Fairy Poppilina’s Story School – Lesley McKay’s Bookshop & The Potts Point Bookshop, SYDNEY

I was fortunate enough to convene ‘story schools’ in two Sydney bookshops – Lesley McKay’s Bookshop (Woollahra) and The Potts Point Bookshop

Herewith below is a magical record of all the literary fun that was created!

The Magical Record of the Fairy Poppilina Story School Sessions:

Our first session was ‘bear-themed’ and the Story Schoolers voted Corduroy as the favourite story.  The ‘line up’ of bear stories included: The Bear Hunt [which I presented with  Barbie boots on fingers]  and Goldilocks and the Three Bears [complete with a bowl full of ‘plastic’ porridge].  The Bear Hunt came in at a second. We also sang ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ as we coloured in and danced the ‘Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear Turn Around’ rhymed song.

Our second session,  ‘transport-themed’, included Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car, The Journey Home and Little Cat and the Big Red Bus.  Mr Gumpy was nothing short of a ‘fun ride’ whilst the Journey Home allowed us to undertake a magical journey meeting magical creatures along the way, such as a mermaid, Santa Claus and even a gypsy, who had us belly dancing in the bookshop!  Little Cat And The Big Red Bus is a heartfelt story of the perils of falling asleep on the bus and missing your bus stop.  Luckily, there was a kind bus driver who realised Little Cat’s predicament and drove her home in the quiet night.  Hmmm .. voting on a favourite was difficult [it was a hat draw back at the toadstool], which turned out to be The Journey Home.  This will be presented in our final session for term one and I think mermaid making popsicle craft is on the fairy agenda!

Our third session was based on ‘Superstars’ – by this I mean book characters who really ‘star’ in the story.  Stories selected included: The Tiger Who Came to Tea [an oldie but a goodie], What The Ladybird Heard [what a sage, but silent, sweet ladybird] and Thelma The Unicorn [because of Thelma’s love of pink and sparkles and of course her effective self analysis and realisation].  During the retelling of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the children enjoyed ringing my doorbell, opening up their imaginary doors and growling like tigers.  They also enjoyed becoming teapots at the end [filled with such wonderfully imaginative tea – rainbow tea, rose tea, even chocolate tea: yum!].  We also discussed why the tiger never visited ever again – maybe he forgot how to get there, maybe he had a tummy ache after eating so much, maybe he went back to the jungle/zoo or maybe such strange visits only ever happen once in one’s lifetime!  Needless to say; it was a tiger-tealicious retelling!  What The Ladybird Heard triggered us to whisper like a little ladybird and then giggle when the animals purposely made the wrong noise in attempt to confuse the two bad men and thus prevent the fine prize cow from being stolen.  Thelma The Unicorn touched on emotions of feeling drab and sad/self-dissatisfaction, then excited by fame and finally lonely and ‘not belonging’ with the realisation that a best friend, an open field and being oneself far outweighs ‘superstardom’.  We crafted unicorns with horns and wings and finished our session with a little sing: ‘I’m a little unicorn, see my horn, I’m always happy; never forlorn.  You will find me in a meadow of green, where I’ll be eating rainbow ice cream”.  The Tiger Who Came To Tea will be included at our ‘final faves’ session.

Our ‘Dogs’ session included: Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, Hairy Maclary and Seadog.  What fun we had wagging our tails, sniffing our noses and drooping our ears in our “If you are happy and you know it” dog song.  The Story Schoolers each got to be one of Hairy Maclary’s friends [with a finger puppet] and as the friend was eliminated due to Hairy Maclary’s antics to keep his friends away from his bone, the finger puppet was returned.  Great fun!  Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, which I perform as one of my ‘storytelling shows’ in schools/libraries, proved captivating to the Story Schoolers – it is a fabulous story with a fabulous message!  Sea dog was a fun, easy, stinky, bathing, doggone beauty of a story – a great way to conclude our session.  This was the voted favourite.  Our colouring in got quite funky with the Story Schoolers colouring in a dog whilst I provided cut out paper bones to give to ‘their dogs’.  A cut out kennel was also provided.

Our end of term 1 session was a wonderful ‘wind up’ with presentation of our nominated favourite stories and the creation of popsicle mermaids.

