Tuesday, January 29, 2008


PUPPET PANDEMONIUM by Diane Roberts (Delacorte)
The move from Seattle to a small town of Franklin, Texas is suspect to Baker, who was well settled in and quite comfortable, thank-you-very- much, with a best friend and a baseball team and a tony job as Grandma's apprentice puppeteer. With the help of a ventriloquist's dummy given as a going-away gift, Baker works on building his confidence and talents he will have to offer his new community, hopefully in time for the big Franklin Fall Festival, in which a long-lasting rivalry between two small towns peak in the form of performance. The description of the fair, replete with Frito Pie fried Oreos and Tilt-A-Whirl, is rich with regional warmth and detail. Clearly, the Lone Star state is far from the lonely star state, as every child gets a chance to shine and a small town proves just as good as a big city for making friends.

I must say, my enthusiasm for this book may have some bias; getting me to like a book about puppetry and Texas is about as hard as shooting fish in a barrel (shout out to Buda and Kyle...would someone there please adopt me?!). In fact, there are editorial aspects of the storytelling that could use strengthening; problems are solved with a pinch of Pollyanna predictability, the pacing is a bit harried and the pat endings brimming with blue ribbons insinuate more of a 1950's television show than a puppet show. That said, the chummy, upbeat tone of this book offers a dose of "positivity" many children could afford and appreciate, and the inclusion of a highly active and influential grandparent is realistic and refreshing. Children who are about to make a major move will have their hopes bolstered by the fast friendships Baker makes in his new town. Best of all, this is the sort of book, like Megan McDonald's STINK or Suzy Kline's freaking brilliant HORRIBLE HARRY (which, incidentally, if you are a second/third grade teacher, you must have and read all of them in the series) that has a high level of confidence-building readability and depicts kids taking a ton of initiative, inspiring readers to do the same. Who could read this book and not want to get together with friends and make a puppet show of their own? (7 and up)

Also of interest:
KAMISHIBAI MAN by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin)
Kamishibai, or "paper theater," is an art form popularized during an economic depression in Japan during the 1930's. The kamishibai storyteller would be surrounded by children, eager to hear his tales and see the hand-painted illustrations, and buy the candies from his cart. But with the advent of the television, the unique form of street performance loses its audience. What's an old kamishibai man to do? This touching story chronicles what happens when an artist once celebrated ventures out into a modern, urban world, filled with traffic and television, for a final performance. Will he find his audience once more? Sophisticated ideas of aging and cultural change make this ideal for discussion with older children, and young artists may also enjoy trying to create their own kamishibai. (6 and up)

This past year, I had the very good fortune of learning how to give a kamishibai show under the guidance of master early childhood educator Carolyn Tripp. She let me use her authentic theater for library storytimes; it took me a long time to find out where to get one just like hers, but you can write a grant and find one here! It's a lot of fun; the story is written on the back of the a series of pictures on stiff paper, and as you read the story as the children view the image inside the frame, offering the lure of television without the electricity. The last picture has the first text to be read, so as you change the picture by moving the first picture behind the others, the text changes in progression. The traditional kamishibai story cards are exciting, but they are expensive; I found it worked even better to make our own kamishibai-style stories by drawing on paper that fit the screen, and typing out the text and attaching it to the back for reading.

"Goldilocks and the Three Bears" kamishibai-style!
I drew some of the pictures, and the four-year-olds drew the rest.
Play some jaunty background music as you read, and you're off!

And at the risk of feeding consumer frenzy, on the subject of storytelling theaters, I do have to let you know about one of the most beautiful and extraordinary things I came to own in the past year, A Grand Little Theater of Puppets, in the hopes you can have one, too. When a teacher friend and I took it out of the box, we both practically had to reach for our inhalers, it so took our breath away! We couldn't stop sighing and shouting! What an heirloom! Inspired by popular European toy theaters from the 19th century and the vision of educator and puppeteer Judith O'Hare, these sizeable tabletop theaters have an elegance and attention to detail that is from another time altogether. The theater came with five gorgeous little rod marionettes from Hansel and Gretel, and a book of pop-up scenery that the puppets play on. I loved the first set of puppets, but the Three Billy Goats Gruff story set was even better (so much fun to make the little guys trip-trop!) and there is a shadow puppet accessory pack for a whole different effect. This is a well-crafted treasure for any child with gentle hands, or a great way to say an extravagant thank you to a favorite teacher or librarian.

Lastly, let's wave goodbye with puppets on our hands, with the help of YouTube and puppets by Folkmanis: check out The WitchyPoo Story Hour (which is really only about two minutes), and you can join Volfy and me as we lip-sync to Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson singing "Wunderbar" from KISS ME KATE, goofing around at the PlanetEsme Bookroom. (Clearly, I'm no Jim Henson...thanks for loading anyway, JesusMom39).

Wolf Duet

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You've been flying over Harvey, no? Two weeks ago, the fifth grader book club became entranced with a new Folkmanis shipment, and decided to stage a puppet show for the younger kids. We are still working on our characters --what color are their rooms, and what favorite ring-tones?-- so these suggestions couldn't be more timely.

You scare me. In the best of ways.


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