Kamishibai

kamishibiLooking to shake up your story time with something different? Please consider kamishibai!

Kamishibai (pronounced kah-me-she-bye) is a form of Japanese storytelling that involves illustrated story cards and a small, portable stage (you can also perform without the stage). It’s colorful, dynamic, simple, and absolutely intended to be enjoyed by an audience.

Kamishibai dates back to 1930, when men (and some women) would ride around Tokyo on bicycles with wooden boxes mounted on the back. Inside the box was a kamishibai stage, story cards, and drawers full of candy. The kamishibai storytellers would travel to neighborhoods, announce their arrival, sell candy, and perform several kamishibai stories. Writers and artists produced the story cards, which were released serially with plenty of cliffhangers to keep you coming back for more stories and candy. Action adventures, melodramas, comedies, and ghost stories were among some of the most popular subjects.

kamishibai performance

The Days When We Played Downtown : Reconsideration on Culture for Children (Shitamachi de asonda koro : kodomo no bunka saiko). Tokyo: Kyoiku Kenkyusha, 1979.

Things changed in the 1950s, when television arrived in Japan. As more and more children stayed inside to watch television, the popularity of kamishibai decreased. Allen Say wrote and illustrated a beautiful picture book that captures this history. It’s titled Kamishibai Man (HMH Books, 2005). You can still find kamishibai being performed today, but its primarily in preschools, libraries, cultural events, and classrooms. There are also recreations of street kamishibai (with the bike, stage, and candy selling) being performed in parks and museums throughout Japan.

bike with stage

The Sun (Taiyō), no. 191 (March 1979). Tokyo: Heibonsha.

A few years ago, with the help of Dr. Tara McGowan (who also wrote the afterword for Kamishibai Man), I developed a kamishibai program for 1st-grade classrooms. In addition to teaching about its history and introducing some Japanese vocabulary, I perform two kamishibai stories. The last part of the program involves the students designing their own kamishibai title cards and do a quick performance in front of the class.

As a storytelling tool, kamishibai is awesome. The cards (which are about  10.5″ x 15“) are colorful, bold, and designed to be viewed by an audience. With the exception of the title card, there is no text accompanying the images on the front of the cards – the text is actually printed on the back of the cards.

back of card

The Mouse’s Wedding : a kamishibai play from Japan. Retold by Seishi Horio; illustrated by Masao Kubo; translated by Donna Tamaki. New York: Kamishibai For Kids, 1992.

Ingeniously, the text that accompanies the image the audience is viewing is printed on the back of the card before that image. When you finish reading a card, you move it from the front of the stack to the back. The audience sees a new image, and you have the text that accompanies the new image in front of your eyes, ready to be read. If this sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. Trust me when I say that the cards are incredibly easy to use. Much easier, in fact, than craning your neck to read from a picture book during story time!

Because the text is printed on the backs of the cards, kamishibai stages are, in essence, backless. Here’s a shot of the back of my stage. It’s also open on one side so I can reach in and pull out the cards. So clever.

back of stageI purchased this wooden stage and a set of story cards from Kamishibai for Kids, a web company based in NYC. On their site you will find a fantastic selection of story cards, including several classic Japanese folktales. A single story (which typically consists of 12-16 cards) costs around $30. The wooden stage costs $175. But you can forgo the stage and perform with just the cards. It will still be fantastic.

just the cardsYou can also make your own cards with poster board or card stock. Part of my 1st-grade program involves the students designing their own title cards. Title cards are the very first card of the story – they feature the title and a picture that sets the stage for the rest of the story. I show examples of title cards from our special collections. Here’s one of my favorites. The kids always yell that I’m holding it upside down, but then they realize the story is about bats!

bats

Adventure of Saburo, the Bat (Komori Saburo no boken). Tokyo: Kokumin Gageki, 1950.

I tell the 1st-graders that street kamishibai stories were meant to be bold, exciting, and sensational, so they should think of a topic that really excites them. And they definitely deliver. Here are a few I snapped last year:

the best food fightthe attack of ragethe tornadothe bird with three teeththe princess bookthe haunted houseThe 1st-grade cards displayed above are on 5″ x 8″ card stock. They’re custom-sized to fit a reproduction toy kamishibai stage from our collections. At the end of the program, each kids gets to take a stage home! Alas, we only have time to make a title card during my program, but I always leave the teacher a card template in case he/she wants to continue work on the stories (and many do!).

