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Flannelizable, Defined (finally!)


I began participating in Flannel Friday in May. May is a strange month in the youth services department of a public library. As the school year ends, we gear up for summer reading. My storytime schedule grinds to snails pace. I downshift from 2-4 storytimes each week to 1-3 storytimes/month.  I don’t know why I started getting ideas for flannelboards during a period of time when I had no opportunity to use them, but I did.  It may be that I had to work out some residual flannelboard phobia as a result of some humiliated flannel-related failures early on in my career (for all the juicy details check out this post from August)

By the end of the summer, I had a good collection of new flannelboards, I was excited to use. Most of my flannelboards have gone over really well in storytime, a couple of them, not so much. One of them in particular is being scrapped for parts. (**SPOILER ALERT** Anyone know a good fox story?)

Anyway,  I have gotten into a groove with making and using flannelboards. I thought it would be a good time to reflect over the last few months and see if I’ve learned anything useful. I have noticed that I tend to look for picture books for idea. In some cases, the source material is out of print (Monkey Face); and my library either doesn’t own it, or our copies are less than presentable. In a few cases, however, I made a flannel version because the source material just not just kinda sucks (e.g. Ouch! and A House for Birdie). In this case the concept is awesome, but something went wrong with the execution.

Observations of a Successful Flannelization: Fall Is Not Easy

I think this is by far my favorite of the flannelboards I’ve made.  I used this picture book in the very first storytime, and the kids made me read it twice.  It never fails. Later that day, I thought this would make an excellent addition to our “storytime collection”, but new copies aren’t available through any of our vendors.  We do have several copies in our picture book collection. Whenever fall is on the horizon, I would make sure to check out a copy on my staff card, so that I have it on hand for my fall storytimes. 

I never thought to make this a flannelboard, however, until July when Andrea posted her multi-purpose tree. The idea to flannelize this story hit me like a lightning bolt the moment I saw the photo of her lovely tree. This fall I’ve used it with toddlers, preschoolers, and like the picture book, it’s always a hit.  I think this picture book lends itself to flannelization for several reasons.

1) The writing is perfectly focused, succinct and elegant. Even the most bubble-headed person (me) can easily memorize the full text.

2) Should said bubble-head blank out 20 words into the story, the concept is solid, and lends itself naturally to ad-libbing. In fact, surprise is the real pivot of the story, so there’s no “correct order” for laying down the pieces.  Close your eyes pick up a piece at random, and you’ll experience the same surprise as your audience.

Once with my preschoolers, I told the story in a dialogue with the kids. I asked, “What happens to trees in the fall?”

“The leaves change colors!” they replied.

“WHAT?” I said. “No way! You’re putting me on.”

The went nuts. “It’s true!”

“Well if it’s true what color do they turn?”


So I laid down the red and white striped piece. “Like this? You guys are nuts! Next you’re gonna tell me the leaves turn orange too!”

Something's not right here!

When they said, “They do! They turn orange!” I laid down the jack-o-lantern piece. They went bananas. I should warn you, this approach may whip your storytimers into a serious frenzy. I would save it for the end, and then release them into the wild (their parent’s custody)

3) The story’s action occurs in the same place every time. Each time the tree tries to change the color of its leaves, the storytimer removes one piece, and replaces it with a new one. I don’t have to worry that I will run out of room.

4) The pieces are large and colorful. You don’t have to futz with a million tiny little pieces that stick to anything they can grip. Storytime Tip: Flannel board pieces are like contact lenses. 90% of the time that missing piece is stuck to your person.Before you start crawling around on the floor with a magnifying glass, check you pants, shirt, shoes, pockets, and yes, even your bra. 

5) The best part about having a flannel version of this story is that it frees up the book version. Every time I use this book in storytime, kids want to take it home. If we have copies on the shelf, I bring them with me so I can hand them off upon request. If you use the flannel version, you don’t have to say, “Well, I was planning to use it for storytime on Thursday… so you’re out of luck, kid.”

