We 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).
- Poster board or tagboard
- Hole punch
- 1-5 brass fasteners
- A wooden dowel
- A bamboo skewer
- Tissue paper, twisteez wire, pipe cleaners, and cello sheets (optional)
- An overhead projector or lamp
- Scissors and tape for construction
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 fastener).
We used the hole punch to make eyes (you can use scissors to cut eyes and mouth holes too). I had some tissue paper, twisteez wire, pipe cleaners, and cellophane handy to add some texture to the shadows as well.
When 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.
Here’s my ghost puppet. I made one arm moveable, cut out the eyes and the mouth with scissors, and added tissue paper drapery.
For 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!
Needless 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?