Term 2 has commenced ‘TOADally frogatastically’ with three frog stories and songs.  Oi Frog is such a treat to present; funny and rhyming.  We threw around a soft toy log, dog and frog to ‘tune into rhyming’ before we listened to the story and helped fill in all the missing rhymed words.  The Frog Prince, which I have readapted with Bondi Beach/Australian elements, was the voted favourite [I was so thrilled!] and the children had fun playing with the puppets I used in the presentation.  This fairytale is one I often present in schools and libraries and I never tire of the ending, which, of course, alludes to the power of love and its transformational effects [literature is always so powerful!].

Our Mother’s Day session was very special and heartfelt.  We discussed our mother’s names and what we love about our mothers and this discussion was interspersed during the course of our three stories:  Are You My Mother?, Fancy Nancy And The Day Spa and Five Minutes Peace.  Are You My Mother?, a 1952 gem of a story, allowed the children to discern the difference between ‘living’ and ‘non living’ things – those who have mothers and those who don’t have mothers.  It was fun touching tables and bookshelves and calling it a ‘non living’ thing and subsequently deducing that it would not have a mother!  I brought Fancy Nancy And The Day Spa to life by bringing in ‘fake’ nails and hand cream and a head massager in an attempt to emulate the components of the day spa Fancy Nancy gave her mother.  Five Minutes Peace was a lovely concluding story as, in the end, we fantasised about taking our mummies on holidays and acknowledged the ‘constancy’ of being a mother.  The children coloured in teapots and I stuck on a peppermint tea bag to elicit a five minute tea break for their mothers!

We went down to the farm during this next session!  We started by singing  ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ before segueing to our first farm visit in the form of the story Farmer Duck.  This is such a wonderful story about inequality, the support of friends and attaining a good outcome.  I could write so much about this story; one that I have been acquainted with for 20 years, when my first child was born and it was gifted to me.  One of the Story Schoolers noticed how the farm changed from a dark, depressing, foreboding farm to one that in the end grew flowers and appeared peaceful.  This led to much discussion amongst the Story Schoolers – was it that the animals had physically made it a better place after the lazy farmer was shooed away or was it in the duck’s imagination that in the beginning he felt down but by the end of the story the dark cloud had lifted and the illustrations demonstrated this?  The Pig’s Knickers is a story I always have so much fun imparting.  It’s message is a little quirky; perhaps best explained if I succinctly retell the story’s premise:  a depressed pig finally feels special when a pair of knickers blow off the washing line and land on his head.  After he dons the knickers, he develops a newfound lease on life:  breaking out into a breakdance in the barn in front of Cow, tightrope walking along the washing line in front of Goat.  However, after washing the knickers and putting them out to dry, the knickers disappear [a gobbling goat with a penchant for tasty clothing items is the culprit].  The pig remains inconsolable until the animals explain that he is special with or without the knickers.  They were just ‘amazed’, ‘astonished’ and ‘astounded’ by his happiness, dancing and tightrope walking – unprecedented acts by the despondent pig!  The pig appears to accept their consolatory advices but then changes tact when he grabs a bra off the washing line and declares he is a ‘material pig’ [you got it, I played Madonna’s Material World]; thus reiterating his need to wear clothes as a ‘mood enhancer’.  The message could be that some people need smart clothes and things to make them feel special; others are happy without and their self esteem is not intricately related to external appearances.  Story School concluded with a simple retelling of The Three Little Pigs.  It was fun seeing the children ‘huff and puff’.  The voted favourite was a tie between Farmer Duck and Pig’s Knickers.  However,  the pithy message contained in the story of Farmer Duck is ripe for a second reading!