Now this is just my first attempt to draw out the key ingredients that make a story flannelizable. Feel free to tell me I’m full of it. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The #1 Secret Ingredient for Flannel Board Success: The Linchpin

Looking over my more successful flannel boards this can take 3 forms: (again please add if you find additional forms)

  1. Protangonist In Fall is not Easy the tree is the narrator. For the flannel board story the bare trunk and branches provide a single object on which you build a story. It’s like a paper doll. The naked tree is always on the board. As you tell the story, you switch out the various overlays, and the tree undergoes wild transformations. (other examples: Ouch!,Mitch the FishGo Away, Big Green Monster!)
  2. Concept. In A House for Birdie a little bird is looking for a new home. His asks his friends (one big and round, the other tall and slim) to help him go house hunting. The trio look at three houses. The first one is tall and wide. The doesn’t feel cozy, but the big round one falls in love with it and snaps it up. The second house they look at is very tall and narrow, and so on… Anyway, the concept has a clear focus–finding the “perfect fit”. The size and shape of the birds correlate directly with their housing needs. These are easy to translate into flannel objects. The big, fat bird needs a big fat house, the tall skinny bird needs a tall narrow house, and the tiny little bird needs a tiny little house. (Other examples: Can You Guess My Breakfast, Something for Nothing)
  3. Repeated Phrase/Rhythm. This one is a big one. We’ve all done quite a few of these. The I don’t think it requires much explanation. But there are 2 main types exact repetition where the exact phrase is used every time: (e.g. Little Bunny Foo Foo and 5 Little Sloths Sleeping in the Trees to varied repetition where the rhythm repeats, but the  wording changes in each repetition. Since I always stick with a single phrase, I have to ping a fellow #FFer: Sether’s 5 Little Aliens is an excellent example of this linchpin.

So now let’s test this theory, by looking at a big stinker:

Flannelization Fail: The Fox with Cold Feet

This one is a mess. I tried it once, and the every single person in the room (kids and adults) looked puzzled the whole time.

I don’t think I want to go into to much detail. But just too many things going on in the story. I think this is a case of too many linchpins. In fact, this story has 3: 1) a protagonist: the fox 2) the concept his feet are cold and he needs boots, but he doesn’t know what boots are. So all the other animals try to trick him into thinking some old trash is a boot; AND  3) a repeated phrase. The fox has this very silly song that he sings to himself as he goes from one tricky critter to the next.

Now, I’m no engineer, but it seems to me that 3 linchpins would work against one another in in any mechanism.  Perhaps I can rewrite the story. I’ll put that on my PiMiIdMo to-do list.

Or if you have any favorite fox stories, I’m all ears.

Originally, I thought this might make for a good Round Robin topic. If you want to contribute/critique/add/refute/etc. write a post on your blog, and put the links in the comments section. Or email me a link, or send me a message through the #FF Facebook page. I’ll try to compile them in a way that makes sense.

7 thoughts on “Flannelizable, Defined (finally!)

  1. I love foxes and have found quite a few new good ones to share for my story times…

    The Fox in the Dark by Alison Greene

    Foxy and Egg by Alex T. Smith

    The Kids loved both of them!!

  2. Pingback: Flannel Friday Round Robin: Flannelizable, Defined «

  3. How about a story with a fox in a starring role? I like The Gingerbread Man for a few reasons: the characters are cumulative – they stay on the board as the story progresses; there is a great repetitive phrase; the fox acts like foxes do – he is a predator and I do not shy away from “real” endings in my stories – the cookie gets eaten, the old lady eats the horse and dies, etc.

  4. Hi, This made good reading and gave me lots to think about. Meantime, is it ok if I add the word ‘flannalizable’ to my flannel dictionary blog post and link to this post alongside?

    • Thanks… and Absolutely. In fact, I was planning to ping your glossary (such an awesome idea, btw) in the Round Robin (pending your approval, of course)

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