A Galaxy of Giggles for next summer

How do you get an astronaut baby to sleep?

You rocket!

Baby is getting ready for our show A Galaxy of Giggles for next year’s Summer Reading Programs, which has the theme A Universe of Stories. Baby even has a jetpack!

Photo by Heather Harlan, Oct. 2018

Photo by Heather Harlan, Oct. 2018

It’s true. A couple of months ago, on my way to the Missouri Library Association performers showcase, I found myself at a Build-a-Bear shop in the mall. There I found the perfect pink jetpack, exactly the right size for my baby puppet. I ran to the car and got her so she could try it on. It fit! The pink even matched her leggings.

This is part of my process for creating a summer reading program. I think about what I already have that would fit the theme, I do research for new material, and I keep my eyes out for accessories for my puppets. For months now, I’ve been gathering space-related stories, songs, fingerplays and puppet hilarity. I’ve got a special puppet for the show and am working on possible voices and miscellany.

I also name the show and write a blurb. I keep it general enough that I can add ideas, but close to the prescribed theme. Here’s next year’s show description:

A Galaxy of Giggles

Hop on board this story shuttle for an out-of-this-world mix of stories, songs, stretches, puppets and general silliness with storyteller Priscilla Howe. Warning: there may be aliens!

Have suggestions? Let me know in the comments or by e-mail!

Storytelling at FISI

I didn't intend to tell stories at the Fulbright International Summer Institute in Pravets, Bulgaria. True, I'm always ready to tell stories, but I didn't go with that idea. I took a couple of puppets, on the chance I might need them, but that's something I do whenever I travel. Hmm, now this sounds like a case of "I just happened to have brought my sheet music..." 

On the first evening, a couple of the American students who had heard me introduce myself waved me over to their dinner table. "Would you tell some stories?"  I promised a performance outside the next evening. We began to spread the word. 

I found a little tower as a backdrop, with a wall for seats. By the end of the performance, there were around 20 listeners. I told a mix of stories, from the old favorite Ghost with the One Black Eye to The Twist-Mouth Family to Blood (a piece of personal fiction with an embedded Bulgarian folktale). It seems this last was the siren song for the mosquitoes, as they chased us inside. 

The response to the stories was good, but because many people hadn't heard about the performance, I got more requests. For the second show, I chose Sunday morning at 11.

There were around fifteen listeners. I mixed it up, with the South African folktale Unanana and the Elephant, The Crooked Little Finger by Philippa Pearce, The Portraits (another piece of personal fiction) and Marina, a story I wrote in the voice of a Bulgarian woman in 1986 in NYC. I was nervous about it, anxious that the Bulgarian listeners understand that I tell it with great respect for Bulgaria and Bulgarians.

On Sunday evening, there were new arrivals to FISI. Some of these asked if I would do another performance. I set up a Thursday evening show, after supper, which had another twenty or so listeners. We were indoors, in a lounge a floor above the lobby. It was loud and a little challenging to perform in the space, but fun.

Because there were three listeners who specifically wanted to hear stories for young children, I began with The Gunniwolf, but then shifted gears to the gruesome Bluebeard variant, Mr. Fox. I also told The Great Sharp Scissors by Philippa Pearce and a few others. Some of the University of Michigan undergrads were there, at first doubtful and then completely engaged. Two of them afterwards asked for tips on doing presentations. 

I thought that was it. On Friday, people kept apologizing that they hadn't been able to come, as they were finishing projects for the last day of classes. I offered to tell one story at the final party, but there wasn't a good time or place for that. The music was playing and it was time to dance. Afterwards, back at the hotel, I was asked again. I told a short one, The Porcelain Man, a love story by Richard Kennedy. 

There were a couple of other times I performed: I went into the Bulgarian class for beginners twice, once with my puppets and once to tell a Bulgarian folktale. I practiced it in advance with Stefka, the teacher, to get the tenses right. (This picture is of that class. The baby showed up for the photo, asking for her "biba," also known as her binky.)

So I didn't intend to perform at FISI and did only in response to requests. All the same, I had a good time sharing the stories in my head. 

Thanks to Megan Lueneberg, Kalina Georgieva and Rada Kaneva for pictures.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

You do WHAT?!

My friend Granny Sue is organizing a storytelling blog hop (the internet answer to a pub crawl?) and she asked for blog posts about who we are and what we do. If you're a family member or old friend, you probably know this stuff, but it occurs to me that many readers don't know my background or the range of what I do. So here goes...

On a plane, at a party, in a networking gathering or in many other places, the question comes up. "And what do you do?"

"I'm a storyteller." 

"What? What does that mean?"

"Well, I tell stories." I launch in, "I tell folktales, my own stories and stories from books. I don't read the stories, I tell them. When I work with young children, I use puppets, but I also tell stories to adults and older kids." 

The next question is often, "Can you make a living at that?" Yes, I have done so since 1993. 

"How do you get your work?" I jump into the list of things I use to market my work: this website and blog, directories and rosters, postcards, e-mails and my favorite, word of mouth. 

"How did you start?" I have a couple of answers. One is that I babysat when I was a teenager and would make up stories to tell to the kids. Another is that I was a children's librarian and learned to tell stories in my job. I always tell people how lucky I am to do work I love. 

Still, these answers don't ever tell close to the whole story.

You can find me telling stories in schools, libraries and at festivals. I tell for kids who are learning English, you can find me hanging out with the stroller crowd with puppets, I might be at a school telling character ed stories, I love telling stories in Juvenile Detention, I've told stories to high school communications classes and forensics students, I teach a workshop (or series) called "Storytelling, Storywriting." Before performances for kids, I often play "Name that tune" with the listeners, playing on my harmonica. Afterwards, the puppets might greet the audience.

Is that all? Nah. I tell Medieval stories to older kids and adults, including The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, my longest story, which clocks in at 95 minutes, and Queen Berta and King Pippin, which I translated from Old French and Modern French. I was one of three co-founders of Going Deep, the Long Traditional Story Retreat. Last week I did a one-woman show for adults called Blood, Guts, Spies and Fat Naked Ladies, a wild piece of personal fiction based on truth about the year I lived in Bulgaria in the early 1980s (yup, during Communism). I've got a large collection of stories of the Turkish trickster Nasruddin Hodja, most of which I translated from various languages.

What else? I coach storytellers, I teach workshops on using puppets with young children, story stretches and songs, storytelling, writing. More? Oh, right, I give house concerts, conference presentations and keynote speeches, too. Weddings and anniversaries? Yessiree.

When not performing, I search for stories in English, French, Bulgarian and Russian or do (or avoid) office work. I travel around the world (all over the US, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Argentina to date, with an upcoming trip to Chile) telling stories. 

Some of the personal stuff: I'm a reader, a talker, an adventurer. Though I live in Kansas, I'm a New Englander at heart, the youngest of seven kids. I love to cook, eat, play around in the garden, hang out with friends, listen to music, swim, walk. I have a four-legged office assistant who is meowing at me now to feed him. 

I also like pie. I'm still looking for the best restaurant pie on earth. Fruit, not cream.