We had a ‘wedding-wonderment’ session as we trawled our way through stories relating to weddings; namely:  Fancy Nancy And The Wedding Of The Century, The Scarecrows’ Wedding and The Worst Princess.  Oooh, the illustrations of Robin Preiss Glassier, Fancy Nancy’s illustrator, truly give justice to the text – the text in this case seems the ‘final rub’ to the illustrations, depicting the capricious Fancy Nancy and her expectations and disappointments with her uncle’s [simple] wedding.  One Story Schooler remarked that she would simply love to be at that wedding, eating the pancakes and strawberry cakes; such are the intoxicatingly beautiful creations of Robin Preiss Glassier!  The Scarecrows’ Wedding by Julia Donaldson is a supremely well planned story, based on the ‘narrative arc’.  There is love, there is adventure, there is a villain and there is a beautiful denouement.   I am very partial to The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp because of its chutzpah and ‘girl power’.  A princess [depicted to be wearing yellow Converse shoes, alluding to .. her latent chutzpah] waits longingly for her prince only to be duped by this ‘cad’ who only wants his princess to ‘look pretty’ and ‘smile a lot’ as ‘dragon bashing is not for girls’ … Serendipity reigns when a dragon comes to the princess’ rescue and uses his ‘fire breathing superpower’ to blow down the castle [and set the prince’s shorts alight].  The princess lives happily, ‘dragonily’ ever after.  In all my years as The Storytelling Fairy I have never seen such ‘shiny eyes’ of children as I have when we listened to The Scarecrows’ Wedding.  They loved the anthropomorphic scarecrows and this led to discussion about the magic of books and how ‘talking scarecrows’ are possible; moreover anything is possible, in the ‘land of stories’.  Due to the length of this story, I half sang it with my ukulele and have used recorded music in the background.  One Story Schooler ‘pleaded’ for it be included in next session’s term favourites!  Moments like this sink deeply into my fairy/storytelling heart – to see children so excited and enthralled about words and concepts and to marvel at the idea of there being ‘talking scarecrows who fall in love’.

Our final session for term 2, ‘Term Faves’ was an eclectic line up of Oi Frog, The Scarecrows’ Wedding and Farmer Duck.  Oi Frog was the nominated favourite with The Scarecrows’ Wedding coming in at a close second.  On the last occasion of presenting Oi Frog, one Story Schooler wanted to know more about the actual situation of a cat teaching a frog  the designated rhymed sitting spots for animals – gophers sit on sofas, lions sit on irons … So; this time, when I presented Oi Frog, I created a ‘back story’ of there being a bossy cat who was obstinate in her view of where every animal should sit.  I sang this song [to Smelly Cat from ‘Friends’] “Oh bossy cat, bossy cat, you rhyme too much, that’s a fact ..”  I added in more dialogue between the frog and the cat, which the children loved [it imbued a human tone to the story] .  Oi Frog was crowned our Term 2 Story School Favourite!

Story School for term three resumed this week, and our first session theme was ‘Sweet Moments’ [stories that contain ‘sweet moments’] .  We discussed what a sweet moment is – a little bit of time when things feel sweet; like sitting in the sunshine listening to the birds or having a giggle with a friend.  We discussed  when we had experienced a ‘sweet moment’ [blowing out our birthday cake candles, hugging our mummies, reading a book alone and having quiet time].   We started the story ‘Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights’ with a giggle as we repeated the word ‘nincompoop’ but proceeded to be enthralled with  this story of how three knights [Sir Brainbox, Sir Musclebound and Sir Daring-Do] were incapable of fixing the roaring dragon problem whilst Princess Daisy [who was not allowed out of the tower] ended up saving the day to the satisfaction of a harmless baby dragon who just needed a cuddle, a goodnight story and a bottle of milk.  One Story Schooler voted this as her ‘sweet moment favourite’.  Next up was Pinkalicious, the little girl who suffered the consequences of overeating pink cupcakes – she turned pink and subsequently red!  The sweet moment occurred when she realised the importance of returning to her normal self.  I love this tale – it has been my ‘go-to’ at fairy parties and school/library visits.  The Story Schoolers and a Story School-Mum really loved feeding the Pinkalicious puppet [soft toy] cupcake after [soft toy] cupcake.  Never Say No To A Princess, however, proved to be the voted favourite.  Its pithy message of friendship being more important than material things is such a sweet sucker punch to the heart.  I used my dragon puppet and the Story Schoolers loved it when the spoilt princess rested on dragon’s back and flew home through the twinkly stars as ‘Listen to Your Heart’ played.

