Preschool Pirating

Have we all gone stir crazy yet?

Imagine if you were on a 17th century ship, with nothing around you but ocean for three months – or six months. Sure, you didn’t have bored kids fighting over whose turn it is with the TV, or a toddler screaming that Tickle Me Elmo is out of batteries again, but eventually that parrot is going to look pretty tasty when all you’ve had to eat is wormy hardtack and stale beer. If you’ve ever been to the Charles P. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, or the Mayflower up in Plymouth, Mass, or Old Ironsides in Boston proper, you know that those ships are pretty tiny on a ten minute walk-through. Now cram them with fifty people for three months, and suddenly your 1500 square foot house doesn’t seem so bad. At least you’re not seasick.

Pirates, whether illegal or privateers working for King and Country, were often violent men – and a few women – who were not very nice. But legends and lore get romanticized, and pirates – whether Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver, or Blackbeard himself, and kids are attracted to each other the way ants love sugar. Fancy hats, eye patches, wooden legs, cannons, swords, boats, and treasure – how cool is that?

When a new dog-proof garbage can arrived in a box larger than my three year old, it became her favorite toy of the month, and for one of the weeks we turned it into a pirate ship. Anything that keeps a bored three year old busy for a week deserves to be bronzed. We hung a garden flag from a broom handle for a sail, used a brass fastener to make a spinning wheel, dug out costumes from the older kids, watched a lot of preschool pirate videos and read a lot of pirate books. I drew a simple outline map of our living room and taught her to read maps by placing candy in various places as treasure, and marking X on the map. By the third candy, she was proficient on her own. Then we built our finale.

Using balloons, some Cheshire Herald strips, and a little watered down Elmer’s Glue, we made some cannon balls, and then painted them the next day. Then we built our cannon. The cannon balls were about 5 ½ inches, too big for a standard paper tube. But they worked just perfectly for a paint can! So we scavanged a paint can from the garage, which, thankfully, had only an inch of dried paint in the bottom. And these new-fangled plastic paint cans? The paint doesn’t stick! A few taps and peels, and all that dead paint came falling right out. A quick rinse, and we were good. I cut the bottom off with my Ginsu knife (a product that has lived up to every claim ever made on it – thirty years later it still cuts fences AND tomatoes, and plastic paint cans). I strung a piece of waistband elastic across the hole, held tight by Gorilla Tape, and we had our cannon. It was tricky getting the right angle, but pull the elastic back far enough with the cannon ball sitting on it, and we could get the ball to shoot four or five feet, which is plenty inside a house.

We won Preschool Zoom that week.

So scrounge your house, and see what you can come up with! With warmer weather, try staking out a ship outside with lawn chairs or wooden pallets.  Anything that keeps a kid busy and sparks some interest is a good thing – and they just might learn something.  And by the way, Saturday September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day – check out these awesome stories to get you in the pirate mindset:

Pirate’s Perfect Pet        Pirates Go to School               Peter Pan   

Pirates Past Noon           Pinkalicious and the Pirates

Pirates Don’t Take Baths        No Pirates Allowed, Said Library Lou

Pirates Don’t Change Diapers        Sea Queens:  Women Pirates Around the World

  Treasure Island      Pirates of the Caribbean     Jake and the Never Land Pirates 

In the Public Domain

 dressIn the past few years we’ve seen a sudden resurgence of fairy tales, bombarded by big-screen live-action versions of Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror (which came out the same year, just for overkill), Maleficent, Cinderella, Oz the Great and Powerful, the soon-to-be released Peter Pan (October 9), Alice Through the Looking Glass (spring 2016, reprising the 2010 cast of Alice in Wonderland), Beauty and the Beast (2017 release date) and so many more. While some of these have been spectacular (who can forget Cinderella’s dress!), did you ever wonder why?

It’s more than just the fact Hollywood can’t seem to come up with anything original lately, or that remakes are a fad. Movies cost huge coin to produce – truly, hundreds of millions of dollars, from pre-production through movie rights to scripting, set design, music, choreography, lighting, costuming, and advertising. One of those big costs is often acquisition of rights – buying the rights to the material from the original author. In the case of fairy tales, the cost of that right is Zero, and that is a producer’s favorite number. Zero means you can do whatever you want with the material. Yes, you could feasibly make (and I’m sure it’s been done) a very dirty film of Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel and no one can stop you, as long as you don’t reference anyone else’s version.

We’re accustomed to believing that Disney or Touchstone or some other major Alice in Wonderland.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartcompany created Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and so many other cherished films. In fact the answer is no, they did not. They only made their own version of them. Many of Disney’s greatest tales were old folk tales and fairy tales, borrowed from collections by Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, or bought way back when from J. M. Barrie or Rudyard Kipling. The original tales were often a bit different and usually very dark (Mermaid is a very murderous tale; the Little Match Girl freezes to death, etc). They all have one thing in common however: they are all in what’s called the Public Domain. That means they are not copyrighted, and anyone can make their own version of the tale. The stories don’t have to be bought, no author has to be fought with, and a producer can do whatever he or she wants to the story.

panIn the United States, copyright is generally good for the life of the author plus seventy years (in some instances, it is extended to as much as 120 years). If the author has good descendants and they renew on behalf of the estate, it can continue further. This is how Peter Pan is now in the public domain: J.M. Barrie died in 1937; his copyrights have expired. Treasure Island is a free e-book, because it’s in the public domain. Gone With the Wind will enter into public domain in 2031. Many of the early silent films are also free for making use of. This also holds true with music: that’s why so much classical music is used in movie and TV soundtracks: no one has to pay a penny to use it. You can tour the country playing Beethoven and Mozart all you want, and you never have to pay them a dime. Their works, like Shakespeare, and Byron, and even the Bible are all available for public use and performance.

Yes, Anne is now the public's darling, too.

Yes, Anne is now the public’s darling, too.

Now, that’s not to say you can pick up a copy of a play and start performing it for money. While the play and its characters are not under copyright, the person who planned out/composed/wrote the playbook or libretto has a copyright on the booklet or sheet music you are using – their “version” – which is why school plays cost so much (the same way “Snow White” is a public domain tale, but “Disney’s Snow White” is most definitely under copyright). Unless you’ve taken the idea of Romeo and Juliet and written up your own version, you’re going to wind up having to pay someone somewhere for your performance of the material.

Here’s one list of free public-domain books available on ebook, including both adult and children’s classics: https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/public-domain.

So whether you look forward to some of the new, spectacularly beautiful versions of old tales coming out, or grumble about how much more money does Disney need rehashing their own blockbusters, remember the reason: movie studios are cheapskates, and copyrights don’t last forever.

Fairy tale fact: Cinderella is the most universal fairy tale. Almost every culture has a version of it. The very first known “Cinderella” story can be traced back to the story of Rhodopis, a real Greek slave girl from Thrace who married the King of Egypt. That story is from 7 BC! Our current version of Cinderella (Cendrillon) goes back to the late 1600’s France, a French version by Charles Perrault.