Wednesday, March 30, 2011

puppet shows and simple stories

Last week I was fortunate to have made it to a workshop with Suzanne Down from Juniper Tree School of Story and Puppetry Arts.  It was a very brief introduction to Waldorf style storytelling and a short session of needle felting three doll puppets with which to tell the Spring story of Little Brown Bulb.

What always strikes me about storytelling for very young children is the simplicity of it.  Like many people, I feel intimidated at the thought of making up or even re-telling stories I already know to any kind of audience, four-year-old or otherwise.  But, as Suzanne talked about that morning, the element of storytelling that young children most respond to is wonder.  They don't need elaborate plot lines or even interesting characters.  The effortless process of the world unfolding and revealing itself through one single simple event is story enough.  It's the attention, voice and presence of the teller that touches the child's heart.

The Brown Bulb story is one told holding the doll "puppets" with gentle hands on a stage of silk scarves on one's lap.  It begins with the Bulb sleeping deep within the cold earth of winter.  As the warm rays of Spring reach Bulb, and her friend Ladybug encourages her, Little Brown Bulb awakens and finds her way to a cave (in the folds of the silk) where Mother Earth dresses her in a lovely new gown.  She emerges from the silk transformed into a beautiful Spring flower and she and ladybug celebrate their love of the season together.

For many an adult, this seems hardly a story worth telling at all, but it's amazing how entranced Naiya is with the gentle movements, the tone of the special story-telling voice and the metamorphosis of the plain bulb into the rich and softly colorful flower. 

Often after I have told a new tale, my sweet girl gifts it back to me in her own way.  She'll introduce new characters and even add songs.  Sadly, although I get to hear the stories, I rarely get to see them as they usually take place entirely under a canopy of silk where she is the only witness.  I listen with rapt attention nonetheless and am as transfixed by her story as she was with mine.


Sometimes we move stories with more elaborate scenery out of our laps and down onto the floor.  When she re-tells these I have the pleasure of seeing the characters move about and, more often than not, the play goes on long after the puppet show has ended.


  1. I love this post. It helps me to think about simplifying my idea of storytelling. I also am not very comfortable with storytelling and so it's helpful to see this example of a simple story with beautiful props.


  2. Thanks! We haven't been doing much of this kind of storytelling of late. I have to get back into practice myself :)

  3. Someone elsewhere commented that holding the scarf up with my head looked incredibly uncomfortable. The scarf is actually tucked into the back of my shirt and stays up on its own. When telling stories like this, Suzanne explained, the teller keeps her eyes on the characters as they speak and move and not on the reactions of her audience. This helps the children to remain engaged since the attention of the storyteller becomes the focus of the attention of her audience. (Perhaps that's what puts my head at an odd angle in the photo?)


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