idea of dramatizing The Magic Paintbrush--it's one of my favorite stories!

malachy doyle said...

Right, you've prompted /provoked /inspired me, Julia. From now on, I'm going to do even more dramatising than I usually do! All-singing, all-dancing, come-all-ye.

Wendy Meddour said...

Wow! Turn my back for a minute, and you're getting the celebrities in!!! Great post Julia - thanks so much for sharing your inspiring top tips. (And well done Picture Book Den - you're up and away :))

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Thanks for an exciting post, Julia. You've got me thinking about all sorts of weird and wonderful things (including whether you could wear a mermaid tail hat (with elastic under your chin and then crouch down and walk with your hands on your feet. Hmmmn). I love getting children joining in during school visits and we always do very entertaining assemblies with lots of audience participation but you've inspired me (like Malachy) to get more acting out into my sessions. I've just put in for a grant (which looks promising) to get children more engaged with reading for pleasure and writing in our school and if we're successful, amongst other things (including author visits etc) will be a brilliant local actor who's going to get everyone acting out stories. Thanks again, and good luck with your latest book.

Anonymous said...

I have in the past when I am writing a manuscript and come to a "holding place" (i.e. BLOCK) used toys and my family to dramatize the Plot Thus Far in hope of being jolted out of my "holding place" - this is definitely taking it a step farther. I absolutely love it. Julia Donaldson, if no one else has told you lately, let me just put it in writing - you are a freakin' genius. Now i am not only a huge admirer of your books, but also of your Theatrics.

Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring blog!

NotAnonymously yours,
Melissa Kelley

Julie Rowan-Zoch said...

Such fun suggestions! Paeony's is called 'wheelbarrowing' where I come from! One could ask the students for ideas for kid-sized actions one could learn (sitting down if group is large!), just as the acrobat teaches the mermaid, i.e. touching elbows behind your back, curling your tongue, whistling and humming simultaneously, etc. Thanks - I've been inspired to make another suggestion myself: for my local library to purchase the books mentioned (that we don't already have)!

Becky Fyfe said...

I love the idea of having children act out parts of the book. My current story has a fitness slant to it which will be easy to have kids get up and act out. :)

Joolze said...

Inspiring post. Thank you Julia. I'm an ex music teacher who was lucky enough to work closely with a drama teacher and I learnt a massive amount from her, but I've never yet done a complete 'production' on a school visit. After reading your post I think this will change! I'm looking forward to The Singing Mermaid. Whenever I do book signings/readings I regularly get at least one child wander off to the book shelves and return clutching one of your stories, wanting it to be read as well. No pressure!

Jane Clarke said...

Thank you Julia, you always inspire me. It's great to have you guest blogging on the Picture Book Den and sharing your experiences. I often visit Infant Schools, and like to get the children up and moving - joining in with my rhyming picture books or with action rhymes I've written to go with the prose ones - but now I'm going to have a long hard think about assigning roles and acting out. Good luck with The Singing Mermaid and thank you again for everything you do.

Moira Butterfield said...

A very good idea to get the teachers involved, so they give the children added fun and they don't get the chance to slip off for a cuppa and a flick through their phone messages. Of course, not every teacher does this, I hasten to add, but it has been known.

Addy Farmer said...

What an inspiring post - thanks, Julia. I really love to see children up and about, feeling the story. I love it too!

Unknown said...

you can never have enough puppets! Make it a giant rod puppet mermaid - multi-operated by the kids. Heehee - good to hear that kids make great curtains :P

Julian said...

How about trying all those wonderful Rupert stories or Dr Zeuss? What a magical way to bring a book or a poem to life.

BTW Julia we saw the Gruffalo is South Brent School done by a group of professional actors. it was one of the most amazing things my children have ever seen. right up there with Joseph and Les Mis.

Penny Parker Klostermann said...

This is a wonderful way for kids to be a part of a memorable experience. I'm sure they will always remember your visits and your books.

Anonymous said...

A message from Julia Donaldson.

'Lovely to read all the comments and suggestions. I'll post a picture of my mermaid puppet as soon as she has been made.'

peter kenneth said...

Thank you for taking out some of your precious time and sharing this wonderful post with us !!! it was a nice write up...

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