As part of both my Reading Round Europe series and Nonfiction Monday today I’m bringing you a review of Puppet Theatre by Maija Baric, the Artistic Director of the Sampo Puppet Theatre in Finland, and illustrated by award winning Kristiina Louhi.
A craft manual bursting at the seams with creative, novel ideas for making puppets, conjuring up stories and performing plays, Puppet Theatre is a dream come true for anyone, parent, homeschooler or teacher wanting to encourage imaginative play. From a bottle brush to an old shoe, from potatoes to tissue paper Baric has written twelve chapters encouraging you to start seeing the possibilities in every day objects around you – all sorts of things could come to life and lead you and an audience on adventures.
And the inspiration doesn’t stop there; Baric plants seeds of ideas about how to manipulate puppets, how to make and use sound effects to create different atmospheres, how to build a myriad of theatres and stage settings, and even to think about what a puppeteer should wear for a performance. This book has everything – including the magic that will make you want to start creating puppets just as soon as you put the book down!
Baric has written the text addressing the reader directly, for example, when talking about looking for materials to turn into puppets she writes:
As you carry on exploring your environment, go check the clothes drawers.
Sooner or later you might find a pair of tights that has seen better days.
Don’t throw them away.
You can turn the tights into an endearing creature and impress you child, godson, granddaugther or yourself.
This relaxed, direct approach meant that the girls enjoyed listening to me read this book aloud to them, pretty much cover to cover, even though this is not a storybook in the sense of having one narrative with a beginning, middle and an end (it is a storybook in the sense of being full of stories!) The text doesn’t get bogged down in step by step instructions for making puppets – although Baric does provide fairly detailed suggestions a lot of the puppetry details actually come from the illustrations.
And yes, this book is illustrated, illustrated with beautiful, hand drawn pictures, and not photographs, of puppets, props and excited children playing with them. The decision taken to use illustrations was an inspired and inspiring one; although the pictures are full of detail, they also seem full of more imagination and possibilities than a photograph depicting the same scene. A photograph would have made the given puppet much more concrete, as if to suggest this is how it must be done, whereas an illustration is just that, it is illustrative, and thereby freeing and encouraging of more creativity rather than exact copying.
The encouraging text and the enticing illustrations make this a book fun to read, and even more of a treat to pore over; for M and J it was like a box full of chocolates, full of so many possibilities of delight. They have been taking the book away, snuggling up against radiators and flicking through the pages before coming running to me ask if we can make the hedgehog, the witch or the chickens. They’ve been inspired, and so have I. I couldn’t ask more of any book.
For our first foray into puppetry M and J wanted to do something based on the underwater fishing underwater scene in the chapter on tabletop theatres.
I asked M to decided on the characters in her puppet show and to come up with an outline of a story.
Together we turned M’s draft into a script for the play, an excerpt of which is below:
The Shark and the Friendly Barracuda
Introductory music: Oh I do want to be beside the seaside
Narrator: Welcome to our puppet show, The Shark and The Friendly Barracuda by M_____.
Narrator: One day the shark was playing underwater and he didn’t notice the jelly fish that was hiding behind a rock.
Shark: Oh I’m having so much fun!
Jellyfish: ah-ha! Sharky doesn’t know I’m going to sting him!
Jellyfish swims out from behind the rock and stings the shark on the tail
Narrator: Some seahorses heard Shark and swam to his rescue!
Seahorses: Oi Jellyfish we’re going to tickle you!
Once we knew who was in the puppet play and what was going to happen we set about creating the puppets we’d need. Using the same salt dough recipe as we discovered just before Christmas we created all the creatures we needed in 3D. Before putting our dough animals in the oven I skewered them on soaked barbecue sticks – so they cooked with the skewers inside them, ensuring that there was a hole all the way through each one of them.
When the sea creatures were cooked (because they were quite thick this took about 2 1/2 hours) and cooled we painted them – the skewers proved useful as we just stabbed them into potatoes to hold the creatures upright, enabling M and J to paint them all over in one go.
Once dry I removed the skewers and inserted some garden wire, tying a “knot” at the bottom of each animal, and using enough wire to create a handle and hook at the top of each.
We prepared our stage by covering two cut out sides of a cardboard box with a sea scene – in fact we recycled one we’d made some time ago, sticking the script to the back of the cardboard so we could easily refer to it during performances, and placing a blue cloth with shells in front.
Here’s M and J introducing the cast.
After several secret practises, we performed the play to a packed house (well, to M and J’s dad and about 50 stuffed animals…)
The scriptwriter meeting her adoring fans in the auditorium!
Yes, this was a big project, one which took several days of work but it was worth every bit of effort. It was a great way for M to practice writing and reading, it made her feel really proud we performed her play, and most importantly of all it was a lot of fun.
Puppet Theatre: *** (3 out of 3 stars)
Other books available in English written or illustrated by Kristiina Louhi include Tundra Mouse Mountain by Riitta Jalonen, illustrated by Kristiina Louhi, translated by J.M.Ledgard (published by Winged Chariot Press) – we have this at home and highly recommend it for 5+ crowd. Louhi’s also the author/illustrator of a series of books about a little girl called Annie, all published in English in the 1980s, but I’ve not been able to get hold of any of these. This pdf document from her literary agent includes details of all Louhi’s translated books.
Whilst making our puppets we listened to:
For more puppet inspiration take a look at these delights:
Today’s Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Tales from the Rushmore Kid. Do head on over there and see what other nonfiction books for kids are being reviewed around the blogosphere today, but before that, make me smile and leave a comment – have you ever made puppets with your kids? Or been to a puppet show?