As you can imagine, kamishibai is a fantastic way to expose students to another culture while teaching art, writing, performance, and literacy skills. I only scratch the surface with my program, but Dr. McGowan has been doing intensive kamishibai workshops with children for years. It was the subject of her dissertation as well as a book for educators (see below). It’s definitely worth checking out!

kamishibai classroom

Used with permission of the author (Libraries Unlimited, 2010).

On Cupcakes and Pogo Sticks

peanut butter and cupcake I was meandering past the new picture book section in our local library when I saw it. A cupcake. On a pogo stick! What genius was this? Intrigued, I opened Peanut Butter & Cupcake (Philomel, 2014).

Peanut Butter is the new kid in town, and he sets out to find a friend to play with. But everyone seems to have something else to do. It’s going to take someone super nice, super special, and super compatible to be the perfect play pal for Peanut Butter. I wonder who it could be?

pbj_playing copyAccompanying the rhyming text are amazing photographs of 3-D objects. A slice of bread with a soccer ball, a hamburger walking a pair of hot dogs, a box of fries reading a book, an egg riding a unicycle. This could only be the work of artist, photographer, humorist, and now children’s book author, Terry Border.

Terry Border is the creator of Bent Objects, which started as a blog but lead to a number of art books, calendars, greeting cards, and jigsaw puzzles. Often featuring everyday objects with wire legs and arms, Border’s images are humorous, satirical, poignant, and in some cases, rather touching.

mummy1coffee-ringschristmasCan you tell us a little about the beginnings of Bent Objects?
Way back in 2006 I began making some tiny sculptures out of wire and household objects. When I realized that the final art should be a photograph and not an actual sculpture I knew I could use real food because things just had to last long enough for a photograph.  Somewhere along the way I decided to make jokes and observations and much to my surprise other people “got” it and started sharing my work.

What type of wire do you use for most of your work?
Usually 20 gauge to 14 gauge wire that is available at a hardware store. Ordinary stuff.

hamlet

What does your studio look like?
If it were empty you would swear that it looks like a small bedroom in a suburban 1980′s era house, because that’s what it is.  It’s always terribly messy. The fun part of my work takes place in my head. Looking at where I actually make it a physical reality isn’t so exciting. I do have a Homer Simpson clock on the wall though.

What came first with Peanut Butter & Cupcake…the images? Or the story?
The story, although it was influenced greatly by how I visualized what could be interesting.  That’s why I had Peanut Butter visiting so many other “kids” so that I could have lots of opportunities making small jokes about the different foods.

As a first time children’s book author, what was it like to write the story? Was it easier, or more difficult than you expected?
Writing the book was a lot more difficult than I expected to tell you the truth. Like a lot of people I thought it would be easy to write a children’s book. Well, it IS easy to write a children’s book, it’s only hard to write a good one.

My editor, Jill Santopolo helped a LOT with rewrites. She really helped put things together, shaped things up, etc. I couldn’t have done it without her help. I learned sooo much from this book. I think my second (which I’m working on now) will be better, and the third (if I get so lucky) will be much better than the previous two. I’m just now learning what I can do.  :)

Did you test the story out on any kids and, if so, were you surprised at the feedback they gave you?
I’m not one for preview audiences! ha!  I was confident in my ability to make some good photographs and hoped that would strengthen any possible shortcomings in the written department. Luckily (and like the old quote “I’d rather be lucky than good”)  I think it worked out.

How many slices of bread went into the making of the book?
I actually baked small loaves half the size of normal ones to make him from, and not all of the slices made the cut (rimshot). I probably put arms and legs on 25 or 30 slices to make both him and jelly.

What was the hardest part about composing a scene for your book?  
The big soccer match towards the end was the most difficult because it was so large with every character in it. Crumbs are constantly falling off the characters, and the more I move them around the more they fall apart. By the time I actually take the final photo the characters are usually barely able to stay together.

thebiggameWho made the cupcakes in the book? Num num num.
I have to make the cupcakes, because the ones from stores and bakeries are too soft and moist to work with!

Can you give us your special cupcake recipe?
Just buy the cheapest cupcake mix you can. The extras will taste “okay”, and the ones that are the stars of the show won’t be so moist that they’ll fall apart as soon as they’re on set! I hollow out a bit of the cupcake and make a little hot glue core for some wires in there. All the food is really food except for something to keep the wires attached to it if needed.

marilyn-_MG_6027-credit

What’s your next children’s book about?
My next book is to be called Happy Birthday Cupcake. It’s about Cupcake from the first book wondering what kind of birthday party she should have. Lots of funny pictures are being made for this one!