Our next session was focused on ‘Feeling Loved’ [or our ‘love day’, as one Story Schooler so aptly said].  We started with Hugless Douglas – a tale of a bear, Douglas, who wakes up from his hibernation in need of a hug.  However, his attempts to find a hug prove fruitless until he finally meets up with his mum.  We learnt that the best of hugs come from someone we love!  We started by passing around the Hugless Douglas bear and giving him a hug and concluding with giving ourselves a hug!  We then moved on to Silversands, where you will find The Singing Mermaid.  This story was selected as part of our ‘love day’ because it shows the love of the mermaid’s friends in helping her get back to her home after she is unwittingly taken by Sam Sly to perform in his circus.  How I love this story – of course it is from the eminent and prolific Julia Donaldson!  The Story Schoolers also liked seeing me act out the mermaid method of ‘walking’ home [one hand here, other hand there, tail in the air and you’ll soon get there].  Of course I erupted into a headstand .. as many of you may or may not know I LOVE executing headstands!   We concluded with Pearl Barley And Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey.  This is such a sweet tale of two totally different people whose differences complement each other.  Pearl is so ‘out there’ and positive, yet is prone to lapses of exhaustion whereas Charlie is a stable, quiet fellow who sometimes feels small and needs to be reinforced and jollied out of his woes by the effervescent Pearl!  Oooh such a lovely session!

The ‘Bad Days Turning to Good Days’ session started with Princess Mirror Belle and the Dragon Pox by Julia Donaldson.  Poor Ellen, she awakens with the chicken pox and feels destined to have a lonely, boring sick day at home.  Alas; it is not to be -Princess Mirror Belle magically appears and then pops through the mirror with an idea of a cure for Ellen’s ‘dragon pox’.  The cure involves much mischief in the bathroom – squeezing out toothpaste, squirting all the shaving cream out etc.  By the end of it all, the bathroom is a mess and .. Mirror Belle has disappeared.  Luckily, Ellen’s mummy is nonplussed – she is just happy to see Ellen, surprisingly, on the mend ..  We then enjoyed ‘Purpilicious’ by Kann.  It is such a powerful story packaged so sweetly .. a story of bullying, of feeling alone because your view conflicts with the other girls.  I always enjoy the discussion that follows post presentation: why couldn’t the girls just respect Pinkalicious’ love of pink?  Why did Pinkalicious feel so down by no longer being part of the pack?  Is belonging more important than  being true to yourself?   Finally, we ended with Whiffy Wilson – The Wolf Who Didn’t Want to go to School.  This story I sang rather than read, stopping at the end of each page to discuss Whiffy Wilson’s concerns about going to school – would the teachers be mean?  Would the other children want to play with him?  Would he ever be able to learn?  I certainly noticed the children who are entering school next year being enthralled by this story – it is a great one to read to children just before they commence school.  We sang ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ and voted on stories for our VERY FINAL session on Tuesday, 5th September:

I write now, a week after our very FINAL Story School session at the Potts Point Bookshop.  The stories selected, as a result of a group consensus, were very heart felt and, I found tears smarting my eyes [almost like a bladder invading my tear-ducts] upon conclusion of the presentation of these stories; particularly Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp.  This story was in fact the choice of the owner/founder of Potts Point Bookshop, Ms Anna Low.  Preparation for this session gave rise to researching the difference between a ‘dream’ and  a ‘wish’.  A wish can be found in the heart and, as it never reaches the head, it is often a far-flung fantasy [an impractical desire, is you like] whereas a ‘dream’ is spun from the head to the heart.  A dream once nestled in someone has the ability to take hold and propel one into a desire for it to be realised.  This is the difference between Thelma from Thelma the Unicorn and Biff, the dog, in the story of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet.  Thelma has a ‘wish’ to be a unicorn and subsequently discovers her wish wasn’t particularly thought out, leading to a lack of fullfilment and misery yet, conversely, Biff has a dream to become a ballet dancer on the stage.  Dreams also have the power to never let you go .. Biff proves this by turning his back on the naysayers and displaying such tenacity and determination.  And, yes, he does end up dancing on the stage, demonstrating his ballet prowess; much to the amusement and delight of the audience! There is also the theme of encouragement by the little girl with whom he lives.  This little girl [nameless in the story] is unwavering in her support and encouragement of Biff and accepts him as her “dog who does balle”.  Do yourself a favour and get a hold of this story .. it has the power to turn me into a marshmallow inside!