I love how readers’ theater lets an audience experience a story in an entirely new, participatory way. Thomas Rockwell’s 1973 novel How to Eat Fried Worms is truly timeless, and was the inspiration behind two successful readers’ theater programs for elementary school children I’ve hosted for libraries.
Readers’ theater can be as involved and “rehearsed” as you want to make it, but I typically approach it very casually. The kids get their scripts when they arrive for the program, and we keep props and costumes extremely minimal. If it’s a small group, we run through the scenes multiple times until everyone gets a turn on stage. For bigger groups, I make sure to add more participatory elements so even the audience feels like they are part of the show. (Think Rocky Horror Picture Show type of audience interaction, except G rated!)
Here’s a rundown of my How to Eat Fried Worms program…
Mad Libs are a fun way to break the ice at a program and buy a little time waiting for any late comers. We did a wormy Mad Lib that had the kids simultaneously laughing and gagging.
For the readers theater, I used the book How to Eat Fried Worms and Other Plays by Thomas Rockwell. This is not the actual novel, but a play adaptation. (ISBN 0440034981) If you aren’t able to ILL it, Amazon is currently selling some used copies. I didn’t have the time for the kids to perform the entire play, so instead I took three scenes and made some minor edits. Props and costumes needed were few in number and simple. For a middle of the night scene, I used a mat and a pillow as a bed. I had Billy’s (the main character) parents dress for bed by throwing old bathrobes over their street clothes. If you can’t get your hands on a certain prop, have the kids “pretend.” For example, one scene involves a cake. I had a stuffed toy cake we used. If you don’t, an imaginary, invisible one works just as well. Don’t sweat it too much. The only prop I think is a must is fake worms, and those can be easily found at any store that sells fishing supplies and bait. You can also find them at costume and party stores during Halloween season, or simply use gummy worms.
Obviously, fried worms had to be on the menu for an event like this. Thankfully it’s not necessary to harm (or injest) any actual worms. Many wormy substitutes exist:
- Gummy worms (of course)
- French fried onions (the ones you find on top of green bean casserole)
- Chow mein noodles
- White asparagus
- Tootsie rolls (to “fry” them, sprinkle them with the noodles or the fried onions.)
- Jalebi (an Indian dessert that is sticky and very sweet)
With a smaller group, I set up a “Wormtown Buffet” (apologies to Hometown Buffet) and let everyone sample the goodies. For a large group, volunteers assembled to-go baggies of wormy treats that the kids took home to enjoy.
The 2006 film version of How to Eat Fried Worms is a big crowd pleaser, and I ended the program with showing a short excerpt from it.
If you are interested in the Mad Lib and/or scripts from How to Eat Friend Worms, please email me at sbaier at santaclaraca dot gov.
Have you held readers’ theater programs at your library? Tell us about them!
Susan Baier, Santa Clara City Library
This is one of the best blog post titles EVER! 🙂 (Good ideas, too. Thanks.)