Finnish puppets and friendly barracudas!

posted in: Kristiina Louhi, Maija Baric | 11

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.

Photo: Only Sequel

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

Shark: Ouch!

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:

  • Music from Mimmit, world music for children and the young-at-heart based on modern Finno-Karelian music from one of the founding members of Värttinä (who I mentioned last week)
  • Björk’s Moomins and the Comet Chase Song – Listen to an interview with Björk about this song from Radio 4’s Front Row (the interview is the first one up, starting at about 1 min 22s into the programme, and includes conversation about the importance of living with nature and what is quintessentially Nordic).
  • Puppet on a String by Sandie Shaw, the winning song in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest, so highly appropriate for including in a Reading Round Europe post!
  • For more puppet inspiration take a look at these delights:

  • Pop-Up puppets from bybido
  • Chenille stem / pipecleaner finger puppets from Craft Jr.
  • Maggy’s loo roll marionette birds at Red Ted Art’s Blog (and check out her new Loo roll e-book!)
  • A printable puppet theatre found at bloesem kids
  • 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?

    11 Responses

    1. Andi

      I absolutely love puppets and try and use them with my students as much as possible. My favourite how-to book to date is “The Muppets Make Puppets” although this book might end up being a new favourite, it sounds wonderful! Last year we took our whole school to see a large scale puppet show. It was performed using black light so that the puppeteers could not be seen and it certainly captured the imagination!

      • Zoe

        Hi Andi, yes do see if you can track this down – I think it’s a very special craft book. How lovely to be able to take the whole school to see a puppet play. Puppet plays are not very common in the UK (unlike some continental European countries where there is quite a vibrant tradition). M is, however, going to the theatre with school, this week in fact, to see Pullman’s The Firework Makers Daughter.

    2. Holly

      This book looks amazing. I’m fascinated with puppetry and its history and already have a few books on the subject, but I think this one’s going on my wish list. Plus, my 7-year-old is showing an interest in playwriting.

    3. sophie

      Wonderful !!
      I get the book and we will try puppetry at home.

      Your girls are great artists !
      thanks again zoe.

    4. Zoe

      Hi Holly,
      I really enjoyed how this book inspired M to write her own play – it made the whole writing and reading so easy and natural, not at all a forced homework style project.

      Hi Sophie,
      Thanks for your kind words – I wish we could have performed for you and your boy – we’d have loved to have you in the audience!

    5. Belle @ LearnPlayFun

      This sounds like a fabulous book – it’s going on my list. My son will love the idea of putting on a puppet play.

      So very, very glad I discovered your blog. 🙂

    6. Catherine Nichols

      Looks like an amazing book. Thanks for sharing. My daughter is all grown-up but she still loves puppets. When she was little she would make them out of anything found around the house, such as old wooden spoons, socks, etc.

    7. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

      What a delightful post! From the book to your children to their writing to their puppets…I adored every second. Now I am off to find this book. Many many thanks! How lucky your children are! A.

    8. Janelle

      One of the libraries we visit has a puppet theater and several puppets to play with. It’s hard to peel my children away from the fun.

      That’s awesome that you helped your daughter develop her little play into an elaborate production. Such creative kids!

    Leave a Reply to Catherine Nichols Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    CommentLuv badge

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.