You can see more of Terry Border’s work on his website and his blog, including some amazing portraits of old paperback books. For those who have constantly told their children that a stapler remover is not, in fact, a dangerous creature, take a look at the second image below! Awesome.

GULLIVERHow-Business-was-done-(snak_MG_2273 copysnow white plusAnd the butter lived happily ever after (sorry, couldn’t resist).


All images are used with the permission of Terry Border. Images from Peanut Butter & Cupcake are used with permission of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group.

Yes, They Do Float

coconut experimentI’m talking about coconuts of course. If you’re ever stranded on a tropical island and need to make an escape raft…yes, coconuts do indeed float. This experiment was part of To Be Continued, our reading program for 6 to 8 year-olds. You can read about some of our other activities here and here.

We read Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr (Yearling, 1999). Nim is a little girl who lives on a beautiful, yet isolated, tropical island with her scientist father, Jack. When Jack leaves for a three day research trip at sea, Nim is left alone on the island with her friends Fred the marine iguana, Selkie the sea lion, and Chica the sea turtle. The family hut is equipped with a laptop computer, and Nim is delighted to learn that Alex Rover, world-famous adventure novelist, has written Jack to inquire if it is possible to build a coconut raft. So far, so good…but…Jack doesn’t return as expected, days pass, and Nim finds her surivival skills put to the test. Her correspondence with Alex (i.e. Alexandra!) Rover continues, and another story begins to unfold. A story about facing fears, courage, and love.

The kids asked many questions during the reading of this book (more on that below), but the one that intrigued me the most was – do coconuts really float? I decided that we needed to find out.

coconut Finding coconuts wasn’t difficult. Whole Foods Market carries them in their produce section, as did Wegman’s, a local grocery chain here. I never realized how cute coconuts were – in a hairy sort of way.

I put the coconuts in one dish tub, and filled another dish tub with water. The experiment was ready!

coconut experiment set upBut before we embarked on some coconut science, I set a tropical mood by handing out colorful leis and putting on an Echoes of Nature: Ocean Waves CD (Delta Music, 1993).

leisI let everyone pick up the coconuts and examine them. Then we took a vote. Who thought the coconuts were going to float? Why? Who thought they were going to sink? Why? Coconuts are very hard and rather heavy. So they’re going to sink, right? I rolled them into the water. They floated!

they float

Then we moved to a different table to try yet another coconut experiment – a taste test!

coconut waterCoconut water is all the rage these days. It’s the actual liquid that comes from inside a coconut (as opposed to coconut milk, which is made from the grated meat of the coconut). This is the stuff Nim drinks in the book, so we tasted it! The reactions to the flavor, as you can see, were a bit mixed…

taste testBut everyone gave it a good try (one little girl even asked her mom if she could get some for home!). Typically, I don’t do food in my programs (you can read more about this in my food allergy post). And, in fact, one of the kids participating in this program did have a food allergy to dairy. But the connection to the book was so fabulous, I decided to put in some legwork to make it possible.

First, I checked Vita Coco labels to see if there was any potential contamination with dairy products (there’s not, it’s actually a vegan product). I doubled checked with the company. Then, the week before the activity, I approached the mother of the child with the food allergy and explained what I wanted to do and what I had learned from the company. I brought the Vita Coco packaging with me so she could check the label herself. After Mom gave the OK, we were good to go!

Having floated coconuts and tasted coconut water, we had one more connection to make. In the books, Nim plays coconut soccer with Fred, Selkie, and Chica. Unfortunately, it was raining outside so we couldn’t try our version of it, but we did try coconut bowling!

coconut bowling 2Basically, I set up two sets of 6 toilet paper tube “pins” and let ‘em rip! And there you have it. Three fabulous Nim’s Island activities, all inspired by the humble, yet surprisingly versatile, coconut!

A few of the other questions that came up during this book were:

  1. What’s a machete?
    A quick trip to Google images solved this one.
  2. What does a marine iguana, sea lion, and sea turtle look like?
    Google images again!
  3. What’s the difference between an ocean and a sea?
    A sea is part of the ocean partially enclosed by land (from National Ocean Service)
  4. Are coconut pearls real?
    Apparently, they’re a myth. Boo.