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December 2003 | Vol. II - No. 12
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Expressive Readers: Puppet Play Helps Kids Read


 
Thinking back on elementary school, you probably recall the ritual of reading aloud: Some students could read vibrantly, but others’ words were halting and rambled in an awkward monotone.

Lisa LeLeu may have been one of the latter. She describes herself as having been a “really, really shy kid.” The reason for her timidity, she suspects, was her poor reading ability. At the same time, she was artistic and visual—skills not yet valued at the time.

 
Perhaps it was the memory of that experience that led graphic designer and illustrator LeLeu, who now heads her own design firm, Full Moon Creations, Inc., with husband Frederic, to connect kids with reading using their own creativity.

Her idea for Lisa LeLeu Puppet Show Books came upon her all at once: “Wouldn’t it be great,” she thought, “if I could design a book that had a puppet in it, and the reader could make the puppet tell the story?” LeLeu wanted to spark a child’s imagination to make a book come alive.

“I took a book and cut a hole in it. I ripped it apart,” LeLeu says somewhat sheepishly about her initial creation. After she later began sewing a hand puppet, “I started to think about how I could get the puppet to be incorporated into the book. I just kept trying and trying. And that’s when I thought of this system.”

 
The puppet attaches to the book via Velcro in such a way that the child can move the puppet’s head around to give the character expression, as well as take the puppet out to play.

Essential to the project are the stories. “When I sit down to write a story, it’s hard,” LeLeu says. “I begin by picking a theme. Then I think about what events can happen in my story.” Often LeLeu and her design studio staff brainstorm around an idea. After coming up with an idea, LeLeu goes home and starts writing. “I know I have 15 pages to work with,” LeLeu adds. She works page by page, laying out the ideas for each spread.

The first book to arrive in stores is Miss Moo-Moo the Cow—Art on the Farm. There’s an art show in a barnyard in this story, and Miss Moo-Moo is working on creating a landscape. The search for green paint becomes the center of the story, with each animal friend that Miss Moo-Moo consults leading her to a color discovery. LeLeu won’t divulge the ending but admits, “It involves green sprinkles.”

The stories speak to children in a way that is both age-appropriate and disarming. Some stories will appeal to both boys and girls, but others are more gender-specific: An upcoming Percilla the Gorilla story involves a slumber party, while Diggity the Dog will go camping.

With every book/puppet package, LeLeu includes what she calls “Story Starters.” True to her motto of “Teaching Expressive Reading and Creative Writing,” these are replacement booklets that guide and inspire children to write, illustrate and act out their own seven-page puppet story. Each page contains an illustration of a puppet’s pose, along with the first words of a sentence. At the bottom of the page are “Thinking Questions” such as, “Where does Miss Moo-Moo go? What does she do?” to prod young imaginations onward.

LeLeu is in the process of forming a new company to house this budding enterprise and plans to regularly introduce new books, story starters and characters. She is working with a book distributor and is currently in discussions with gift and toy reps to distribute her one-of-a-kind creations.

The energy of both children and adults feeds LeLeu’s own enthusiasm: “There is a great need for products which inspire kids to start writing. Kids have lots of ideas.” Her puppets give a child the confidence to explore the world of books—just the sort of thing a struggling young reader might embrace.

You can learn more by visiting PuppetShowBooks.com.




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