Hands-on Story Telling

puppet-4During my fourteen years as Writer in Residence at Appalachian State University, I was able to explore methods for getting teachers escape the attitudes which have been ingrained into people in the school systems in the United States. Most people came into the class believing that they wanted to write and illustrate children’s books.

My class did inform students the mechanics of a picture book, and the dynamics of writing and editing original stories, with illustrative diagrams of each page should be planned, and the proper number of words to fulfill the impact of each spread. Many people believe that anyone can write a picture book-hence the plethora of books written by stars. It is, in fact, a process which takes a great deal of skill to be successful.

One thing I learned very early on was that creating a moveable paper puppet allowed teachers to “get into the skin” of their character, and look through their eyes. This helps create believable characters which can converse in appropriate voices.

puppet-1This technique is a subtle way to open the door to greater creativity. Using any “puppet” or mask, allows the writer to enter the world of the subconscious or unconscious, and take the creator beyond a door which hitherto had been impassable. Any puppeteer will tell you that puppets sometimes say and do things that the puppeteer had no knowledge of beforehand.

This is such a valuable tool that I had small figures die cut so that I could use them in a therapeutic way when getting children to talk about their families’ private home life. In the book,”My Father’s Beast” I wanted children to openly look at the life of a child in an alcoholic home. The paper puppets are anonymous enough to overcome barriers of fear and loyalty. Some of the ideas behind this book was the way teachers manipulated and spoke about forgotten family events all but forgotten.

Paper puppets in writing classes were valuable, but when I began teaching puppetry classes for the Drama Department, I saw personality changes in shy retiring teachers which were phenomenal.There are many applications of moveable three-dimensional puppets or dolls which can be put to good use in working with children. (I have worked with children in schools and workshops throughout my career.