Cool After School: More Shadow Puppets!

by Vicky on February 15, 2011

I had promised the Cool After School kids that we would make shadow puppets at our next class.  But the original shadow puppets I had made were lost along with Page.  The puppets were fairly elaborate, with moving parts, and I felt too disheartened to try to recreate them.

But a promise is a promise.  The news of the Egyptian protesters and the success of our recent session on hieroglyphs prompted me to look for a story from Egypt.

That’s when I discovered this gorgeous retelling of an ancient Egyptian fantastic voyage (discovered on a papyrus scroll that probably dates from the nineteenth century B.C.E.).

The Shipwrecked Sailor: An Egyptian Tale with Hieroglyphs, is beautifully retold and illustrated by Tamara Bower, an archaeological illustrator.   I photocopied pages from the book and cut out some of the illustrations to use as shadow puppets.  I attached a pocket to the back of the ship and added tiny sailors who would fall out when the ship capsized.  (This effect actually worked really well, according to the audience!)

I created three puppets from black posterboard: a large tree, the lordly serpent, and the sailor (who had a joint that allowed him to swim, bow, and beckon). The sole surviving sailor washes up on an island paradise.  He is making a thanksgiving offering when the ground begins to tremble, and he turns to see a gigantic Serpent wearing a royal beard.

The Serpent tells him that he, too, is a survivor, after his seventy-four companions were destroyed by a falling star.  He predicts that a ship bearing the sailor’s countrymen will rescue him in four months, and that he will once again be reunited with his family.

The Serpent’s prediction comes true.  The sailor climbs a tree to hail the ship.

The Serpent bids him farewell and sends him home with many rich gifts and exotic animals.

The sailor presents these gifts to Pharaoh, who rewards him and appoints him lieutenant.

Finally, after he has discharged his duty, the sailor hurries home to his family.

His wife sees him coming, and they run to embrace.

(I made a new arm for the sailor’s wife, so they could reach out to one another.  Their arms meshed perfectly.)

What a joyous reunion!

I was really pleased with how well the illustrations worked as shadow puppets.  Some detail showed through the screen, and the rather stiff lateral movement and lack of moving parts seemed to echo the static, formal nature of ancient Egyptian paintings and inscriptions.

The kids were enthralled, and the show even drew in some new kids who were in the library.  Afterwards, they all went behind the puppet stage and began playing with the puppets.  Then they eagerly designed their own puppets and proceeded to direct them in their own stories.

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