Shadow Play

shadow playWe made these fantastic shadow puppets as part of To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8. We had just finished reading The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West (Dial, 2010).

Olive Dunwoody and her parents have just moved into an old house. And the house doesn’t like it. The house’s previous owner, Mrs. McMartin, was involved in witchcraft, and not very nice witchcraft at that. The house wants Mrs. McMartin, and the rest of her dark family, back. Olive soon discovers that she can enter the house’s enchanted paintings. She also discovers a trio of talking cats (who totally rock), a be-spelled boy named Morton, and the nefarious plans of Aldous McMartin, the evil patriarch of the ancient McMartin family. Can Olive and her friends fight off the shadows? This book is spooky, exciting, funny, and kept the kids in the group on the edges of their seats (or pillows, rather).

You’ll need:

I made two example puppets – a cat (because the cats are such fantastic characters in the book), and a ghost. But the kids could make anything they wanted. We had cats, ghosts, dragons, zombies, and some sort of monster with a detachable brain. Oh yeah.

The kids started by using markers to sketch their puppets on a sheet of tagboard. They cut the entire figure out first, and then made specific cuts on the portions they wanted to manipulate later (such as cutting the tail off and reattaching it with a brass tack).

cat with brass tacksWe used the hole punch to make eyes (you can use scissors to cut eyes and mouth holes too). I had some tissue paper, twistez wire, pipe cleaners, and cellophane handy to add some texture to the shadows as well.

cat with whiskersWhen it came time to put the sticks on the puppets, we used a wooden dowel as the central stick and a lighter bamboo skewer for the moveable part. We attached the sticks with tape.

One hint about the stick placement. It’s best to attach the stick that manipulates a part of the puppet (like an arm or tail) at a slight angle. This will give it a better range of motion.

cat with sticksHere’s my ghost puppet. I made one arm moveable, cut out the eyes and the mouth with scissors, and added tissue paper drapery.

ghost puppetFor the grand show, I lowered all the shades, turned off the lights, and fired up the overhead projector (you can read more about the joys of overhead projectors here). I pointed the projector at wall and…magic!

finished puppetsNeedless to say, we had a total blast playing with our shadow puppets. The program ran for less than an hour, but it would have been interesting to keep it going for a few more – experimenting with different types of puppets, textures, and launching into spontaneous narratives. There are some interesting multicultural angles to shadow puppetry as well. Hmmm…maybe a more extensive weekend workshop is in order?

more shadows

Tick Tock Squeak

the clockThis friendly grandfather clock houses a squeaky surprise. A sweet little sock mouse that curls up inside with a pillow, blanket, and piece of cheese!

We read The Clock, written by Constantine Georgiou, and illustrated by Bermard Lipscomb (Harvey House, Inc., 1967). Inside a farmhouse, a clock ticks. Throughout the day and night, the clock stands in the hall and tells time. A little mouse lives and sleeps inside the clock. One night, however, the clock stops and it’s up to the mouse and the clock to get things fixed before the family wakes up!

You’ll need:

  • 1 rectangular box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 square box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4” – a small tissue box works too)
  • Brown construction paper or paint (if needed, to cover boxes)
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • An 8.5″ x 11″ piece of tagboard (or brown poster board)
  • 1 clock door and face template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ manilla (or white) card stock
  • 2 brass tacks
  • 1 large button
  • 10-12 gold foil star stickers (optional)
  • 1 white baby sock (I used Target brand low-cut socks for 6-12 months)
  • A small ball of polyester fill
  • A 6″ piece of white yarn for mouse’s neck
  • 1 rectangle of white stiffened felt (approximately 1.75″ x 3.5″) for feet & ears
  • A 3″ piece of white yarn for tail
  • 1 mini pom-pom (mine was 0.5″) for nose
  • Black permanent markers (I used Sharpie fine tip, and ultra-fine tip markers) for eyes & whiskers
  • 1 white cotton ball
  • A rectangle of fleece cloth (mine was 3.5″ x 5″)
  • A small triangle of orange or yellow kitchen sponge (mine was 1.5″)
  • Scissors, tape, white glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • A box cutter
  • Hole punch
  • Hot glue

clockThe clock is first! The boxes I used for this project were brown. But if you’re using non-brown boxes, you’ll need to cover them with brown construction paper (or paint) first.

My rectangular box had a lid that I used to create the clock’s door. If yours doesn’t have a lid, you’ll need to use a box cutter to cut one in the side of the box. Once the door has been cut, open your clock and glue (or tape) a piece of patterned paper to the back wall. This is your mouse’s wallpaper.

wallpaperFor the exterior of the clock, we wanted lots of texture. So we pre-cut 14 tagboard clock pieces, as well as the card stock clock face and the “glass door” from the template. We put each set of clock objects in an envelope (along with 2 brass tacks).

During story time, each kid was given an envelope and we went step-by-step, announcing the item they needed to find in the envelope and where/how to attach it to the boxes. Here are all the pieces laid out (everything can be attached with white glue, hot glue, or tape):

clock piecesYou certainly don’t have to get this elaborate. In fact, you can skip the tagboard flourishes and just put on a clock face, the clock hands, the glass door, and the pendulum and be done. Here’s how we did those particular steps.

First, cut the door and the face from the template. Use markers to draw a friendly face on your clock. Then use a box cutter to make a small slit in the clock face and the glass door like so:

door and face step 1Take your pendulum piece (a tagboard strip with a hole punched in one end) and your clock hands (2 small tagboard arrows with holes punched through the blunt ends) and thread a brass tack through them. Push the brass tack through the slits like this:

door and face step 2Glue, tape, or hot glue the glass door and the face to your clock boxes. Then hot glue the two clock boxes together. Hot glue a plastic button on the bottom of the pendulum…

buttonAnd add some gold foil star stickers to the outside of the clock. Or, skip the star stickers and decorate the clock with markers. You’re done with your clock, now for the mouse!

finished mouseStuff a white baby sock with some polyester fill. Don’t over stuff the sock. You definitely want to leave a little room at the bottom, where the sock opens. Gently roll the opening of the sock upwards and inwards (in other words, roll it into the sock). The rolled up part is now the base of your mouse.

sock steps

Stand the sock up on its base and gently knot a 6″ piece of yarn around the top to create a “neck.” You don’t need to knot it super tight – just enough to suggest a neck. Trim the extra yarn off.

neck knotPut the sock aside for a moment, and cut the mouse’s feet out of a rectangle of white stiffened felt (use the leftover felt to make 2 little ears). Hot glue the tail to the mouse’s feet. The tail is a 3″ piece of white yarn, knotted on the unglued end so it wouldn’t unravel later.

feet and tailHot glue your mouse body to the feet. Then hot glue a mini pom-pom nose and 2 stiffened felt ears to the head. Use a fine point Sharpie marker to draw eyes, and an ultra fine Sharpie to draw whiskers. Done!

The mouse in the book sleeps in the clock with a pillow, blanket, and piece of cheese. We used a white cotton ball, a piece of blue fleece, and a triangle of orange kitchen sponge for the cheese. Sweet dreams little mousie!

sleeping mouse

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).