Sunday, February 5, 2012

Anansi and the Electronic Shadow Puppets

Book:  Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock  by Eric Kimmel, Illustrated by Janet Stevens
Puppets:   None
Props:   Slide whistle (or similar sound effect)
Technology:   PowerPoint / Projector
Presenters:   One or two
Audience:   K-2
Link to "Storytelling with Puppets" video

Our January "K-2 Book Adventure" program was "Trickster Tales," so we had to include an Anansi tale, and this is one of the best for storytelling.  The thing is, I've done it a lot, in various ways (puppets with and without stage, act out, read aloud) and wanted to try something new.  I decided it would make a good shadow puppet story...if only I had shadow puppet stuff or any experience using them, which I don't.  But when you think about it, the white screen of a projector looks kind of like a shadow puppet screen.  And with PowerPoint you can find shapes to project on the screen and make them move around.  So I went ahead and took an ancient artistic tradition of shadow puppetry and slapped it into a laptop...I hope the puppetry gods will understand...
You can view the PowerPoint for a short time (through February 8) at this link through Feb 20th (you can share presentations for free at SendThisFile, but just for three days).  If you can't see it and want a new link email me at
I did some Google Images searching to find silhouettes.  (to find the source for each one, right click on the image and enter "o" for open).  Then I set them up on PowerPoint as simply as possible.  I used "animation effects," either arcs or straight lines, to have the animals move.  I set the speed up pretty slow for each one.  It looks a little stilted as they move, but that kind of matches the shadow puppet effect.  When each animal sees the rock and says the words that put them to sleep ("what a strange looking moss-covered rock"), they do a "spin"  (another animation effect) and then lie down on their back (the right-side-up image "disappears" while an upside-down one "appears" at the same time).  We added our one and only sound effect here:  a slide whistle as they do their spin and fall. 
Most of the animation effects were repeated through the pattern of the story.  The rock puts Anansi to sleep.  Then he tricks Elephant, then Giraffe.  With each of these I narrated the conversations between Anansi and the other one.  Then Deer makes a quick appearance above, watching Anansi though he doesn't know it.  Lion and Crocodile come next, but without conversations, just "Anansi tricked more of his friends" as the same actionss of entrance, spinning, and sleeping repeats.  The story ends, most satisfyingly with the trickster getting tricked with his own magic rock by Deer.   

When I tell this tale with puppets or people, it's fun to play around with voices and peronalities, and it's great for audience participation.  With "shadows," though, we stripped it down to the core of the story.   I told it more as a narrator, without flourishes...the tale is strong enough to work well that way too, and it seemed to fit this type of presentation better.  Same with the images:  we could have shown the food that each animal eats or added houses or trees for the jungle, but kept up with a minimalist approach.  

This was a different sort of presentation for our K-2 events, sandwiched between dancing bunnies and musical opossums and other more lively spectacles.  I'm not sure if we really achieved the shadow puppet experience I was shooting for, but I liked the change of pace and introducing the kids to different styles of storytelling.  If I do it again, I might like to explore adding some music, or maybe more sound effects, but overall I thought it was a worthwhile approach to a story that you really can't miss with.

1 comment:

  1. I love this story. It's one of my storytime stand-bys. "I hope the puppetry gods will understand" Haha, you crack me up.