Recycling with the Story Lady

Copyright 2006 Rose Owens

Published in Storytelling Magazine

Mar/April 2007


Newspapers, tattered quilt, magazine ads, pieces of gift wrap, old neckties. I pile them all into my cart. The children are waiting and I have stories to tell.

I begin by folding, cutting and snipping a piece of gift wrap as I tell the story of a seamstress who reused fabric from a worn-out coat to make a jacket and then a vest and then a hat and finally a button. The students chant with me. “She wore it here. She wore it there, until it was all worn out.” I make the final cut and hold up a paper button. I pause, smile and say, “She looked at that button and realized there was just enough to make a story and I just told it to you! And the story never wore out!”

Next I wave three squares cut from a slick magazine ad. “What could we do with this? The students have all kinds of ideas—start a fire, wrap up garbage, line bird cages.

“Today,” I say, “I’m going to use it to tell you Paper Flower, a story written by Fran Stallings.” As I tell the story, each square is folded  to become a lantern, a cup, or a fan.  A rolled newspaper is snipped at the end and a child helps me “grow” it into an awesome flower.

I pull out my Fat Cat suit (an old sheet with a neck strap and Velcro® fastener) and invite children to help me dramatize Fat Cat Learns to Recycle. As the story progresses, the children recite the refrain, “Where are you going my little cat? And why, oh why are you so fat?” As Fat Cat eats all kinds of recyclers, children are whisked under the sheet and line up behind me. Fat Cat ate:

·         The little old woman and her pot

·         Ree and Cycle, children who recycle aluminum cans

·         Miss Pennypincher who shops at thrift stores and garage sales

·         Mrs. Reduski who reuses things

·         Mr. Rottenwell who composts (rots)

Fat Cat planned to eat the handyman next but that handyman said, “I think not.”  The handyman took his ax (I use a toilet plunger handle with a cardboard and duct tape blade) and chopped a hole in Fat Cat. (I help the handyman by pulling apart the opening in the sheet that is fastened with Velcro®.) Out came everyone that Fat Cat had eaten. And the kind-hearted handyman, happening to have a roll of duct tape, taped that Cat back up. Fat Cat learned his lesson. He reuses, recycles, reduces and rots (composts). Eating people is a thing of the past!

            After the stories, we look at my display items and discuss them. How can I reuse the quilt that a dog chewed up? What did I use to make R.E. Cycle, the Snake from Tie-Land? 

I pass out newspaper and scissors and demonstrate how to make a magic flower. Since completed flowers can potentially become swords in the hands of students who finish first, I provide a Fat Cat Word search as an alternative activity for these students.

            I pack up my cart once more.  We have recycled stories and newspapers and more stuff too. The program is done. Ideas for recycling have only begun. 




“Just Enough to Make a Story” p. 2 in Just Enough to Make a Story: A Sourcebook for Storytelling, Nancy Schimmel  (Sister’s Choice Press, 1992).

Also as “The Old Coat”, p. 48 in Stories to Play With, Hiroko Fujita  (August House Publishers, 1999) . Also “The Tailor”, p. 50 in Crazy Gibberish and Other Story Hour Stretches.  Naomi Baltuck (Linnet Books, 1993).


“Paper Flower” by Fran Stallings, p. 99 in Joining In: An Anthology of Audience Participation Stories & How to Tell Them, Teresa Miller, compiler  (Yellow Moon Press, 1988).


Text of “Fat Cat Learns to Recycle,” the Fat Cat Work Sheet, directions to make newspaper flowers, storytelling apron and “R.E. Cycle, the Snake from Tie-Land”  are available at


Rose Owens ( is a storyteller, teacher, mother of seven, grandmother of 20.  She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been telling stories for over 40 years whenever and wherever there is a listener!



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