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).

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.