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

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).

Wish Fish

wish fishA goldfish is a lovely pet…unless, of course, you had your heart set on a pony. But what if the fish could talk and grant you a wish?

We read The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino (Henry Holt and Co., 2005). More than anything else, Cynthia wants a pony for her birthday. Every year, she wishes for a birthday pony, and every year, she gets something else. This year, as Cynthia blows out her candles she wishes for a pony called Marigold. She gets a goldfish. Upset, Cynthia is about to pour the fish down the drain when it speaks! The birthday fish will grant her wish, but first she must take it to the lake and set it free. So Cynthia loads the fishbowl in her toy stroller and departs for the lake. During the journey, they meet and overcome many obstacles (bumpy roads, hungry cats, hot sun, etc.). At last, they arrive at the lake and…Cynthia decides she’d rather keep her new friend. She names him Marigold.

You’ll need:

  • 2 large clear plastic plates (mine were 10″ in diameter)
  • 1 small tissue box
  • A couple cups of uncooked rice (or aquarium gravel)
  • fish and castle template printed on a piece of 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 2 small paperclips (mine were 1.25″)
  • 1 large paperclip (mine was 2″)
  • Green construction paper
  • Fish decorating supplies (I used orange & yellow construction paper, cello sheets, crepe paper streamers, embossed foil paper, and patterned paper
  • A 5″ piece of clear elastic beading cord
  • Scissors, tape, glue stick and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We’ll begin with your fabulous fishbowl! Place 2 clear plastic plates rim-to-rim like this:

rim to rim plates Then tape the lower half of the plates together. Don’t tape the entire thing because you still need to put things inside your fishbowl!

taped platesNow for the base. Cut a small tissue box in half. Recycle the bottom half. You now have a 2.5″ base with an opening at the top.

tissue box cut downIf there is any plastic around the opening of the tissue box, remove it. Then, on both sides of the box, cut from the opening to the edge of the box. Then cut diagonally downward into the sides of the box. This leaves your base looking like this:

cut baseDrop your fishbowl into the base. You might have to do a little cutting and adjusting to get the fishbowl to sit upright snugly. Secure the fishbowl to the base with tape. Pour some uncooked rice in the opening at the top of the plates. This is the “sand” for your fishbowl.

rice in baseNow for some fish-friendly decor! Both the castle and the aquatic plant are anchored in the rice by paper clip “stakes.” We’ll start with the castle. Color and cut the castle from the template. Make sure you keep it in once piece (later, you’ll fold it so it can be viewed from both sides of the fishbowl).

Flip the castle over and tape two small paperclips to one side. You’ll notice that I taped just the very tops of the paperclips to the castle. This is so there would be plenty of paperclip  to stick into the rice. Fold the castle in half and tape it closed.

castle tapedTo make the aquatic plant, cut 3 curvy plant pieces out of green construction paper. Make sure they don’t exceed 6″ in height (otherwise, they start to tip over in the fishbowl). Staple the 3 pieces together, then tape a large paperclip to the bottom.

stapled and taped plantOpen the top of your fishbowl and gently push the castle and aquatic plant paperclip stakes into the rice. I recommend placing the castle all the way to the right, and the plant all the way to the left to make room in the middle for your dangling fish.

And now…the fish! Cut and color the fish from the template. Like the castle, the fish is double-sided. So leave it all in one piece.

Flip the fish over to the blank side and decorate. I offered construction paper, cello squares, crepe paper streamers, embossed foil paper, and patterned paper in hues of orange and yellow. When you’re done decorating, tape a piece of elastic beading cord to one side of the fish:

fish with taped cordThen fold your fish over and tape it closed (to make my fish plump, I taped it shut using tape loops). Next, dangle your fish in the fishbowl, adjust for height, and tape the free end of the cord to the outside of the bowl. Tape the top half of the fishbowl closed. Done!

wish fishIf you have a little extra time, I suggest playing “Pin the Tail on the Goldfish” before taping your fishbowls completely closed. I whipped up a simple game poster and made some construction paper fish tails. A white bandana served as our blindfold (and kids who didn’t like things over their eyes had the option of simply closing their eyes).

pin the tail on the fishThe prize for playing – regardless of where the tail was pinned – was a lovely little sea shell for your fishbowl. The shells were dropped in and THEN we taped the fishbowls securely closed. There was some spilled rice, but a quick vacuuming took care of that.

Still hankering for a pony? Perhaps you should check out this post.