Monday, April 27, 2009

Pirates & Positive Behavior

Pirates never wear sunblock, nor do they brush their teeth, or ever use manners. They don't have to listen to their mothers telling them to clean their rooms. They don't have to bathe or do homework. And when they're hungry they just say, "HAND OVER THE MEAT!"

Braid Beard, the captain of the pirate ship in First Stage Children's Theater's production of How I Became a Pirate, was explaining all of this to Jeremy Jacobs, the young boy who had suddenly been transported from everyday life to the deck of a ship filled with lively pirates.

As I sat with my daughter in the darkness of the audience on this rainy Sunday afternoon of live theater; I was laughing with the rest of them on the outside, but biting my lip on the inside. How would this affect the rules of decency and manners that I had been working so hard to impart on my daughter since toddlerhood?

"And pirates NEVER say PLEASE or THANK YOU!" Braid Beard emphasized. My heart sort of skipped a beat here as I looked down at my daughter's wide-eyed, 5-year-old face.

Nothing like high-quality children's theater to transport you... The lights! The set! The costumes! The actors! These crazy characters, the pirates, with their different way of talking and their don't-have-to-answer-to-authority ways. She was completely taken!

I imagined the days ahead - of her testing the boundaries and using the pirates as justification for anarchy! But alas, the plot twist that turns things in my favor is that, all the excitement and novelty of freedom and adventure fade as Jeremy Jacobs begins to miss home (ala Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are) - his own bed, reading books, goodnight kisses from Mom and Dad.

"Can someone tuck me in?" Jeremy Jacobs asks the pirates with a longing in his voice. The pirates are unable to fulfill his request but do sing a wistful song with him about missing home. Touched by the message of It's Good to Be Home and the thought of no love at bedtime, my daughter is transformed again and reaches out to hold my hand for the duration of the song.

It's worth mentioning here how fabulous the music is! Some of the actors are also well-known local musicians (from bands such as Frogwater and Random Maxx) playing guitars, keyboard, drum, flute and violin. Is there a CD soundtrack available? I'd love to know, because I'm ready to buy it!

John Maclay, the director, writes in his director's notes...

How I Became a Pirate was one of the first books that I read to my son and it has become a staple in our reading list. As we now bring the story to life for your enjoyment I hope that, upon leaving the theater, the tunes stay with you and you remember a few good laughs.

Mission accomplished, John!

But by far, the greatest, lasting benefit of spending an afternoon with the pirates at First Stage, is that my daughter and I now have a new inside running joke that promotes positive behavior:

"I'm going to go live with the pirates!" she'll say to me when she's disappointed because I tell her she SHOULD or CAN'T do something.

Then I'll respond, "THAT'S RIGHT! I'm going to send you off to go live with the pirates if you don't do what I say!" Very tongue-in-cheek, and then we both laugh and the struggle of the moment is dispelled. Lesson learned: living with all the benefits and comforts of home means following rules, remembering our manners, and listening to our parents. What a perfect learning moment How I Became a Pirate has given us!

So although the pirates wouldn't approve of my manners in saying this...

THANKS First Stage Children's Theater!

And a huge THANKS to Nancy (of "Nancy & Phinlee" - storytime regulars and mateys of mine) for the gift of the tickets! Nancy's husband, Jared, is Production Manager for First Stage. How lucky we are that they recently relocated here to Milwaukee from Manhattan!

How I Became a Pirate is a world premiere, original musical adapted by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman from Melinda Long's book by the same title. The production runs through May 17 and is recommended for ages 3 and older.

Also, check out the First Stage website for more information on the 2009-2010 season with more upcoming productions that are adaptations based on some fabulous books including:

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
If You Give A Mouse a Cookie
If You Take a Mouse to School

THEATER BASED ON BOOKS! It just doesn't get any more exciting than that...ARRRRRRGH!!! (Couldn't resist...that darned pirate-speak is beyond addictive!)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Big Red Barn

"By the big red barn
in the great green field,
There was a pink pig
Who was learning to squeal."

So begins Margaret Wise Brown's Big Red Barn. Talk about music to the ears - I love this book! My cousin gave me the small board book version when my daughter was born, and I've read it a million times.

Brown's poetic words combined with Felicia Bond's sweet illustrations perfectly capture the simple bliss of farm life from sun-up to sun-down: the baby pig squealing towards the rising sun, a tomcat jumping out of the barn window, puppies "all round and warm," horses stomping in "the sweet warm hay," animals nestled together (even a piglet curled up with a foal) sleeping "all night long," the reflection of the moon in a pail of water...makes you want to pack up and move out to the country!

With this month's theme, I've been so excited to share it with you; but have had to wait patiently for the big book version to come down the inter-library pipeline.

It has arrived, and tomorrow we'll read it!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fire & Smoke

"Fire and smoke go HIGH...
Kids get LOW!
Run for the door...
GO! GO! GO!"

He even writes his own fire safety rhymes!

A great big firehouse, "THANKS!" to Captain Aaron for a wonderful morning of entertaining and educating the children!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Down on the Farm

"THE BARN...often had a sort of peaceful smell - as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world."
-- from Charlotte's Web

With my daughter's recent obsession with horses, and my involvement with the Tosa Farmers Market group , a monthly theme about farm life seemed like a natural choice! For the month of April we'll...


Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown
Farmer Will by Jane Cowen-Fletcher
Spots, Feathers, and Curly Tails by Nancy Tafuri
Early Morning in the Barn by Nancy Tafuri
Down on the Farm by Merrily Kutner
There's a Cow in the Cabbage Patch by Clare Beaton
Wake Up, Farm! by Alvin Tresselt


I went to visit a farm one day.
I saw a pig along the way,
And what do you think I heard it say?

(Repeat with horse, cow, duck, sheep, etc.)

"Mary Had a Little Lamb"

"Old MacDonald Had a Farm"

...And lots of fun animals to sing about in our counting song!



Here is the barn (form a roof shape with hands)
Where I like to GO. (walk in place)
It’s as tall as a tree (point up overhead)
And cozy, you KNOW! (hug body with arms)

Here is the barn (form a roof shape with hands)
I’ll go there with YOU (walk in place)
To pet a sweet ____ (pretend to pet)
And cuddle it TOO! (pretend to hug)


Here is the beehive... (Hold up right hand with fingers curled under)
But where are the bees? (hold other hand, palm up)
They’re hidden away where nobody sees. (shake your head)
Here they come buzzing out of the hive...1,2,3,4,5! (Raise thumb and fingers one at a time)


Five little farmers get up early each day...(yawn and stretch)
For there is work to be done and no time to play! (shake head)
The first little farmer goes to milk the cow. (make milking motion)
The second little farmer gets ready to plow. (pretend to drive)
The third little farmer feeds the hens and chicks. (pretend to scatter corn)The fourth little farmer has gates to fix. (make hammering motions)
The fifth little farmer sells vegetables in town. (fan hand out in front)
Five busy little farmers work 'til the sun goes down.... (yawn, stretch, sleep)

Looking forward to hearing everyone's animal sounds!